Baha’u’llah claimed to be the “Promised One” of all religions. Kalki is popularly regarded in India as the future Avatar, the tenth incarnation of Vishnu. Baha’is in India proclaim Baha’u’llah as Kalki.

The three previous articles have provided information about this future savior. Kalki is also known as “Parasraya” in the Visnu Purana and “Visnuyasas” (“Fame of Vishnu” or “Glory of God”) in the Mahabharata, the Vayu Purana and the Harivamsa. The Hindu text that gives the fullest account is called the Kalki Purana.

Based on the information presented in the previous three articles, this would be a good time to reflect on the identification of Baha’u’llah as Kalki. Does this claim withstand scrutiny?

According to the Kalki Purana, Kalki’s mission appears to be to restore the Hindu priests back to power:

Thereafter, You will set out to conquer the entire world and in the course of that conquest, You will defeat many sinful kings who are representatives of Kali. You will also annihilate many followers of Buddhism and finally, You will entrust the responsibility of ruling the world to Devapi and Maru. I am fully satisfied just to know that You will perform these pastimes and so there is no need for any other daksina. When the principles of religion are re established, then people will perform sacrifice, give charity, and undergo austerity without impediment.Kalki Purana 3:10–11, emphasis added.

We have seen that, in the Kalki Purana, Kalki’s first major victory was his defeat of the Buddhists. This is consistent with the broader history of India. During the medieval period India, the Brahmins made alliances with various kings to persecute Buddhists. This eventually led to the defeat of Buddhism in India.

Whether or not Kalki was actually a historical personage is an interesting question. Famed Indologist, K. P. Jayaswal argued that the Kalki Avatar was actually a historical king of the early sixth century, Visnuvardhana Yasodharma, defeater of Mihirakula, king of the White Huns of India. So, if Kalki was a historical personage, when (and how) did he become a future Avatar? Jayaswal explains:

Belief about Kalki’s futurity. The Kalki-Purana, in describing the life of Kalki, uses the past tense. The present, Hindu belief that Kalki is yet to come, is a recent development. … The belief about the futurity of Kalki in Northern India seems to have been a growth later than the 14th-century. – p. 148.

Even if Kalki was once a king in medieval India, the point here is that Kalki’s persecuting and defeating Buddhists is obviously sectarianism in its most violent form.

Kalki also defeated, then banished, the barbarians, or foreigners, or heretics (i.e. mlecchas). This is not an egalitarian social policy. Rather, it is the imposition, by force, of religious nationalism, reinforced by ethnic and religious prejudice. Obviously this is contrary to Baha’u’llah’s principles as well.

Baha’u’llah taught that the past messengers of God, one and all, were true. Baha’i doctrine clearly includes the Buddha as one of those messengers. Therefore, the exploits and conquests of Kalki, as told in the Kalki Purana, would be contrary to Baha’u’llah’s doctrinal teachings and ethical and social principles. Kalki is presented as a holy warrior, not as the bearer of wisdom. To his credit, however, Kalki was said to be versed in spiritual matters:

Suta Gosvami said: Upon hearing these words of Parasurama, Kalki became very pleased and immediately offered His respectful obesiances to Him. Thereafter, He began to study the Vedas under the direction of his spiritual master. Kalki mastered the sixty four arts under the tutelage of the son of Jamadagni. He also learned the Vedas, the branches of the Vedas, the Dhanurveda, and other departments of knowledge.Kalki Purana 3:5–6.

If Kalki’s mission was to restore Brahmanism to its former power and prestige, then Kalki does not compare favorably with Baha’u’llah.

If, hypothetically, the religion brought by Kalki was conceived as a universal religion—with progressive teachings, egalitarian social principles, new social laws ethics and values—then an argument could be made for identifying Baha’u’llah as the advent of Kalki.

Baha’u’llah’s mission was to unify the world, through the power of his social, moral, and ethical principles. This included promoting world peace. The peace that Kalki achieved was based on conquest, and therefore was not a true peace.

Another of Baha’u’llah’s principles is the oneness of religion, and peace among religions as its expression in real life. The sectarianism and interreligious warfare that the Kalki Purana recounts obviously is contrary to Baha’u’llah’s teachings.

The Kalki Purana also regales in the conjugal delights of Kalki, who has many consorts (lovers). By contrast, Baha’i teachings promote control of one’s passions and monogamy. Krishna, of course, is also represented as an amorous lover, with numerous consorts. This has often been attributed spiritually as an allegory of divine love. So there is a way in which these narratives can find harmony on a higher plane of understanding.

Kalki, moreover, is neither dispassionate nor compassionate. One scene depicts Kalki as filled with rage (“inflamed with rage,” Kalki Purana 21:29). He is not presented as a paragon of virtue, worthy of emulation. So, in order to somehow identify Baha’u’llah as Kalki, this can only be done if the traditions regarding Kalki are radically reinterpreted, if not regarded critically.

On a popular level, proclaiming Baha’u’llah to be the advent of the Kalki Avatar serves as an “eschatological bridge” over which believers from Hindu background may cross in entering into the worldwide Baha’i community.

Prophecies point forward. They create expectations. But they are circumscribed by their historical and cultural and religious time and place.

Given these limitations, which are rather profound, the claim that Baha’u’llah is the fulfillment of the Kalki prophecies must be qualified and nuanced. The fact that Baha’u’llah did not literally fulfill the Kalki prophecies is actually for the better—because it means no war, no bloodshed, the advent of new spiritual teachings and new social laws, best suited for this day and age. Instead of promoting Brahmanism as the state religion (as Kalki did), Baha’u’llah promoted religious pluralism and peace among religions. The Universal House of Justice, an institution that Baha’u’llah created, wrote:

Religious strife, throughout history, has been the cause of innumerable wars and conflicts, a major blight to progress, and is increasingly abhorrent to the people of all faiths and no faith. Followers of all religions must be willing to face the basic questions which this strife raises, and to arrive at clear answers. How are the differences between them to be resolved, both in theory and in practice? The challenge facing the religious leaders of mankind is to contemplate, with hearts filled with the spirit of compassion and a desire for truth, the plight of humanity, and to ask themselves whether they cannot, in humility before their Almighty Creator, submerge their theological differences in a great spirit of mutual forbearance that will enable them to work together for the advancement of human understanding and peace. – The Promise of World Peace, p. 8.

In the next article in this “Figuring out Prophecy” Series, we will look at Krishna, who is another manifestation or Avatar of Vishnu, and explore the claim that Baha’u’llah is the return of Krishna.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

10 Comments

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  • Bill Carsley
    Jan 24, 2018
    Mr Buck, I understand your position, and I respect your sincere efforts to reconcile popular Baha'i beliefs with the stubborn facts concerning the prophecies of other religions. I wouldn't expect you to do otherwise as a committed follower of the Baha'i Faith. I only emphasize that what you're doing is really an exercise in Baha'i self-understanding which springs from your own personal faith commitment - an unwavering confidence in the Baha'i paradigm. Those who share your faith commitment will (in some cases, at least) appreciate your contributions, and may even find them persuasive. Those of us who ...are unable to make such a faith commitment to Baha'u'llah and the Baha'i Faith do not "see" what you see. I wish you well, sir.
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  • Christopher Buck
    Jan 23, 2018
    Mr. Carlsen: The “reasonable standard” offered in this series is to bring the Baha’i principle of the “harmony of science and religion” to bear on the prophecies themselves. Here, faith and reason can coexist, where reason can critically examine the Kalki apocalypse itself. As a form of “crisis literature,” the Kalki Purana appears to project certain “past events” into the future as “last events” — through a literary device known as “vaticinia ex eventu.” This approach demystifies and disenchants these prophecies, per Baha’u’llah’s admonition: “Say: O leaders of religion! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are ...current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring balance established amongst men.”
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  • Christopher Buck
    Jan 23, 2018
    You're quite right: “Your article demonstrates strikingly that there is essentially nothing in the Kalki prophecies that even remotely points to Baha'u'llah.” That was intentional! This proves an important point regarding Baha'i interpretation of prophecies generally: that Baha'u'llah fulfills most prophecies spiritually, not literally. This point is made throughout the Baha'i Writings. A further point is that the Kalki apocalypse projects a sectarian and violent end-times scenario. So when Baha'is proclaim that Baha'u'llah is "Kalki," this is an entirely spiritual symbolic identification, where "Kalki" represents Hindu hopes for a better world, which Baha'u'llah offers—far better than the Kalki prophecies themselves!
  • Bill Carsley
    Jan 23, 2018
    Dear Mr. Buck: My point is simply this (and my motive and desire is true understanding - nothing more): Your article demonstrates strikingly that there is essentially nothing in the Kalki prophecies that even remotely points to Baha'u'llah, yet you are compelled to imagine that an "eschatological bridge" exists between them. Why? I can only presume it's because you're so devoted to the Baha'i paradigm that, for you, it simply cannot be otherwise. You seem to be working very hard to find support for a conclusion that is insupportable by any reasonable standard. The premise that your ...proposal in this case is analogous to the very evident bridge between Jesus and the Hebrew prophecies is highly questionable to say the least.
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  • Christopher Buck
    Jan 22, 2018
    Bill: You wrote: "Then, upon this surrender, unquestioning allegiance is demanded regardless of facts." Really? This will come as a complete surprise to Baha'is! Your data? Method of investigation? Qualifications? Motive? Purpose? Desired outcome? Unity? Friendship? Or simply criticism?
    Not clear what you mean by "regardless of facts." My faith is in complete regard for the facts. Those facts are simply put in perspective. Are you saying that, when it comes to prophecy, Baha'is have "blind faith"? If so, not so.
    Surely you know that the Baha'i teachings frequently invoke the principle of the harmony of faith and ...reason. That's one of the major points of this "Figuring Out Prophecy” series, in fact.
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  • Bill Carsley
    Jan 22, 2018
    The idea of a crucified Savior and a suffering servant Messiah was certainly unpalatable, even scandalous, to the popular Jewish conceptions of the time. But there were many Hebrew prophecies which alluded to these aspects of the Messiah. Paul himself made that point many times, as did other New Testament writers. Paul wasn't declaring the claims of Jesus to be incompatible with the Hebrew Scriptures themselves. The Book of Certitude (and Abdu'l-Baha's commentaries) ultimately ask the reader to make a leap of faith regarding the fundamental issue of accepting Baha'u'llah's authority as the consummate Manifestation ...who now transcends all others. Then, upon this surrender, unquestioning allegiance is demanded regardless of facts.
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  • Christopher Buck
    Jan 22, 2018
    Bill, you wrote: "The claims of Jesus, while unorthodox, were not incompatible with Hebrew prophecies." According to the apostle Paul, they were utterly incompatible: "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." (1 Corinthians 1:23, KJV.) Here, the Koine Greek word for "stumbling block" is σκάνδαλον, i.e. skandalon (origin of the English cognate, "scandal"). I learned this in my NT Greek class years ago at the University of British Columbia.
    You wrote: "It is entirely a matter of faith, not of objective facts." Not so fast! Baha'is from a Christian background, ...like myself, were persuaded by Baha'u'llah's Book of Certitude and by Abdu'l-Baha's explanations as well.
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  • Bill Carsley
    Jan 21, 2018
    Mr. Buck, I respect your honest efforts to find a way in which it might be credibly claimed that Baha'u'llah is the Promised One of all religions. But I must point out that the reality of the "eschatological bridge" you propose is far more subjective and nuanced than the typical claim one often encounters in popular Baha'i conceptions and presentations. Also, the reality is that Baha'is who are former Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Hindus or Christians have surrendered to this extreme subjectivism because they have already made a leap of faith in Baha'u'llah which makes this possible. It is ...entirely a matter of faith, not of objective facts. The claims of Jesus, while unorthodox, were not incompatible with Hebrew prophecies.
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  • Christopher Buck
    Jan 21, 2018
    Bill Carsley: Most Hindus, I presume, know that Kalki is the future avatar. So basically there’s a widespread tradition and expectation regarding the advent of this savior figure.
    Jesus did not fulfill popular messianic expectations, either. Rather, Jesus radically reinterpreted messianic prophecies spiritually, rejecting their political dimension.
    The same thing is happening in the Baha’i treatment of Hindu eschatological tradition. So I would not minimize the importance of spiritualizing and universalizing prophecies in general. This “eschatological bridge” is of great moment, for it facilitates belief, free of the obstacles pointed out throughout this “Figuring Out Prophecies” series.
  • Bill Carsley
    Jan 21, 2018
    It certainly appears that there is no rational basis for seeing Baha'u'llah as the "Promised One" of Hinduism. There comes a point in such radical efforts at re-interpretation of prophecies (in order to fabricate the desired "eschatological bridge") as to be totally ridiculous and fanciful. Is this the best that Baha'is can do?