Understanding Kali Yuga: The Universe in a State of Chaos
According to Hindu beliefs, the Universe has a four-part cycle and we’re at the beginning of its most destructive phase. Here, Balinese-Australian journalist Maya Kerthyasa, explores the lessons of Kali Yuga and how understanding it might help us navigate the challenges we’re facing on our fragile planet.
In the 8th Century, an Indian priest by the name of Rsi Markandeya was called to Bali as he meditated on Mount Raung, East Java. He crossed the Java Strait with a small entourage and from there, the first seeds of Balinese Hinduism were planted – seeds that over centuries blossomed into the complex, multi-faceted culture the island is known for today.
The cycle of the Universe is written
Bali inherited many of Indian Hinduism’s rituals, theories and belief systems, including the philosophy of the Yugas – the various ages within a four-part cycle of the world. Each Yuga stretches over hundreds-of-thousands – even millions – of years and presents its own set of nuances, challenges and characteristics. So, during the first period – Kertha, the “golden age” of eternal righteousness – humanity is believed to be more closely connected to the Gods. The world is fair, pure and harmonious. Treta is the age of duty and obedience – a time where humans become devoted to rules and religion in the hope of gaining something for themselves. And during Dwapara, disease is rife, calamity kicks in and society as a whole loses another layer of purity.
Where are we now?
Right now, according to Bali’s lontar scriptures and the medieval Indian text known as the Vishnu Purana, we’re transitioning between Dwapara and Kali Yuga: the final and most destructive phase of the Universe’s cycle. In Hindu Mythology, an 1882 account of the key philosophies of the religion, author W.J Wilkins describes Kali Yuga as “an age of strife and dissension,” when Visnu, the God of Preservation, reascends to heaven and the world is dominated by decadence, consumption and greed. The prophecies of the Vishnu Purana and Bali’s own Catur Yuga are eerily accurate when you compare them to the state of the world today. The Earth, it claims, will be “venerated only for its mineral treasures”, fine clothes will form the basis of dignity, leaders will be driven by wickedness and wealth will be the only source of devotion. So, the way modern humans pollute, consume, and are driven by material desires all begins to make sense. Our Universe is tuned to generate a less peaceful way of living at the moment, and our challenge is to try and overcome that.
Survival through spiritualism
Balinese Hindus, especially in the light of the Covid-19, acknowledge and have great respect for the obstacles of this Yuga, which is influenced by the fiery characteristics of Kali, the Goddess of destruction and renewal. They use their knowledge of the cycle to offset its negative effects – instead, projecting goodwill and positive energy through yadnya, or rituals. These are like exercises that attune us with nature and the divine. They are cleansing, purifying, balancing, devotional and allow us to tap-in to the true rhythm of the world. Dewa Yadnya, Manusa Yadnya, Rsi Yadnya, Pitra Yadnya and Bhuta Yadnya – practices for the Gods, human beings, holy figures, our ancestors and the neutralisation of lowly forces, respectively – allow Balinese Hindus to accept the state of the world for what it is and find peace even in the clasps of humanity’s darkest moments. There are also personal, more individual practices, such as meditation, fasting, offering-making and other forms of creative release that encourage self-introspection, inner peace, and complete mindfulness. These are tools that anyone can adopt to help survive the times and connect more deeply with the messages of the Universe.
So, is there hope?
Kali Yuga is far from over. In fact, we’ve got another 426,879 years left to endure.
“The take-home message from Bali, perhaps, is that the world as we know it is exactly where it is meant to be. We can’t fight that. Our role is simply to understand it and go with the flow – at the same time, looking within ourselves to figure out how we can be more conscious beings”
This doesn’t need to be overcomplicated or intellectualised. It can be as simple as making more respectful choices in the way we consume, the way we treat others, and the way we interact with Mother Earth. This is a formula that is simple enough to apply to societies, religions and cultures all over the world. It sounds idealistic, but with practice and the right intention, it could change the way we function as a race. And if you listen closely enough, maybe that’s exactly what the Universe is asking us to do.
Hindu Mythology, W.J Wilkins, Rupa (1882)
Catur Yuga (salinan lontar druwe Puri Ubud), transcribed by Ida Bagus Putra Pudhartha, 2012