Category Archives: a. Hindu Conceptions of Time and Creation

Manvantaras and Kalpas

The Hindu notion of cosmic time consists of four major cycles, yugas, manvantaras, kalpas, and the full life of the creator deity Brahma. There are four yugas with decreasing lengths [satya yuga (the most dharmic yuga), treta yuga, dvapara yuga, and kali yuga (the least dharmic yuga)], and each cycle of four is called mahayuga. Seventy one mahayugas is equal to one manvantara, and fourteen manvantaras is equal to one kalpa. The life of Brahma is made up of 36,000 kalpas and the same amount of nights. This is the “traditional Puranic model” (Morales) and is the most widely agreed upon.

A manvantara is ruled by a Manu, and “each Manu has a distinct group of sages, gods, Indra, and so on to help him with his duties” (Saraswati 33). Manus are the first man of each manvantara. They are of the ksatriya class and are the father to that human race. The Brahma Purana, [the Puranas are a genre of non-Vedic texts] lists each Manu of the manvantaras of the present yuga by name. In chronological order they are Svayambhuva, Svarocisa, Uttama, Tamasa, Raivata, Caksusa, Vaivasvata, Savarni, Raibhya, Raucya, “and four Merusavarnis” (Shastri and Bhati 29-30), although some of these names are different in other Puranas. The Manu of our present manvantara is Vaivasvata. The Brahma Purana also outlines the children of each Manu as well as the sages that will accompany them. Svayambhuva is believed to be the son of Brahma, and is sometimes called Manu, because he was the first Manu of the first manvantara of the present yuga. He believed by some to be the author of the Dharmasastra [also sometimes called the The Laws of Manu. This book outlines how to live dharmically, and includes details on the class and caste systems, the stages of life, and the goals of life]. The Encyclopedia Britannica compares Svayambhuva to the figures of Adam and Noah in Abrahamic texts, because he was the first man, like Adam, and he also survived a great flood with the help of a fish [an avatar of Visnu], like Noah (Encyclopedia Britannica: “Manu”).

Along with a Manu, each manvantara has a new Indra as well. Indra is generally known as the Vedic god of thunder and storms, father of Arjuna in the Mahabharata, and the king of heaven. However, Indra is also a title that can be earned through extreme dedication. Just like humans and animals, gods and demons are subject to karma and samsara (the cycle of rebirth), and so those who do extremely good actions, receive a good rebirth, like the role of Indra (Zimmer 7). The role of Indra is the king of the gods. In the myth “The Parade of Ants,” a brahmin boy visits Indra and tells him about the cosmic time cycles, and how there have been many Indras before him, and there will be many more after him. He tells him that “when twenty eight Indras have expired, one Day and Night of Brahma has elapsed” (Zimmer 6). There is also an old man that comes into Indra’s palace, and says that for every Indra that falls, one of his chest hairs falls out. The reason behind the title is that there is a parade of ants walking through the palace, and the brahmin boy tells Indra (after some prying), that the ants all used to be Indras themselves. The story concludes with a summary of how Indra was too prideful, was taken down a notch, and learned his role in the grand cycles of time (Zimmer 11). It is not only a summary of the cosmic cycles, but also an existential look at life.

These units of cosmic time are not exclusive to Hinduism. Jainism and Buddhism also use them, but they are slightly different. Jains believe in cyclical time, but without periods of destruction between any divisions, and they also use terms like koti and sagaropamas (Rocher 96). There is no specific amount of human or god years in either of these divisions. In Buddhism, they use mahakalpas, which are similar to yugas in the way that their quality declines with each one, and that there are four in total (Rocher 96). They divide the mahakalpas into 20 antarakalpas. Ludo Rocher describes the 20th antarakalpa as containing “4 brief periods of increase, and 4 equally brief periods of decrease. These periods are, once again, designated with the names of the Hindu yugas: kali, dvapara, treta, and krta in an ascending period, and [the reverse order] in a descending period” (Rocher 97). However, of these three, cosmic time is the most important to Hindus. Rocher concludes that Jains seem to prefer to “live in the moment” and focus on what happens while they themselves are alive. Louis de la Vallee-Poussin also says that the cycles are not essential to Buddhist philosophy (Rocher 98).

With the exception of the yugas, at the end of each cycle there is an event of destruction marking it as such. Between the four yugas, there is no specific indication of the end. It is believed that the Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, not long after the war in the Mahabharata, an epic that describes a battle for the kingdom Kurukshetra between two groups of cousins. However, according to the Bhagavatam Purana, at the end of the Kali Yuga, “Displaying His [Visnu’s] unequaled effulgence and riding with great speed, He will kill by the millions those thieves who have dared dress as kings” (Bhagavatam Purana SB This passage signifies the belief that Visnu [the preserver deity] will manifest as the avatar Kalki and destroy those who do not act dharmically righteously. In doing so, he would leave behind only the most pious Hindus and thus would begin a new mahayuga, beginning with the new satya yuga.

At the end of a manvantara, the universe is partially destroyed, though there is some disagreement on what exactly happens during this period of destruction. In An Introduction to Esoteric Principles, McDavid describes this as “a reverse process of withdrawal” in which the universe is reverted to its simplest form (McDavid 7). However, the philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy (1967) believes the earth is flooded, and a few select beings are kept alive to repopulate the following manvantara (Morales). The Handbook of Hindu Mythology calls this destruction laya [dissolution], the destruction between kalpas pralaya, and the final destruction at the end of the life of Brahma mahapralaya (Williams 39). The period between manvantaras, when the universe is in a dissolved state, is called sandyaa (Mohapatra, Dash, and Padhy 436). There are fifteen sandyaa periods, one before a manvantara, fourteen in between them, and one before the end of a kalpa.

At the end of a kalpa, there is pralaya, which is often translated as “dissolution.” In the Brahma Purana, it is described as simply “the living beings will be burned by the sun” (Shastri and Bhati 32). Even this destruction is temporary, however, because the living beings from that kalpa can still be reincarnated in the next day or night of Brahma (Morales).

At the end of the life of Brahma [also sometimes called a mahakalpa (Williams 38)], everything is completely destroyed. After this mahapralaya, everything is fully absorbed into Siva  (Williams 161) and living creatures can no longer be reincarnated. In the myth called “The Annihilation”, there is a man and a woman who are dining on the eve of pralaya and are surrounded by natural disasters such as storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The woman, who is representative of Parvati, is worried about the end of her life, but the man, who is representative of Siva tells her not to worry and is very optimistic. He says “what imagined an independent form, different from you, that was not in existence, it was an aberration” (Williams 159). This is a reference to brahman [the true nature of reality], and how the destruction is meant to happen.

The Handbook of Hindu Mythology cites the Mahabharata and the Manu-Smrti as possibly the earliest “scriptures to record what later became the prevailing view of [Hindu] mythic time” (Williams 37). Ganita [a sage] is credited with the calculation of the four yugas into human years in the Anusasana Parva [a book in the Mahabharata that talks about the duties of the people, as well as certain laws and rules Hindus should follow]. Ludo Rocher also acknowledges these two texts as the possible origin for the yuga kalpa system (Rocher 98). That being said, he believes that the manvantaras were introduced later and “forced to fit” due to their inexact alignment with the yugas and kalpas (Rocher 95). Because of the lack of mentions of cosmic time in the Vedas, it is generally unanimously concluded that the system came into use in post-Vedic India, but scholars such as David Pingree think the system may have been adapted from other cultures such as the Babylonians or the Greeks (Rocher 99-100).

Cyclical time is not unique to Hinduism, but the specific Hindu version is very distinctive and certainly the most detailed of the other Indian time cycles. Yugas are especially relatable, as they are the most calculable, and the end of the third yuga is considered to be within “recent” history. Manvantaras and kalpas are a way to make the lives of gods easier to understand as well as creating an explanation for the beginning and inevitable end of the universe.


Board of Scholars (2001) Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology Volume 33: The Brahma Purana.  Edited by J. L. Shastri and G. P. Bhati. Delhi: Motilal Banaridass Publishers Private Limited.

Dasa, Prahlada “Bhagavatam Purana: Symptomes of the Kali Yuga” in BhaktiVedanta Vedabase. SB 12.2.1- SB 12.2.44. Accessed October 15, 2018.

Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2010) “Manu” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 4, 2018.

McDavid, William Doss (2007) An Introduction to Esoteric Principles. Wheaton: Theosophical Society in America.

Mohapatra, Ratnaprava, S.K. Dash, and S.N. Padhy (2017) “Ethnobiographical Studies from Manusmrti: XII Facts on Dissolution (Pralaya) and Geological Time Scale.” Journal of Human Ecology 12:433-439. Accessed October 25, 2018. Doi: 10.1080/09709274.2001.11907650.

Morales, Joseph (1997) “The Hindu Theory of World Cycles in Light of Modern Science”. Karma and Reincarnation: a Philosophical Examination. Accessed October 15, 2018.

Rocher, Ludo. 2004. “Concepts of Time in Classical India” in Time and Temporality in the Ancient World. Edited by Ralph M. Rosen, 91-105. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Saraswati, H. H. (2013) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. San Rafael: Mandala Publishing.

Williams, George M. (2003) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Richard A. and Sankar, Jaya (1978) “The Annihilation (Pralaya).” Journal of South Asian Literature 14:157-161. Accessed October 20, 2018.

Zimmer, Heinrich Robert (1962) “Eternity and Time: the Parade of Ants” in Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilisation. Edited by Joseph Campbell, 3-11. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


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Related Readings

Sharma, P.R.P. (2007) Encyclopaedia of Puranas. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.


This article was written by: Sydney Savage (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its contents.

The Hindu Cosmic Time Cycle

The Hindu Cosmic time cycle makes a distinction between a human year, a godly year and a year in the life of Brahma. It follows that one human year is equal to that of one day in the life of the gods, and one day (or kalpa) in the life of Brahma is 4 320 000 000 human years with an equal amount of time dedicated to his sleep. The cyclical nature of the Hindu cosmic structure comes from the dissolution and rebirth of the world that takes place when Brahma goes to sleep and wakes. This cycle of dissolution and rebirth takes place for one hundred Brahma years until Brahma returns to the supreme being in which he came to be reborn again (Morgan, 89).

The composition of a day in the life of Brahma consists of dividing time up. At the most basic level, time is divided into yugas or ages. These consist of the Krta or Satya yuga, the Treta yuga, Dvapara yuga, and the Kali yuga. Each of these yugas contains a descending level of dharma. At the end of the Kali yuga there is a period of dissolution which if followed by a new Krta yuga (Mitchiner, 48). The total time that a four yuga cycle takes is 12 000 godly years or 4 320 000 human years. These are divided between the yugas with the Krta yuga receiving 4000 years, the Treta yuga receiving 3000 years, the Dvapara yuga receiving 2000 years and finally the Kali yuga receiving 1000 years, each with supplemented dawns and dusks of one tenth their totals.

The four yuga cycle is known as a mahayuga. It takes 1000 mahayuga to create one Kalpa or day in the life of Brahma which is also equal to 4320 million human years. These 1000 mahayuga are divided into 14 manvantaras or (intervals of the manus) in which seven new rsis will arrive every 71.42 mahayuga to teach man the Laws of Manu (Mittal and Thursby, 563).

It is at this time that Brahma will dissolve the universe and sleep for an equally long length of time (4320 million human years) to complete his day and then he will rise and start the process all over again for one hundred years consisting of 360 day years. This will put the life cycle of Brahma at 311 040 Billion human years. This is said to pass in a “moment, wink or blink” (nimesa) of Visnu (Mittal and Thursby, 563).


Mitchiner, J. (1982) Traditions of the Seven Rsis. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Mittal, S. and Thursby, G. ed. (2004) The Hindu World. New York and London: Routledge

Morgan, K. ed. (1953) The Religion of the Hindus. New York: Ronald.

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Creation and Destruction of the Universe




Laws of Manu

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This article was produced by Jason M. Blades, who takes full responsibility for the contents.

Yugas (Aeons of Time)

Time is a very important concept for many of the world religions, and for the Hindu tradition the concept of time is explained through yuga. The concepts of the yugas were first mentioned in the popular Mahabharata epic, as well as the Manusmrti (Simms, 71). The cycle of time is divided up into four different sections. Each section is known as a yuga, or time period (Simms, 71). Each successive period brings the world into a greater state of decreased dharma, because through each cycle the earth gets further and further away from the Absolute (Simms, 71). Within every subsequent era there is less order, cosmic law, and the life expectancy of humans is shortened (Simms, 71). A metaphor commonly used to explain this dharma is the image of a bull. In the very beginning of the cycle, the animal is strong and sturdy. This is the stage closest to the Absolute (the krtayuga). At the end of each yuga, one leg deteriorates from the bull and makes it more unsteady than it was before. After the first yuga, the bull has only three legs (tretayuga), in the third yuga it will only have two legs (dvaparayuga) and by the last yuga, it will be teetering on only one leg (the most unstable time known as the kaliyuga period). The bull will eventually collapse and the cycle will start all over again (White, 290).

Each cycle is divided in ten parts within the four yugas. The first yuga is known as the krtayuga and composes the first four units, then there is the tretayuga, which lasts three units, the daparayuga which lasts two units and finally the kaliyuga which is only made up of one unit. Each yuga originates from the numbers in a Vedic dice game vis-a-vis mentioned in the Mahabharata (White, 288). In the game, a krta was the number each player needed to achieve in order to win. It was known as the best throw. Krta was the complete throw with no remaining numbers. Any other throw that did not result in krta had remainders of one, two, or three dice. The treta became the next best throw after the krta throw which resulted in three leftover dice. After that, there was the dvapara outcome (two dice left over) and finally the kali throw (which only had one leftover dice) (White, 288). The kali throw was known as the most unfavorable throw.

Each of the four different yugas are combined to make one mahayuga (Simms,72). A mahayuga is a massive unit where one age of the gods are made (Glucklich, 31). A thousand mahayugas make up one day of Brahma. A kalpa is one day of Brahman the creator-god and a thousand caturyugas make up one day of Brahman (Washburn, 63). Creation lasts until the end of a thousand caturyugas (Washburn, 43). During the day the heavens, as well as the planets rotate to produce both existence and destruction. It is at night that the moving planets and heavens rest (Kennedy, et al, 276).

The first stage, the krtayuga (or satyayuga) is a pure state in existence. It is known as the “age of truth” and the “Golden Age” (Simms, 71) and is characterized by simplicity, timelessness and serenity. It is the closest era to the Absolute and virtue is 100% complete (Cairns, 75). There is a sense of eternity and fluidity and there is no sickness. Death and sin are not in existence and people are very moral. This state of bliss lasts the longest of the four yugas, extending for 1,728,000 years (Cairns, 75).

Tretayuga, the second stage, begins the deterioration of existence and marks the end of the “Golden Age”. Cosmic dharma is disturbed, however still intact and there is a greater separation from the Absolute. Things are still mostly pure, even though sin has been introduced and virtue is reduced to 75%. Tretayuga lasts for 1,296,000 years (Cairns, 75)

The dvaparayuga is marked by an increase of evil and further loss of dharmic balance. Dharma not only decreases, but the deterioration is also accelerated in this yuga (Simms, 71). Virtue is decreased by ½, and the human lifespan also decreases. This stage lasts for 863,000 years.

The last stage, the kaliyuga is our current era and lasts only 432,000 years. It is believed civilization has been in this era ever since the Mahabharata war occurred, as well as the death of Krsna (Simms, 71). In this stage social order is broken down and there is a need for royal authority to keep rules and dharma intact (Glucklich, 31). The ruled however question authority, confusing and corrupting social order (Sen, 91). Kali (the goddess of death and destruction) makes men deceitful and greedy (Sen, 91). There is an increase of human death, time goes by at a rapid pace and there is a massive spiritual and physical breakdown in humans (Simms, 71). There is little respect for God or Brahman (Sen, 91) and it is the “age of strife” (Simms, 73). It is the shortest sequence of time in the cycle. Human virtue is decreased to ¼ and there is enormous suffering worldwide (Cairns, 72).

These cycles are consistently repeated until a mahayuga is completed (also known as a kalpa and is composed of 100 yuga cycles) (Simms, 72). Once there is a mahayuga, the universe is destroyed (pralaya), normally through a massive flood, before it starts at the first krtayuga once again (Thapar, 25). This sequence is repeated endlessly and there is an idea that the cycle really is without a beginning or an end (Sen, 126).


Cairns, Grace, E. (1970) “Social Progress and Holism in T. M. P. Mahadevan’s Philosophy of History”. Philosophy East and West; 20; 1; p. 73-82.

Glucklich, Ariel (1984) “Karma and pollution in Hindu dharma: distinguishing law from nature”. Contributions to Indian Sociology; 18; 25; p. 25-33.

Hopkins, Washburn E. (1903) “Epic Chronology” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 24; 7-56

Kennedy, E. S., Engle, Susan, Wamstad, Jeanne (1965) “The Hindu Calendar as Described in Al Buruni’s Masudic Canon” Journal of Near Eastern Studies; 24; 3; 274-284

Sen, Amiya, P. (1998) “Bhakti Paradigms, Syncretism and Social Restructuring in Kaliyuga: A Reappraisal of Some Aspects of Bengali Religious Culture”. Studies in History; 14; 89.

Simms, Robert (1992-1993) “Aspects of Cosmological Symbolism in Hindusthani Musical Forms”. Asian Music, 24; 1; p. 67-89.

Thapar, Romila (1991) “Genealogical Patterns as Perceptions of the Past”. Studies in History; 7; 1; p. 1-35.

White, David G. (1989) “Dogs Die”. History of Religions, 28; 4; p. 283-303.

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Article written by: Lauren O’Dwyer (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.