Yuga Dharma as basis for Human time scale
At several places, after the narration on Divya Yugas, the narrator switches over the Dharmic levels of different yugas. Dharma stands on all 4 legs in Krita, on 3 legs in Treta, on 2 legs in Dwapara and on only one leg in Kali yuga. The entry of a yuga is also known by the symptoms of degeneration of Dharma. For example, even though the Kali Maha Yuga of the Devas started after the exit of Krishna, the entry of Kali Purusha was stalled by Parikshit who allowed only a few sinful activities to take place. This gives rise to the opinion that (1) the exact entry date of a yuga is negotiable and (2) dharma is an indicator of yuga.
The entry date of a yuga of the Devas is non-negotiable as we know from the Sankalpa mantras. But Dharma is not fixed at all times. It oscillates thereby giving a leeway for a yuga to extend or retract. Before going into further details, let us know about a major feature associated with the end of a Divya yuga which is absent in other references to a switch over form one yuga to another.
This feature is the calamitous end witnessed at the end of a Yuga.
End of the Yuga – conflicting references.
At several places in Mahabharata we come across a description of fire, described as universal fire, samvartaka fire or Yuga fire. (MB 6-59, 7-198) This is also followed by a roar of clouds and universal floods (MB 7-142). Bheeshma describes a phenomenal fire engulfing all the worlds at the end of 1000 yugas, that is, at the end of a kalpa (MB 12-47).
Fire and deluge
The nature of fire is deduced from the reference to 2 blazing suns witnessed at the end of a yuga. Whenever two personalities were afflicted by weapons or in war with each other Mahabharata compares them with the 2 blazing suns at the end of a yuga.
(1) Krishna and Arjuna, afflicted by the arrows of Ashwatthama looked like 2 blazing suns seen at the end of a yuga (MB 8-17).
(2) Bheema and Ashvatthama looked so (MB 8-15)
(3) Nakula and Karna looked so (MB 8-24)
(4) Karna and Arjuna looked like 2 planets that arose for the destruction of the world at the end of the yuga (MB 8-87)
An understanding of what the 2nd sun stands for is known from the passage that describes the war between Yudhidhthira and Shalya. The blazing dart hurled by Yudhishthira at Shalya looked “like a large meteor falling from the skies at the end of the Yuga.” (MB 9-17)
This solves mystery of 2 suns at the end of the yuga. One of them is the sun. The other is an asteroid or meteor falling on the earth. It catches fire on falling and looks like a sun. An asteroid blazing like a sun must be huge in size and its impact will be felt globally.
This kind of catastrophic end of a yuga is not found in some other descriptions on the end of yuga!
Smooth transition between yugas.
In the passages describing the advent of Kalki Avatara, we find a smooth transition from Kali yuga to Krita yuga! There is no yuga fire or yuga flood or death and destruction at the end of this Kali yuga. Instead there is reference to reclamation of values and ethics thereby heralding the Krita yuga. The destruction is only of those that are causing the decay in Dharma.
Vishnu Purana 3-2 says, “ ..at the end of the Kali or fourth age he (Vishnu) appears as Kalki, and reestablishes the iniquitous in the paths of rectitude.”
Vishnu Purana 4-24 says, “By his irresistible might he (Kalki) will destroy all the Mlechchhas and thieves, and all whose minds are devoted to iniquity. He will then reestablish righteousness upon earth; and the minds of those who live at the end of the Kali age shall be awakened, and shall be as pellucid as crystal. The men who are thus changed by virtue of that peculiar time shall be as the seeds of human beings, and shall give birth to a race who shall follow the laws of the Krita age, or age of purity.”
The same is echoed in Mahabharata in the words of sage Markandeya to Yudhsihthira (MB 3-189-190). He says that at the end of Kali yuga, Kalki will be born and
“he will restore order and peace in this world crowded with creatures and contradictory in its course. And that blazing Brahmana of mighty intellect, having appeared, will destroy all things. And he will be the Destroyer of all, and will inaugurate a new Yuga. And surrounded by the Brahmanas, that Brahmana will exterminate all the mlecchas wherever those low and despicable persons may take refuge.
Having exterminated the thieves and robbers, Kalki will, at a great Horse-sacrifice, duly give away this earth to the Brahmanas, and having established anew the blessed rectitude ordained by the Self-create, Kalki, of sacred deeds and illustrious reputation, will enter a delightful forest, and the people of this earth will imitate his conduct, and when the Brahmanas will have exterminated the thieves and robbers, there will be prosperity everywhere on earth.”
The entire basis of this transition is DHARMA!
Basis of Yuga Dharma
The transgression of Dharma had happened many times in the past leading to overlapping of yugas. How was order restored in those times? A question similar to this was raised by Yudhishthira to Bheeshma in Mahabharata 12-139. In reply to this, Bheeshma quotes a dialogue between Sauvira king Satrunjaya and sage Bharadwaja.
Sauvira belongs to the Sindhu (Indus) region – the region that is now proved beyond doubt to have been a manufacturing and trading hub at the time of and after Mahabharata. Interestingly true to the nature of this region, Satrunjaya asked about the science of Profit! The questions included everything connected with trade, like acquiring an object, increasing the object, protecting the object and using the object leading to the generation of profits. How to get them all done? Bharadwaja’s reply is simple – establishment of the rod of chastisement of the king!
When the king is Dharmic, everything will fall in line.
100% of it makes Krita yuga, 3/4th of it makes Treta yuga, ½ of it makes Dwapara yuga and ¼ th of it makes Kali yuga.
Ruler / king decides the Yuga.
Following are the references to Yuga being decided by the conduct (dharma) of the king (and therefore the people).
'O bull of Bharata's race, that Krita, Treta, Dwapara, and Kali, as regards their setting in, are all dependent on the king's conduct.' (MB: Shanti parva -140)
'Whether it is the king that makes the age, or, it is the age that makes the king, is a question about which thou shouldst not entertain any doubt. The truth is that the king makes the age. The king is the creator of the Krita age, of the Treta, and of the Dwapara. The king is the cause of the fourth age called Kali. ' (MB: Shanti parva – 68)
'When the king properly abides by the penal code, without making any portion of it a dead letter, then that best of periods called the Krita Yuga sets in. Let not this doubt be thine, viz, whether the era is the cause of the king, or the king the cause of the era, for know this to be certain that the king is the cause of the era. It is the king that creates the Krita, the Treta, or the Dwapara age. Indeed, it is the king that is the cause of also the fourth Yuga viz, the Kali' Kunti (MB: Udhyoga parva -132)
“The king is the lord and father of the whole universe. He is time, he is Yuga and he is the creation, mobile and immobile. He is called Dharma because he holdeth all. It is Dharma that upholdeth all mankind. It is by Dharma that the three worlds are being preserved”. (Valmiki Ramayana: 7-71)
In Kali yuga, the rule of law or Dharma is established by Kalki, thereby ushering in Krita yuga.
One must remember that this yuga scale is applicable to Bharata varsha ONLY (MB 6-10).
The Divya yuga measurement of time with destruction and deluge is applicable to the whole world at the end of each yuga and to the solar system at the end of Kalpa. But the cyclical repetition of 4 yugas measured by Dharma is applicable to Bharata varsha only. Every time a transgression of Dharma takes place Bhagawan appears (avatara) in this land only. The identification of a yuga in terms of Dharma is reiterated by Narada, Hanuman, Vyasa and Markandeya among others which can be read in the Itihasas.
Treta yuga of Ramayana
The most important question is when did Treta Yuga of Ramayana happen?
Instant answer is that it did not happen lakh years ago as that scale pertains to Divya Yuga of the Devas and Brahma (galactic).
Thoughtful answer is that it happened some time before Krishnavatara when Dharma was 3/4th of what was in Krita yuga. Some notable features of this yuga are - there is no untimely death of kids, food is produced with little effort (like not breaking the earth but by sprinkling the seeds), kings are engaged in yajnas, presence of many Vedas, Brahmins and kshatriyas practicing emancipation etc. However overlap of yugas is reported in the Treta Yuga of Ramayana. Two such instances are found in Treta yuga that give us a better perspective on how the yugas were identified by our ancestors and sages.
Krita and Kali in the Treta Yuga of Rama.
War clouds had reached Lanka and Malyavan, the maternal grandfather of Ravana tried to convince Ravana to call for a truce with Rama. In that context Malyavan talks about Yugas being formed by Dharma!
He says that Dharma is on the side of ‘suras’ and ‘mahatman’ (high- souled Devas). Adharma is on the side of ‘asuras’ (demons) (VR:6-35-13)
When Dharma swallows Adharma, it becomes Krita yuga; when Adharma swallows Dharma, it stimulates Kali yuga. (VR: 6-35-14)
Therefore, while you (Ravana) were wandering in the worlds, Dharma was destroyed and you favoured Adharma. So the enemies are stronger than us. (VR: 6-35-15)
These 3 verses imply that in the period of Ravana, Kali yuga has appeared because Adharma was favoured by him as a king. When the king (ruler) is adharmic, the yuga is that of Kali. Though it was Treta Yuga, Kali had entered by the acts of Ravana.
But once he was over powered by Rama and Dharma was restored, that moment was Krita yuga.
Once Rama ascended to throne, it was Treta yuga dharma in place. Presence of 1/4th of Adharma in that period can be ascertained from many instances found in Uttara khanda which describe the rule of Rama. As an example, one can quote the suffering caused to a dog by a Brahman in penury (VR: 7- 70 & 71)
Krita in Treta yuga of Janaka.
There is reference to Krita yuga during the rule of Janaka of Mithila who was the father-in-law of Rama. This finds mention in Mahabharata (12-308) in a dialogue between Janaka and Sulabha, a bhikshuki about emancipation. Mahabharata says, ‘atha dharmayuge’ – in that Dharma yuga, referring to Krita yuga where Dharma is full.
The reason for this reference to the yuga of Janaka is known from the context where this appears. Yudhishthira asks Bheeshma whether there was anyone who attained emancipation without abandoning the domestic mode of life (Grahasthasrama). In reply Bheeshma picks out Janaka and starts the narration by referring to his yuga as Krita or Dharma yuga.
In Krita yuga there was no differentiation between ashramas and all Brahmins were engaged in emancipation. In Treta Yuga the ashrama differences have appeared and kshatriyas were entitled to seek emancipation. But that can happen only in the last two stages of Ashramas and not in the householder phase. But Janaka, though engaged in kingly duties and householder’s duties behaved like one from Krita yuga where these differences were nil. Janaka’s endeavour for emancipation finds a special mention in Bhagawad Gita also. His practice was that of one in Krita yuga.
This incident shows how pockets of other yugas can happen with reference to individuals. The previous case involving Malyavan shows how other yugas occur for regions when dharma is transgressed by the king.
Treta in Dwapara yuga.
Similar kind of overlap is reported in Mahabharata wherein sage Lomasa identifies a place in the river Yamuna as a junction of Treta yuga and Dwapara yuga. (MB: 3-125) The Dharma of the running yuga was Dwapara. But Treta was also noticed at that place. Looking for hints in those passages we do come across references to availability of food without effort and sacrifices done by kshatriyas like Mandhata. These two features are those of Treta yuga. The surroundings brimming with the flora is that of Treta. That continued till the times of Pandavas of Dwapara yuga when they visited that place. Sage Lomasa had identified that place as one where Treta and Dwapara co-existed.
Another reference of a similar kind is also found in Mahabharata reinforcing the idea that Yuga was identified on the basis of Dharma and there is scope for overlapping of yugas.
Kali in Treta Yuga.
In a holy spot in the region of river Narmada, sage Lomasa identifies a junction of Treta and Kali yuga (MB: 3-121) The narration takes place in Dwapara yuga and therefore Dharma had not yet declined to the level of Kali yuga then. But in that location, Kali yuga had overlapped with Treta yuga -the yuga that was supposed to be more Dharmic than Dwapara. The context lays bare the reasons for this reference.
In that place a Brahmin sage by name Chyavana was doing penance and the Kshatriya king Saryati was conducting many yajnas. These two practices are typical of Treta Yuga. The penance of Chayavana was so severe that an anthill covered him in due course. At that time the King Saryati with his family was camping at that place. The king’s daughter Sukanya was happily playing around. Everything is perfect. But the sage happened to see her through the gaps in the ant hill and kept watching her with lust and without her knowledge. This is Kali yuga Dharma! Kali had sprung in Treta yuga here.
The story goes further which can be read in Mahabharata. For our understanding another incident also happened here. Sukanya who was by now Chyavana’s wife had gone to fetch water. There she was spotted by the Aswin brothers who desired her even after coming to know that she was a married woman. Thus grave adhramic actions that are characteristic of Kali yuga were happening in Treta yuga at that location.
With all these, why that location and era came to be known as Treta Yuga? The reason is that even with all the transgressions that had happened, Dharma of the measure of Treta yuga was restored soon. Aswins regained their composure and Chayavana did a break-through yajna in which for the first time Aswins were offered Soma. Such an event can happen only in Treta Yuga.
Dwapara in kali yuga.
The overlap happened even in recent times of Kali yuga. The Vaishnavite text called ‘3000-padi Guru parampara prabhavam’ identifies four Azhwars of the Vaishnavite tradition as belonging to Dwapara yuga. Other Azhwars were born in Kali Yuga. But it is well known from one of hymns of the four Azhwars (of Dwapara yuga), that they had lived in the former centuries of the Common Era under Pallava-rule.
One of the four Azhwars, by name Bhoothataazhwar specifically mentions about ‘Maamallai’ (olden name for Mahabalipuram) in his hymn (2nd Tiruvandhathi – 70). This name came into being only after the Pallava king. So it is very clear that this Azhwar and the other three who were his contemporaries had lived during Pallava reign in the present Kali Yuga. But why then the Acharya had written that they belonged to Dwapara yuga?
The only plausible explanation is that the reign of the Pallava king was more Dharmic with ½ in its fold as in Dwapara. Since the tradition is to identify by means of legs of Dharma, they have been identified as being born in Dwapara yuga.
In any reference to a yuga, one must look at its context, whether referring to Divya yuga or Dharma Yuga and make a rational and realistic assessment of span of life and span of yuga under consideration. The Dharma yuga also follows the same order like Divya yuga from Krita to Kali, though there is absolutely no specific time limit given by any sages anywhere in the texts for the duration of each of the Yuga in Dharma scale. The incidents of overlap of other yugas within a yuga shows that such rigid span of a yuga was not supported by the sages. The rigid span is only applicable to Divya yugas.
The Yuga is only assessed by the measure of Dharma for human beings. Though one can experience yugas of higher Dharma even in this Kali yuga by means of thought, word, action and satsang, it is for those fortunate few to enjoy the higher Dharma. For, the decider of the Yuga is the king – in today’s conditions, the rule of Law. That has an overpowering effect on our lives in this Bharata varsha.
Salutations to our sages for the knowledge of yugas given to us through which we strive to shed darkness to attain Light.