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Time in Hinduism

Hinduism is known for its absurd units of time. Because of the extensive span of Hinduism and Hindu mythology, time can become increasingly complex and enigmatic. Just as there are multiple systems of measuring time today, there are multiple Hindu systems as well. I have chosen the most comprehensive one. Let us start with the smallest unit of time and move forward:

The Smallest Units of Time

The smallest unit of time in Hindu mythology is known as Alpakala. If two leaves are placed on top of each other and they are pierced by a needle, the time required for the needle to pass from the first leaf to the second leaf is known as Alpakala. The next units of time are pretty simple:

  1. Truti: Thirty Alpakalas make up one Truti
  2. Kala: Thirty Trutis make up one Kala
  3. Kastha: Thirty Kalas make up one Kastha, which is also known as a Nimisha, Noti, or Matra
  4. Ganita: Four Kasthas make up one Ganita
  5. Netuvirppu: Ten Ganitas make up one Netuvirppu
  6. Vinazhika: Six Netuvirppus make up one Vinazhika
  7. Ghatika: Sixty Vinazhikas make up one Ghatika

Now, this is where it became confusing for me, especially with the obscure wording of the Bhagavata Purana. Sixty Ghatikas comprise one Ahoratra, which is one 24-hour day for regular human beings. Fifteen days (ahoratras) constitute one Paksha and two Pakshas constitute a Chandra masa, which is a 30-day lunar month. Twelve Chandra masas (lunar months) make up one year for human beings.

Human Years vs. Deva Years

We are now going to move away from the human scale and transitioning to the godly scale. One year for human beings (twelve Chandra-masas) is equivalent to one ahoratra (one day and night) for the devas! 360 deva-ahoratras form one year for the devas. A deva-year is known as a Deva-Vatsara, also known as a Divya-Vatsara.

The Yuga Scheme

Pie chart of the 4 Yugas of a Chaturyuga

This post might not have been very interesting so far. But this is when it gets really fascinating. 12,000 Deva-Vatsaras make up one Chaturyuga, also known as a Divya-yuga or Mahayuga. A Chaturyuga consists of 4 Yugas: Kritayuga (Satyayuga), Tretayuga, Dwaparayuga, and Kaliyuga. Kritayuga is 4,800 Deva-Vatsaras, Tretayuga spans 36,000 Deva-Vatsaras, Dwaparayuga is 2,400 Deva-Vatsaras long, and Kaliyuga is 1,200 Deva-Vatsaras long.

Thus, if the calculations are performed, Kritayuga lasts approximately for 1,728,000 human years. Tretayuga lasts for 1,296,000 human years. Dwaparayuga lasts for 864,000 human years. And Kaliyuga lasts for 432,000 human years. Those are enormous numbers! Thus, a Chaturyuga lasts for 4,320,000 human years.

Kritayuga is known as the Golden Age as it is the best Yuga. During Kritayuga, there is no crime and everybody is righteous. All men resemble religious saints. The weather is always pleasant during Kritayuga, there is no mining or agriculture because the Earth produces its own resources, and there is an absence of disease. Everybody is gigantic and big-built, but also virtuous and honest. Everybody lives on for thousands of years.

Treta Yuga is next Yuga. During Treta Yuga, humans become slightly less virtuous and righteous. Violent kings are born and cause bloody wars. The weather starts becoming extreme and humans start mining and farming.

The third Yuga is Dwapara Yuga. During this time period, humans, in general, become less strong and able. Diseases become common and humans start fighting each other for power. The average life span is reduced to a couple centuries.

Kali Yuga is the final age. “Kali” means “dark”, so it an age of darkness and ignorance. It is the opposite of Kritayuga. Humans become dishonest sinners and commit unbelievable sins. Knowledge is disregarded as useless and the scriptures fade into the past. The wealth and strength of humans are lesser than the previous Yugas. By the end of Kali Yuga, humans have ruined the environment and their average lifespan is merely 20 years.

Manvantaras and the Time Scale of Brahma

Now, there are 71 Chaturyugas in a Manvantara. Thus, a Manvantara lasts for 852,000 Deva-Vatsaras, or 306,720,000 human years. Every Manvantara has a new Indra, a new group of gods, and a new Manu. This is when we must understand that the terms “Indra” and “Manu” are just positions, not names of specific people. Every Manvantara, the Manu is the one who is the progenitor of the human race and is the first man on Earth. Each Manvantara also has a new group of Saptarishis (seven great sages).

There are 14 Manvantaras in a Kalpa, which is one day-time of the creator god, Brahma. Before the first Manvantara, after the last Manvantara, and between all the Manvantaras, there are periods called Sandhikalas. A Sandhikala is essentially a transitional period during which the Earth is submerged in the Garbodhaka ocean. There are 15 Sandhikalas and each Sandhikala has the same duration as a Kritayuga (4,800 Deva-Vatsaras, or 1,728,000 human years). If we add up all of the Sandhikalas and all of the Manvantaras, we get 4,320,000,000 human years, or 12,000,000 Deva-Vatsaras.

Thus, one day-time of Lord Brahma lasts for 4,320,000,000 human years (12,000,000 Deva-Vatsaras). Obviously, after every Kalpa (day-time of Lord Brahma), there is a night-time of Lord Brahma, which is known as a Brahma-Ratra. The Brahma-Ratra is the same length as a Kalpa. Thus, one full day of Lord Brahma consists of a Kalpa and a Brahma-Ratra and is 8,640,000,000 human years (24,000,000 Deva-Vatsaras). Just think about that for a second!

Lord Brahma in space

The Creation and Destruction Cycle

At the beginning of every Kalpa (day-time of Lord Brahma), the entire universe is created by Lord Brahma. He creates the aspects of nature, immovable objects, qualities of beings, rishis, devas, etc. Throughout the Kalpa, life exists in the universe. In every Manvantara of the Kalpa, a new Indra and group of gods, a new Manu, and new Saptarishis are born. At the end of the Kalpa, the lower ten realms of the universe are destroyed. Spiritual beings transcend to higher realms or to the spiritual Vaikuntha planets which are outside the material universe. Others who aren’t free from the bonds of materialism perish and are reborn in the next Kalpa. Then, during the Brahma-Ratra, the universe is dark and nothing exists. During the Brahma-Ratra, Lord Vishnu sleeps on Ananta-Sesha in the Garbodhaka Ocean. Soon enough, the Brahma-Ratra is over and the Kalpa cycle starts again.

Thirty days (Kalpa + Brahma-Ratra) of Brahma make on month and 12 months make one year. Thus one year of Brahma is 360 days of Brahma, or 3.1104 trillion human years (8,640,000,000 Deva-Vatsaras). A year of Brahma is known as a Brahmavarsha. Brahma lives for 100 years. Thus, the lifespan of Brahma, known as the Mahakalpa consists of one hundred Brahmavarshas. A Mahakalpa is 311.04 trillion years (864,000,000,000 Deva-Vatsaras)! At the beginning of the Mahakalpa, Brahma is born and at the end, Brahma passes away.

These numbers just make us realize how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. A mayfly’s lifespan of just 24-hours is minuscule compared to our lifespan. Similarly, our lifespan is insignificant when compared to the lifespan of the devas. But their lifespan is atomic when compared to the lifespan of Lord Brahma.

Where are We?

You are probably wondering: Where are we in this endless expanse of time?

Our Brahma is currently 51 years old. We are living during the first day (Kalpa) of his 51st year. The previous Kalpa was known as the Padma-Kalpa. The current day of Brahma (Kalpa) is known as the Shveta-Varaha Kalpa. Within this Kalpa, six Manvantaras have already passed and we are living during the seventh Manvantara, known as the Shraddhadeva Manvantara, also known as Vaivasvata Manvantara. The name of our Manu is Vaivasvata Manu, the son of Surya and Sanjana. The name of our Indra is Purandar. Our Saptarishis are Kashyapa, Atri, Vasistha, Vishwamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Bharadvaja.

Within this Manvantara, we are currently in the Kali Yuga of the 28th Chaturyuga. This Kali Yuga is said to have begun at midnight of 18th February, 3102 B.C.E. in the Julian calendar. Thus, 5,121 years of this Kali Yuga have passed and 426,879 years are left till the end of this Kali Yuga.

As stated above, there are 14 Manavantaras in the Kalpa. The Manavantaras of our Kalpa are:

  1. Swayambhava Manvantara
  2. Swarochisa Manvantara
  3. Uttama Manvantara
  4. Tamasa/Tapasa Manvantara
  5. Raivata Manvantara
  6. Chakshusa Manvantara
  7. Vaivasvata/Shraddhadeva Manvantara (current)
  8. Savarni Manvantara
  9. Daksha Savarni Manvantara
  10. Brahma Savarni Manvantara
  11. Dharma Savarni Manvantara
  12. Rudra Savarni Manvantara
  13. Rauchya/Deva Savarni Manvantara
  14. Indra Savarni Manvantara

You now know about all 14 Manvantaras of our current Kalpa. Below is a chronological timeline of notable events that have taken place in our Kalpa:

  • Beginning of Swayambhava Manavantara: Brahma creates the Universe, Vishnu takes Matsya Avatar and kills the demon Hayagriva, Vishnu takes Varaha Avatar and rescues the Earth

  • Swayambhava Manavantara: Story of Dhruva

  • Tamas Manavantara: Lord Vishnu saves Gajendra

  • End of Chakshusha Manvantara: Matsya Avatar saves King Satyavrata

  • 4th Treta Yuga of Vaivasvata Manvantara: Narasimha kills Hiranyakashipu

  • 7th Treta Yuga of Vaivasvata Manvantara: Vamana seizes the land of the asura king Bali

  • 10th Treta Yuga of Vaivasvata Manvantara: Birth of Dattatreya

  • 15th Treta Yuga of Vaivasvata Manvantara: Reign of King Mandhata

  • 19th Treta Yuga of Vaivasvata Manvantara: Parshuram annihilates Kartavirya Arjuna and other Kshatiyas

  • 24th Treta Yuga of Vaivasvata Manvantara: The Ramayana

  • End of 28th Dwapara Yuga of Vaivasvata Manvantara: The Mahabharata

  • End of 28th Kali Yuga of Vaivasvata Manvantara: Kalki Avatar

  • Narasimha Avatar, half-lion and half-man, tears into the heart of Hiranyakashipu with his nails. Prahlad is standing next to them
  • Gajendra is in a lake with a crocodile biting his leg. Vishnu is in the sky on Garuda, saving Gajendra
  • In a beautiful landscape, Dhruva is meditating under a tree and Vishnu is in front of him
  • Varaha boar coming out of the ocean with the Earth on his tusks
  • Rama and Lakshmana are shooting arrows at Ravana. In the background, monkeys and Asuras are fighting in the war.

To conclude, I would like to leave all of you on an endnote. While researching and writing this post, I was astonished about the vast and deep nature of Hindu mythology. Hinduism is known as the Sanatan Dharma, which means “eternal order”. This post made me truly realize the verity of that statement.

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18 thoughts on “Time in Hinduism”

  1. Hi Aarsh,
    Great writing again…..Just want you to know that you may want to research the smallest units of Hindu time again….particularly “Alpakala”…..The wikipedia ( in this aspect not always) has a better description of the smallest units of time. Also you may also want to mention that “hour” has come from Sanskrit ” hora” and Bhaarat was the originator of the hexadecimal system or the system of 60 and you will realize that all the smaller and larger timelines like yuga are all divisible by 60……You are doing a fabulous job…..Bhagwan bless you!

  2. Hi, I just want to know that how rishi vashishta and atri ji come in two manvantras like first and seventh manvantaras. how many years they live

    1. Hello,
      Rishi Vasishta and Rishi Atri were both born from Brahma’s mind during the creation of the Universe in the first Manavantara. During Daksha’s yagna (which took place during the first Manavantara), Vashishta, Atri, and others were harassed by Virabhadra and Mahakali. After the yagna, Shiva appeared and said that Vashishta, Atri, Pulastya, Angiras, Pulahu, Kratu, Bhrigu, and Marichi would all be reborn in the Chakshusha Manavantara (sixth Manavantara). At the end of the first Manavantara, Atri, Bhrigu, and everyone else passed away.
      During the end of the sixth Manavantara, Varuna started a massive Brahmayagna. During the yagna, Brahma fell in love with some damsels. Because of this, his semen was discharged and he placed it in the sacrificial fire. Because of this, Vashishta, Atri, and the other six sages emerged from the fire as the sons of Brahma. Since this was towards the end of the sixth Manavantara, Vasishta, Atri, and others still live in the seventh Manavantara.
      Rishi Vashishta was actually reborn a third time during the middle of the seventh Manavantara. King Nimi decided to start a yagna. He invited Vashishta as his priest. However, Vashishta had already been invited to Indra’s yagna, so he told Nimi to wait. Nimi was impatient and started the yagna with Rishi Gautama as his priest. When Vashishta returned, he was mad at Nimi and cursed him to die. Nimi was enraged and cursed Vashishta to die. Vashishta approached Brahma for help. Brahma said that he would be reborn later. Thus, Vashishta passed away. Meanwhile, one day, Urvashi came to see Mitra (god of friendship) and Varuna (god of sea). They fell in love and they both discharged semen. From this semen was born Vashishta and Agastya.
      I hope that helped 🙂

  3. Will there be any kind of destruction after end of chaturyuga cycle….how many and which catagory of people shift to next cycle of chaturyuga?

    1. There are four types of Pralayas:
      1. Pralaya at the end of each Chaturyuga
      2. Manvantara Pralaya at the end of each Manavantara
      3. Naimittik Pralaya at the end of each day of Brahma (Kalpa)
      4. Prakritik Mahapralaya at the end of Brahma’s lifetime (complete destruction)
      The people who live through Pralayas are the spiritually enlightened, such as the rishis (sages) and Brahma.

        1. The Pralayas happen at the end of the period. Afterwards, there is the transitional period in which there is nothing in the Universe.

  4. Fabulous job!! No words are enough to praise your work,
    Nature bless you with all happiness and satisfaction.

  5. Sumit Shrivastava

    1 kalpa time in Devavatsar year is wrong. It is written 11,935,200 years but it is 12,000,000 years.

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