The Topos of the Four Ages of Humankind and the Question of Rāma’s Divinity


  • Mariola Pigoniowa University of Wrocław



Rāmāyaṇa, four ages of humankind (yugas), Rāma’s divinity


The present paper explores the connection between the topos of the four ages of humankind, and kr̥tayuga in particular, and the way in which Rāma’s rule is described in the Rāmāyaṇa. This topos, commonly found in various literatures of the ancient world, is also attested in this epic, featuring in the account of Rāma’s rule in books one and six. The characteristic elements of kr̥tayuga, such as the earth’s spontaneous abundance and the absence of human miseries and suffering, make it clear that the king whose rule is described in such a way should be regarded as a divine human.
The first part of this paper discusses the main problems connected with the Indian idea of king as presented especially by Edward W. Hopkins and Sheldon Pollock (king as a divine human or mortal god). The second part is devoted to the comparison of the descriptions of the world’s four periods in Indian, Greek, and Roman literature, with a focus on the similarities between them. In the third part of the paper emphasis is laid on the kr̥tayuga in particular and the way in which Rāma’s rule is described.

PlumX Metrics of this article


Primary Sources

Anderson, W. S. (ed.). 1988. P. Ovidii Nasonis Metamorphoses. Leipzig: Bibliotheca Teubneriana.

Bhatt, G. H. and U. P. Shah (eds.). 1960–1975. The Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa: Critical Edition. VII Vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute.

BrahmaP. = Brahmapurāṇa. 1895. Poona: Ānandāśrama Press.

GaruḍaP. = Garuḍapurāṇa. 1906. Bombay: Veṅkaṭeśvara Press.

KūrmaP. = Kūrmapurāṇa. 1971. Varanasi: All-India Kashiraj Trust.

MārkaṇḍeyaP. =Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. 1910. Veṇkaṭeśvara Press.

Mbh. = Mahābhārata. 1933–1966. Critical edition. XIX Vols. Poona.

PadmaP.= Padmapurāṇa. 1893–1894. Poona: Ānandāśrama Press.

Rām. = Bhatt G. H. and U. P. Shah (eds). 1960–1975. The Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa: Critical Edition. VII Vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute.

The Mahābhārata. 3. 1973. The Book of the Forest. Translated and Edited by J. A. B. Van Buitenen. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

VāyuP. = Vāyupurāṇa. 1905. Poona: Ānandāśrama Press.

ViṣṇuP. = Viṣṇupurāṇa. 1910. Bombay: Veṅkaṭeśvara Press.

Secondary Sources

Brockington, J. 1985. Righteous Rāma: the Evolution of an Epic. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

—. 1998. The Sanskrit Epics. Leiden–Boston–Köln: Brill.

Flood, G. 1996. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fränkel, H. 1975. Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy. A History of Greek epic, lyric, and prose to the middle of the fifth century. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gatz, B. 1967. Weltalter, goldene Zeit und sinnverwandte Vorstellungen. Spudasmata XVI. Studien zur Klassischen Philologie und ihren Grenzgebieten. Herausgegeben von Hildebrecht Hommel und Ernst Zinn. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung.

Ghoshal, U. 1923. A History of Hindu Political Theories.

Goldman, R. P. 1995. Gods In Hiding: The Mahābhārata’s Virāṭa Parvan And The Divinity Of The Indian Hero. In: Modern Evaluation of the Mahābhārata. Prof. R. K. Sharma Felicitation Volume. Delhi: Nag Publishers.

Goldman, R. P. and J. L. Masson. 1969. Who Knows Rāvaṇa: A Narrative Difficulty in the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. In: ABORI 50: 95–100.

Goldman, R. P. and S. J. Sutherland Goldman. 2007. Rāmāyaṇa. In: S. Mittal and G. Thursby (eds). The Hindu World. New York–London: Routledge.

Gonda, J. 1956. Ancient Indian Kingship From The Religious Point of View. In: Numen 3, fasc. 1: 36–71.

—. 1993. Aspects of Early Viṣṇuism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publisher.

González-Reimann, L. 2006. The Divinity of Rāma in the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki. In: Journal of Indian Philosophy 34: 203–220.

—. 2009. Cosmic Cycles, Cosmology, and Cosmography. In: K. A. Jacobsen (ed.). Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. I. Leiden: Brill: 411–428.

—. L. 2010. Time in the Mahabharata and the Time of the Mahabharata. In: S. Pollock (ed.). Epic and Argument in Sanskrit Literary History. Essays in Honour of Robert P. Goldman. Delhi: Manohar: 61–73.

Hopkins, E. W. 1931. The Divinity Kings. In: JAOS 51: 309–316.

Jacobi, H. 1893. Das Rāmāyaṇa: Geschichte und Inhalt, nebst Concordanz der gedrückten Recension. Bonn: F. Cohen.

Jahn, von K. 1958. The Yugas of the Indians in Islamic Historiography. In: Islam 33: 127–134.

Jolly, J. (ed.). 1885. The Institutes of Nārada. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Kane, P. V. 1946. History of Dharmaśāstra. Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law. Vol. 3. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Kantawala, S. G. 1964. Cultural History From The Matsyapurāṇa. Baroda: The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.

Kirfel, W. 1920. Die Kosmographie der Inder. Bonn.

Koskikallio, P. 1994. When Time Turns: Yugas, Ideologies, Sacrifices. In: Studia Orientalia 73: 253–271.

Levin, H. 1982. Mit Złotego Wieku – Prehistoria. In: Pamiętnik Literacki 73, 3–4: 315–343.

Mandlik, V. N. (ed.). 1886. Mānavadharmaśāstra. Bombay: Ganpat Krishnaji’s Press.

Mankad, D. R. 1942. Manvantara-Caturyuga Method (as employed in Purāṅas for chronological computations). In: ABORI 23: 271–290.

Pollock, Sh. 1984. The Divine King in The Indian Epic. In: JAOS 104, 3: 505–514.

The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki: An Epic of Ancient India. 1984. Vol. I. Introduction and Translation by Robert P. Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

—. 1986. Vol. II. Introduction, Translation, and Annotation by Sheldon I. Pollock. Edited by Robert P. Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

—. 1991. Vol. III. Introducion, Translation, and Annotation by Sheldon I. Pollock. Edited by Robert P. Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

—. 2009. Vol. VI. Translation and Annotation by Robert P. Goldman, Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, and Barend A. van Nooten. Introduction by Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki. Sanskrit Text and English Translation. 1998. Vol. IV. English Translation According to M. N. Dutt. Delhi: Parimal Publications.

Rocher, L. 1986. The Purāṇas. In: J. Gonda (ed.). A History of Indian Literature II 3. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.

Rosenmeyer, T. G. 1957. Hesiod and Historiography. In: Hermes 85, 3: 267–285.

Roth, R. 1860. Über den Mythus von den fünf Menschengeschlechtern bei Hesiod und die indische Lehre von den vier Weltaltern. In: Tübinger Universitätsschriften aus dem Jahre 1869, fasc. 2: 21–33.

Stasik, D. 2000. Opowieść o Prawym Królu. Tradycja Ramajany w Literaturze Hindi. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Akademickie DIALOG.

Śnieżko, D. 1996. Mit Wieku Złotego w Literaturze Polskiego Renesansu. Wzory–Warianty–Zastosowania. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Semper.

West, M. L. 1978. Hesiod. Works and Days. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

—. 1999. The East Face of Helicon. West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Winiarczyk, M. 2010. Utopie w Grecji Hellenistycznej. Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego.

Winternitz, M. 1972 (reprint. First published 1927). A History of Indian Literature. Vol. 1. Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Whitaker, J. L. 2000. Divine Weapons and Tejas in the two Indian Epics. In: Indo-Iranian Journal 43: 87–113.

—. 2002. How the Gods kill: the Nārāyaṇa Astra Episode, the Death of Rāvaṇa, and the Principles of Tejas in the Indian Epics. In: Journal of Indian Philosophy 30: 403–430.




How to Cite

Pigoniowa, Mariola. 2013. “The Topos of the Four Ages of Humankind and the Question of Rāma’s Divinity”. Cracow Indological Studies 15 (December):209-36.