Vastu Shastra

Vastu Shastra :    (vastu sastra, also Vastu Veda, "science of construction", "architecture")
is a traditional Hindu system of design based on directional alignments. It is primarily applied in Hindu architecture, especially for Hindu temples, although it covers other applications, including poetry, dance, sculpture, etc. The foundation of Vastu is traditionally ascribed to the mythical sage Mamuni Mayan.
While Vastu had long been essentially restricted to temple architecture, there has been a revival in India in recent decades, notably under the influence of V. Ganapati Sthapati of Chennai, Tamil Nadu (b. 1927), who has been campaigning for a restoration of the tradition in modern Indian society since the 1960s.

Terminology :
The Sanskrit word vastu means "any really existing or abiding substance or essence, thing, object, article", and also "goods, wealth, property". The vrddhi, vastu takes the meaning of "the site or foundation of a house, site, ground, building or dwelling-place, habitation, homestead, house". The underlying root is vas "to dwell, live, stay, abide".
The term shastra may loosely be translated as "science, doctrine, teaching".

Texts :
Canonical Vastu shastras include
"    Manasara Silpa Shastra (by Manasara),
"    Mayamatam (by Maya),
"    Visvakarma Vastushastra (by Visvakarma),
"    Samarangana Sutradara (by Raja Bhoja),
"    Aparajita Priccha (a dialogue between Viswakarma and his son Aparajita, written by Bhuvanadevacharya)
"    Silparatna

Other treatises such as Agni Purana and works by Kautilya and Sukracharya are not popular even though they preceded the previously mentioned documents. Distinction of style exists due to each document's place of origin. Mayamata and Mansara Silpa Shastra are considered Dravidian because they are from south India whereas Visvakarama Vastu Shastra is considered Indo-Aryan due to its north Indian origin.

Fundamental concepts :
There are many principles in Vaastu Shastra. To mention a few which involve certain mathematical calculations, Maana is used for proportional relationships in a building and Aayaadi specifies conditions for maximum wellbeing and benefits for the residents of a building. Below are some of the basic theories in vaastu sastra.

Five elements :
According to vastu sastra, the world comprises five basic elements known as the pancha maha bhoota. Out of the nine planets, ours has life because of the presence and balance of these five elements. The five elements are as follows.

EARTH (Bhumi) - Earth, the third planet in order from the sun, is a big magnet with North and South poles as centers of attractions. Its magnetic field and gravitational force has considerable effects on everything on the Earth, living and non-living.

WATER (Jala) - This is represented by rain, river, sea and is in the form of liquid, solid (ice) and gas (steam, cloud). It forms part of every plant and animal. Our blood is nothing but water with haemoglobin and oxygen.

AIR (Vayu) - As a life supporting element, air is a very powerful life source. Human physical comfort values are directly and sensitively dependent on correct humidity, air flow, temperature of air, air pressure, air composition and its content.

FIRE (Agni) - Represents light and heat which account for day, night, the seasons, energy, enthusiasm, passion and vigour.

SPACE (Akasha) - The akasha provides shelter to all the above elements. It is also considered the primary conductor of all energy sources within the universal context - physical energies such as sound and light, social energies such as psychological and emotional, and cognitive energies such as intellect and intuition.

There is an invisible and constant relation between all the five elements. Thus, the man can improve his conditions by properly designing his buildings by understanding the effectiveness of these five natural forces. Vaastu sastra combines all the five elements of nature and balances them with the man and the material. It takes advantage of the benefits bestowed by the five elements of nature to create a congenial living and working environment thereby facilitating spiritual well-being and paving the way for enhanced health, wealth, prosperity and happiness.
In Indian architecture, the dwelling is itself a shrine. A home is called manushyalaya, literally, "human temple". It is not merely a shelter for human beings in which to rest and eat. The concept behind house design is the same as for temple design, so sacred and spiritual are the two spaces. The "open courtyard" system of house design was the national pattern in India before Western models were introduced. The order introduced into the "built space" accounts for the creation of spiritual ambiance required for the indweller to enjoy spiritual well-being and material welfare and prosperity. At right is a typical layout of a square building, with a grid of 9x9=81 squares, meant for family persons (for scientists, artists and yogi a grid of 8x8=64 is prescribed). The space occupied by the central 3x3=9 squares is called Brahmasthanam, meaning the "nuclear energy field". It should be kept unbuilt and open to the sky so as to have contact with the outer space (akasha). This central courtyard is likened to the lungs of the human body. It is not for living purposes. Religious and cultural events can be held here--such as yajna (fire rituals), music and dance performances and marriage. The row of squares surrounding the Brahmasthanam is the walkway. The corner spaces, occupying 2x2=4 squares, are rooms with specific purposes. The northeast quarter is called Isana, the southeast Agni, the southwest Niruthi and northwest Vayu. These are said to possess the qualities of four respective devatas or gods--Isa, Agni, Niruthi and Vayu. Accordingly--with due respect to ecological friendliness with the subtle forces of the spirit-those spaces (quarters) are assigned as follows: northeast for the home shrine, southeast for the kitchen, southwest for the master bedroom and northwest for the storage of grains. The spaces lying between the corner zones, measuring 2x5=10 squares, are those of the north, east, south and west. They are meant for multi purposes.

Vastu Purusha Mandala :
The Vastu Purusha Mandala is an indispensable part of vastu shastra and constitutes the mathematical and diagrammatic basis for generating design. It is the metaphysical plan of a building that incorporates the course of the heavenly bodies and supernatural forces. Purusha refers to energy, power, soul or cosmic man. Mandala is the generic name for any plan or chart which symbolically represents the cosmos.
In Hindu cosmology the surface of the earth is represented as a square, the most fundamental of all Hindu forms. The earth is represented as four-cornered in reference to the horizon's relationship with sunrise and sunset, the North and South direction. It is called Chaturbhuji (four cornered) and represented in the form of the Prithvi Mandala. The astrological charts or horoscopes also represent in a square plan the positions of the sun, moon, planets and zodiac constellations with reference to a specific person's place and time of birth.
The legend of the Vastu Purusha is related thus. Once a formless being blocked the heaven from the earth and Brahma with many other gods trapped him to the ground. This incident is depicted graphically in the Vastu Purusha Mandala with portions allocated hierarchically to each deity based on their contributions and positions. Brahma occupied the central portion - the Brahmasthana- and other gods were distributed around in a concentric pattern. There are 45 gods in all including 32 outer deities.

The preciding gods of each direction (called the ashtadikpalar) are:
"    Northeast- Eeshanya- Ruled by lord of all quarters- Ishvara (Religions,Luck and Faith)
"    East- Indra- Ruled by the solar deity- Aditya (Seeing the world)
"    Southeast- Agni- Ruled by the fire deity - Agni (Energy Generating)
"    South- Yama- Ruled by lord of death - Yama (Damaging)
"    Southwest- Pitru/Nairutya, Niruthi- Ruled by ancestors (History)
"    West- Varuna- Ruled by lord of water (Physical)
"    Northwest- Vayu- ruled by the god of winds (Advertisement)
"    North- Kubera- Ruled by lord of wealth (Finance)
"    Center- Brahma- Ruled by the creator of the universe (Desire)

The Vastu Purusha is the presiding deity of any site. Usually he is depicted as lying on it with the head in the northeast and legs in the southwest but he keeps changing position throughout the year.

Prana :
Vastu shastra prescribes desirable characteristics for sites and buildings based on flow of energy (prana in Sanskrit). Many of the rules are attributed to cosmological considerations - the sun's path, the rotation of the earth, magnetic field, etc. The morning sun is considered especially beneficial and purifying and hence the east is a treasured direction. The body is considered a magnet with the head, the heaviest and most important part, being considered the North Pole and the feet the South pole. Hence sleeping with one's head in the north is believed to cause a repulsive force with the Earth's magnetic north and thus considered harmful. Bedrooms are therefore designed keeping this in mind. This is a wide spread practice in India even today.

Energy is primarily considered as emanating from the northeast corner and many site and building characteristics are derived from this. Sites sloping down towards north or east from higher levels of south and west are considered good. Open spaces in site and openings in the building are to be more in the north and east than in the south and the west. No obstacles are to be present in the north and the east. Levels and height of buildings are to be higher in the south and west when compared to the north and east. The southwest corner is to be the highest, followed by southeast, then by northwest and finally by northeast. The triangle formed by joining the southwest, southeast and the northwest corner of the site is attributed to the moon and the triangle formed by joining the northeast, northwest and southeast corner of the site is attributed to the sun. The former are prescribed to be heavier and higher and the latter light and lower. Sites having a longer east-west axis are considered better. The diagonal connecting southwest and northeast is to be longer than the diagonal connecting southeast and northwest. An extended northeast corner is considered beneficial.

Mandala types and properties :

Mahapitha Mandala

The central area in all mandala is the Brahmasthana. The space occupied by it varies in different mandala - in Pitha (9) and Upapitha (25) it occupies one square module, in Mahaapitha (16), Ugrapitha (36) and Manduka (64), four square modules and in Sthandila (49) and Paramasaayika (81), nine square modules. The Pitha is an amplified Prithvimandala in which, according to some texts, the central space is occupied by earth. The Sthandila mandala is used in a concentric manner.

The most important mandala are the Paramasaayika Mandala of 81 squares and especially the Manduka/ Chandita Mandala of 64 squares. The normal position of the Vastu Purusha (head in the northeast, legs in the southwest) is as depicted in the Paramasaayika Mandala. However, in the Manduka Mandala the Vastu Purusha is depicted with the head facing east and the feet facing west.
An important aspect of the mandala is that when divided into an odd number of squares, or ayugma, its center is constituted by one module or pada and when divided into an even number of squares or yugma, its center is constituted by a point formed by the intersection of the two perpendicular central lines. In spatial terms, the former is sakala or manifest/ morphic and the latter is nishkala or unmanifest/ amorphous.

Mandala in siting :
The mandala is put to use in site planning and architecture through a process called the Pada Vinyasa. This is a method whereby any site can be divided into grids/ modules or pada. Depending on the position of the gods occupying the various modules, the zoning of the site and disposition of functions in a building are arrived at. Mandala have certain points known as marma which are vital energy spots on which nothing should be built. They are determined by certain proportional relationships of the squares and the diagonals.
A site of any shape can be divided using the Pada Vinyasa. Sites are known by the number of divisions on each side. the types of mandalas with the corresponding names of sites is given below.

"    Sakala(1 square)corresponds to Eka-pada (single divided site)
"    Pechaka(4 squares) corresponds to Dwi-pada (two divided site)
"    Pitha(9 squares) corresponds to Tri-pada (three divided site)
"    Mahaapitha(16 squares) corresponds to Chatush-pada (four divided site)
"    Upapitha(25 squares) corresponds to Pancha-pada (five divided site)
"    Ugrapitha(36 squares) corresponds to Shashtha-pada (six divided site)
"    Sthandila(49 squares) corresponds to sapta-pada (seven divided site)
"    Manduka/ Chandita(64 square) corresponds to Ashta-pada (eight divided site)
"    Paramasaayika(81 squares) corresponds to Nava-pada (nine divided site)
"    Aasana(100 squares) corresponds to Dasa-pada (ten divided site)

Mandala in construction :
The concept of sakala and nishkala are applied in buildings appropriately.
In temples, the concepts of sakala and nishkala are related to the two aspects of the Hindu idea of worship - Sagunopaasana, the supreme as personal God with attributes and Nirgunopaasana, the supreme as absolute spirit unconditioned by attributes. Correspondingly, the Sakala, complete in itself, is used for shrines of gods with form (sakalamoorthy) and to perform yajna (fire rites). However the Nishkala is used for installation of idols without form- nishkalamoorthy- and for auspicious, pure performances. The amorphous center is considered beneficial to the worshippers, being a source of great energy. This could also be used for settlements. In commercial buildings, only odd numbers of modules are prescribed as the nishkala or amorphous center would cause too high a concentration of energy for human occupants. Even here, the Brahmasthana is left unbuilt with rooms organised around.

House grid with sloping roof and open courtyard.

In accordance with the position occupied by the gods in the mandala, guidelines are given for zoning of site and distribution of rooms in a building. Some of these are:
"    North - treasury
"    Northeast - prayer room
"    East - bathroom
"    Southeast - kitchen
"    South - bedroom
"    Southwest - armoury
"    West - dining room
"    Northwest - cowshed

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