In the year 1858, the mathematician missionary Rev Ebenezer Burgess introduced the famous Surya Siddhanta text to American Oriental Society. The Surya Siddhanta, a Sanskrit work explains the principles associated with Indian astronomy. Aryabhata, the famous Indian astronomer (5th century CE) is known to have consulted the Surya Siddhanta text. Ebenezer makes the following comment about the Maha-Yuga time cycle (4.32 million years) in this text.

Kalpa - 4.32 billion years
The Kalpa time cycle

Vast as this period is, however, it is far from satisfying the Hindu craving after infinity. We are next called upon to construct a new period by multiplying it by a thousand

Translation of the Sûrya-Siddhânta, A Text-Book of Hindu Astronomy; With Notes, and an Appendix (jstor.org)

Ebenezer expresses his astonishment that the Hindu astronomers imagined an even bigger eon namely the 4.32 billion year Kalpa. Little did he know that in less that two centuries, discoveries in astronomy will show the age of our Solar system to be 4.85 billion years and the age of the universe to be 13 billion years. The Kalpa period is the length of the day in the life of the mythical Prajapati, the creator.

Most Indians have heard that there are fourteen Manu periods within a Kalpa. However, only a few recognize that each contains 12,000 precession cycles. Precession is the term which astronomers use to describe the the slow shift of seasons over several centuries. The author of the Surya Siddhanta text seems to have an indirect mastery over how long this slow shift takes to cycle through a full calendar year. The author describes a Maha-Yuga as containing 12,000 Deva years. What is a Deva year?

A Deva year contains 360 Deva days. One Deva day is one human year. Today astronomers recognize the fact that there is an additional spin during Earth’s journey around the Sun. This spin does not cause a day or night like the other 365 spins do. A few decades ago, the logic behind the Deva day was not obvious but today it is. Similarly there are minute time units in Surya Siddhanta. These are very close to the time it takes for a neuron in the brain to fire. Ebenezer’s judgement about these smaller time units is equally interesting.

Thus, having no instruments by which they could measure even seconds with any tolerable precision, they vied with one another in dividing the second down to the farthest conceivable limit of minuteness; thus, seeking Infinity in the other direction also!

Translation of the Sûrya-Siddhânta, A Text-Book of Hindu Astronomy; With Notes, and an Appendix (jstor.org)

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