HOW OLD ARE WE?

V. Vemuri, Pleasanton, CA

Long before modern science told us that this universe is about 15 to 20 billion years old, long before modern science told us that this planet Earth is about 5 billion years old, Indian sages gave the following accounting for the age of their “universe.”

Let us begin at the present time and work backwards. The current era is called Kali Yuga. According to tradition, this era began with the death of Krishna, about 5,000 years ago. According to the ancient sages of India, Kali Yuga will last for 4,32,000 years.

Immediately prior to Kali Yuga was a stretch of time called Dwapar Yuga; it was twice as long as Kali Yuga, or 2 x 4,32,000 years. Prior to that was Treta Yuga of 3 x 4,32,000 years. Before that, it was Krita Yuga with a duration of 4 x 4,32,000 years. All these four yugas together is a Maha Yuga, the Great Era. So a Maha Yuga is 4.32 million years, ten times as long as Kali Yuga. Incidentally, the beginning of the latest Maha Yuga coincides roughly with, what modern science calls, the emergence of humanoids.

Twenty seven Maha Yugas is one Pralaya. Seven Pralayas is one Manvantara. Finally, six Manvantaras is a Kalpa. That is, one Kalpa is 27x7x6 = 1,134 Maha Yugas. This works out to 1134 x 4.3 million = 4.876 billion years. And, according to modern science, that is the approximate age of the planet Earth.

How did the ancient Indians even venture to guess such a huge number for the age of Earth while the Westerners, until recently, thought that the earth was only 5,000 years old? I do not know, but who can stop us from guessing how they might have guessed?

Remember that ancient Indians were excellent astronomers. They hypothesized that at the beginning of the creation (of the solar system, that is), all the planets started their journeys at one “common point in the sky." That is, in the beginning, all the planets were lined up along a ray drawn from the Sun. Then they began circling (the Sun) at different speeds; different speeds because they are located at different distances. Then the Indian astronomers suggested that the “common point in the sky” be identified as the location where we find the star "Aswini," the first of the twenty seven “stars” (really, constellations) of the Hindu calendar. Stated differently, they imagined a time when all the nine planets (mercury, venus, earth, mars, jupiter, saturn, and the two shadow planets Rahu and Ketu), the apogees of their orbits, and their nodes (i.e., the points where their orbits intersect the path of the Sun are all near the star Aswini (or the modern Beta of Aries). They suggested that we use that instance as the beginning of time for calendar purposes. Now suppose we count the periods of orbital revolutions of the planets, roundoff the periods to the nearest integers, and find their least common multiple (LCM). That number turns out to be approximately 4.320 billion years, a number not too far from the length of a Kalpa, defined earlier. One thousandth of this is 4.32 million years or a Maha Yuga. A tenth of this Maha Yuga is the duration of Kali Yuga.

What happens at the end of Kali Yuga?

The present Kalpa ends and a new Kalpa presumably begins. At that time, perhaps all the planets will be aligned once again in the constellation of Aswini. It is not too difficult for a diligent astronomy student to verify whether such an alignment is possible after 4,32, 000 years, give or take a few years!

This is not the only time reckoning scheme invented by Indians. At least a couple of other methods arrive at approximately the same time scales.

The name of this Kalpa is Sweta Varaaha Kalpa (the Kalpa of the White boar). The name of the current Manvantara is Vaivaswata Manvantara.

Are there 14 Manus or seven Manus?

What are the names of the other Manus and Manvantaras?


rvemuri@ucdavis.edu

Thursday the 8th, May 1997