Hindu calculations of time are tricky business; they reckon units of time that are measured against a day of Brahma, the creator God.
How long does a day of Brahma take? 4.32 billion years. This is called a Kalpa.
Of course, where there is day, there is night; so a full cycle, two Kalpas, takes 8.64 billion solar years.
By way of comparison, the current estimated age of the Earth is a mere 4.543 billion years, basically a little over one Kalpa.
The current estimated age of the known universe is 13.772 billion years, give or take 59 million years. In other words, it’s a little over three Kalpas.
How old does any given Brahma get to be?
100 hundred years old. That’s a staggering 313,528,320,000,000 solar years. At that point, according to Hindu cosmology, Brahma dies, and a new Brahma is born, starting the cycle all over again.
That’s also way – way – longer than current cosmological estimates for the lifespan of the universe. Current cosmology predicts a fifty percent chance that we’ve only got about 3.7 billion years left before the heat death of the universe.
Less than one Kalpa.
Of course, these are time scales that are outside of normal human experience.
Let’s wait to consider humanity; instead, let’s look to the Hindu demi Gods, the Devas. The Devas gained semi-immortality when the drank the nectar from the churning of the cosmic ocean; however, even the Devas must die.
According to the Vishnu Purana, which contains the math behind these calculations, the inhabitants of Heaven get roughly more than a Kalpa before they too perish, and are reborn.
Which is roughly the time span that humanity itself gets – a Kalpa – before our world is destroyed.
Our Kalpa, called a Maha-Yuga, is divided into four unequal periods; these are
- Satya Yuga (1,728,000 solar years)
- Treta Yuga (1,296,000 solar years)
- Dvapara Yuga (846,000 solar years)
- Kali Yuga (432,000 solar years)
The ratio of these intervals is 4:3:2:1. The lowest common denominator, 432,000 years, is called a Charana.
In this schema, the first four Avatars of Vishnu lived through the Satya Yuga (Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha), the next three lived through the Treta Yuga (Vamana, Parshurama*, and Rama), Krishna and Balarama/Buddha lived through the Dvapara Yuga…
And finally, we get to the tenth, and final Avatar of Vishnu (in this Maha-Yuga), Kalki.
Kalki, the Destroyer.
[*Parashurama is asterisked because he is the one immortal Avatar, and will play a part in the narrative that follows]
Kalki appears in certain schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well; he is a central being in the Kalachakra Tantra, which is one of the few publicly performed Tantric rites. To date, H.H. the Dalai Lama has performed this rite over 30 times globally.
However, I digress…
Information about Kalki is spotty, at best. There is a brief reference to him in the Mahabharata, though scholarly consensus is that this is a latter inclusion. He makes appearances in the Vishnu Purana, Matsya Purana, and Bhagavata Purana, but even these accounts are inconsistent and fragmentary.
There is also a very recent (18th century) Bengali Kalki Purana, but here he doesn’t destroy the world; instead, he ushers in a new Golden age.
So what can we say about Kalki?
The first point is that in the Yuga mythos, each Yuga is successively more corrupt. In this reckoning, we live in the most corrupt of those Yugas, which is what prompts Vishnu to wipe the slate clean, so to speak.
As we saw earlier, Parashurama was given instructions in the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction by Shiva. He’s been meditating, quietly biding his time for Kalki to arrive.
It’s with these weapons that Kalki brings the end of days, which bears striking similarities to both the Biblical book of Revelations as well as Krishna‘s famous statement at the end of the Bhagavad Gita:
I have become death, the Destroyer of Worlds.
Outside of that, there’s very little to work with, except that he is typically depicted riding a white horse (which also has parallels with the image of Death as one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse).
He has no dedicated temples, though there is a statue of him in the 11th century Rani Ki Vav Stepwell, Patan, Gujarat, India:
So what’s the take-away?
Many Cosmologies, even those that are Cyclical, still have Eschatologies.
That’s a smarty pants way of saying:
Most stories have an ending.
For those who are followers of Vishnu, this isn’t a myth, but an upcoming reality.
As surely as there are Christians looking for signs of the End Times, there are Hindu’s asking the question:
Has Kalki been born yet?
While it’s above my pay-grade to answer those questions, I can at least answer one with certainty:
We’ve officially made our way through all Ten Avatars of the Hindu God, Vishnu.
Here then, is a fond look back:
The inscriptions below the Avatars have been translated as follows:
1. The Fish denotes the fatal day / When Earth beneath the Waters lay. / Macha Awataram’ The fish incarnation of Vishnu (Matsya avatara)
2. Th’amphibious Turtle marks the time / When it again the shores could climb. / Koorma Awataram.’ The turtle incarnation of Vishnu (Kurma avatara)
3. The Boar’s an emblem of the God / Who raised again the mighty clod. / Waraha Awataram’ The boar incarnation of Vishnu (Varaha avatara)
4. The Lion-king and savage trains / Now roam the woods, o[r] graze the [plains]. / Narasheem Awataram’ The man-lion incarnation of Vishnu (Narasimha avatara)
5. Next [came the] Little Man’s reign / Oe’r earth an[d wa]try’ main / Wamana Awataram’ The dward [sic] incarnation of Vishnu (Vamana avatara)
6. Ram with the Axe then takes his stand, / Fells the thick forests – clears the land. / Parasurama Awataram’ Rama with the Axe (Parasurama avatara)
7. Ram with the Bow ‘gainst tyrants fight[s] / And thus defends the people’s rights. / Shreerama Awataram’ Rama with the bow (Rama avatara)
8. Ram with the Plough turns up the soil, / And teaches man for food to toil. / Balarama Awataram’ Rama with the Plough (Balarama avatara)
9. Buddha for Reformation came, / And formed a Sect well known to fame. / Boodha Awataram’ Vishnu as the Buddha (Buddha avatara).
10. When Kalki mounts his milk white Steed, / Heav’n, Earth, and all will then recede! / Kalkeekawataram’ Vishnu as a warrior on a white horse (Kalki avatara)
In the meantime, here’s to one more Kalpa on Planet Earth…
(p.s. Kalki, most of us are in no rush).