Showing posts with label vastu shastra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vastu shastra. Show all posts

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Vastu Shastra - ancient and medieval canons on city planning and architecture

Adherence to Vastu Shastra, the ancient and medieval canons on city planning and architecture, has suddenly assumed tremendous significance, particularly among the well-educated and affluent in urban India. It may be difficult to predict if this is just a fad or if it will be a way of building dwellings, offices, and factories etc. for many years to come.

Palace in Rajasthan
Interestingly, practically none of the practitioners of Vastu Shastra has an academic background. So there is a lot of genuine practice as well as hearsay going around. In this brief introduction, the intention is to give a broad overall picture of the Vastu Shastra with some examples.

Vastu Shastras are canons dealing with the subject of vastu which means the environment. Put differently, one may regard them as codification of good practices of design of buildings and cities, which will provide settings for the conduct of human life in harmony with physical as well as metaphysical forces. These Vastu Shastra canons provide guidelines for design of buildings and planning of cities such that they will bring health, wealth and peace to the inhabitants.

Mythological beliefs are certainty at the root of the origins of these canonical texts and their discourse. The first of these relates to Vastupurusha, which appears to be the first step in ordering a part of the vast cosmic space, the brahmanda, for human habitation. According to myth, long ago there existed an unnamed, unknown and formless being which blocked the sky and the earth. The Gods forced it down on earth and pressed it face down. To ensure that it did not escape again, Lord Brahma, the supreme creator, along with other gods weighted it down and called it vastupurusha.

Lord Brahma, of course, occupied the central portion and in a hierarchic distribution along concentric rings assigned different quarters to different major and minor gods. Thus emerged a geometric configuration, which is called mandala. From one basic square, the canons have listed up to 1024 divisions of a square and given each one a name. The most popular among those have 64 and 81 divisions known as Manduka Mandala and Param Sayika Mandala, respectively, which are widely used for temple and dwelling plans.

The mandala is also given an orientation with Surya, the sun-god, occupying the central point of periphery to east; Varuna, the Lord of winds, to the west; Kubera, the Lord of Wealth, to the north; and Yama, the Lord of Death, to the south. The rest of the squares are occupied by the other minor gods. With the positions thus assigned and the beneficial or otherwise attributes of gods established through other myths, it is possible to assign the activities of living, working and support facilities over the mandala and therefore the layout of a city or a building.

The mandala is, of course, the most popular aspect of the vastushastras as it is constantly referred to for the location of the various activities in a building. The proper texts themselves, however, deal with a wide range of topics relating to built-environment. These include site selection, soil testing, building materials and techniques, design of temples separately by number of floors, palaces, dwellings, gates, image of the deity, their vehicles and seats even including the making of image of a linga for Shiva temples. All these are treated in different chapters of the canonical texts.

As an example, one may mention the matter of site selection, which is dealt with in both scientific and religious terms. The method of digging a pit and refilling it with excavated earth is given scientific treatment. If a lot of earth is left out, then the soil is compact with good load-bearing capacity.

A similar test checks the seepage of water in the soil. It if is quick, the soil is obviously not good. The religious prescription suggest that if the soil is white with ghee-like smell, it is good for Brahmins, if red with blood-like smell it is good for Kashtriyas, yellow with smell like sesamum oil, it is good for Vaishyas and black with the smell of rotten fish, it is good for Shudras. While the first two suggestions would still find the approval of a modern engineer, the third more likely betrays the caste-ridden nature of some of the Shastra's recommendations.

The Shastras also deal at length with town planning and form of towns suitable for different purposes such as administrative towns, hill towns, coastal towns or religious towns built at a sacred place. Among the most famous examples of a town planned according to these standards is the example of Old Jaipur which is based on a Prastar type town described in several texts. Built in 1727 AD, the final form and structure of the town shows a skillful manipulation, according to the Shastra's prescriptions, of the square mandala right from the whole to the smallest of the plots, the location of activities, and distribution of the caste groups.

City Palace Jaipur- Rajasthan
Based on the studies carried out by scholars it is suggested that these texts were written down largely between the 7th century AD to 13th century AD following the Gupta period. They are found in all the major languages of medieval India. Of course, the earliest references are also found in the Vedas, which deal with carpentry among other subjects.

Vastusastras can be said to be companion texts to Shilpasastras and Chitrasastras dealing with sculpture, icons and painting respectively. Strangely, among all these texts, those devoted exclusively to one of the areas. i.e. vastu, chitra or shilpa are rare. This is because in the Indian artistic traditions, each was an important and integral part of the creative endeavor largely because all of these, including performing arts such as the dance and music, were based at the temple.

Among the vasthusastra texts are Mansar, Maymata, Vishwakarma and Samrangana Sutradhara which is credited to Raja Bhoja. The others are believed to have been authored by ancient saints and sages. These include Lord Vishwakarma who is architect to the gods in the Nagara or northern traditions, and Maya who is architect to the gods in the Dravida or Southern tradition. In the northern tradition Maya is regarded as architect to the danavas or demons. To give some idea about the size of the text, Masar comprises 5400 verses organized in a total of 70 chapters.
Bhrigu Rishi

However, the nature, content and format of the texts as discussed above is in total contrast to the books that have recently been published and gone through, in some cases, half a dozen reprints in a span of one year. They share very little in common. As to what are the origins of the practitioners' texts recently published, I can only suggest that these would he more ritualistic practices broadly interpreted by the various puranic texts such as Agni Purana, Matsya Purana and their Agmic versions in the Dravidian traditions. The parallel I can draw upon is of Brigusamhita used by the palmists, which by itself has no serious pretensions to astronomy. The practitioners themselves are silent and unresponsive when questioned about these aspects.

One of the more recent texts goes so far as to suggest the location of two weighing scales in different parts of the plot in a factory. One was for weighing raw materials which would in that location weigh less than actual, and the other one of weighing finished goods which would register more weight than actual. Very neat, one may say, and very tempting for the factory owner.

As to the beneficial aspects of following these suggestions, the available experience is equally divided. There seems to be an equal number of success stories as well as failures. Here, I believe, the analogy of the typical palmist is best. Perhaps there are genuine jyotish shastris as well as frauds. Is it that human beings want to be able to put blame on some unknown forces for failures? Or that they would want to appease the unknown to ensure a success? These are more a matter of faith rather than belief.

Fortunately, Indians are not alone in this in recent times. Across Asia there is a resurgence of these beliefs and practices. Feng-shui, the Chinese version of Vastusastras, is practiced all over the Far East and South-east Asia. There, too, the situation is one of either you believe and practice or you don't believe and don't practice. Does this mean that one cannot explain this on a rational basis?

These texts (i.e. the genuine ancient and medieval canons) dealt with the classical manner of arts and architecture. This meant that irrespective of who was doing what and where, a certain quality, content and perfection would always be achieved just by following the texts. To paraphrase Einstein's observation for a similar work, "it makes good easy and bad difficult". This means that a temple made on the banks of Ganga would be as perfect as one made on shipra though patronised and designed by different persons.

Even those uninitiated can learn and practice the entire range of connected activities right from the selection of a site to the execution of all the elemental details. Then there is some reason to believe that some of the suggestions may indeed reflect more real concerns such as climatic suitability of locating the human activities in a building. An entrance front north ensures that it will always be in cool shade in India, besides allowing the wealth to flow in as it is the direction of Lord Kubera. The next alternative of entrance from east certainly brightens up the morning environment with the first rays of sun to start a great new day on a cheerful note.
Then there is a metaphysical aspect to it all. This one concerns the fears of the unknown on one hand, and attempts to intellectually grasp the nature of the world on the other hand. And between these two is the human desire to do things right, in conformity and in harmony with the unknown world and its forces. This is where particularly the mandala diagrams become very useful. These, in abstract terms, manifest or represent the cosmological conception of the world, albeit the world as conceived or interpreted by the ancient and the medieval scholars.

It is therefore natural that buildings and cities which represent a significant alteration of the terrestrial world be based on the mandala to make them harmonize with the unknown world. In other words, it, is undertaking a human act in tune with the nature as well as the unknown in the belief that these will not clash but work harmoniously to bring peace and prosperity to the builder and the inhabitants.

Architecture is a human act. It requires carving out a segment of that omnipotent, universal space of the brahmanda, the cosmic space, for the use of the human beings. It is not often that architecture truly rises to the challenges of capturing the divine character of the brahmanda in its folds. When it does happen the architectural experience exalts generations of people to come. Is this not true of Mahabalipuram, Khajuraho, Kailashnath? Or the city of Jaipur, its havelis as well those of Samod and Shekhavati region? Let us remember that these are all based on the Vasthusastras.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pyramids in Indian Temple Architecture

The traditional Indian architecture is extremely simple and straightforward.
The simple techniques of construction were utilized to build some of the glorious and magnificent buildings that have withstood the test of time. Structural elements like columns and beams were carefully integrated within the buildings to meet the needs of religious and cultural traditions. The vast freedom available to the sthapaka and sthapathi in the design of temples and other spiritual buildings resulted in the development of overwhelming wealth of architectural elements, variety of sculptural forms and decorative exuberances that has become the everlasting symbol of Indian Temple Architecture.

Pyramid of Indian Temple Architecture
The shikhara remains the most outstanding element of the temple and the gateway is usually modest. The prakaras or the walls surrounding the garbha griha were built around the whole complex and were oriented to the cardinal directions. These enclosures had elaborate and magnificent gateways (gopurams) that led the devotees into the sacred courtyard.

Even the most worshipped and sacred Sri Chakra or Meru Chakra in hindusim is pyramid shaped.
A temple is the seat of divinity and is also a sacred institution that aims at giving mental and physical solace to the devotee. The Garbhagruha (Garbhagudi) or sanctum sanctorum encompasses the center or the nabhi of the superstructure. From the square shape of the Garbhagruha to the final (which is a point) is the shikara. This curved form is identified in modern times as the pyramid. The shikara normally refers to the superstructure of the sanctum sanctorum and is the most important part of the temple. The pyramidal superstructure has a number of storeys. The shikara can be a square, circular, hexagonal (6 sides) or octagonal (8 sides). The vertical growth of Shikara is also sometimes used to designate the whole superstructure of the temple.

The term Shikara is frequently mentioned at several places in the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha when referring to the ‘Prasada’ or temple. While the shikara generally refers to the curvilinear vertical growth of the sanctum sanctorum, the gopurams or gate towers refer to the gateways to the various enclosures and a temple. These are also pyramid shaped and the cross-section is reduced as they go up.

Shikara Rules

Generally the pyramidal superstructure has four or eight triangles joined if the garbhagriha was square or rectangular and round shaped if the sanctum sanctorum was circular. The superstructure was solid or hollow. The shikara generally comprises of three parts:

1 The recessed storeys

2 Enclosure surrounding each storey.

3 The dome (stupi or kalasa) rising above the last storey also called the Vimana or Harmya

In certain temples the shikara is formed by placing a flat roof on four pillars. Another slab is placed over the shikara. Slab upon slab diminishing in size as they go up are placed one above the other, topped by a perforated ring stone, known as the amalaka, forming a step pyramid. The added weight of the slabs keeps the roof in position. Many a time an upper chamber for the shrine was introduced for greatly reducing mass and weight.

The surrounding walls around the sanctum sanctorum, which have gateways or
gopurams, also have pyramid shaped roofs with diminishing tiers as they go up, with the outermost enclosure referred as mahamayada. The immediate enclosure around the garbhagriha, known as the Prasada towers above it like a pyramid with diminishing tiers and is also known as the shikara.
The celestial power drawn through the shikaras gives the deity effulgence and metaphysical power. The shikara apart from being a roof for the sanctum sanctorum is also a symbol of divine sanctity giving significant emphasis to the garbhagriha and the principal deity of the central divinity. The top of the shikara tapers to a finial and is known as the kalasa or stupika. One of the learned writers on Temple architecture says that the height of each storey of the pyramidal superstructure diminishes in arithmetical progression, being one-fourth or one-third less than the lower storey, the ground floor not being included.


Pyramids are synonymous with Egypt. In recent times these structures with four triangular sides standing over a square base have entered the domain of Vastu and are being prescribed for many of the imbalances of a building – residential or business. Egypt is a land of pyramids and we have Egyptologists and pyramidologists doing research and throwing light on the antiquity and mystery surrounding them. Egyptologists are archaeologists who specialize studying the ancient Egyptian artefacts.

The term pyramid is derived from the Greek words pyra meaning fire, light, or visible, and the word midos meaning measures. It is also translated to mean fire at the center. This word perhaps denotes the great hidden power of these structures with a square base and four triangular sides that rise upwards to a finial.
Even though Egypt is synonymous with pyramids, we find them in other parts of the world such as China, Mexico, Spain, France, Siberia, Central America, Greece, Cambodia and other countries. The pyramids of Egypt are traced to at least 4000 years back. The Giza pyramids of Egypt date back to about 2500 B.C. The Giza pyramids are generally identified with three major pyramids – Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) or the Great Pyramid, the pyramid of Chephren (Khafu) and the pyramid of Mycerinus (Menkaure). This apart the area spread over thirteen acres of land has six or more smaller pyramids. A remarkable feature of the Giza pyramids is that they are aligned with great precision to the cardinal directions.

The lengths of the four sides of the base of the Great Pyramid are amazingly equal measuring an average of 755.5 feet. The great pyramid, known as the eighth wonder of the world is said to have been built over a period of several decades using 2.3 million limestone bricks weighing an average of two and half to fifteen tons each. It rises up to a height of 481 feet. Several theories are put forth on how such these giant blocks were put in place to create the perfect pyramid. One theory tells us that a ramp, straight or spiral, was raised as the construction carried on. These ramps helped in pushing up the blocks into place.

The entrance to the great pyramid is on the north. The pyramid contains four chambers. The King’s Chamber, lying at a height identified with the pyramid’s center, can be reached only through a narrow passage located at the northern face. A number of corridors, galleries and airshafts lead to the chamber. These pyramids served as burial places for the Egyptian Kings known as pharaohs. A series of other chambers are found above the King’s chamber. Each side of the Great Pyramid rises at an angle of 51 degrees 51 minutes to the top. Not only that, each of the sides are aligned almost exactly with true north, south, east, and west. Vastu texts consider the proper orientation to the cardinal directions as of great significance while referring to the Yoni aspect of the Ayadi Shadvargas.

There are many similarities between the Hindu Shikaras and the Egyptian pyramids. We have referred to Step pyramids. In fact, they are similar to the shikaras with the diminishing storeys that is considered in Vastu Shastra. While the Shikaras drew the cosmic energies into the garbagriha to flood the sanctum sanctorum with divinity, the pyramids drew the cosmic energies to preserve the bodies of the Pharoah Kings who were considered divine. In the villages of India, we even find huts that have tops in the shape of pyramids. It is interesting to note that while pyramids are said to keep foodstuff fresh, the prasadams and other offerings in the garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum of a temple also remain fresh for a long time.

Whether you call it a shikara or pyramid, it is a fact that the shape of these structures influences the flow of energy from the universe and this energy helps in enhancing the overall quality of our life. The most important thing to recognize is that many of their architectural and construction features are similar to that used in Indian temples built thousands of years ago.

It appears that in earlier times people from Egypt and possibly from various other countries did travel to India to learn about its architectural and construction features. A look at the pyramids clearly reinforces the fact that there was a compatible interaction and understanding between the cultures of Egypt and India in the science of Vastu Shastra.

Shri Chakra Yantra with Pyramid Power

Sri Chakra in the Pyramids and in the Indian Temples assuredly channelise the bio-energy continuously. To correct the aura of an individual. To clean a place of unwanted energy interference. Toward off evil. To correct vastu defects. To increase happiness and contentment. To reach one’s goal in life.

In Puja Room

Sri Chakra energised with Cosmic power in the Puja Room helps to protect the home. Also the benefits of visits to several Sri Chakra installed temples is captured in this specially formulated Sri Chakra. The vibration of ancient temples is now here at your home from the puja room. Our body is not only a bio-chemical entity. It is a product of bio-chemical and electro-magnetic energy fields, wrapped by protective and life sustaining bio-energy exchanges with the cosmos. The proper flow of bio-energy is ensured by this Sri Chakra. The pacified system of Sri Chakra calls for no restrictive practices or rituals. It’s very presence uitself is beneficial.