Vaastu Shastra

Vaastu Shastra is one of the ancient Hindu canons of town planning and architecture. These canons have come to us in the form of texts like Manasara, Mayamatam, Viswakarma Vaastushastra, Samarangana Sutradara, Silparatna, etc., Abiding by the principles of these Shastras, environments can be designed to be built in harmony with the physical and the metaphysical forces/ energies of the cosmos- gravitational, electromagnetic, supernatural etc.,

Vaastu can be loosely translated to mean the physical environment and Purusha refers to energy, power, soul or cosmic man.

Mandala is the generic name for any plan/ chart, which represents the cosmos metaphysically/ symbolically, a microcosm of the universe from the standpoint of man. 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 with reference to the horizon's relationship with sunrise and sunset, the North and South direction. The earth is thus called Caturbhrsti- four cornered- and is represented in the symbolic form of the Prithvi Mandala. The astrological charts or horoscopes- Rasi, Navamsa, etc., also represent in a square plan the ecliptic- the positions of the sun, moon, planets and zodiacal constellations with reference to the native's place and time of birth. The Vaastu Purusha Mandala is one such mandala.

Vaastu Purusha Mandala can thus be defined as the metaphysical plan of a building/ temple/ site that incorporates the course of the heavenly bodies and supernatural forces.

The legend of the Vaastu Purusha goes like this. Once there was a formless being blocking the heaven from the earth. Brahma and many other Gods trapped him to the ground. Depending on the contribution and positions of the various Gods in performing this act, portions were allocated to each God in a hierarchical manner on the Vaastu Purusha Mandala. Brahma occupied the central portion and other Gods were distributed around in a concentric pattern. There are 45 Gods in all- including Brahma- out of which 32 are outer Gods.

The principal Gods/ presiding deities of each direction are:

  • Northeast- Isaana- Lord of all quarters
  • East- Aditya- Sun God
  • Southeast- Agni-Lord of Fire
  • South- Yama- Lord of Death
  • Southwest- Pitru- ancestors
  • West- Varuna- Lord of water
  • Northwest- Vayu- Lord Of Winds
  • North- Kubera- Lord of Wealth
  • Centre- Brahma- Lord/Creator of the Universe
In accordance with the position occupied by the Gods, the zoning of site and distribution of rooms in a building are to be done. Thus northeast should house the pooja room, east- bathroom, southeast- kitchen, south- bedroom, southwest- armoury, west- dining, northwest- cowshed, north- treasury.

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

The form of the Vaastu Purusha Mandala is basically a square but there are various types of mandalas depending on the way in which the basic square is divided. In each case, the square is subdivided into smaller squares by lines running parallel/ perpendicular to the sides. Each side of the square can be divided from 1 to 32 divisions. Thus, the number of squares in the Vaastu Purusha Mandala may vary from 12 to 322,i.e from 1, 4, 16, 25 and so on to 1024. Each of these mandalas is given a distinct name and has applications only in certain specific contexts.

The mandala being a metaphysical plan is put to use in site planning and architecture through a process called the Pada Vinyasa. Pada Vinyasa is a method whereby any site can be divided into uniform grids/modules called Padas. 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. A site of any shape can be divided using the Pada Vinyasa. Sites are known by the number of divisions on each side.

Table of contents
1 Types of Mandalas and corresponding names of sites
2 Brief Exposition of some of the other Aspects of Vaastu Shastra
3 Conclusion

Types of Mandalas and corresponding names of sites

One square – Sakala –single divided site- Eka-pada Four squares- Pechaka -two divided site – Dwi-pada Nine squares- Pitha –three divided site- Tri-pada Sixteen squares- Mahaapitha- four divided site- Chatush-pada Twenty five- Upapitha- five divided site- Pancha-pada Thirty six- Ugrapitha –six divided site- Shashtha-pada Forty nine- Sthandila- seven divided site- sapta-pada Sixty four- Manduka/ Chandita- eight divided site- Ashta-pada Eighty one- Paramasaayika- nine divided site- Nava-pada Hundred- Aasana- ten divided site- Dasa-pada

The mandalas have certain distinct properties. In some instances, different texts attribute differing characteristics/ usage to them. Here certain generally accepted aspects are described.

The central area in all these mandalas is set apart for Brahma- the Brahmasthana. The space occupied by it varies in different mandalas. In Pitha [9] and Upapitha [25] it occupies one square module. In Mahaapitha [16], Ugrapitha [36] and Manduka [64] it occupies four square modules. In Sthandila [49] and Paramasaayika [81] it occupies 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 mandalas are the Manduka/ Chandita Mandala of 64 squares and the Paramasaayika Mandala of 81 squares- especially the former. The normal position of the Vaastu Purusha- head in Northeast, legs in Southwest- is as depicted in the Paramasaayika Mandala. However, in the Manduka Mandala the Vaastu Purusha is depicted with head towards East and feet towards West. An important aspect about the mandala is that when divided into an odd number of squares, or ayugma, its centre is constituted by one module or pada and when divided into an even number of squares or yugma, its centre 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. Thus the Sakala is complete in itself and is used for shrines of gods with form- sakalamoorthy- and to perform yagnas. However, the Pechaka is used for installation of idols without form-nishkalamoorthy- and for auspicious, pure performances. The Hindu idea of god/ worship itself has two phases - Sagunopaasana, the supreme as personal God with attributes and Nirgunopaasana, the supreme as absolute spirit unconditioned by attributes.

A further interpretation of this suggests that residential buildings are better set out in an odd number of modules because the nishkala or amorphous centre would cause too high a concentration of energy for the occupants. Even then, the central space - Brahmasthana should be left unbuilt and rooms are to be organised around it. In temples, the amorphous centre would be beneficial to the worshippers, being a source of great energy. This could also be used in settlements. Another property of the mandala is that it has certain points called marmas which are vital and vulnerable energy spots on which nothing should be built. They are determined by certain proportional relationships of the squares and the diagonals.

Brief Exposition of some of the other Aspects of Vaastu Shastra

All places of dwelling are termed Vastu. The actual physical manifestation/ form of the dwelling is called Vaastu. Four categories of Vaastu have been identified namely

1. The earth/ site- Bhoomi, the principal dwelling place on which everything else rests. 2. The structures on the earth- the mansions, etc., - Prasada . 3. Movable objects- vehicles, etc., - Yaana. 4. Furniture- the bedstead, etc., - Sayana.

The principles of Vaastu Shaastra deal with site selection, site planning and orientation, zoning and disposition of rooms, proportional relationships between the various parts of the building, the character of a building etc., Here only certain broad principles germane to the discussion are brought in. Sites suitable for different castes are given, the most exalted one being of square shape. Rectangle is also acceptable. Sites sloping down towards North or East are considered good with higher levels in the South and West. Bhu- Pariksha or examination of soil conditions, Sanku Sthaapanam or method for fixing the orientation are also described. The mandala and the pada vinyasa form the foundation for site planning and architectural design and have already been discussed. There are other principles, which involve certain mathematical calculations – Maana for proportional relationships in a building, Aayaadi for benefits-, which specify conditions for maximum wellbeing for the residents of a building.

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. This is because energy is considered to be emanating from the Northeast corner. Sites having a longer East- West axis are considered better. Levels in the building are to be generally higher in the South and West when compared to the North and East.The Southwest corner is to be the highest, the second highest- Southeast, the third highest- Northwest, and finally the lowest- 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 should be heavier and higher and the latter light and lower. The diagonal connecting Southwest and Northeast is to be longer than the diagonal connecting Southeast and Northwest. An extended Northeast is considered beneficial. These rules are attributed mainly to consideration of the sun's path, the rotation of the earth, etc., The morning sun is considered especially beneficial and purifying. The magnetic field is also considered. 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 causes a repulsive force with the earth's magnetic north and thus is harmful. Bedrooms should therefore be designed keeping this in mind.

Conclusion

Vaastu Shastra evolved as a compilation of planning principles for a healthy living, similar to Western texts such as Vitruvius' and was never meant to be absolute. However,in recent times there has been a growing insistence to follow its guidelines to the letter based on beliefs that it is a panacea for all problems in life, just like Feng Shui. This has brought attention back to this science in extreme polar ends- debunking it as pseudo science and myth, or eulogising it. It is for the thinking mind to reject both these extremes and understand the context within which it was written.




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