“I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come to consume the world.” As time passed, the world saw a gradual decline of dharma, wisdom, knowledge, intellectual capability, life span, and strength. This marked the beginning of the Treta Yuga, the second phase, which saw the power of the humans diminish slightly.
Treta Yuga lasted for 3,600 years of the demigods, equivalent to 1,296,000 human years. Treta means a collection of three things referring to the three incarnations of Lord Vishnu that were seen during this period; Vamana (the dwarf Brahmana), Parashurama (the warrior) and Rama (the prince). Treta is characterized by three-quarters virtue and one-quarter vice, as it is said that each leg of religion, i.e. truth, penance, religious sacrifice, and charity, reduced by one-quarter due to lying, violence, dissatisfaction, and quarrel.
During Treta Yuga, people grew less inclined towards spirituality and more focused on material desires. Wars became a common sight and changes took place in the climate, giving rise to deserts and oceans. Also in Treta Yuga, people communicated through glances that exist with telepathy, possibly after the third eye is opened. In Dvapara Yuga, one has to practice pranayama as the main sadhana, while it is done through chanting the name of God in Kali Yuga. The average human life span reduced from 100,000 years in Satya Yuga to 10,000 years, and normal human stature shrunk by 7 cubits to 14 cubits (22 feet 4 inches). However, Treta Yuga also brought knowledge of universal magnetism that allowed humans to understand the true nature of the universe. People were devoted to ritual performances and severe austerities. Their interest lied in economic development and regulated sense gratification.
So, how did it all unfold?
The Linga Purana states that rain was born in this second age, which gave rise to trees as a source of livelihood and enjoyment. For a time in the Treta, people lived happily on the honey provided by the ‘wishing trees’, found their nourishment and were always free from fever. Until, one day, they became greedy, chopped off the trees’ limbs and took the honey by force. The crime committed in an act of greed led to the disappearance of the trees, leaving people to suffer in the rain and sharp cold and heat. King Bali (the demon king), though principled, was arrogant and egoistic. He had assumed power over the earth, heavens and the netherworlds. In order to save the world, Vamana, the fifth incarnation, appeared and, taking advantage of the king’s over-confidence, restored the heavens. This shows us that one should not brag even if one possesses all earthly things.
People began to practice agriculture to sustain themselves. The practice of having to work in order to eat somehow contributed to people becoming lustful and greedy and led to the fall of human consciousness. They had devolved to the point of necessitating the laying down of rules. Thus, a class of noble warriors – Kshatriyas – were created to establish rules of conduct and also to protect people from hurting others or themselves. They were sworn to protect the ‘dharma’ (righteousness). However, when the Kshatriyas strayed off their path, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Parashurama to restore social order and rid the earth of the evil that the Kshatriya caste had cast over the common people. Through this, Lord Vishnu wished to tell the human race that a saint too can resort to armed resistance against oppressors if need be.
The Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana, too took place in the Treta Yuga. It is the story of how the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Rama (personification of righteousness and human values), defeated Ravana, the ten-headed demon. His life was a lesson for mankind about the importance of sticking to principles of truth and justice, whether in the battlefield or family life. Once Rama had fulfilled his promise to defeat Ravana and rule for 11,000 years, as planned, he sacrificed his life in the river Sarayu. This marked the end of Treta Yuga.
According to the other interpretation of the yugas which says that the timeline is divided into ‘descending’ and ‘ascending’ stages of 4.32 million years each, the ascending Treta Yuga is yet to be experienced. It is said that the world will undergo another upheaval, probably in terms of population explosion or natural calamities, before moving onto a new era of well-being and human consciousness.
What will be known as the Age of Thought, the ascending Treta Yuga will be more spiritually advanced and everything would be connected. We would be able to manifest whatever we need at will. We may actually leave technology behind and decide to live naturally. What differentiates the lower two yugas (Kali and Dvapara) from the upper two (Treta and Satya), is self-interest. People in the lower yugas are often greedy and live for themselves. However, in the upper yugas, people realize that we are all connected and thus, work for the good of everyone as much as themselves.
Since people would possess the ability to perceive others’ thoughts, we would find a level of awareness unparalleled in our current age. Awareness and sensitivity to others would lead to a more civil society, which many of us long for today. We would not find the exploitative and unjust and inhumane behavior. Society would value service to others more than the accumulation of wealth for power. People will appreciate that their ultimate happiness lies beyond their egos.
Although this cycle of yugas is not widely accepted, understanding our past and knowing where the world is headed will help us make better decisions now.