THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE YUGAS.
The gradual degeneracy of the world in its attitude towards religion, in moral behaviour, in the performance of duties in the administration of Government and in the exercise of Justice, has been foretold in every religion worthy of the name. Our Hindu Scriptures have, in unmistakable terms, revealed the character of the different epochs of time and the humanity of the present day are in a position to bear testimony to the truth of the revelations. The characteristic features of the Yugas have been predicted by the inspired Rishis of old with remarkable precisions.
There is said to be four Yugas – Kreta, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. Of the four Yugas, in the Kreta age, one only religion prevailed over the whole world. Humanity was perfect and each individual had the truest conception of God. It was not necessary, in those times, for men to perform religious ceremonies. All were virtuous and defect there was none. Gods, demons, and Ghandharvas were not, nor do we hear in the Kreta Yuga of Yakashas, Rakshasas, or Nagas. Commerce was a thing totally unknown. Manual labor was not necessary for the gaining of foodstuffs.
All that one had to do was to think of what he wanted and straightway he had it. Such was the purity of his thought and his knowledge of the potency of thought. Men were not then affected by maladies nor by the infirmities of the senses. The hydra-headed vices of the present day were not heard of in those times, malice, pride, hypocrisy, discord, ill-will, cunning, fear, misery, envy, or covetousness. The merit of the individuals consisted in the right performance of their respective duties ordained by the Holy Writ. All meditated on Brahmam and the one sacred mantra, the Pranava. The Brahmin, Kshatriya Vaisya, and Sudra, each did his work without aiming at any particular object and it was no wonder that salvation was within the access of all, and the times were very appropriately termed Kreta, or perfect.
Let us next consider the character of the Treta Yuga. The degeneracy was slight but it was none the less marked. Religious perception was less accurate and virtue was said to decrease by a quarter. It was accordingly thought necessary that religious rites should be introduce. Sacrifices and various other religious observations came into existence. While men did not deviate from virtue, and were as given to asceticism as they were in the previous Yuga, the error, however that they committed was that they began in devise means to attain an object. The old way of doing actions without yearning for the fruit was no longer in vogue to the same extent as before. But it is noteworthy that duties were done and rites performed with extraordinary carefulness. So passed the Treta Yuga only twenty five percent deficient in the grandeur and perfection of the previous age.
Next came the Dwapara Yuga during which the religious condition of men was said to have degenerated by one half. The Veda was no longer one and undivided. Some knew all the Vedas; some were acquainted with three; some had knowledge of one, and there were those who knew not even the Riks. Those that practiced asceticism and such as gave gifts were influenced by motives. Men became less intelligent and could not understand the whole of the Vedas. Certain portions were actually unintelligible to them.
Men departed from truth and became affected by diseases Cupid began to have promiscuous away over men and women and calamities of no mean kind were the natural outcome. In this state of circumstances, penance was resorted to for the propitiation of sins. Also, sacrifices were performed with a view to obtain more of the good things of this world; and in some cases, the object of such sacrifices was also to obtain heaven. Such then was the degradation of men, such the misery in which they were steeped during the third of the Yugas, the Dwapara Yuga.
We at last reach the age in which we are today, the Kali Yuga. It is said that only a quarter of the principal virtue discernible in the Kreta Yuga lives in the present age. It is nothing strange therefore that the Vedas, the Institutes, virtues, sacrifices, and the religious observances are held at a considerable discount. Excessive drought, less rain, rats, locusts, famine, plague and hostile rulers who do not care a jot for the welfare of their subjects are the ills to which flesh is heir. As the Yuga wanes, virtue also waxeth weak. Men degenerate and their natures are corrupt. Injustice would be the rule, and justice the exception. We need not go far for a proof of the statement made ages before, but the present events clearly testify to the truth of it. It may be noteworthy that in the Kreta Yuga, Narayana wore a white hue; in the Treta Yuga he looked red; in the Dwapara Yuga, Narayana wore a yellow hue and in the last age, the Kali Yuga known as the Iron Age, he assumes a black hue.