The Skanda Purana
by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,545,880 words
This page describes Characteristics of the Four Yugas (Caturyuga) which is chapter 27 of the English translation of the Skanda Purana, the largest of the eighteen Mahapuranas, preserving the ancient Indian society and Hindu traditions in an encyclopedic format, detailling on topics such as dharma (virtous lifestyle), cosmogony (creation of the universe), mythology (itihasa), genealogy (vamsha) etc. This is the twenty-seventh chapter of the Tirtha-mahatmya of the Nagara-khanda of the Skanda Purana.
Chapter 27 - Characteristics of the Four Yugas (Caturyuga)
[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]
Note: This topic is popular with other Purāṇas also. It describes continuous deterioration of the span of life, living conditions and morals in the course of time. The sinfulness and wretchedness of the people is probably the result of the unsettled condition of India after ancient foreign invasions like those of Greeks, Scythians and Huns.—Curiously enough the description of the Kali age is applicable in toto even today.
The sages said:
1-7. O Sūtaja, do tell us fully the general characteristics of Caturyuga (the group of four Yugas), its greatness and the extent thereof. We arc extremely interested in it.
This very same topic was asked by Vāsava from Bṛhaspati. I shall tell you all, O leading Brāhmaṇas, what Bṛhaspati told him.
Formerly Śakra, the noble-souled one, was seated in the assembly along with Devas and Śacī. Suras served him. So also did Gandharvas, Apsarās, Vidyādharas, Guhyakas, Kinnaras, Daityas, Rākṣasas, serpents, (units of time like) Kalās, Kāṣṭhās, Nimeṣas, Constellations, Planets, the Vedas with their ancillaries in their personified form. The holy Tīrthas and sacred shrines also were present there.
They discussed diverse stories of the Devas, Dānavas, Rākṣasas, saintly kings and particularly of old Brāhmaṇa-sages.
In a certain context, the Lord of Devas politely asked Bṛhaspati, the most excellent Brāhmaṇa:
8. “O holy Sir, I wish to hear the extent of the Yugas, their greatness and special characteristics. It behoves you to recount duly.”
9. I shall expound to you the greatness of the Yugas, their extent and special features Listen attentively.
10-18. Kṛta Yuga is said to consist of seventeen lakh twenty-eight thousand years, when Janārdana remains white in colour, and Dharma has all its four feet intact. (Then) the earth is full (in all respects). The people are devoid of lust and anger, fear and hatred. All people are long-lived with quiescent souls and full control over the sense-organs. They are as tall as five Tālas (Palms). They are brilliant and well-informed. Men’s childhood extends to sixteen thousand years. Thereafter the youth extends to thirty-two thousand years. It is only thereafter that old age befalls men slowly. The ultimate life span is one lakh years. In certain cases it extends even beyond that. All living beings, animals, birds and beasts speak the divine language. They are not mutually inimical. Serpents sport about along with mongooses, cats along with mice, deer with lions, and owls with crows. Even without being cultivated, the earth (though not ploughed) produces much vegetation consisting of cereals, pulses, barleys etc. They are tasty and able to accord strength and nourishment. The trees bear fruits in all the seasons with excellent flowers and fruits, good leaves etc. They are devoid of thorns and they resemble Kalpa trees.
19-29. Cows yield the desired tasty milk at all times. The butter and ghee produced from it is enormous. No woman becomes a widow there, nor an unfortunate wretch. There is no Kākavandhyā (a woman with but one child) there bereft of sons. There is no woman without virtue (all women are virtuous). Birth and death befall men in due order. A father never sees death of his son. People who die do not become ghosts. No one is compelled to stay in Naraka. No one suffers pain due to sickness. All Brāhmaṇas are well-versed in Vedānta. They regularly study their Vedic Mantras. They are delighted in expounding the Vedas and well-versed in the knowledge of Brahman.
Kṣatriyas make one of them the king with great devotion and loyalty. They enjoy the earth righteously following his behests.
Vaiśyas are engaged in the various activities befitting the Vaiśya community such as breeding of cattle, buying and selling of commodities etc.
O most excellent one among Suras, Śūdras are extremely faithful. They do not do anything except service unto Brāhmaṇas and twice-born ones.
No one is base-born there nor is there anyone of mixed caste. No impure one and no one of the fifth caste is to be seen there on the earth.
Men there perform Yajña (Fire-worship), Yajana (Yajña on behalf of others), Dāna, Vrata, Niyama etc. and pilgrimage without any expectations of personal benefit thereof. O Thousand-eyed One, of this sort is the first Yuga named Kṛtayuga that is conducive to the happiness of all the worlds.
30-42. Thereafter the second Yuga named Tretā begins to function. It consists of twelve lakh ninety-six thousand years.
The Lord of the world resorts to Śvetadvīpa. The Garuḍa-emblemed Lord assumes red complexion at that time. Dharma has only three legs intact then. One leg is that of Sin. Thereby mutual rivalry is generated among the people of all Varṇas.
People begin to desire the benefits accruing from pilgrimages. Vrata and Niyama are observed with the motive of residence in heaven etc.
Overpowered by lust all men become deluded. Delusion leads to hatred which induces them to commit sins.
Then, O Lord of Devas, Yama himself devises Raurava and other Narakas which are twenty-one in number.
Base men resort to them in accordance with their Karmas. Others attain the worlds of Mahendra etc., and still others salvation.
There are three types of men: excellent, mediocre and base ones. O King of Suras, they do three types of acts. They are one Tāla (palm tree) in height. They possess /lustre and virility. Vaiśyas are engaged in agricultural activities motivated by their desire for food and food-grains. They sow seeds only once in field but they reap seven times. The trees bear fruits and flowers in accordance with the seasons. They become very beautiful with the foliage in accordance with the seasons.
Thousands of Agniṣṭoma and other Yajñas are performed by excellent kings and Brāhmaṇas vying with one another in their eagerness to attain the heavenly world. Men desirous of the other world undertake pilgrimage and observe Vrata, Dāna, Niyama, Saṃyama etc.
43-54. There the youth of men extends to one thousand years and old age to about five thousand years.
On account of mixture of castes the following (sub) castes are born: Rajaka (washermen), Carmakāra (cobbler), Naṭa (actor), Buruḍa, Kaivarta (fishermen), Meda, Bhilla, Cāṇḍāla and Śūdra etc., in that Yuga.
There are other inferior people who are more censured than these (above-mentioned castes) but their number is less.
O excellent Brāhmaṇa, how do these base-born ones (castes) originate? Do tell me duly and entirely. My eagerness is great.
On account of the defect of the source of origin eight types of mixed castes are born of these, O excellent one among Suras. I shall mention them dearly.
A son of a Kṣatriya born of a Brāhmaṇa’s girl (woman) is called Sūta; one a Sūta begets is called Rajaka and one a Rajaka begets is called a Carmakṛt and the one a Carmakāra begets is called Naṭa. Thus these four are born of Kṣatriya in Brāhmaṇa wives.
A son of a Vaiśya born of a Brāhmaṇa girl is Māgadha, O most excellent one among Maruts. A son born of the semen of a Māgadha in a Brāhmaṇa girl is Buruḍa a Buruḍa begets a Kaivarta and a Kaivarta begets a Medaka. These five are born of Vaiśyas in Brāhmaṇa wives. They are despised in all holy rites. A Śūdra begets a Bhilla in a Brāhmaṇa girl, O most excellent one among Suras, and a Bhilla begets a Cāṇḍāla. These two are born of Śūdras in the wife of a Brāhmaṇa caste, O Overlord of all Suras. What I have mentioned is the truth.
Thus I have explained Tretā Yuga, O most excellent one among Suras. Listen attentively to the position of Dvāpara now.
55-63. That Yuga consists of eight lakh sixty-four thousand years. There the Garuḍa-emblemed Lord becomes tawny-coloured, Dharma stands on two legs and Sin also stands on two legs.
At the end of a hundred years people become youthful and after lapse of five hundred years old age sets in.
There people, deities and kings are partially truthful and partially untruthful.
Women too are reputed to be so in their features, O excellent one among Suras.
Some come to a height of five Hastas and others four Hastas. They are neither very beautiful nor devoid of beauty.
Beasts, birds, and deer murmur indistinctly.
The trees do not bear too many flowers or fruits, O Lord of Suras. Vegetation is produced on being sown duly by farmers.
The clouds shower adequate rain. All medicinal herbs are grown.
Whatever knowledge or scripture is available, O excellent one among Suras, is of indifferent nature, neither true nor false.
In Dvāpara, O excellent one among Suras, the benefits of the Tīrtha, Dana and the Makha (sacrifices) are in accordance with the ardour and faith.
Thus the Yuga called Dvāpara has been described to you, O Lord of Suras, as seen and heard by me.
64. Even as I describe further, listen attentively. Kaliyuga is indeed terrible. Janārdana is dark in colour then.
65-66a. Kaliyuga which is avoided by good people consists of four lakh thirty-two thousand years. Dharma stands on a single leg and Pāpa stands on three.
66b-67. (In) everything after the first half, sin asserts itself. Sons will not pay heed to fathers nor daughters-in-law nor brothers. Neither servants nor wives will pay heed to their elders. There shall be hatred for one another.
68. In the sixteenth year men turn grey in their youth itself. A girl begins to conceive even in the twelfth year.
69-72. O Lord of Suras, the maximum life expectancy of men is a hundred years. In the case of elephants and trees it is not more than that. Excellent horses live upto thirty-two years; ass and camel upto twenty-four. It is sixteen in the case of goats and twelve in that of dogs. Other quadrupeds live upto twenty-five years. Crows, vultures and owls live for a very long time. So also is the case of sinful persons and those in wretched conditions more particularly.
Trees are hard, thorny and devoid of fruits and flowers. They are resorted to by vultures and they do not give shade.
73. In this Yuga, O excellent one among Suras, Dharma is tormented by Adharma, truth by untruth and kings by thieves perpetually.
74. Preceptors are tormented by disciples and base men by women; masters are troubled by groups of servants and persons of deep learning by fools.
75-77. In Kaliyuga, righteous men, men dedicated to truth, persons of full control over the sense-organs, persons of discretion, quiescent ones and those devoted to the good of others—all these suffer.
Mental anguish, ailments, afflictions of mysterious origin—all are always prevalent in Kaliyuga causing misery to the good. Men become short-lived due to mixture of castes and those who survive are utterly miserable.
78-82. Cloud never showers rain at requisite period. Even if there is heavy rain, there shall not be the production of vegetation as desired by the farmer. Even well-bred cows do not yield ample milk. Even if they are guarded carefully, there is not plenty of catde wealth.
People begin to relish and praise the milk of sheep and camels. People become lustreless and dirty. Ascetics become Śūdras and Śūdras become experts in Dharma-śāstra. Śūdras begin to discuss the Vedas and endeavour to perform Yajña rites.
Śūdras begin to receive monetary gifts and Śūdras become liberal donors. Śūdras become worthy of honour and Śūdras establish themselves in Tīrthas.
83. At the time of death men of beastly type begin to dig five pits with their head, pair of hands and pair of feet. Out of delusion they lose their consciousness.
84-89. Brāhmaṇas begin to sell the Vedas and are bereft of cleanliness. They give up regular study of the Vedas and always depend upon cooked food from Śūdras. Mostly they take gifts from the non-righteous. They turn into greedy and indiscrimate eaters addicted to tasty foods.
Heretics indulge in misdeeds. They subsist on the bounty of the wives of other men. Friendship develops only on the basis of bussiness dealings (i.e. self-interest). O Thousand-eyed One, it never depends on natural affinity. All the castes of the twice-born ones become barbarous in their tendency.
They lose interest in festivities; they are unrighteous and they cause mixture of castes. In the beginning of the Yuga, men reach the height of three and a half Hastas. From there they diminish in size even as Kali advances. Ultimately men become hole-dwellers.
90. On account of short and non-availability the people are incapable of doing domestic duites. Yajñas and Vedic Vratas are fruitless.
91. Niyamas and restraints too as well as the practice of spells and incantations are also ineffective. O Śatakratu, Tīrthas are defiled by the contact of Mlecchas. They lose their intrinsic nature and are also deficient in water.
92-95. Those who practise spells and incantations are despised. Ascetics too are despised. All the men become despised.
They forsake a bridegroom of noble birth and endowed with handsome features and youthful appearance and men offer their daughters to despicable persons due to greed of money.
Girls begin to give birth, virgins are eager to cohabit and virgins carry on intercourse with grown-up men.
Even women of noble families become unfaithful to their husbands. In all activities men of evil deeds are guarded carefully.
96. Ruthless kings will harass farmers. In that Yuga people will afflict undoubtedly blameless ones due to greed for money.
97-98. They will let off even one deserving to be killed, one who is defiled due to greed for money. They will let alone men who continue to harass living beings. They practise wait like activities without caring for Kṣātradharma (rules of righteous war).
99-101. Thus I have recounted everything connected with the Yugas and their features. O excellent one among Suras, the extent of the four Yugas also has been described. One who recites this always with concentration, is rid of his sins committed ever since his birth till death. One who listens to this with a mind purified by faith, becomes liberated from the sin of the day.