The Long and Short of Yuga Cycles

Sedona, Arizona, is one of my favorite places. Coming there from Phoenix, you cross dry brown plains and hills, and then you suddenly enter into the mysteriously beautiful red rock buttes and canyons of Sedona. I first visited Sedona in the late 1960s, on a journey from the East Coast of the United States to California. I stayed for a couple of days at a small Catholic church. The priest sometimes allowed traveling young people like me to stay a couple of days in exchange for working a few hours in the church gardens. Decades later, on September 30, 2011, I arrived in Sedona to speak at the Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge (CPAK).

CPAK is an annual event, started by Walter Cruttenden, an investment banker who became interested in ancient knowledge and astronomy. The conference brochure says about CPAK: “The speakers at CPAK have some suspicion that our histories of the world may not be entirely correct and that ancient knowledge may be more profound than modern textbooks have led us to believe.” On that basis, I certainly fit in. One of the other speakers at the conference was Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods. Graham once wrote that my book Forbidden Archeology is “one of the landmark intellectual achievements of the late twentieth century.” Another speaker at CPAK in Sedona was geologist Robert Schoch, famous for his work in dating the Sphinx to at least 11,000 years, on the basis of water erosion marks on the Sphinx enclosure (the last time there was enough rain in the Sahara Desert to cause such erosion was 11,000 years ago). I last saw Graham and Robert in 2008 at an alternative history conference in Dubai, where all three of us were speakers.

I was a little surprised that Walter invited me to speak at CPAK. Walter and many of the CPAK speakers are supporters of the ideas of the Indian guru Shri Yukteshwar (1855-1936). In his book The Holy Science, Shri Yukteshwar proposed a change to the traditional Indian concept of the yugas (time cycles), which involved shortening them and tying them to the astronomical phenomenon of precession of the equinoxes. Following my own guru, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), who founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, I accept the traditional long system of yugas. Walter knew that, because a few years ago we had exchanged some emails about this topic. But despite our differences, he invited me to speak at CPAK, for which I am grateful.

Before I explain the short and long yuga cycles, let me first say a few words about precession of the equinoxes. The equinoxes are the times of the year when the lengths of the days and nights are equal. One equinox takes place in the spring and another in the fall (in the northern latitudes). At the equinoxes, the sun rises in a certain constellation of the zodiac. But each year, the sun gradually moves to another position in the zodiac at the time of the equinoxes. This movement is called precession, and the complete precessional cycle is sometimes called The Great Year. According to modern astronomers, it takes about 25,570 years for the sun to move through all 12 signs of the zodiac. Shri Yukteshwar made an approximation of 24,000 years for the whole cycle.

What causes the precessional cycle? According to modern astronomers, it is the tilt of the polar axis of the earth. But according to Shri Yukteshwar, the main cause is that the sun and our solar system are circling around a companion star. In other words, our sun is part of a rotating binary star system. Walter Cruttenden founded the Binary Research Institute to investigate this proposal, which I find worthy of study.

In the traditional yuga system, explained in the historical and astronomical texts of ancient India, there is a cycle of four yugas: Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali. Satya lasts 4,800 years of the demigods, Treta lasts 3,600 years of the demigods, Dvapara lasts 2,400 years of the demigods, and Kali lasts 1,200 years of the demigods. A year of the demigods is equivalent to 360 earth years. Thus the Satya yuga is 1,728,000 years, Treta yuga is 1,296,000 years, Dvapara yuga is 864,000 years, and Kali yuga is 432,000 years. The total is 4,320,000 years for a complete cycle of four yugas. After one such cycle completes, with the end of a Kali Yuga, another cycle starts, beginning with a Satya Yuga and ending with a Kali Yuga. A thousand of these yuga cycles make a kalpa, or day of Brahma.

Shri Yukteshwar took the years of the demigods to be solar years. Thus a cycle of four yugas would be 12,000 solar years. Two cycles of four yugas would be 24,000 solar years, equivalent to a precession cycle. The astronomers of ancient India were aware of the precession cycle. It is mentioned in the Sanskrit astronomical text Siddhanta Shiromani, composed in the eleventh century by the astronomer Bhashkara. But Bhashkara, although aware of precession, also accepted the long yuga cycle. He did not change it. That is also my position. I recognize the precessional cycle, but I also accept the traditional long yuga cycles.

A thousand such cycles of four yugas make up a kalpa, or day of Brahma, which lasts for 4,320,000,000 years. The day of Brahma is followed by a night of Brahma, and the days and nights of Brahma follow each other cyclically. During the days of Brahma, life, including human life, is present in the universe; and during the nights of Brahma, life, including human life, is dormant.

Each kalpa is divided into 14 manvantara periods, each one consisting of 71 cycles of four yugas. A careful observer will note that adds up to 994 cycles of four yugas for the kalpa (14 x 71). The time represented by the remaining six cycles of four yugas is taken up by the sandhyas, or transitional periods, between each manvantara, so that the total time of the kalpa is equivalent to 1,000 cycles of four yugas. Each manvantara period lasts for 306,720,000 years. Between each manvantara period there is a devastation, after which the earth has to be repopulated from higher levels of the cosmos.

According to the cosmological calendar of ancient India, the current kalpa, or day of Brahma, began about two billion years ago. And according to the Puranas, the historical writings of ancient India, humans like us have been present on Earth since the beginning of the kalpa. According to mainstream science, humans like us have been present for less than 200,000 years on Earth. So are the accounts of extreme human antiquity found in the Puranas simply mythology? That question is what inspired me to start researching the history of archaeology. In the current textbooks of archaeology, I found no evidence for extreme human antiquity. I found only evidence that supports the current evolutionary theories of human origins, according to which humans like us first appeared less than 200,000 years ago. But I decided to look beyond the textbooks. I did eight years of research into the original reports of archaeologists and geologists, published in the professional scientific literature from the time of Darwin to the present. In those original reports, I found many discoveries of human bones, human footprints, and human artifacts millions of years old, going all the way back to about two billion years ago. I collected those reports in my book Forbidden Archeology. So there is archaeological evidence consistent with the accounts of extreme human antiquity found in the Puranas, the time concept of which is based on the traditional long yuga system.

There are some interesting parallels between the cyclical time system described in the Puranas and modern scientific research. According to modern science, the first undisputed fossil evidence for life on Earth, in the form of fossils of single-celled organisms, goes back about 2 billion years. That roughly corresponds to the beginning of the current kalpa, or day of Brahma. According to the Puranas, life appears at the beginning of the kalpa; however, these forms of life include not only single-celled organisms but more advanced organisms, such as humans like us. According to modern paleontology, there have been six major extinction events in the course of the history of life on Earth. According to the Puranic calendar, we are now in the seventh manvatara period of the current kalpa. That means there have been six manvantaras before us, and at the end of each of these six manavatara periods there was a devastation that wiped out life on Earth. These six devastations roughly correspond to the six extinction events of modern paleontology.

There is growing interest in the cyclical time concepts of ancient people, most recently the Mayans and their calendar. I am grateful that I had the chance to speak about the Puranic system of cyclical time at CPAK in Sedona.

Michael A. Cremo is the author, with Richard Thompson, of the underground classic Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. He has also written Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (see

By Michael A. Cremo

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