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Yuga in Hinduism is an epoch or era within a four age cycle. A complete Yuga starts with the Satya Yuga, via Treta Yuga and Dvapara Yuga into a Kali Yuga. Our present time is a Kali Yuga, which started at 3102 BCE with the end of the Mahabharata war.
There are four Yugas in one cycle:
Characteristics of each Yuga
- Kruta Yuga: The first and best Yuga. It is the age of truth and perfection. Caste system is very flexible. Brahmanas are capable of achieving miracles by mere fiat of will. Kshatriyas are endowed with superhuman physical prowess. Humans are gigantic, powerfully built, handsome, honest, youthful, vigorous, erudite and virtuous. The Vedas are one. There is no agriculture nor mining as the earth yields those riches on its own. Weather is pleasant and everyone is happy. There is no religious sect. In the earlier part of the Yuga, all humans were Brahmanas and lived as siblings. There was no disease, decreptitude or fear of anything. There was no music, song, dance, buying or selling. There was no caste system. No animals were slain in sacrifices. There was no city, town or nation. In the later part of the Yuga, civilization is established and the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras perform their duties well. Human lifespan is 100,000 years and humans tend to have hundreds or thousands of sons or daughters. People must perform penances for thousands of years to acquire Samadhi and die.
- Treta Yuga: Treta means third. In this age, virtue diminishes slightly. At the beginning of the age, many emperors rise to dominance and conquer the world. Wars become frequent and weather begins to change to extremeties. Oceans and deserts are formed. Majority Brahmanas become slightly less powerful. People are divided into various cultures and people of mixed classes are born. People become slightly diminished compared to their predecessors. Agriculture, labour and mining become existent. Significant people born in this age include Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Dasharatha, Raghu, Aja etc. Average age of humans is around 1000-10,000.
- Dwapara Yuga: Dwapara means second. In this age, people become tainted with Tamasic qualities and aren't as strong as their ancestors. Diseases become rampant. Humans are discontent and fight each other. Vedas are divided into four parts. People still possess characteristics of youth in old age. Significant people born in this age are Krishna, Balarama, the Pandavas, the Kauravas, Shantanu, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Draupadi and Abhimanyu. Average age is around a few centuries.
- Kali Yuga: The final age. It is the age of darkness and ignorance. People become sinners and lack virtue. They become slaves to their passions and are barely as powerful as their earliest ancestors in the Satya Yuga. Society falls into disuse and people become liars and hypocrites. Knowledge is lost and scriptures are diminished. Humans eat forbidden and dirty food and engage in unrestrained sinful sexual practices. The environment is polluted, water and food become scarce. Wealth is heavily diminished. Brahmanas become ignorant, Kshatriyas become weak, Vaishyas employ questionable business tactics and Shudras treacherously acquire power. Families become non existent. Average age of people is barely 100 years though by the end of the Yuga, it will be up to 20 years.
Durations of the four yugas
According to the Laws of Manu, one of the earliest known texts describing the yugas, the length is 4800 years + 3600 years + 2400 years + 1200 years, for a total of 12,000 years for one arc, or 24,000 years to complete the cycle, which is one precession of the equinox. These 4 yugas follow a timeline ratio of (4:3:2:1).
The Viṣṇu Purāṇa Time measurement section of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa Book I Chapter III explains the above as follows:
2 Ayanas (6-month periods, see above) = 1 human year or 1 day of the devas 4,000 + 400 + 400 = 4,800 divine years (= 1,728,000 human years) = 1 Satya Yuga 3,000 + 300 + 300 = 3,600 divine years (= 1,296,000 human years) = 1 Tretā Yuga 2,000 + 200 + 200 = 2,400 divine years (= 864,000 human years) = 1 Dvāpara Yuga 1,000 + 100 + 100 = 1,200 divine years (= 432,000 human years) = 1 Kali Yuga 12,000 divine year = 4 Yugas (= 4,320,000 human years) = 1 Mahā-Yuga (also is equaled to 12000 Daiva (divine) Yuga) [2*12,000 = 24,000 divine year = 12000 revolutions of sun around its dual]
The duration of the Satya millennium equals 4,800 years of the demigods; the duration of the Dvāpara millennium equals 2,400 years; and that of the Kali millennium is 1,200 years of the demigods [...] As aforementioned, one year of the demigods is equal to 360 years of the human beings. The duration of the Satya-yuga is therefore 4,800 x 360, or 1,728,000 years. The duration of the Tretā-yuga is 3,600 x 360, or 1,296,000 years. The duration of the Dvāpara-yuga is 2,400 x 360, or 864,000 years. And the last, the Kali-yuga, is 1,200 x 360, or 432,000 years in total.[web 2]
While the long yuga count is the most popular, it does not correlate to any known celestial motion found in the Astronomical Almanac. The value of 24,000 years fits relatively close with the modern astronomical calculation of one full precession of the equinox, which takes 25,772 years.[note 1] Thus the yuga cycle may have some basis in known terrestrial cycles. Srimad Bhagavatam 3.11.19 describes the timespans of the demigods, in which a year of a yuga is a year of the demigods. It is this second sloka which appears to have been modified over the years.
The ages see a gradual decline of dharma, wisdom, knowledge, intellectual capability, life span, emotional and physical strength.
- Kruta Yuga:- Virtue reigns supreme. Human stature was 21 cubits. Average human lifespan was 100,000 years.
- Treta Yuga: – There was 3 quarter virtue & 1 quarter sin. Normal human stature was 14 cubits. Average human lifespan was 10,000 years.
- Dwapara Yuga: – There was 1 half virtue & 1 half sin. Normal human stature was 7 cubits. Average human lifespan was 1,000 years.
- Kali Yuga: – There is 1 quarter virtue & 3 quarter sin. Normal human stature is 3.5 cubits. Average human lifespan will be 100 years.
In the present days we may be said to live in a Kali Yuga, which is said to have started in 3102 BCE with the end of the Mahabharata war. This date is also considered by many Hindus to be the day that Krishna left Earth.[note 2]
- This phenomenon is observed as the stars moving retrograde across the sky at about 50 arc seconds per year, and is thought to produce periods of warm ages and ice ages known as the Milankovitch cycle.
- According to Sri Yukteswar Giri, guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, The ascending phase of the Kali Yuga began in September 499 CE. Since September 1699, we have been in the ascending phase of the Dwapara Yuga. According to Sri Yukteswar, nobody wanted to announce the bad news of the beginning of the descending Kali Yuga, so they kept adding years to the Dvapara date (at that time 2400 Dvapara) only retitling the epoch to Kali.