In This Article Cosmology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources

Hinduism Cosmology
by
Luis González-Reimann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0013

Introduction

This article deals with Hinduism’s views of the spatial structure and organization of the world as well as the world’s transformation throughout time. It focuses especially on Hindu theories of large cosmic time cycles. There are three distinct cycles that were most certainly of separate origins but were early on combined into one complex system. They are the yugas, the kalpas, and the manvantaras. The yuga cycle is concerned with dharma, or proper conduct. There are four yugas, named Kṛta (later also Satya), Tretā, Dvāpara, and Kali, and they represent a gradual descent from an age of perfection (Kṛta/Satya) to one of moral degeneration and diminished mental and physical capacities (Kali). The kalpas are the basic unit of world creation, destruction, and re-creation. They are also known as the days of the creator god Brahma because he creates the world when he wakes up and it is destroyed when he goes to sleep. The Puranas developed a still larger cycle, called the life of Brahma. The manvantaras are fourteen periods associated with a particular Manu, a progenitor of humanity. They deal mainly with the lineages of kings and the creation and re-creation of the Vedas and some divinities. The yugas are especially important to Hindu traditions because they establish the mythic-historical background upon which Hinduism places itself. According to the theory, we have been living in the Kali Yuga, the worst age, for the last five thousand years, and Kali will continue for thousands of years into the future. Many modern movements, however, claim that a new Kṛta/Satya Yuga has arrived or is about to begin.

General Overviews

Gombrich 1975 includes Buddhist and Jain cycles. González-Reimann 2009 provides more details of the Vedic period and the development and structure of classical cosmic cycles. Pingree 1990 explains the influence of Babylonian and Greek sources, and Pingree 2001 (in Italian) also includes information on later commentators.

  • Gombrich, Richard. “Ancient Indian Cosmology.” In Ancient Cosmologies. Edited by Carmen Blacker and Michael Loewe, 110–142. London: Allen and Unwin, 1975.

    E-mail Citation »

    A good exposition of Hindu as well as Buddhist and Jain cosmic cycles and cosmology.

  • González-Reimann, Luis. “Cosmic Cycles, Cosmology and Cosmography.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 411–428. Handbook of Oriental Studies 1. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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    On cycles in the Vedic and post-Vedic periods. Describes the formation and structure of Hindu cosmic cycles and their connection to ideas on transmigration. Also on Vedic and Hindu cosmology.

  • Pingree, David. “The Purāṇas and Jyotiḥśāstra: Astronomy.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 110.2 (1990): 274–280.

    DOI: 10.2307/604530E-mail Citation »

    A good, succinct description of the influence of Babylonian and Greek astronomy and astrology on the formation of Puranic cosmology. Also deals with commentators’ reinterpretations of early Puranic and astronomical cosmology.

  • Pingree, David. “Cosmologia vedica, cosmologia purāṇica.” In Storia Della Scienza 2. Edited by Sandro Petruccioli, 715–721. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    Surveys Vedic and Puranic cosmology and includes more material than Pingree 1990 on commentators of astronomical texts. In Italian. For more on the commentators, see Minkowski 2001 (cited under Cosmology and Cosmography). This article was one of Pingree’s last publications.

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