3. OVERVIEW OF HINDU COSMOLOGICAL
Hindu cosmological time cycles represent numerically the life of our
solar system and are a comprehensive system of time measurement based upon
the sexagesimal number system with units as small as 1/216000 of a day
and as large as 3.1104×1014 years.
To demonstrate the astronomical quantities which lie behind the cycles, we
require only the principal unit of the cycles, namely, the kalpa period, and
its three principal subunits: the manu, caturyuga, and kaliyuga intervals.
In Hindu cosmogeny, all things proceed toward perfection in cycles of
repeated incarnations. During the vast interval of one kalpa, the god of
our solar system manifests all sentient creatures out of himself. Hindus
call this a "day of Brahma". After this, the god of our solar system returns
all sentient creatures to himself for the interval of one kalpa. Hindus
call this a "night of Brahma".
Traditional Indian textbooks on astronomy contain descriptions of Hindu
cosmological time cycles as part of their general discussion of the divisions
of time. Some scholars say there are two versions of the cycles, but the
so-called Aryabhata (circa 500 A.D.) version is really slightly corrupted
due to the fact that Aryabhata summed up the entirety of the time cycles
in a single verse of his text, thereby leaving out essential details. In
the Clark translation of the Aryabhatiya
verse 3 we find:
There are 14 Manus in a day of Brahman [a kalpa], and 72 yugas constitute
the period of a Manu. Since the beginning of this kalpa up to the Thursday
of the Bharata battle 6 Manus, 27 yugas, and 3 yugapadas have elapsed.
The following complete description of the cycles comes from the Burgess
translation of the
Commentaries make plain that in verse 12 "sidereal day" refers to a true
revolution of the Earth1, that in verse 13 "a day of the gods" refers to
the sidereal year, although "a night of the gods" is half of a sidereal
year, and that in verse 21 "his extreme age is a hundred" refers to one
hundred years of 360 days, each one of these days being two kalpas long.
The text is presented in verse 23 as being composed after a krtayuga, but
Indian tradition gives the present age as two yugapadas later. The present
yugapada, a kaliyuga, is said to have begun on Friday 18 February, 3102
B.C. of the Julian calendar.
That which begins with respirations (prana) is called real.... Six respirations
make a vinadi, sixty of these a nadi;
And sixty nadis make a sidereal day and night. Of thirty of these sidereal
days is composed a month; a civil (savana) month consists of as many sunrises;
A lunar month, of as many lunar days (tithi); a solar (saura) month
is determined by the entrance of the sun into a sign of the zodiac; twelve
months make a year. This is called a day of the gods.
The day and night of the gods and of the demons are mutually opposed
to one another. Six times sixty of them are a year of the gods, and likewise
of the demons.
Twelve thousand of these divine years are denominated a caturyuga; of
ten thousand times four hundred and thirty-two solar years
Is composed that caturyuga, with its dawn and twilight. The difference
of the krtayuga and the other yugas, as measured by the difference in the
number of the feet of Virtue in each, is as follows:
The tenth part of a caturyuga, multiplied successively by four, three,
two, and one, gives the length of the krta and the other yugas: the sixth
part of each belongs to its dawn and twilight.
One and seventy caturyugas make a manu; at its end is a twilight which
has the number of years of a krtayuga, and which is a deluge.
In a kalpa are reckoned fourteen manus with their respective twilights;
at the commencement of the kalpa is a fifteenth dawn, having the length
of a krtayuga.
The kalpa, thus composed of a thousand caturyugas, and which brings
about the destruction of all that exists, is a day of Brahma; his night
is of the same length.
His extreme age is a hundred, according to this valuation of a day and
a night. The half of his life is past; of the remainder, this is the first
And of this kalpa, six manus are past, with their respective twilights;
and of the Manu son of Vivasvant, twenty-seven caturyugas are past;
Of the present, the twenty-eighth, caturyuga, this krtayuga is past....
The following three tables, taken from the English commentary to the
Burgess translation of the SuryaSiddhanta,
clearly present the infrastructure of Hindu cosmological time cycles.
1. In modern astronomy, a sidereal day is the interval
of time between two successive passages of the Vernal point across the
midheaven. During this interval, the Vernal point is affected by precession. A
true revolution of the earth is a 360° rotation not affected by precession.