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Space in Hindu Rituals

Space, as a first created principle, is the bases of all creation. Space has a symbolic concept in the ritualistic tradition in Hindu religion. It is the essential prerequisite for the manifestation of name and form.

Space is a key concept in ritual performances in Hindu religion, as the offerings are made to all directions for the achievement of wholesome fulfillment.

Space could be found in almost all the ritual functions in Hinduism. It is found in the construction of fire altars, the three fires, ahavaniya of square shape, garhapatya of round shape, and dakshinagni of half circle, in the concrete structure of the sala, in the seats/places of sacrificial priests, sacrifice and his wife, in the place of dustbin for sacrificial garbage (utkara), in important pillars like yupa, etc, in the construction of syenaciti and other cities.

For the construction of mahavedi and various altars, bricks of different shapes – rectangular (adhyardha), triangular (adhyardhardha) or square (panchami) – are required, in which space measurement is an essential function assuming a symbolic value throughout the sacrifice, both in ground space and in structures requiring elevation. Two fundamental concepts of creation – space and time – are notice in almost all rituals.

In Indian tradition, yajna is not a simple sacrifice, but an eternal constructed system of correspondence and identification between concrete physicality and abstract metaphysics.
Angas or ritual parts are created with a complex structure of interrelatedness between matter on earth and cosmic space.

The source of ritual is not the space, but the space is constructed by various ritualistic performances. Ritual gives a proper result only if it is performed in performed in the proper space-time continuum.

In Hindu ritualistic tradition, different aspects of a ritual try to find a relation with space and time, e.g, consecrated space (earth), pouring of the water, establishment of a yupa (stambha), kindling of fire, establishment of the relationship of body to the quarters, spheres, and directions to actually limited time and cosmic time, etc.

Brahmanas and Srauta Sutras record forms of space in rituals. Satapatha Brahmana (1.5.1.22) uses the term urvi in the sense of space in the context of Adhvaryu’s calling for the pravara, i.e, choosing hota in a sacrifice where six spaces – fire, earth, water, wind, day and night are praised for protection.

In the context of construction of the sacred fire altar, especially during the placement of stoma bricks, in the fourth layer, Satapatha Brahmana (VIII.4.1.11) shows the importance of space in ritual.

The aerial space is Prajapati, and it is seventeen fold. The seventeen fold space is also notice in a year, as it contains twelve months and five seasons.

In tantric and Puranic puja rituals too space plays an important role in bindu, nabhi, yantra, mandala, mandapa, garbhagriha and puja homa etc.

In the famous Ashwamedha ritual, a conquest or marching in all directions is essential for a king to be a symbolic incarnation of the sun, who pervades all directions of space.
Syenaciti has a space within it which is visible only through the hole of a naturally perforated brick put on its center.

Thus, at the various stages of a ritual performance, space shows a dynamic process, where the germ of creation remains latent.

Source - Concepts of Space, Ancient and Modern by K Vatsyayan (1991) published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts and Motilal Banarsidass.


The Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume X - (IHRF) (page 14)