Computation of time in the modern-times is quite a sophisticated process, and it involves a lot of ordeals. A mere second, the primary standard of time, is computed by the count of electronic transition between the two hyperfine ground states of Caesium-133 atoms. So much for the mere second! With the high-end technology defining the basics of the modern age, we are left but with no option to speculate the computation of time in the Vedic times, for the Vedas, among the among scriptures of the Hindu dharma sure had a take on the erstwhile topic, dragged into discussions and debate from time immemorial, yet ever evolving and exhilarant. And some theories, rather speculations put out by the Vedic sages will leave you bewildered, one of them being the cyclic vs the linear proposition, and even the theory of time dilation, does that sound already intriguing?
One of the prominent figures whose proposition stands till date, and has remarkably contributed to this arena is Sage Maitreya. Mentioned in Discourse XI of Bhagavata Mahapurana, he argues,
“The measure of time which flits across the smallest particle of matter is called a Paramanu; while that which extends over the whole life-span of the universe is the longest measure of time.”
Not only he did define the basic parameter of time but also the smallest unit of existence! The atom! Anu, as of Sanskrit, translates vaguely to the atom and the Paramanu as a Sub-atomic particle.
The Bhagavata Purana goes on from the level of Paramanu, or the span of time flitting across sub-atomic particle as follows, two Paramanus make one Anu, or an atom, Three Anus make one Trasarenu, three Trasarenus make a Truti or the unit of time equal to 30 microseconds. Hundred of those ’30 microseconds’ or Trutis make a Vedha, three Vedhas make a Lava, three Lavas make a Nimesha or the twinkling of an eye. Three Nimeshas make a Ksana, or a moment, five Ksanas make a Kastha, fifteen Kasthas make a Laghu, fifteen Laghus make a Nadika, a couple of Nadika make a Muhurta, a Murhata approximately corresponding to one and a half hour. Six or seven Nadikas, depending on the length of day or night make a Prahara or one quarter of a day or night. Already quite elaborate, ain’t it?
But wait! We are not done here, there’s more to come! A day comprises four Yamas, one Yama being a six hours period, fifteen days constitute a fortnight, bright and dark alternately, two months make a Ritu, six months constitute an Ayana, known southerly and northerly by turn, following the course of the sun, and two Ayanas, or one earth year, constitute a day and night of the gods. Time dilation is already in effect!
On the macro-level, are the well-known four yugas; comprising the Chatur Yuga or Mahayuga are namely Satya or Krita, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali, in the modern-day conventional translation for the four Yugas being the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron age respectively; the epithets to these four Yugas in itself speaks for the eminence of each of them. The four-yugas combined or the mahayuga, rotate in cyclical order, their time-span being in the ratio of 4:3:2:1. To be precise, the length of Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali yugas is in years 4800, 3600, 2400 and 1200.
One thousand Mahayuga period is called Kalpa, and another one thousand mahayugas constitutes Brahma’s one night. Thus a cosmic day and night of Brahma comprise two thousand Mahayugas or two Kalpas. or a full day of Brahma, the supreme creator of the universe. Another fascinating reference to the theory of time dilation! But the repeated occurrence of the Mahayugas, in itself is the evidence in the proposition of time being circular, rather than linear. At the end of and at the end of the Chatur yuga the inevitable Pralaya or apocalypse wipes out the entire human civilization, often it is also marked by the drastic weather changes and even massive floods. Also, As the Mahayuga moves on cyclically in ascending order, from kali we progress upward in ascending order through Dvapara and Treta to Satya Yuga when in ascending order man goes on excelling in all respects till he reaches the pinnacle of development in Satya Yuga. This cyclical process goes on ad infinitum, the Latin phrase for fore-ever. A gentle reminder that time indeed is cyclic and events after a certain span of time indeed repeat!
In the very scriptures of the Hindu dharma, it is said that Brahma has been assigned hundred years of his age, or in respect of the earth age 2000 Mahayugas. Brahma’s lifespan is known as Mahakalpa, at the end of which, all of the universes will be completely destroyed. In the next cycle, another Brahma, yes you read that right, not even the Supreme Lord is eternal comes into being and thus the cycle goes on at all levels, both micro and macro.