Posted by: Khepera | Friday, 19 January 2007

Puranic Time and the Archaeological Record

In our discussions of history, culture and the development of civilizations, those of us not indigenous to western culture have been often handicapped by, among others, two critical impediments: the constraint of English in engaging nonlinear comprehensive abstract concepts/principles, particularly in the collective context, and, the more rigorous constrain of this culture’s expression of its time conception. While we have occasionally turned to other calendars — the Chinese/Japanese, Maya, Hindu, etc. — few of us were sufficiently versed in the intricacies and historical developments of these calendrical systems, &/or the conceptual precepts these systems engender into the discourse contextually.

I ran across this info recently, and the more I delved, the more this seemed to present a cogent alternate mode of conception/perception for the engagement of ‘time as tool’. Further, it was highly significant in motivating personal enquiry along the lines of modeling an African/Khemetic corollary. Many of you likely know that Kmt had a chronological number system which included a single number representing “millions of years”, which, one would think is a step further out than yugas. If one were to begin to model a chronometric architecture around such a core premise — specifically one as Tropical as the one below, wherein a sense of chronological *cycles* predominate instead of the linear ‘river of time’ — then a broad vista of possible visions of time, and thereby the historical record emerge before our combined senses. For those focused on a more metaphysical — and I would add ‘transphysical’ — sensibility and foundation for the dynamic function of the universe, this premise holds out great promise and potential along multiple wave fronts.

This is definitely one of those instances where open minds are called for, and rigorous scrutiny is the paradigm.

[see also:]



Puranic Time
by Drutakarma Dasa

Providing a strong challenge to established academic perception and methodology, Drutakarma Dasa presents the Vaisnava Hindu worldview on the fundamental concepts to the approach to and interpretation of the archaeological record. His presentation is articulate and thorough and the extensive research he has undertaken to support his thesis is very impressive. He contrasts the currently accepted time concept, which closely resembles the Judaeo-Christian model, with the ancient Puranic model and shows us how each tends to supports its own world view. But Drutakarma argues that the evidence offered by the archaeological record does not actually support the presently accepted model and thus questions its value in accurate historical analysis.

The time concept of modern archaeology and anthropology resembles the general cosmological-historical time concept of Europe’s Judaeo-Christian culture. Differing from the cyclical cosmological-historical time concepts of the early Greeks in Europe, and the Indians and others in Asia, the Judaeo-Christian cosmological-historical time concept is linear and progressive. Modern archaeology also shares with Judaeo-Christian theology the idea that humans appeared after the other major species. The author subjectively positions himself within the Vaisnava Hindu worldview, and from this perspective offers a radical critique of modern generalisations about human origins and antiquity. Hindu historical literature, particularly the Puranas and Ithihasas, place human existence in the context of repeating time cycles called yugas and kalpas, lasting hundreds of millions of years. During this entire period, according to the Puranic accounts, humans coexisted with creatures in some ways resembling the earlier tool-making hominids of modern evolutionary accounts. If one were to accept the Puranic record as objectively true, and also take into account the generally admitted imperfection and complexity of the archaeological and anthropological record, one could make the following prediction. The strata of the earth, extending back hundreds of millions of years, should yield a bewildering mixture of hominid bones, some anatomically modern human and others not, as well as a similarly bewildering variety of artefacts, some displaying a high level of artistry and others not. Given the linear progressivist preconceptions of generations of archaeologists and anthropologists, one could also predict that this mixture of bones and artefacts would be edited to conform to their deeply rooted linear-progressive time concepts. A careful study of the archaeological record, and the history of archaeology itself, broadly confirms these two predictions. Linear-progressivist time concepts thus pose a substantial barrier to truly objective evaluation of the archaeological record and to rational theory- building in the area of human origins and antiquity.

The practically employed time concept of the modern historical scientist, including the archaeologist, strikingly resembles the traditional Judaeo-Christian time concept, and equally strikingly differs from that of the ancient Greeks and Indians.

This observation is, of course, an extreme generalisation. In any culture, the common people may make use of various time concepts, both linear and cyclical. Among the great thinkers of any given period, there may be many competing views of both cyclical and linear time. This was certainly true of the ancient Greeks. It can nevertheless be safely said that the cosmological concepts several of the most prominent Greek thinkers involved a cyclic or episodic time similar to that found in the Puranic literature of India. For example, we find within Hesiod’s Works and Days, a series of ages (gold, silver, bronze, heroic and iron) similar to the Indian yugas. In both systems, the quality of human life becomes progressively worse with each passing age. In On Nature (Fragment 17), Empedocles speaks of cosmic time cycles. In Plato’s dialogues there are descriptions of revolving time (Timaeus 38 a) and recurring catastrophes that destroy or nearly destroy human civilisation (Politicus, 268 d ff). Aristotle repeatedly mentioned in his works that the arts and sciences had been discovered many times in the past (Metaphysics, 1074, b.10; Politics, 1329, b.25) In the teachings of Pythagoras, Plato and Empedocles regarding transmigration of souls, this cyclical pattern is extended to individual psychophysical existence.

When Judaeo-Christian civilisation arose in Europe, another kind of time became prominent. This time has been characterised as linear and vectorial. Broadly speaking, this concept involves a unique act of cosmic creation, a unique appearance of the human kind and a unique history of salvation, culminating in a unique denouement in the form of a last judgement. The drama occurs only once. Individually, human life mirrored this process; with some exceptions, orthodox Christian theologians did not accept transmigration of the soul.

Modern historical sciences share the basic Judaeo-Christian assumptions about time: that the universe we inhabit is a unique occurrence and that humans have arisen only once on this planet. The history of our ancestors is regarded as a unique, although unpredestined, evolutionary pathway. The future pathway of our species is also unique. Although this pathway is officially unpredictable, the myths of science project a possible overcoming of death by biomedical science and mastery over the entire universe by evolving, space-travelling humans. One group, the Santa Fe Institute, who have sponsored several conferences on ‘artificial life’, predicts the future transferral of human intelligence into machines and computers displaying the complex symptoms of living things (Langton 1991, p.xv) ‘Artificial life’ thus becomes the ultimate transfiguring salvation of our species.

One is tempted to propose that the modern human evolutionary account is a Judaeo-Christian heterodoxy, which covertly retains fundamental structures of Judaeo-Christian cosmology, salvation history and eschatology, while overtly dispensing with the scriptural account of divine intervention in the origin of species, including our own.

This is similar to the case of Buddhism as Hindu heterodoxy. Dispensing with the Hindu scriptures and God concepts, Buddhism nevertheless retained basic Hindu cosmological assumptions such as cyclical time, transmigration and karma.

Something else the modern human evolutionary hypothesis has in common with the earlier Christian account is that humans appeared after the other life forms. In Genesis, God created the plants, animals and birds before human beings. For strict literalists, the time interval is short – humans are created on the last of six of our present solar days. Others have taken the Genesis days as ages. For example, around the time of Darwin European scientists with strong Christian leanings proposed that God had gradually brought into existence various species throughout the ages of geological time until the perfected earth was ready to receive human beings (Grayson, 1983). In modern evolutionary accounts, anatomically modern humans retain their position as the most recent major species to occur on this planet, having evolved from preceding hominids within the past 100,000 or so years. And despite the attempts of prominent evolutionary theorists and spokespersons to counteract the tendency, even among evolution scientists, to express this appearance in teleological fashion (Gould 1977, p. 14), the idea that humans are the crowning glory of the evolutionary process still has a stronghold on the public and scientific minds. Although anatomically modern humans are given an age of about 100,000 years, modern archaeologists and anthropologists, in common with Judaeo-Christian accounts, give civilisation an age of a few thousand years and, again in common with Judaeo-Christian accounts, place its earliest occurrence in the Middle East.

I do not here categorically assert a direct causal link between earlier Judeao-Christian ideas and those of the modern historical sciences. Demonstrating that, as Edward B. Davis (1994) points out in his review of recent works on this subject, needs much more careful documentation than has yet been provided. But the many common features of the time concepts of the two knowledge systems suggest these causal links do exist, and that it would be fruitful to trace connections in sufficient detail to satisfactorily demonstrate this.

I do, however, propose that the tacitly accepted and hence critically unexamined time concepts of the modern human sciences — whether or not causally linked with Judaeo-Christian concepts — pose a significant unrecognised influence on interpretation of the archaeological and anthropological record. To demonstrate how this might be true, I shall introduce my own experience in evaluating this record from the alien standpoint of the cyclical time concepts and accounts of human origins found in the Puranas and Itihasas of India.


“First and above all, an explanation must do justice to the thing that is to be explained, must not devaluate it, interpret it away, belittle it, or garble it, in order to make it easier to understand. The question is not ‘At what view of the phenomenon must we arrive in order to explain it in accordance with one or another philosophy?’ but precisely the reverse: ‘What philosophy is requisite if we are to live up to the subject, be on a level with it?’ The question is not how the phenomenon must be turned, twisted, narrowed, crippled so as to be explicable, at all costs, upon principles that we have once and for all resolved not to go beyond. The question is: ‘To what point must we enlarge our thought so that it shall be in proportion to the phenomenon…’

Schelling, Philosophie der Mythologie


  1. […] most notably Egypt/Khemet, India and Mexico(the Maya).  In another post, I introduce the system of Puranic time, and some discussion of its parameters.  The post & article address specifically the […]

  2. […] of the key things to consider in all this is the issue of Puranic time, and the question of which yuga it is year 5111 […]

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