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One of the most well-known features of Hindu time-scales is the cycle of four Yugas, known as Satya, Treta, Dwapara, and Kali. In the Satya (aka Krita) Yuga, almost all humans are good. In the Treta Yuga, most humans are good but some are bad. It's during one of the past Treta Yugas that the Hindu epic the Ramayana took place. In the Dwapara Yuga, most humans are bad but some are good. The Hindu epic the Mahabharata took place in the most recent Dwapara Yuga. And finally, we have the Kali Yuga, the age of evil we're currently living in, where almost all humans are bad. The present Kali Yuga will end when Kalki, whom I discuss here, comes and annihilates the evil people, and then the Satya Yuga will begin again.

Now many cultures and ideologies idolize an imagined past in order to explain or criticize the world of the present. So my question is, have any Indologists theorized that the Kali Yuga was invented in the Kali Yuga? That is to say, have they theorized that the system of the four Yugas was invented at a certain point in time, that that point in time was declared to be part of the "Kali Yuga", and Hindus have been considering themselves to be in the Kali Yuga ever since? Or is the consensus of Indologists that there was a time in history when Hindus considered themselves to be living in some Yuga other than the Kali Yuga?

I have come across Indologists who have advanced a slightly less bold thesis. Most Hindu scriptures, including the Mahabharata and the Puranas, are believed to have been composed in the Dwapara Yuga. So their discussion of the Kali Yuga take the form of prophecy, describing things like the mixing of castes, the abandoning of Vedic Dharma, and the invasion of India by Mlecchas or foreigners. I have seen Indologists argue that such descriptions are not actual prophecies, but rather "retroactive prophecies" written by people who were describing the actual state of the society they were living in, and the faults they found with it.

But have any Indologists gone one step further, and said that the very concept of the Kali Yuga was invented by people to diagnose why their society fell short of the ideas of Vedic society? I suppose one piece of evidence they could use is that the Yuga system is seldom mentioned in the Vedas, and is mainly mentioned in later texts like the Puranas. And also there is a verse, widely believed to be spurious, in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana which says certain Vedic practices like animal sacrifice and Niyoga (which I discuss here) were allowed in earlier Yugas but are prohibited in the Kali Yuga. This could be seen as an indication that people were accustomed to using the concept of Yugas to relegate aspects of Hinduism they didn't like to an earlier age whose customs are presumed no longer relevant to the world as it is.

Note that I am a devout Hindu and a strong believer in the Yuga system; I'm just posting this question because I'm curious as to what secular scholarship has to say on this subject. I'm a Hinduism Stackexchange moderator, but I'm posting the question here because I don't want people there mistakenly thinking that I'm casting doubt on the Yuga system.

  • Just a few points that may make it more likely for you to get an answer. (1) can you give an example of some arguing that " I have seen Indologists argue that such descriptions are not actual prophecies, but rather "retroactive prophecies" written by people who were describing the actual state of the society they were living in, and the faults they found with it." – user62 Jun 5 '16 at 17:49
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    But overall, interesting question, +1 – user62 Jun 5 '16 at 17:51
  • About this part " I have seen Indologists argue that such descriptions are not actual prophecies, but rather "retroactive prophecies" written by people who were describing the actual state of the society they were living in, and the faults they found with it.". It is kind of the same as in Books religion (Christianism, Islam, etc..) where a lot of people think, what is written in this book must be interpreted linked to the actual state of the society. It is common when you speak about an old religion ^^ – Gautier C Jun 22 '16 at 8:11
  • @Gautier Yeah, like I've seen speculation that the beast (Antichrist) prophesied in the Book of Revelations is actually the Roman emperor Nero, who was ruling at the time the book was written and was hated by Christians. – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 22 '16 at 8:17
  • Speculations are speculations. But I am speaking in a more general manners, like the place of the woman in the society etc... – Gautier C Jun 22 '16 at 8:20
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There's no real agreement in the sources as to when the Kali Yuga started, though sometime around 3200 BCE seems to have the most support.

Historically, the texts that talk about Kali Yuga were written well after that time, so yes, all examples that we see of discussions of the Kali Yuga were written in that age. This also fits with the "culture criticism" view, in that those who discuss the Kali Yuga are often talking about the yuga in the context of how bad things are today.

So yes, it seems that the concept of the Kali Yuga was developed during that yuga.

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    I'm looking for scholarly references that support the notion that from the creation of the Yuga system it was always considered to the Kali Yuga. I certainly agree that according to the dating of Western Indologists, the texts that mention the Yuga system were composed long after the traditional 3102 BC start date of the Kali Yuga. But that doesn't rule out the possibility that there was a time at some point in the past when people thought they were living in the Dwapara Yuga, and then later on they thought it was the Kali Yuga but they backdated the start of the Kali Yuga. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 24 '16 at 23:56
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    I'm also looking for scholarly references that actually support the notion that culture criticism was the impetus for the invention of the Yuga system. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 25 '16 at 0:05
  • Unfortunately, with a lack of any surviving sources from 3102 BCE, we cannot verify that any concept of the yugas existed back then. All texts that we have came well after that time, However, tales of the Sage Narada tell of him interrupting the journey of the demon Kali when the demon was on his way to Earth. This is told in the Mahabharata. While Western students date this text to the 8th or 9th century BCE, the story is told from the point of view of an author who witnessed the last days of the Dwapara Yuga, the Kurukshetra War, and the departure of Krishna for his heavenly abode. – Justin Eiler Sep 25 '16 at 0:15
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    I'm not talking about whether Western Indologists believe that the Yuga concept existed in 3102 BC; the answer is obviously no. But I'm wondering about what they think about possibilities like the following: the people in (say) 1000 BC believed they were living in the Dwapara Yuga, but the people living in 800 BC believed that they were living in the Kali Yuga, and that the Kali Yuga started in 3102 BC. Do Western Indologists believe that sort of thing, or do they believe that from the moment the Yuga system was invented it was considered the Kali Yuga? – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 25 '16 at 0:41
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    In that case--at least within the context of orthodox Hinduism--ALL of the references that I cited that speak of Kali Yuga are prophecies, not social criticism. But for aspects of the kali yuga as social critique, you may want to read some of the worls of Rene Guenon: brusselsjournal.com/node/4603 – Justin Eiler Sep 25 '16 at 1:17

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