Religious Beliefs

What do Hindus think about history and time?

Imagine a bird flying past the Himalayas every hundred years, brushing the mountain peaks with the silk scarf it holds in its beak. What we call history is the time it would take that bird to wear the mountains flat. And that would be only an infinitesimal fraction of divine time. History is an infinite cycle made up of smaller, measurable cycles of creation and destruction, but even the smaller cycles are unimaginably long. Hindu myth says that God, manifested as Brahma the creator, unfolds the material world over and over. Each lifetime of Brahma lasts a hundred divine years. Each day in the life of the creator deity is called a kalpa, lasting 4,320,000,000 years. Each kalpa, or great age (mahayuga), in turn is made up of four ages or aeons called yugas. The present cycle of human history began with the first yuga, a time of order and peace when the cosmic law (dharma) kept evil in check. During the second age disorder entered history. Dharma diminished, as did the span of human life. There followed a third age, when evil gained still greater strength and dharma weakened. Social fragmentation gave rise to the caste system and attempts to gain power through ritual sacrifice. We are now in the fourth and bleakest age, a time of darkness and lawlessness destined to end in four hundred thousand years. Then, after a period of quiescence, all will begin again, another day in the life of Brahma.


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