We live in the 21 st century which has given us the concept of Light years but when we probe into the concept of Time in Hinduism we will find that such things are child’s play to the Hindu mind which has always calculated time in astronomical proportions. The idea of time in Hinduism is cyclical and not linear since that is the nature of Life. A seed grows into a sapling and then a tree leaves a new seed for another tree and this cycle repeats endlessly. Every seed has the potential within it for a future tree. It carries the complete information of the tree genetically encoded within it and every tree carries within it a potential seed for a future tree. The sun causes water to evaporate and form clouds, which shed their water over land, forming streams and rivers which ultimately wind their way back to the ocean, to once again repeat the cycle.
We take all these things for granted and don’t think much about them. However our rishis deducted from these facts which are evident that the human being and the cosmos must also be following the cyclical order of Nature. The human being has a divine center called the atman which is eternal and a physical body which is mortal and is always changing. When the person dies, it’s only his body which decomposes and returns to the soil from which it has come. The jivatma (embodied atman) however has to play out its role according to the law of karma so it takes another body and again plays the part of a baby, infant, child, adult and old person and finally leaves that body also to take another body and go through a similar cycle once again.
Now let us look at the way we represent time in a clock or watch. Every second is repeated after one minute (60 seconds), every minute is repeated after one hour (60 minutes), every hour is repeated after one day (24 hours), every day is repeated after seven days (1 week), every week is repeated after four weeks (one month) and every month is repeated after twelve months (1 year). So logically speaking every year should also repeat itself after a certain period of time. In the Hindu system, a year is known as a “samvatsara”. Each samvatsara has a name. Hindu astronomers calculated that after 60 samvatsaras are over, the cycle starts once again. The reason for this is to be found in a certain alignment of the planets.
A conjunction of the sun and moon occurs when the planet Brihaspati (Jupiter) and Makara (Capricorn) come in alignment and this occurs every 60 years and that is the basis for counting a 60 year cycle. Hindu scriptures provide separate names for all the sixty years of a 60 year cycle. Beyond this we have the epochs or yugas. There are four yugas in Hinduism known as Satya Yuga which lasts for 1,728,000 samvatsaras or years, Treta Yuga which lasts for 1,296,000 samvatsaras, Dwapara Yuga which lasts for 864,000 samvatsaras and Kali Yuga which lasts for 432,000 years.
We must understand that these yugas are not just arbitrary calculations made by the rishis. The word “Yuj” means to unite or align. When we practice yoga we align the body, mind and breath. In a yuga there is an alignment of astral bodies as seen in the samvatsaras. Many such conjunctions and alignments keep happening in the sky over the centuries, while the earth, moon and planets keep revolving around the sun, day after day, year after year. These cosmic alignments occur at specific times ranging from one year to 5 years, to 60 years to 360 years and to 26,000 years and 432,000 years and take place periodically. These alignments were used by the rishis to track time on different time scales. Each of these alignments is known as a yuga. Thus yuga is a generic unit of time. It denotes different alignments at different periods of time. As is to be expected the yugas also follow the cyclic pattern of the cosmos.
The concept of time in Hinduism is so vast that even this is not the end of recorded time. Obviously these yugas are also cyclical. Four yugas are collectively known as a Chaturyuga or a Mahayuga which adds up to 4,320,000 samvatsaras.
Seventy-one Mahayugas make up one “manvantara” over which one Manu or celestial law giver is in charge.
Fourteen manvantaras or 1,000 Mahayugas make one Kalpa (4,320,000,000 samvatsaras) which is only one day or one night in the life cycle of Brahma, the creator. 360 days and 360 nights of this type is one year in the life of Brahma. The rare occasion when the sun, moon and Brihaspati (Jupiter) meet at the planet, Sravishta repeats at an interval of 865 million years. Such a conjunction occurs five times in one Kalpa.
One parardha is 50 years in the life of Brahma, the creator. His life span is 100 years of the above calculation. Thus he lives for 2 parardhas. But these 2 parardhas are only one breath of the cosmic being — Maha Vishnu!! When Maha Vishnu breathes in, the entire cosmos of countless universes are drawn into his body. When he breathes out, all these countless universes are re-created and become manifest once again.
Each Kalpa has its own Brahma and other divine beings. We are living in the Kali Yuga in which 50 years or one parardha of the present Brahma has been completed. He has now turned 50 and is now in the morning of his 51 st year! According to human calculations this would be 15,55,20,00,00,00,000 samvatsaras! This kalpa is known as the Swetavaraha Kalpa of which 6 Manvantaras are over and we are in the 7th Manvantara known as Vaivasvata.
The Vaivasvata Manvantara has 71 Mahayugas of which 27 are over. Of the 28 th Mahayuga, 3 yugas (Satya, Treta and Dwapara) are over and we are in the 4 th yuga known as Kali Yuga. 5118 samvatsaras have passed since the start of the Kali Yuga and next year in 2018 we will be starting the 5119th year. Actually we are in the 155,521,960,853,116th year of this Kalpa, which is the second parardha of the creator Brahma, which we should remember is only a half-breath for Maha Vishnu! He will inhale at the end of this Kalpa and this particular creation will cease to exist. The whole thing will start once again when he exhales!
All the beings of this universe including Brahma, the creator and the other gods are ruled by Time. They are all created, live and are destroyed by the one Supreme and powerful Being who in this case is known as Maha Vishnu, who has no birth or death. Thus a universe exists only for one Maha Kalpa which is a period which involves the whole life span of the creator Brahma which its two parardhas. At the end of it, the universe is completely destroyed together with the creator Brahma and a new universe will be created with a new Brahma. The Vedic universe passes through repetitive cycles of creation and destruction. During the annihilation of the universe, energy is conserved, to manifest again in the next creation like the earth conserves grass seeds during summer only to have them burst into life at the beginning of the monsoons. This is the cycle which goes on endlessly both in our world and in the cosmos. So we see how Vedic chronology is totally based on astronomy and stretches across vast periods of time which are only now being envisaged by Western scientists.
Thus we see that time is cyclical. It does not start on a particular day and end at another particular day. It has neither a beginning nor an end. So it’s always represented as a circle. Hindu calculation of time is cyclical and does not depend on any mundane event like the birth of a person (Christian calendar), or the running away of a man from one city to another to save his life (Muslim calendar) but only on the movements of the heavenly bodies of the cosmos. That is to say the Hindu calculation of time is based on astronomy and actual facts which are taking place in the cosmos. Therefore we can safely say that Hindu chronology alone is scientific.
Now that our head is reeling with the vastness of Time as revealed in the Vedas let us see how the rishis were also able to conceive of the smallest units of Time.
Vedic astronomy gives a very detailed division of the Time up to the lowest sub division which is prana or respiration which has a time lapse of four seconds. The lowest sub division of prana is the same part of the day as the minute is of the circle, so that a respiration of time is equivalent to a minute of apparent revolution of the heavenly bodies above the earth.
According to western calculations 24 hours make 1 day and 1 night. In the Vedas 1 nadi is equal to 24 minutes, 1 vinadi is equal to 24 seconds, 1 prana is equal to 4 seconds, 1 nimisha is equal to 88.8889 milliseconds, 1 tatpara is equal to 2.96296 milliseconds and finally 1 truti is equal to 29.6296 microseconds or 33,750 th part of a second.
It is difficult to conceive that Hindu astronomers could even conceive much less measure such a small interval of time like a “truti” without any modern instruments. One unit of prana, which is 4 seconds, is the time an average healthy man needs to complete one respiration or to pronounce ten long syllables called “guruvakshara”.
The Hindu year is divided into two sections of six months each. These are called Uttarayanam and Dakshinayanam. Uttarayanam starts on January 14 th and ends on July 14th. Dakshinayanam starts on July 14 th and ends on January 14th. In Uttarayanam the sun starts its journey towards the North and the northern hemisphere starts to enjoy spring and summer. In Dakshinayanam the sun appears to make a dramatic turn and starts its journey towards the South thus heralding the beginning of autumn and winter in the northern hemisphere.
The Hindu calendar begins in March/April. This is the time when the sun arrives at the point in Aries when the earth starts its rotation round the sun. Even today in places like Afghanistan and Iran, New Year is celebrated on March 21 st since this is the ancient Vedic concept.
Of course there is an important scientific reason why Hindus celebrate New Year in March/April. The Sanskrit word for the equator is Visvadrutta Rekha. This means a line that splits the world into two halves. An equinox is the time when the sun is exactly over the equator and days and nights are equal. In the whole of India and in most ancient civilizations, this period came to be celebrated as the start of the new calendar year. Thus the New Year was based on the movement of the sun.
When we read about these enormous periods of time the earth has passed we are all reminded of our own insignificance. We are made to realise the insignificance of time on one hand as well as the importance of every second. Despite the minute and gargantuan calculations made by the Hindus, we still believe that Time is only a mental concept. It exists only so long as we are bound to the things of this world through our senses. It is a mental concept created by the movement of our senses, the celestial objects and our perceptions. It is part of the illusion in which we live and which we take for real. In the consciousness of the Supreme Being there are no divisions of Time. There is only the present moment, one continuous, indivisible and indistinguishable state of existence.
The Rig Veda exhorts us to be conscious of every moment of time. “Study the attributes of Ushas (dawn) in order to know the science of Time.” (Rig Veda 1–92- 2). “Each dawn reduces your life span.” (Rig Veda 1–95- 1 onwards). “Time is unsurmountable. You get nothing before time or more than destined.” Vidura in the Mahabharata. Stri Parva verse 2.222
Hari Aum Tat Sat