manvantara or manuvantara (Sanskrit: "patriarchate of one Manu;") from manu (progenitor of mankind) + antara (within or between), hence the compound paraphrased means "within a manu," or "between manus" — literally meaning the duration of a Manu, or his life span. A manvantara is the period of activity between any two manus, on any plane, since in any such period there is a root-manu at the beginning of evolution, and a seed-manu at its close, preceding a pralaya (dissolution, or rest). Manvantara implying here simply a period of activity, as opposed to pralaya — without reference to the length of the cycle.
Each manvantara is created and ruled by a specific manu, who in turn is created by Brahma, the Creator himself. Manu creates the world, and all its species during that period of time, each manvantara lasts the lifetime of a manu, upon whose death, Brahma creates another Manu to continue the shristi (cycle of Creation), Vishnu on his part takes a new avatara, and also a new Indra and saptarishis are appointed.
Eventually it takes 14 manus and their respective manvantaras to create a kalpa (a ‘Day of Brahma’), according to the Hindu Time Cycles (Vedic time-line). Thereafter, at the end of each kalpa, there is a period of dissolution or pralaya, wherein the world is dissolved and it is lies in a state of rest, during a period called the, ‘Night of Brahma’.
After that the creator, Brahma starts his cycle of creation all over again, in an endless cycle of creation followed by dissolution for which Shiva (God of Dissolution), and also renewal, is invoked towards the end of each such cycle.
Types of Manvantara
There are many kinds of manvantaras:
- mahamanvantara — a planetary manvantara, also called a kalpa — is the period of the lifetime of a planet during its seven rounds. It is also called a Day of Brahma, and its length is 4,320,000,000 years.
- prakritika manvantara — universal manvantara;
- saurya manvantara — the manvantara of the solar system;
- bhaumika manvantara — the terrestrial manvantara, or manvantara of earth;
- paurusha manvantara — the manvantara, or period of activity, of man.
- Mahasaurya Manvantara — The life period or period of manifestation of the solar system, or its death and dissolution.
- Brahma Manvantara — The death (or life) of Brahma, which takes place at the close of the Life or Age of Brahma, a period of 311,040,000,000,000 years; also called a mahapralaya or prakritika pralaya. One must ascertain whether the Brahma refers to a solar system or a smaller period of time, such as the life of a planetary chain.
- Round Manvantara — Period of one circulation of the life-waves around the planetary chain from the first globe to the last globe, a period of 308,448,000 years. It is one-seventh of a Day of Brahma.
- Vaivasvata-manvantara — The present period of cyclical universal time, ruled over by Vaivasvata Manu. During the lifetime of Lord Brahma, which corresponds to the duration of the universe, there are 504,000 Manus.
- Raivata-manvantara — The manvantaric life cycle inaugurated and presided over by Raivata-manu, the fifth of the 14 manus. Another word for manus is dhyani-chohans. As there are seven root-manus and seven seed-manus for the seven rounds of our earth-chain, Raivata-manu inaugurated and presided over the third round as its root-manu.
One has to gather from context what the meaning of the manvantara referred to is, remembering that what is applicable to a lesser period applied also to a greater, and conversely. When speaking of a manvantara of our planet, a period of one round of the planetary chain is usually meant. There is also the manvantara of any globe of the planetary chain. Seven rounds of the planetary chain make a mahamanvantara of a planet, a Day of Brahma. A solar manvantara is a period of seven Days of Brahma. The Life of Brahma is a mahamanvantara or mahakalpa of the solar system. A minor or globe manvantara is the duration of the seven root-races on any particular globe of the planetary chain. Even a root-race is sometimes called a manvantara because there is a root-manu and seed-manu to each race. The period of a human life is sometimes called a paurusha manvantara; the period of a planet's life, a bhaumika manvantara; the life period of the solar system, a saurya manvantara, the life period of the universe, a prakritika manvantara, which last can become synonymous with the saurya manvantara.
When the time arrives for the re-opening of a planetary manvantara, the planet:
"descends again into manifestation through the inner divine planetary thirst for active life and is directed to the same solar system, and to the same spot, relatively speaking, that its predecessor (its former self) had, attracted thither by magnetic and other forces on the lower planes. It forms, in the beginning of its course or journey downwards, a planetary nebula; after many aeons it becomes a comet, following ultimately an elliptical orbit around the sun of our solar system, thus being 'captured,' as our scientists wrongly say, by the sun; and finally condenses into a planet in its earliest physical condition. The comets of short periodic time are on their way to rebecoming planets in our solar system, provided they successfully elude the many dangers that beset such ethereal bodies before condensation and hardening of their matter shield them from destruction".
In a similar manner at the re-opening of a solar manvantara, a cosmic nebula is gradually formed of the principles of the former cosmos with its sun and planets, etc. Then:
"this cosmic nebula drifts from the place where it first was evolved, the guiding impulse of karma directing here and directing there, this luminous nebulosity moving circularly, and contracting, passing through other phases of nebular evolution, such as the spiral stage and the annular, until it becomes spherical, or rather a nebular series of concentric spheres. The nebula in space, as just said, takes often a spiral form, and from the core, the center, there stream forth branches, spiral branches, and they look like whirling wheels within wheels, and they whirl during many ages. When the time has come — when the whirling has developed pari passu with the indwelling lives and intelligences within the cosmic nebula — then the annular form appears, a form like a ring or concentric rings, with a heart in the center, and after long aeons, the central heart becomes the sun or central body of the new solar system, and the rings the planets. These rings condense into other bodies, and these other bodies are the planets circulating around their elder brother, the sun; elder, because he was the first to condense into a sphere" (Fund 61-2).
In the first half of a manvantara (planetary as well as human) there is the descent of spirit into matter, and in the second half an ascent of spirit at the expense of matter. A manvantara or period of material manifestation is a temporary spiritual death, whereas the dawn of the succeeding pralaya is spiritual birth.
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