The Vishnu Purana
Chapter III - Measure of Time
THE dissolution of existing beings is of three kinds, incidental, elemental, and absolute. The incidental is that which relates to Brahmā, and occurs at the end of a Kalpa: the elemental is that which takes place after two Parārddhas: the absolute is final liberation from existence.
MAITREYA.—Tell me, excellent master, what is the enumeration of a Parārddha, the expiration of two of which is the period of elemental dissolution.
PARĀŚARA.—A Parārddha, Maitreya, is that number which occurs in the eighteenth place of figures, enumerated according to the rule of decimal notation. At the end of twice that period elemental dissolution occurs, when all the discrete products of nature are withdrawn into their indiscrete source. The shortest period of time is a Mātrā, which is equal to the twinkling of the human eye. Fifteen Mātrās make a Kāṣṭhā; thirty Kāṣṭhās, one Kalā; fifteen Kalās, one Nāḍikā. A Nāḍikā is ascertained by a measure of water, with a vessel made of twelve Palas and a half of copper, in the bottom of which there is to be a hole made with a tube of gold, of the weight of four Māṣas, and four inches long. According to the Māgadha measure, the vessel should hold a Prastha (or sixteen Palas) of water. Two of these Nāḍīs make one Muhūrtta; thirty of which are one day and night. Thirty such periods form a month; twelve months make a year, or a day and night of the gods; and three hundred and sixty such days constitute a year of the celestials. An aggregate of four ages contains twelve thousand divine years; and a thousand periods of four ages complete a day of Brahmā. That period is also termed a Kalpa, during which fourteen Manus preside; and at the end of it occurs the incidental or Brahmā dissolution. The nature of this dissolution is very fearful: hear me describe it, as well as that which takes place at the elemental dissolution, which I will also relate to you.
At the end of a thousand periods of four ages the earth is for the most part exhausted. A total dearth then ensues, which lasts a hundred years; and, in consequence of the failure of food, all beings become languid and exanimate, and at last entirely peṛṣ. The eternal Viṣṇu then assumes the character of Rudra, the destroyer, and descends to reunite all his creatures with himself. He enters into the seven rays of the sun, drinks up all the waters of the globe, and causes all moisture whatever, in living bodies or in the soil, to evaporate; thus drying up the whole earth. The seas, the rivers, the mountain torrents, and springs, are all exhaled; and so are all the waters of Pātāla, the regions below the earth. Thus fed, through his intervention, with abundant moisture, the seven solar rays dilate to seven suns, whose radiance glows above, below, and on every side, and sets the three worlds and Pātāla on fire. The three worlds, consumed by these suns, become rugged and deformed throughout the whole extent of their mountains, rivers, and seas; and the earth, bare of verdure, and destitute of moisture, alone remains, resembling in appearance the back of a tortoise. The destroyer of all things, Hari, in the form of Rudra, who is the flame of time, becomes the scorching breath of the serpent Śeṣa, and thereby reduces Pātāla to ashes. The great fire, when it has burnt all the divisions of Pātāla, proceeds to the earth, and consumes it also. A vast whirlpool of eddying flame then spreads to the region of the atmosphere, and the sphere of the gods, and wraps them in ruin. The three spheres shew like a frying-pan amidst the surrounding flames, that prey upon all moveable or stationary things. The inhabitants of the two upper spheres, having discharged their functions, and being annoyed by the heat, remove to the sphere above, or Maharloka. When that becomes heated, its tenants, who after the full period of their stay are desirous of ascending to higher regions, depart for the Janaloka.
Janārddana, in the person of Rudra, having consumed the whole world, breathes forth heavy clouds; and those called Samvartta, resembling vast elephants in bulk, overspread the sky, roaring, and darting lightnings. Some are as black as the blue lotus; some are white as the water-lily; some are dusky, like smoke; and some are yellow; some are of a dun colour, like that of an ass; some like ashes sprinkled on the forehead; some are deep blue, as the lapis lazuli; some azure, like the sapphire; some are white, as the conch or the jasmine; and some are black, as collyrium; some are of bright red, like the ladybird; some are of the fierceness of red arsenic; and some are like the wing of the painted jay. Such are these massy clouds in hue: in form some resemble towns, some mountains, some are like houses and hovels, and some are like columns. Mighty in size, and loud in thunder, they fill all space. Showering down torrents of water, these clouds quench the dreadful fires which involve the three worlds, and then they rain uninterruptedly for a hundred years, and deluge the whole world. Pouring down in drops as large as dice, these rains overspread the earth, and fill the middle region, and inundate heaven. The world is now enveloped in darkness, and all things, animate or inanimate, having peṛṣed, the clouds continue to pour down their waters for more than a hundred years.
Footnotes / commentary:
The first is called Naimittaka, ‘occasional’ or ‘incidental,’ or Brāhmya, as occasioned by the intervals of Brahmā's days; the destruction of creatures, though not of the substance of the world, occurring during his night. The general resolution of the elements into their primitive source, or Prakriti, is the Prākritika destruction, and occurs at the end of Brahmā's life. The third, the absolute or final, Ātyantika, is individual annihilation; Mokṣa, exemption for ever from future existence. The Bhāgavata here notices the fourth kind, of which mention occurred in a preceding passage (p. 56), Nitya or constant dissolution; explaining it to be the imperceptible change that all things suffer in the various stages of growth and decay, life and death. ‘The various conditions of beings subject to change are occasioned by that constant dissolution of life which is rapidly produced by the resistless stream of time, taking every thing perpetually away.’ The Vāyu describes but three kinds of Pralaya, omitting the Nitya.
Maitreya has a rather indifferent memory (see p. 22); but the periods specified in the two places do not agree. In the first book two Parārddhas, as equal to one hundred years of Brahmā, are 311.040.000.000.000 years of mortals.
Counting according to this mode of enumeration, a Parārddha is represented by 100.000.000.000.000.000. The Vāyu Purāṇa has a term for each of these decimal values. Daśa, 10; Śatam, 100; Sahasram, 1000; Ayutam, 10.000; Niyutam, 100.000; Prayutam, 1.000.000; Arvudam, 10.000.000; Nyurvudam, p. 631 100.000.000; Vrindam, 1.000.000.000; Param, 10.000.000.000; Kharvam, 100.000.000.000; Nikharvam, 1000.000.000.000; Śaṅkham, 10.000.000.000.000; Padmam, 100.000.000.000.000; Samudram, 1.000.000.000.000; Madhyamam, 10.000.000.000.000.000; Parārddham, 100.000.000.000.000.000. In the first book the Parārddham, as the half of Brahmā's life, is but 155.520.000.000.000, fifteen instead of eighteen places of figures.
The description of the Clepsydra is very brief, and wanting in precision. One of the commentaries is more explicit: ‘A vessel made of twelve Palas and a half of copper, and holding a Prastha, Māgadha measure, of water, broad at top, and having at bottom a tube of gold of four Māṣas weight, four fingers long, is placed in water, and the time in which the vessel is filled by the hole in the bottom is called a Nāḍika:’ The term Śalākā generally means a needle or stake, but it must here denote a pipe. The common measure of the Nāḍī is a thin shallow brass cup, with a small hole in the bottom. It is placed on the surface of water, in a large vessel, where nothing can disturb it, and where the water gradually fills the cup, and sinks it. As. Res, vol. V. p. 87.
See p. 236. n. 3.
These also have their several appellations: the commentator quotes the Vedas as the authority: Ārāga, Bhrāja, Paṭala, Patanga, Swamābhāk, Jyotishmat, and Savibhāsa.
The passage may also be understood, ‘Those go to Janaloka who are desirous of obtaining Brahma, or final liberation, through the ten stages of perfection—devotion, penance, truth, &c.’ In the Vāyu Purāṇa more details are specified. Those sainted mortals who have diligently worshipped Viṣṇu, and are distinguished for piety, abide, at the time of dissolution, in Maharloka, with the Pitris, the Manus, p. 633 the seven Ṛṣis, the various orders of celestial spirits, and the gods. These, when the heat of the flames that destroy the world reaches to Maharloka, repair to Janaloka in their subtile forms, destined to become reembodied, in similar capacities as their former, when the world is renewed, at the beginning of the succeeding Kalpa. This continues throughout the life of Brahmā; at the expiration of his life all are destroyed: but those who have then attained a residence in the Brahmaloka, by having identified themselves in spirit with the supreme, are finally resolved into the sole-existing Brahma.
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