Vedic (also known as Hindu) cosmology views time in vast cycles lasting
hundreds of thousands of years, with phases of light and darkness
corresponding to the level of spiritual awareness on the planet. According
to the scriptures, men and women in previous ages were endowed with heroic
and godly qualities. The supernatural was commonplace and miraculous events
In his lucid translation and commentary of the Srimad Bhagavatam (1:17:6-8), A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes that people in ancient times were godly. They enjoyed thousand-year lifespans, and the earth was ruled by saintly kings (“rajarshis”) annointed by God. These noble rulers cared for both their human and nonhuman subjects: “men and animals were equally protected as far as life was concerned. That is the way in God’s kingdom.”
According to Srila Prabhupada, such moral concern is required of today’s leaders: “The protection of the lives of both the human beings and the animals is the first and foremost duty of a government. A government must not discriminate in such principles.”
The Vedic scriptures warn against atheism, licentiousness, and unnecessary violence. The sages teach that gradual forgetfulness of God and religious principles will only lead to moral degeneration and greater human suffering.
According to the Vedic scriptures, our current age, known as Kali Yuga, the iron age, is one of spiritual darkness, violence and hypocrisy. The Srimad Bhagavatam 12:2:31 records Kali Yuga as having begun when the constellation of the seven sages (Saptarishi) passed through the lunar mansion of Magha. Vedic astrologers have calculated this to have been 2:27 a.m. on February 20, 3102 B.C. The beginning of Kali Yuga took place 36 years after Lord Krishna, who is God incarnate, spoke Bhagavad-gita to His disciple Arjuna.
The scriptures teach that during the 432,000 year age of Kali, humanity deteriorates and falls into barbarism. Humans begin to indiscriminately butcher innocent animals for food. They fall under the spell of intoxication. They lose all sexual restraint. Families break up. Women and children are abused and abandoned. Increasingly degraded generations, conceived accidentally in lust and growing up wild, swarm all over the world.
Political leadership falls into the hands of unprincipled rogues, criminals and terrorists, who use their power to exploit the people. Entire populations are enslaved and put to death. The world teems with fanatics, extremists and spiritual con artists, who win huge followings among a people completely dazed by hedonism, as well as by cultural and moral relativism.
“Religion, truthfulness, cleanliness, tolerance, mercy, physical strength and memory diminish with each passing day.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 12:2:1)
The saints and sages of ancient India describe the people of this age as greedy, ill-behaved, and merciless. In this age, states the Srimad Bhagavatam, merely possessing wealth is considered a sign of good birth, proper behavior, and fine qualities. Law and justice are determined by one’s prestige and power.
Marriage ceases to exist as a holy union—men and women simply live together on the basis of bodily attraction and verbal agreement, and only for sexual pleasure. Women wander from one man to another. Men no longer look after their parents in their old age, and fail to provide for their own children.
One’s beauty is thought to depend on one’s hairstyle. Filling the belly is said to be the only purpose in life. Cows are killed once their milk production drops. Religious observances are performed solely for the sake of reputation.
The Linga Purana (Ch. 40) describes the human race in Kali Yuga as a vain and stupid people “spurred on by the lowest instincts.” They prefer false ideas and do not hesitate to persecute sages. They are tormented by bodily desires. Severe droughts and plagues are everywhere. Slovenliness, illness, hunger and fear spread.
Nations are continually at war with one another. The number of princes and farmers decline. Heroes are assassinated. The working classes want to claim regal power and enjoy royal wealth. Kings become thieves. They take to seizing property, rather than protecting the citizenry.
The new leaders emerge from the laborer class and begin to persecute religious people, saints, teachers, intellectuals, and philosophers. Civilization lacks any kind of divine guidance. The sacred books are no longer revered. False doctrines and misleading religions spread across the globe. Children are killed in the wombs of their mothers. Women who have relations with several men are numerous. The number of cows diminishes.
The Linga Purana says that in Kali Yuga, young women freely abandon their virginity. Women, children, and cows—always protected in an enlightened society—are abused and killed during the iron age. Thieves are numerous and rapes are frequent. There are many beggars and widespread unemployment. Merchants operate corrupt businesses. Diseases, rats, and foul substances plague the populace. Water is lacking. Fruits are scarce. Everyone uses vulgar language.
The men of Kali Yuga only seek money. Only the rich have power. People without money are their slaves. The leaders of the state no longer protect the people, but plunder the citizenry through excessive taxation. Farmers abandon living close to nature. They become unskilled laborers in congested cities. Many dress in rags, or are unemployed, and sleep on the streets. Through the fault of the government, infant mortality rates are high. False gods are worshipped in false ashrams, in which pilgrimages, penances, charities and austerities are all concocted.
People in this age eat their food without washing beforehand. Monks break their vows of celibacy. Cows are kept alive only for their milk. Water is scarce. Many people watch the skies, praying for rain. No rain comes. The fields become barren. Suffering from famine and poverty, many attempt to migrate to countries where food is more readily available.
People are without joy and pleasure. Many commit suicide. Men of small intelligence are influenced by atheistic doctrines. Family, clan and caste are all meaningless. Men are without virtues, purity or decency. (Vishnu Purana 6.1)
This age of Kali runs for 432,000 years. It will be followed by a return to Satya Yuga, a golden age of light. This will be brought about by Lord Kalki, the next incarnation of God. Religious life and devotion to God are virtually impossible during Kali Yuga. This is a cruel, savage, bloodthirsty, licentious age, where “God is dead,” and religion is a dirty word.
The saving grace of a personal God is our only real shelter in Kali Yuga. As this age continues, human piety diminishes. Animal slavery. Human slavery. AIDS. Abortion. The Holocaust. The annihilation of the Native Americans. The “killing fields” of Cambodia. Drug abuse. These are merely the tip of the iceberg—a preview of things to come.
At the end of this age, the human race will have turned the earth into a wasteland. Humans will be cannibalizing their own children, and the life expectancy will be around 20 to 30 years.
It is at this point in time that Lord Kalki, the next predicted incarnation of God, will appear. The scriptures say He will appear as the son of a brahmana (priest) whose name is Vishnu-yasa, in a place called Shambhala. There is a place in India with that name, so perhaps it is there that the Lord will appear.
Kalki is depicted riding a horse and carrying a sword. Humanity is so fallen at this point that there is no other remedy, apart from total destruction of the human population, to save the world. Kalki judges the world.
The Linga Purana describes “mlecchas” (barbarians) killed by the thousands by Lord Kalki, along with the thieves who have seized royal power. The Lord then re-establishes pure civilization and anoints a God-conscious king to rule on His behalf. The earth re-enters a phase of enlightenment, and the cycle of time continues.
The prophecies given in these Sanskrit texts are consistent with Western apocalyptic literature such as the Book of Revelation.
The Western traditions of a coming or a returning “messiah” presiding over the end of the world, judgment day and the restoration of paradise on earth, however, are seen in Vedic cosmology as cyclical events.
The coming “Satya Yuga,” or golden age, has been expressed in the American popular culture as the dawning of the Aquarian or “New Age.”
Mahabuddhi dasa tells of the first time he met Srila Prabhupada in the early ’70s. His name at the time was Randy, and he had long blond hair. He was a football player at San Diego State University, a leader in student government, and a son of wealthy parents. He had been taking part in the congregational kirtan (praise of God through song and dance) in the Los Angeles temple when invited to come upstairs to Prabhupada’s room.
“Because you have been given some ability, wealth, and opulence by Krishna,” said Prabhupada, looking to Randy, who sat against the wall, “therefore you should use it in Krishna’s service. If you use it only for your personal sense gratification, that’s simply miserly. If you do not take to Krishna Consciousness, you will ruin your human form of life (and risk rebirth in lower species).”
Prabhupada suddenly called for a copy of the Twelfth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam and began reading aloud of the predictions for degraded humanity in the coming age, the Age of Kali.
“Men will consider that to have long hair means they are beautiful,” said Srila Prabhupada. When Randy heard that, he felt stunned!