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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Yuga

A Sanskrit word, derived from the root yuj (“unite,” “yoke,” “undertake,” etc.), used to refer to the ages of the world, called Kṛta or Satya (1,728,000 human years long), Tretā (1,296,000 years long), Dvāpara (864,000 years long), and Kali (432,000 years long). In other words, they are multiples of 432 x 1000 (respectively 4, 3, and 2, times as long as the Kali-Yuga). The total, called a Mahāyuga or “Great Age,” is 4,320,000 years long. 1,000 Mahayugas are considered half a Kalpa or one “Day of Brahmā.” The “Night of Brahmā” or pralaya is of equal duration as his Day, hence a Kalpa is 8,640,000,000 years. Brahmā is said to live 100 years, after which there is an extremely long interim period before a new Brahm€ is born and the cycle starts anew. This ancient cosmology is in sharp contrast to the cosmology of early Christians who considered the universe created 4004 BCE!

The four yugas are also referred to, respectively, as the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age, the last being the one we are in at present which is said to have begun at midnight between the 17th and 18th of February, 3102 BCE with the death of Śrī Krishna. This system is assumed in the Purāṇas and the Mahābhārata (including the Bhagavad-Gītā). The implication is that conditions get worse over time and release from the cycle of rebirth becomes more and more difficult as a result, although there are other possible interpretations as well, as suggested below. These four ages are depicted graphically by a bull standing first on all four legs, then on three, then on two, and at present on only one. But the Sanskrit names are actually taken from a dice game, “kṛta,” literally meaning “made,” (a winning roll), “tretā” meaning “trey,” “dvāpara, meaning “deucy,” and “kali,” meaning “acey” (a losing roll).

The yuga system is accepted by Helena P. BLAVATSKY and appears frequently in her writings. But she cautions that these numbers are not to be taken literally (SD I:369) and that each of the various races has its own series of cycles. “For instance,” she writes, “the Fourth Sub-Race of the Atlanteans was in its Kali-Yuga when destroyed, whereas the Fifth was in its Satya or Kṛita-Yuga. The Aryan Race is now in its Kali-Yuga, and will continue to be in it for 427,000 years longer [i.e., from 1888], while various “family Races,” called the Semitic, Hamitic, etc., are in their own special cycles” (SD II:147 fn.). In other words, the yuga doctrine is very complicated and must not be interpreted in a simplistic way, as indicated above, in terms of specific numbers of human years. She says that the present Kali-Yuga will end with the birth of a new avatar (Sk. avatāra) or divine incarnation at which time, according to the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, the minds of those living “shall be awakened, and shall be as pellucid as crystal” (i.e., clairvoyance will become a “general faculty” for them, comments HPB) and they “shall give birth to a race who shall follow the law of the Krita [or Satya] age” or “age of purity” (The Esoteric Writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Quest Books, 1980, p. 282; cf. SD I:378). Since each ROOT RACE and each sub-race within it undergoes it own separate system of cycles or yugas, this indicates how the yuga system correlates with the idea of evolution, each new race starting out “pure,” as it were, and gradually declining while another race supplants it.

R.W.B.

 

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