Kalpa (time)

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A kalpa is a long period of time (aeon) in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, generally between the creation and recreation of a world or universe.[1]


Kalpa (Sanskrit: कल्प, lit.'a formation or creation') in this context, means "a long period of time (aeon) related to the lifetime of the universe (creation)." It is derived from कॢप् (kḷp) + -अ (-a, nominalizing suffix) (Sanskrit: कॢप्, romanizedkḷp, lit.'to create, prepare, form, produce, compose, invent').[2][3]


In Hinduism, a kalpa is equal to 4.32 billion years, a "day of Brahma" (12-hour day proper) or one thousand mahayugas,[4] measuring the duration of the world. Each kalpa is divided into 14 manvantara periods, each lasting 71 Yuga Cycles (306,720,000 years). Preceding the first and following each manvantara period is a juncture (sandhya) equal to the length of a Satya Yuga (1,728,000 years).[5] A kalpa is followed by a pralaya (dissolution) of equal length, which together constitute a day and night of Brahma. A month of Brahma contains thirty such days and nights, or 259.2 billion years. According to the Mahabharata, 12 months of Brahma (=360 days) constitute his year, and 100 such years his life called a maha-kalpa (311.04 trillion years or 36,000 kalpa + 36,000 pralaya). Fifty years of Brahma are supposed to have elapsed, and we are now in the Shveta-Varaha Kalpa or the first day of his fifty-first year. At the end of a kalpa, the world is annihilated by fire.[6]

The definition of a kalpa equaling 4.32 billion years is found in the Puranas—specifically Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana.[4]

The duration of the material universe is limited. It is manifested in cycles of kalpas. A kalpa is a day of Brahmā, and one day of Brahmā consists of a thousand cycles of four yugas, or ages: Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. ... These four yugas, rotating a thousand times, comprise one day of Brahmā, and the same number comprise one night. Brahmā lives one hundred of such "years" and then dies. These "hundred years" total 311 trillion 40 billion (311,040,000,000,000) earth years. By these calculations the life of Brahmā seems fantastic and interminable, but from the viewpoint of eternity it is as brief as a lightning flash. In the Causal Ocean there are innumerable Brahmās rising and disappearing like bubbles. Brahmā and his creation are all part of the material universe, and therefore they are in constant flux.

— Brihat Swasthani Brata Katha[citation needed]

The Matsya Purana (290.3–12) lists the names of 30 kalpas, each named by Brahma based on a significant event in the kalpa and the most glorious person in the beginning of the kalpa. These 30 kalpas or days (along with 30 pralayas or nights) form a 30-day month of Brahma.[7]

  1. Śveta (current)
  2. Nīlalohita
  3. Vāmadeva
  4. Rathantara
  5. Raurava
  6. Deva
  7. Vṛhat
  8. Kandarpa
  9. Sadya
  10. Iśāna
  11. Tamah
  12. Sārasvata
  13. Udāna
  14. Gāruda
  15. Kaurma
  16. Nārasiṁha
  17. Samāna
  18. Āgneya
  19. Soma
  20. Mānava
  21. Tatpumān
  22. Vaikuṇṭha
  23. Lakṣmī
  24. Sāvitrī
  25. Aghora
  26. Varāha
  27. Vairaja
  28. Gaurī
  29. Māheśvara
  30. Pitṛ

The Vayu Purana has a different list of names for 33 kalpas, which G. V. Tagare describes as fanciful derivations.[8]


In the Pali language of early Buddhism, the word kalpa takes the form kappa, and is mentioned in the assumed oldest scripture of Buddhism, the Sutta Nipata. This speaks of "Kappâtita: one who has gone beyond time, an Arahant".[9][10] This part of the Buddhist manuscripts dates back to the middle part of the last millennium BCE.[citation needed]

Gautama Buddha claimed an incalculable number of Buddhas lived in previous kalpas: Vipassi Buddha 91 kalpas ago, Sikhi Buddha 31 kalpas ago, and three prior Buddhas in the present kalpa.[11] He confines his teachings to the present kalpa, the duration of which he doesn't arithmetically define, but uses a similitude:[12]

Were a man to take a piece of cloth of this most delicate texture [of fine cotton], and therewith to touch in the slightest possible manner, once in a hundred years, a solid rock, free from earth, a yojana [12 kilometres] high, and as much broad, the time would come when it would be worn down, by this imperceptible trituration, to the size of a mung seed. This period would be immense in its duration; but it has been declared by Buddha that it would not be equal to a Maha Kalpa.

A similar similitude is found in the Mountain Pabbata Sutta (SN 15:5) of the Pali Canon:[13]

Suppose there were a great mountain of rock—a league long, a league wide, a league high, uncracked, uncavitied, a single mass—and a man would come along once every hundred years and rub it once with a Kashi cloth. More quickly would that great mountain of rock waste away and be consumed by that effort, but not the eon [kalpa]. That's how long, monk, an eon is.

— Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu (translator)

Described in the Vibhanga division of the Abhidhamma Pitaka are sixteen rupa brahma lokas (worlds or planes) and four higher arupa brahma lokas, each attained through the imperfect, medial or perfect performance of the four states of jhāna (meditation), granting a duration of life measured in kalpas that exceed the top-most heavenly loka of 9.216 billion years:[14]

  • 1st jhāna leads to 3 lowest rupa lokas with respective lifespans of 1/3, 1/2 and 1 kalpa.
  • 2nd jhāna leads to 3 higher rupa lokas with respective lifespans of 2, 4 and 8 kalpas.
  • 3rd jhāna leads to 3 more higher rupa lokas with respective lifespans of 16, 32 and 64 kalpas.
  • 4th jhāna leads to 7 highest rupa lokas with respective lifespans ranging from 500 to 16,000 kalpas, and 4 still higher arupa lokas with respective lifespans of 20,000; 40,000; 60,000 and 84,000 kalpas.

At the termination of each kalpa, the lower three rupa brahma lokas, attained through the 1st jhāna, and everything below them (six heavens, Earth, etc.) are destroyed by fire (seven suns), only to later again come into being.[15]

In one explanation, there are four different lengths of kalpas. A regular kalpa is approximately 16 million years long (16,798,000 years[16]), and a small kalpa is 1000 regular kalpas, or about 16.8 billion years.[citation needed] Further, a medium kalpa is roughly 336 billion years, the equivalent of 20 small kalpas.[citation needed] A great kalpa is four medium kalpas,[17] or about 1.3 trillion years.

Gautama Buddha did not give the exact length of the maha-kalpa in terms of years. However, he gave several astounding analogies to understand it.

  1. Imagine a huge empty cube at the beginning of a kalpa, approximately 16 miles in each side. Once every 100 years, you insert a tiny mustard seed into the cube. According to the Buddha, the huge cube will be filled even before the kalpa ends.[18]

In one instance, when some monks wanted to know how many kalpas had elapsed so far, Buddha gave the below analogy:

  1. If you count the total number of sand particles at the depths of the Ganga river, from where it begins to where it ends at the Bay of Bengal sea, even that number will be less than the number of passed kalpas.[19]

Another definition of Kalpa is the world where Buddhas are born. There are generally 2 types of kalpa, Suñña-Kalpa and Asuñña-kalpa. The Suñña-Kalpa is the world where no Buddha is born. Asuñña-Kalpa is the world where at least one Buddha is born. There are 5 types of Asuñña-Kalpa:[20]

  1. Sāra-Kalpa – The world where one Buddha is born.
  2. Maṇḍa-Kalpa – The world where two Buddhas are born.
  3. Vara-Kalpa – The world where three Buddhas are born.
  4. Sāramaṇḍa-Kalpa – The world where four Buddhas are born.
  5. Bhadda-Kalpa – The world where five Buddhas are born.

The previous kalpa was the Vyuhakalpa (Glorious aeon), the present kalpa is called the Bhadrakalpa (Auspicious aeon), and the next kalpa will be the Nakshatrakalpa (Constellation aeon).[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chapter 36: The Buddhas in the three periods of time". Buddhism in a Nutshell Archives. Hong Kong: Buddhistdoor International. Retrieved 2014-12-21.
  2. ^ "kalpa". Wiktionary. Retrieved 2021-03-25.
    "कल्प (kalpa)". Wiktionary. Retrieved 2021-03-25.
    "कॢप् (kḷp)". Wiktionary. Retrieved 2021-03-25.
    "Kalpa, Kalpā, Kālpa". Wisdom Library. June 2008. Retrieved 2021-03-25.
  3. ^ González-Reimann, Luis (2018). "Cosmic Cycles, Cosmology, and Cosmography". In Basu, Helene; Jacobsen, Knut A.; Malinar, Angelika; Narayanan, Vasudha (eds.). Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill Publishers. p. 415. doi:10.1163/2212-5019_BEH_COM_1020020. ISBN 978-90-04-17641-6. ISSN 2212-5019. The cycle [of creation and destruction] is either called a yuga (MBh. 1.1.28; 12.327.89; 13.135.11), a kalpa, meaning a formation or a creation (MBh. 6.31.7 [= BhG. 9.7]; 12.326.70; 12.327.23), or a day of the brahman, or of Brahmā, the creator god (MBh. 12.224.28–31). Sometimes, it is simply referred to as the process of creation and destruction (saṃhāravikṣepa; MBh. 12.271.30, 40, 43, 47–49).
  4. ^ a b Johnson, W.J. (2009). A Dictionary of Hinduism. Oxford University Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-19-861025-0.
  5. ^ Cremo, M.A., 1999. Puranic time and the archaeological record. In T. Murray (ed.), Time and Archaeology 38–48. London: Routledge. http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/379479
  6. ^ "Story of Pralaya". Wisdom Library. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  7. ^ Basu, Major B. D. (1917). "CCLXXXX". The Matsya Puranam. Vol. XVII part II. Sudhindra Natha Vasu, At The Indian Press Allahabad. p. 368.

    Vasu, S.C. & others (1972). The Matsya Puranam, Part II, Delhi: Oriental Publishers, p.366
  8. ^ Tagare, G. V. (1987). The Vayu Purana, Part I. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 127 (fn 1), 125–129 (21.26–69), 130–132 (22.9, 20), 133–136 (23.1, 20, 33). ISBN 978-8120803329.
  9. ^ Sn 373
  10. ^ Muller, F. Max (2001). The Dhammapada and Sutta-Nipata. Taylor & Francis Group. p. 60. ISBN 9781317849179.
  11. ^ Gogerly, Rev. Daniel John; Silva, Rev. David de; Scott, Rev. John (1870). "Budhism: A Lecture delivered before the Colombo Young Men's Christian Association". Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 1867–70, Part I. Colombo: 91–92 (f.n. 4).
  12. ^ Gogerly, Silva & Scott 1870, pp. 96–97.
  13. ^ A Mountain Pabbata Sutta (SN 15:5)
  14. ^ Gogerly, Silva & Scott 1870, pp. 106–108.
  15. ^ Gogerly, Silva & Scott 1870, p. 110.
  16. ^ Epstein, Ronald B.(2002). Buddhist Text Translation Society's Buddhism A to Z p. 204. Buddhist Text Translation Society. ISBN 0-88139-353-3, ISBN 978-0-88139-353-8.
  17. ^ Yen, Sheng (7 August 2007). Orthodox Chinese Buddhism. North Atlantic Books. p. 104. ISBN 9781556436574. One great kalpa consists of the four medium kalpas of formation, statis, dissolution, and nothingness. In other words, from the formation of one billion-world universe, through its destruction, until the beginning of the formation of its replacement billion-world universe is a great kalpa.
  18. ^ "What are Kalpas?". Lion's Roar. December 14, 2016. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  19. ^ Epstein, Ronald (2003). Buddhism A to Z. Burlingame, California, United States.: The Buddhist Text Translation Society. ISBN 0-88139-353-3.
  20. ^ The Commentary of Buddhavamsa
  21. ^ Buswell, RE Jr.; Lopez, DS Jr. (2014). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (1st ed.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-691-15786-3.

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