Article: Cycles of time

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The Jain concept of time is one of the most distinctive elements of Jain cosmological thought. It also demonstrates the repetitive and mathematical nature of Jain cosmology.

Time is endless and only exists in certain parts of 'world space' in Jain belief. In some areas it is a repeating cycle while in others it is not cyclical.

The current age is the fifth or unhappy stage – duṣamā – of a regressive cycle.

The 'Ascending Phase'

The Sanskrit term for 'ascending phase' is utsarpiṇi. Also called the 'progressive half-cycle', it sees the gradual improvement of conditions over the six epochs. Life gradually gets better in terms of knowledge, lifespan, stature, pleasure, morality and spirituality. In this phase, the conditions begin at 'extremely unhappy' and are enhanced over the course of the eras until they end at 'extremely happy'.

Ascending cycle of time

English description

Sanskrit term


extremely unhappy


21,000 years



21,000 years

more unhappy than happy


1 crore of crore of sāgaropama

more happy than unhappy


2 crore of crore of sāgaropama



3 crore of crore of sāgaropama

extremely happy


4 crore of crore of sāgaropama

Each kalpa or cycle of time has two halves, each of six periods. One half-cycle is the 'ascending phase' – utsarpiṇi – while the other half is avarsarpiṇi or the 'descending phase'.


This manuscript painting shows perfect beings that have been liberated from the cycle of birth and some of the ways of reaching liberation. The exalted status of the liberated souls in the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is stressed by their ornate parasols.

Perfect beings and paths to liberation
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Liberation from the cycle of rebirth is only possible in the third and fourth epochs of each phase.

Liberation in these periods of each phase

English description

Sanskrit term

more unhappy than happy


more happy than unhappy


The current age is the fifth or unhappy stage – duṣamā – of a regressive cycle. It began soon after the death of Māhavīra, the 24th and final Jina of this era. Therefore human beings born in this stage cannot reach liberation.

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