THE KALKI PURANA
We can now start our comparative analysis with the figure of Kalki as presented in the Epic and Puranic literature. As far as we know, the tenth avatar of Vishnu has not inspired any Hindu messianic movement of the revolutionary type nor does he seem to have played any significant role in the Medieval devotional movements (bhakti) centered mostly on Krishna or Rama, the most popular incarnations. If references to Kalki are found in the Epics as well as in a few Puranas such as the Bhagavata and the Visnu Puranas (Stutley, 1985: 138) the two major texts are undoubtedly the Bhavisya and Kalki Puranas. For this study the latter is certainly the more relevant as it deals in detail with the descent of the tenth incarnation, his life on earth, the various battles fought by him, his marriage and his final return to the Vaishnava paradise (vaikunth) via the Himalayas. The Bhavisya Purana, instead, describes future events preceding the coming of Kalki of whom comparatively little is said.
I will therefore focus on the Kalki Purana, quoting only occasionally from other Puranic or Epic texts, and present its main themes which will then be compared to both the Agam vanis and to the prophetic hymns of the Ismaili tradition. Contrary to the Bhavisya Purana, which traditionally figures in the list of the eighteen great Puranas, the Kalki Purana is considered a secondary Purana (upapurana). It is also referred to as anubhagavata, being sometimes regarded as a sequel to the Bhagavata Purana belonging to the Vaishnava sectarian tradition (Norman, 1908). Nothing can be said for certain about its date of composition. The text may not be very old, but since it describes the triumph of the Brahmanical religion over Buddhism and Jainism viewed as heresies one can say at least that it reflects a period between the seventh and the twelveth centuries when these religious traditions were on the decline.
The central character of the Kalki Purana is the tenth avatar of Vishnu mostly referred to as Kalki. The etymology of this name is by no means clear. According to Norman (Ibid.: 88), "the name Kalki is derived from Kalka and would mean "the destroyer of what is foul'. The Marathi variant kalanki points to the same meaning. Some (...) derive the word from Kali and a root kai to destroy, but this is not authenticated". In his postface to the French translation of the Kalki Purana (Bhatt and Remy, 1983: 192) Preau stresses the ambiguity of the name: "The very name of Kalki or Kalki (both forms are found) is intriguing because kalka in Sanskrit means 'dirt', 'stain'. Actually the name of Kalki is perceived by Abegg as an antithesis, whereas, according to the Kalki Purana, Kalki would mean 'he who removes sin or blemish from the world', Kalki being sometimes referred to as kalkavinasana, 'the destroyer of blemish' ".
In other texts Kalki is known by alternative names such as Parasraya in the Visnu Purana (Stutley, 1985: 138) and Visnuvyasa in the Mahabharata, the Vayu Purna and the Harivamsa (Bhatt and Remy: 192). Curiously enough he is nowhere, as far as I know, referred to as Niskalank although this Sanskrit adjective meaning "immaculate" or "stainless" - otherwise used to designate the Absolute or formless God - would certainly suit him better than the obscure form Kalki.
His story as told in the Kalki Purana can be summed up as follows. The future avatar of Vishnu, said to be the son of a Brahmin named Visnuvyasa, has received from the god Shiva a miraculous sword, a parrot and a winged horse of white colour whose name - given as Devadatta (litt. "given by the gods") in the Bhagavata Purana (Stutley, Ibid.) - is not indicated in this text. His fiercest enemy for whose destruction he will become incarnated is Kali or Kali Yuga, the personification of the last of the four yugas, symbolizing all its evils. But Kalki will also have to fight against human enemies, mainly represented by Buddhists and Jains. After his victory he will marry two Ksatriya princesses and his mission on earth being accomplished he will retire to the Himalayas where he will spend his days in meditation.
Norman (Ibid.: 88) views the Kalki Purana as "a strange jumble of featureless character, convention battles, allegorical ideas, and hymns in praise of Visnu, Siva and the Ganga. The hero has nothing but his divinity to distinguish him from the typical princes of a Kavya. His performance is nothing more than the Digvijaya of a Cakravartiraja". Indeed one of the most striking traits which should be mentioned is the highly allegorical nature of most characters including the evil spirit of Kali Yuga (other yugas also appear in an anthropomorphic, personified form): for instance he is said to be the son of Krodha (anger) and Himsa (violence) (Bhatt and Remy: 192). The description of the evils of Kali Yuga is more vivid although it is mainly reduced to a list of transgressions against the Brahmanical socio-cosmic order (dharma): confusions of castes, mixed marriages, wrong behaviour of women, ignorance of Brahmans, pride of the low castes or sudras, etc. The Age of Kali Yuga is clearly represented as the rule of adharma but one does not find any extensive description of cataclysms or disasters. The only allusion to the disorder of nature is perhaps the comment, "the storm clouds will strangely rumble" (Bhatt and Remy: 26). The final victory over Jains and Buddhist is obviously meant to demonstrate the superiority of the Brahmanical dharma and of the high varnas: Kalki is portrayed as the son of a Brahman who, becoming a king, weds two Ksatriya princesses.
The general atmosphere of the passages of the Ramayana (both Valmiki's and Tulsi Das' versions) dealing with this theme is similar insofar as they emphasize the triumph of the Vedic and Brahmanical order, as does the interesting fragment of the Bhagavata Purana (Chapter 8) describing the end of Kali Yuga. This text contains, however, a few accents which differ from the Kalki Purana and are therefore worth mentioning here. The advent of Kalki, the restorer of dharma and destroyer of mlecchas (a term referring to "barbarians" and heretics outside the pale of the Brahmanical order) which is rather briefly alluded to is preceded by a vivid description of the evils of Kali Yuga. Besides the usual transgression of dharma (disruption of the caste system, misbehaviour of men and women, etc.) a few abnormalities are described: there will be no more rainfall on the earth, the life of human beings will be very short and they will grow old at the age of twenty, while very young girls will give birth to children.
It may now be surmised that it is the strong emphasis on an "orthodox" socio-religious order characterizing the traditional Hindu eschatological ethos which has prevented it from becoming the source of Hindu messianic movements which were, instead, mainly concerned with an overthrow of established powers and hierarchies.