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Hindu eschatology

As Hinduism is an umbrella term for a broad set of traditions, it is difficult to speak of Hindu eschatology with any specificity, but as all the branches of Hinduism name the Vedas texts as their authority, they have some basic similarities.  Generally, life is understood as a moral progress toward an eventual liberation from reincarnation, with death acting only as a momentary hiccup between incarnations.  In the same way, there is no ending point to history, no universal resurrection or judgment that precedes the destruction of time.

Later Sanskrit texts, particularly the Puranas, outline a more precise pattern of the universe’s creations and destructions than the Vedas do.  According to the Puranas, the universe is itself a living being, and so like all other beings, the universe is born, lives and dies (Knipe 180).  The universe begins as a golden egg, floating in a sea until Brahma (creator) awakes and cracks it open, which releases the Earth, the seven heavens, and the seven underworlds.  The clock begins, watched over by Brahma in his guise of Vishnu (preservation).[1]

The universe’s life follows a pattern of four ages, or yugas, separated by brief periods of twilight.[2] The first yuga, the age of truth, is a golden age and is populated by a serene people and gift-giving trees.  Imperfections appear in the next age, though life is still pretty good; there is inclement weather, but the rain fertilizes the crops and covers the earth with blossoms.  This age is followed by a yuga of further decline in which suffering, disease, and death become accepted parts of existence.  The fourth and last yuga manages only a comparatively short period of dissention, war, strife, short life spans, materialism, hedonism, and immorality (this is, obviously, the present age) before Brahma’s destroyer aspect, Shiva, steps in (Hathaway 28-30; Knipe 180).

The horizon bursts into flame, then seven or twelve suns appear, drying up the seas and scorching the earth.  The sky then dumps the water back on the earth in a 12-year rainstorm that drowns the universe (Eliot 30).  Sated, Vishnu falls asleep, leaving the golden cosmic egg to drift expectantly on the primordial sea until he awakens as Brahma to start the process over again, into infinity.

 


[1] In some sources, Brahma remains Brahma, not Vishnu, in this period (Knipe 180).

[2] The yugas all last a specific length of time; the numbers, however, change from source to source.  Hathaway says each yuga lasts for 4,000- 3,000, 2,000, and 1,000 divine years (360,000 human years), respectively (Hathaway 29).  According to Knipe, though, Brahma lasts “in just one day and night, for 1,000 cycles of four deteriorating ages, each cycle being 4,320,000 human years,  At the end of 36,000 full years of these day-nights, Brama rests or ceases” (Knipe 180).

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