Sthandila and Kunda as precursors to Temples

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We can see boundary lines on a map. Often, these lines do not correspond to a physical partition or a geographical transition. We can understand the Vedic idea of sacred space in this context. Sthandila, the foundation of a Yajna fire ceremony is the rudimentary version of sacred space. The Agni Kunda firepit is a natural evolution from Sthandila. A temple is a complex construct based on the idea of sacred space.


Sthandila and Kunda are simple instances of sacred space.
Sthandila and Kunda are sacred spaces

Vedas declare Brahman, the universal being, to be all-pervasive. The entire universe is the body of Brahman. Then, shouldn’t all of space, within the cosmos, be sacred? How do Rishis claim a piece of land within the temple premise, a Kunda pit or a Sthandila square to be special? Experts use the analogy of rain to answer this question.

Rain as an analogy for Sthandila, Kunda and temple

Rain falls evenly across a wide territory. It does not make a distinction between the ground with different contours. However, we can conclude the opposite based on the scenery after a rain. A pond or a stream has more rainwater than flat ground. Similarly, all of space within the universe is sacred. However, a designated sacred space is special like a pond. What does it mean to designate the sacred space? We understand this by remembering the nature of boundary lines on a map.

A Rutvik first chooses a flat piece of land. Then, he selects a square area on it. The boundary between the land within and outside exists only in the mind of the Rutvik. The land within the imaginary boundary is the sacred space, the Sthandila. It becomes worthy of holding Agni. Similarly, the area inside a temple becomes the sacred space after a priest installs an idol within. Let us look at the rainwater analogy to understand another important fact.

A small pond can dry out over a few days. Similarly, a Sthandila ground loses its special value after the completion of a Yajna. However, the space within a temple is like a perennial river because of the daily rituals. Agama texts detail the rituals which maintain the sacredness of a temple. Similarly, Vedic texts detail the acts which bless a Sthandila to be the sacred space for a short duration.

A Sthandila per Vastu texts.

Sthandila is an even piece of land which is sometimes slightly elevated. Vastu texts visualize a 7×7 grid for a Sthandila. Twenty-five Devas power these forty-nine cells of a Sthandila. The combined power holds the sanctity of a Sthandila platform during a Yajna.

An Agni Kunda is more advanced than a Sthandila. Brick wall marks the boundary between the sacred space within and the mundane space outside. Agni offerings go into the hole within the Kunda brick structure. A Kunda can be in different shapes. However, a Kunda must be designed with precise mathematical constraints in mind. In addition, offerings cannot exceed 2/3rd depth of the Kunda pit. Finally, a poorly designed Kunda can affect the efficacy of the Yajna. Vedic texts therefore recommend the use of a Sthandila for simpler rituals. Surely, it is not practical to aim for mathematical precision for short rituals.

कुण्डे तु बहवः दोषा:, स्थण्डिले बहवः गुणा:

Kunda can have several defects, a Sthandila is auspicious.

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