by Sadaputa das (Dr Richard L. Thompson)
1991 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Used by permission.
The ancient Greek writer Aratos tells the following story about the constellation Virgo, or the virgin. Virgo, he says, may have belonged to the star race, the forefathers of the ancient stars. In primeval times, in the golden age, she lived among mankind as Justice personified and would exhort people to adhere to the truth. At this time people lived peacefully, without hypocrisy or quarrel. Later, in the age of silver, she hid herself in the mountains, but occasionally she came down to berate people for their evil ways. Finally the age of bronze came. People invented the sword, and "they tasted the meat of cows, the first who did it." At this point Virgo "flew away to the sphere"; that is, she departed for the celestial realm.
The Vedic literature of India gives an elaborate description of the universe as a cosmos -- a harmonious, ordered system created according to an intelligent plan as a habitation for living beings. The modern view of the universe is so different from the Vedic view that the latter is presently difficult to comprehend. In ancient times, however, cosmogonies similar to the Vedic system were widespread among people all over the world. Educated people of today tend to immediately dismiss these systems of thought as mythology, pointing to their diversity and their strange ideas as proof that they are all simply products of the imagination.
If we do this, however, we may be overlooking important information that could shed light on the vast forgotten period that precedes the brief span of recorded human history. There is certainly much evidence of independent storytelling in the traditions of various cultures, but there are also many common themes. Some of these themes are found in highly developed form in the Vedic literature. Their presence in cultures throughout the world is consistent with the idea that in the distant past, Vedic culture exerted worldwide influence.
In this article we will give some examples of Vedic ideas concerning time and human longevity that appear repeatedly in different traditions. First we will examine some of these ideas, and then we will discuss some questions about what they imply and how they should be interpreted.
In the Vedic literature time is regarded as a manifestation of Krsna, the Supreme Being. As such, time is a controlling force that regulates the lives of living beings in accordance with a cosmic plan. This plan involves repeating cycles of creation and destruction of varying durations. The smallest and most important of these repeating cycles consists of four yugas, or ages, called Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali. In these successive ages mankind gradually descends from a high spiritual platform to a degenerated state. Then, with the beginning of a new Satya-yuga, the original state of purity is restored, and the cycle begins again.
The story of Virgo illustrates that in the ancient Mediterranean world there was widespread belief in a similar succession of four ages, known there as the ages of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. In this system humanity also starts out in the first age in an advanced state of consciousness and gradually becomes degraded. Here also, the progressive developments in human society are not simply evolving by physical processes, but are superintended by a higher controlling intelligence.
It is noteworthy that Aratos' story specifies the eating of cows as a sinful act that cut mankind off from direct contact with celestial beings. This detail fits in nicely with the ancient Indian traditions of cow protection, but it is unexpected in the context of Greek or European culture.
One explanation for similarities between ideas found in different cultures is that people everywhere have essentially the same psychological makeup, and so they tend to come up independently with similar notions. However, details such as the point about cow-killing suggest that we are dealing here with common traditions rather than independent inventions.
Another example of similarities between cultures can be found among the natives of North America. The Sioux Indians say that their ancestors were visited by a celestial woman who gave them their system of religion. She pointed out to them that there are four ages, and that there is a sacred buffalo that loses one leg during each age. At present we are in the last age, an age of degradation, and the buffalo has one leg.
This story is a close parallel to the account in the Srimad Bhagavatam of the encounter between Maharaja Pariksit and the bull of Dharma. There, Dharma is said to lose one leg with each successive yuga, leaving it with one leg in the present Age of Kali.
According to the Vedic system, the lengths of the Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali yugas are 4, 3, 2, and 1 times an interval of 432,000 years. Within these immense periods of time the human life span decreases from 100,000 years in the Satya-yuga to 10,000 years in the Treta-yuga, 1,000 years in the Dvapara-yuga, and finally 100 years in the Kali-yuga.
Of course, this idea is strongly at odds with the modern evolutionary view of the past. In the ancient Mediterranean world, however, it was widely believed that human history had extended over extremely long periods of time. For example, according to old historical records, Porphyry (c. 300 A.D.) said that Callisthenes, a companion of Alexander in the Persian war, dispatched to Aristotle Babylonian records of eclipses and that these records covered 31,000 years. Likewise, Iamblicus (fourth century) said on the authority of the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus that the Assyrians had made observations for 270,000 years and had kept records of the return of all seven planets to the same position. Finally, the Babylonian historian Berosus assigned 432,000 years to the total span of the reigns of the Babylonian kings before the Flood.
We do not wish to suggest that these statements are true (or that they are false). The point here is that people in the old Mediterranean civilization evidently had a much different view of the past than the dominant view today. And this view was broadly consistent with Vedic chronology.
Although the Bible is well known for advocating a very short time-span for human history, it is interesting to note that it contains information indicating that people at one time lived for about 1,000 years. In the Old Testament the following ages are listed for people living before the Biblical Flood: Adam, 930; Seth, 912; Enos, 905; Kenan, 910; Mahaleel, 895; Jared, 962; Enoch, 365; Methusaleh,969; Lamech, 777; and Noah, 950. If we exclude Enoch (who was said to have been taken up to heaven in his own body), these persons lived an average of 912 years.
After the Flood, however, the following ages were recorded: Shem, 600; Arphachshad, 438; Selah, 433; Eber, 464; Peleg, 239; Reu, 239; Serug, 230; Nahor, 148; Terah, 205; Abraham, 175; Issac, 180; Job, 210; Jacob, 147; Levi, 137; Kohath, 133; Amaram, 137; Moses, 120; and Joshua, 110. These ages show a gradual decline to about 100 years, similar to what must have happened after the beginning of Kali-yuga, according to the Vedic system.
Here we should mention in passing that the Biblical Flood is traditionally said to have taken place in the second or third millenium B.C., and the traditional date in India for the beginning of Kali-yuga is February 18, 3102 B.C. This very date is cited as the time of the Flood in various Persian, Islamic, and European writings from the sixth to the fourteenth centuries A.D. How did the middle-eastern Flood come to be associated with the start of Kali-yuga? The only comment we can make is that this story shows how little we really know about the past.
In support of the Biblical story of very long human life-spans in ancient times, the Roman historian Flavius Josephus cited many historical works that were available in his time:
Now when Noah had lived 350 years after the Flood, and all that time happily, he died, having the number of 950 years, but let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives...make the shortness of our lives at present an argument that neither did they attain so long a duration of life....
Now I have for witnesses to what I have said all those that have written Antiquities, both among the Greeks and barbarians, for even Manetho, who wrote the Egyptian history, and Berosus, who collected the Chaldean monuments, and Mochus, and Hestiaeus, and beside these, Hiernonymous the Egyptian, and those who composed the Phoenician history, agree with what I here say: Hesiod also, and Hecataeus, Hellanicaus, and Acuzilaus, and besides Ephorus and Nicolaus relate that the ancients lived a thousand years: but as to these matters, let everyone look upon them as he sees fit.
Unfortunately, practically none of the works referred to by Josephus are still existing, and this again shows how little we know of the past. But in existing Norse sagas it is said that people in ancient times lived for many centuries. In addition, the Norse sagas describe a progression of ages, including an age of peace, an age when different social orders were introduced, an age of increasing violence, and a degraded "knife-age and axe-age with cloven shields." The latter is followed by a period of annihilation, called Ragnarok, after which the world is restored to goodness.
The Norse Ragnarok involves the destruction of the earth and the abodes of the Norse demigods (called Asgard), and thus it corresponds in Vedic chronology to the annihilation of the three worlds that follows 1,000 yuga cycles, or one day of Brahma. It is said that during Ragnarok the world is destroyed with flames by a being called Surt, who lives beneath the lower world (appropriately called Hel) and was involved in the world's creation. By comparison, the Srimad Bhagavatam (3.11.30) states that at the end of Brahma's day, "the devastation takes place due to the fire emanating from the mouth of Sankarsana." Sankarsana is a plenary expansion of Krsna who is "seated at the bottom of the universe" (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.8.3), beneath the lower planetary systems.
There are many similarities between the Norse and Vedic cosmologies, but there are also great differences. One key difference is that in the Srimad Bhagavatam, all beings and phenomena within the universe are clearly understood as part of the divine plan of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In contrast, in the Norse mythology God is conspicuously absent, and the origin and purpose of the major players in the cosmic drama are very obscure. Surt, in particular, is a "fire giant" whose origins and motives are unclear even to experts in the Norse literature.
One might ask, If Vedic themes appear in many different societies, how can one conclude that they derive from an ancient Vedic civilization? Perhaps they were created in many places independently, or perhaps they descend from an unknown culture that is also ancestral to what we call Vedic culture. Thus parallels between the accounts of Surt and Sankarsana may be coincidental, or perhaps the Vedic account derives from a story similar to that of Surt.
Our answer to this question is that available empirical evidence will not be sufficient to prove the hypothesis of descent from an ancient Vedic culture, for all empirical evidence is imperfect and subject to various interpretations. But we can decide whether or not the evidence is consistent this hypothesis.
If there was an ancient Vedic world civilization, we would expect to find traces of it in many cultures around the world. We do seem to find such traces, and many agree with Vedic accounts in specific details (such as the location of Surt's abode or the sacred buffalo's loss of one leg per world age). Since this civilization began to lose its influence thousands of years ago, at the beginning of Kali-yuga, we would expect many of these traces to be fragmentary and overlain by many later additions, and this we also see. Thus the available evidence seems to be consistent with the hypothesis of a Vedic origin.
 E. C. Sachau, trans., Alberuni's India
(Delhi: S. Chand & Co., 1964), pp. 383-4.
 J. E. Brown, ed., The Sacred Pipe
(Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971), p. 9.
 D. Neugebauer, History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy
(Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1975), pp. 608-9.
 J. D. North, "Chronology & the Age of the World," in Cosmology,
History & Theology, eds. Wolfgang Yourgrau and A. D. Breck
(N. Y.: Plenum Press, 1977), p. 315.
 D. W. Patten and P. A. Patten, "A Comprehensive Theory on Aging,
Gigantism & Longevity," Catastrophism & Ancient History,
Vol. 2, Part 1 (Aug. 1979), p. 24.
 J. D. North, Ibid., p. 316-7.
 D. W. Patten, Ibid., p. 29.
 V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology, R. B. Anderson, trans.
(London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1889), pp. 88,94.
 Ibid., pp. 448-9.
Ancient Vedic Predictions And Prophecies
From Susan Ferguson
Symptoms of the Kali Yuga
Writing itself is a symptom of the Kali Yuga. If you think about it, humans beings have been on planet Earth far longer than we have any record of any written word. However there are a few ancient writings which give us some idea of the other three ages. These were orally transmitted, memorized texts which were handed down from generation to generation and later written in Sanskrit down during the Kali Yuga. We no longer possess this remarkable command of memory. Imagine memorizing complete books! Most of us can barely remember the grocery list!
From the Sanskrit text the Linga Purana:
Some of these ancient texts actually predicted the conditions which now in exist the Twilight of the Kali Yuga. Remember, these are predictions! The ancients who bothered to write these prophecies down did so because they considered them to be abnormal, unheard-of, and outrageous.
Thieves will become kings, and kings will be the thieves.
Rulers will confiscate property and use it badly.
They will cease to protect the people.
Base men who have gained a certain amount of learning (without having the virtues necessary for its use) will be esteemed as sages.
There will be many displaced persons, wandering from one country to another.
Predatory animals will be more violent.
Fetuses will be killed in the wombs of their mothers.
People will prefer to choose false ideas.
No one will be able to trust anyone else.
People will be envious.
There will be many children born whose life expectancy is no more than 16 years.
People suffering from hunger and fear will take refuge in "underground shelters."
Young girls will do trade in their virginity.
The god of clouds will be inconsistent in the distribution of the rains.
Shopkeepers will run dishonest businesses.
There will be many beggars and unemployed people.
Everyone will use hard and vulgar language.
Men will devote themselves to earning money; the richest will hold power.
The state leaders will no longer protect the people but, through taxes, will appropriate all wealth.
Water will be lacking.
And my favorite quote:
"Pre-cooked food will be readily available!"
The fact that our food supply contains very little nutrition and is full of toxins also tells us something about the frequencies of Time we live in.
(The source of this information is a wonderful book entitled: While the Gods Play: Shiva Oracles and Predictions on the Cycles of History and the Destiny of Mankind, by Alain Danielou; Inner Traditions International Ltd., paperback, 1985.)
The End of the World
From the Sanskrit Puranas and the Mahabharata
At the end of each Kalpa
There are three kinds of what we call the "end of the world" (paralaya): the first induced (naimittka); the second natural (prakrita); the third immediate (atyantika). Induced destruction (which concerns all living beings on earth) takes place at the end of each Kalpa [cycle of the Yuga(s)]. It is called either accidental or induced (naimittka).
Natural destruction (prakritka) is that which concerns the whole universe. It takes place when the divine dream which is the world ends. Matter, space, and time then cease to exist. It takes place at the end of time (parardha). [Vishnu Purana 1.3.1-3]
The third destruction, called immediate (atayantika), refers to the
liberation (moksha) of the individual for whom the visible world ceases
to exist. Immediate destruction therefore concerns the individual, induced
destruction all living species on earth, and natural destruction the end
of the universe.
Accidental or induced destruction (Naimittika Pralaya)
To put an end to the disastrous and unplanned increase in the number of living beings.
What is called accidental or provoked destruction (of living species) (naimittika) takes place at the end of...the cycle of Yugas. Therefore it concerns the human species. It takes place when the creator can no longer find any remedy apart from a total destruction of the world to put an end to the disastrous and unplanned increase in the number of living beings. [Mahabharata 12.248.13-17]
This destruction will start with an underwater explosion called Vadava,
the mare, which will take place in the southern ocean.
"It will be proceeded by a hundred year drought during which the people who are not robust will perish. The seas, the rivers, the mountain streams, and the underground streams will be drained.
Twelve suns will cause the seas to evaporate. Fed by this water, seven
suns will form which will reduce the three worlds to ashes; the earth will
become hard like a turtle's shell.
The underground serpent will burn the lower worlds A fire from the mouth of the underground serpent will burn the lower worlds, then the surface of the earth, and will set the atmosphere ablaze. This mass of fire will burn with a great noise. Surrounded by these circles of fire, all animate and inanimate objects will be destroyed.
The destroyer god will breathe enormous clouds, which will make a terrible noise.
A mass of clouds charged with energy, destroyer of all (sarvantaka), will appear in the sky like a herd of elephants. [Vishnu Purana 1.8.18-31]
When the moon is in the constellation of Pushya (Aquarius), invisible clouds called Pushkara (cloud of death) and Avarta (cloud without water, nirjala) will cover the earth. [Shiva Purana 5.1.48-50]
Immense clouds will darken the sky Some of these clouds will be black,
others white like jasmine, others bronzed, others gray like donkeys, others
red, others blue like lapis or sapphire, others speckled, orangish, indigo.
They will resemble towns or mountains. They will cover all the earth. These
immense clouds, making a terrible noise, will darken the sky and will shower
the earth in a rain of dust which will extinguish the terrible fire.
Then, by means of an interminable downpour, they will flood the whole earth with water. This torrential rain will swamp the earth for twelve years, and humanity will be destroyed. The whole world will be in darkness. The flood will last seven years and the earth will seems like an immense ocean. [Vishnu Purana 1.7.24-40]
Refuge in the extraplanetary world of Mahar When the dissolution of the world seems immanent, some people abandon the earth during the last days of the Kalpa and take refuge in the world of Mahar [the extraplanetary world] and from there will return to the world of life" (janaloka). [Linga Purana 1.4.39-40]
Seven humanities must again succeed each other on earth, and when the Golden Age reappears, seven sages will emerge to again teach the divine law to the few survivors of the four castes. [Shiva Purana 5.4.40-70]
Those few humans who survive the holocaust will be the progenitors of
the future humanity (Danielou).
The world dissolves into the imperceptible The destruction of the world is implied in the very event of the creation and follows the reverse process in the thoughts of the Creator. When the force of expansion (tamas) and that of concentration (sattva) equalize, the tension (rajas), which is the primary cause, the substance (pradhana) of the universe, ceases to exist and the world dissolves into the imperceptible.
All vestiges of creation are destroyed; Pradhana and Purusha become idle. The earth, the atmosphere, the planetary and extraplanetary worlds disappear. Everything that exists is united into one single liquid mass, an ocean of fire in which the world dissolves. It is in this immense cosmic ocean (ekarnava) that the organizing principle, Bramha, sleeps until, at the end of the night, he awakens and, taking the form of a wild boar, raises a new world out of the waves. [Linga Purana 1.4.36-61]
The duration of the universe is expressed by a number having eighteen
figures. When the end of time has come, the principle of smell (gandha
tanmatra) disappears and, with it, solid matter. Everything becomes liquid.
All that remains is the vibration of space Then the principle of taste (rasa tanmatra) disappears and with it the liquid element. Everything becomes gaseous. Then the principle of touch (sparsha tanmatra) disappears and with it the gaseous element. Everything becomes fire. Then the principle of visibility disappears, all that remains is the vibration of space, which in turn fades.
Like a void of spherical shape All that remains is space like a void of spherical shape where only the vibratory principle exists. This vibration is reabsorbed in the "Principle of the Elements" (bhutadi), that is, the principle of identification or of individuality (ahamkara), which is part of the force of expansion (tamas), which itself dissolves into a great principle (mahat tattva), which is the principle of consciousness (buddhi).
The plan (purusha), indestructible, omnipresent, which is emanation of Being, returns to its origin. [Vishnu Purana 1.8.9]
The game (lila) of the birth and the disappearance of the worlds is
an act of power of the Being who is beyond substance (pradhana) and beyond
the plan (purusha), beyond the manifest (vyakta) and the unmanifest (avyakta),
and beyond time (kala). The time of the Being has neither beginning nor
end. That is why the birth, duration, and disappearance of the worlds never
Apart from Being, nothing exists any longer At the time of the destruction neither day nor night, space or earth, darkness or light, nor anything else exists any longer, apart from Being, beyond the perceptions of the senses or thought. [Vishnu Purana 1.1.18-23]
From: While the Gods Play, Shaiva Oracles & Predictions on the Cycles
of History & the Destiny of Mankind by Alain Danielou, 1987, Inner