The Coming Golden Age: On Prophecy in Hinduism
In traditional Hinduism, the theory that comes closest to prophecy, understood as the prediction of the future of the world and of humanity in a way that impacts believers, is the belief in the succession of four declining world ages called yugas. The yugas characterise society and its adherence to – or distance from – accepted social conduct and proper religious or spiritual practices. There is no generalised belief in a terminal moment in human history and a final judgement when only the chosen will be saved from some form of eternal damnation.1 In this chapter, we will look at the origins of the yuga theory and its defining role in the way in which traditional Hinduism has explained the past, present and future of human society. We shall see how the image of a rescuer emerged under specific historical circumstances and was later reinterpreted to predict the coming of a future saviour who will inaugurate an era of global spirituality and brotherhood. We will also look at how the arrival of Islam and Christianity in South Asia influenced some movements which combined traditional Hindu ideas about the yugas with notions of a day of judgement and redemption.