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Indian Journal of History of Science, 51.1 (2016) 156-166 DOI: 10.

16943/ijhs/2016/v51i1/48387

From the Mythology of Vstustra to the


Methodology of Vstuvidy
RV Achari*
(Received 6 July 2015; revised 22 December 2015)

Abstract
The article seeks to distinguish Vstuvidy (architecture) from Vstu-stra (socio-cultural
normative of the building construction) for reasons of epistemology. The large number of monumental
structures along the length and breadth of the country embody the art and science of indigenous architecture
(Vstu-vidy). This seasoned architectural knowledge/skill, inherited, improved and sustained over
centuries by its practitioner communities, is largely not enshrined in any of the Vstu-stra texts. Vstu-
stra is a set of Sanskrit lyrics with the prescriptions on or about houses dealing with a variety of
aspects from myth to belief to appeasing deities to divine reward so on and so forth. It is true that Vstu-
stra is a term occurring in several Sanskrit texts of early India to mean Vstu-vidy or the building
science pure and simple. Nevertheless, over the years the norms of vara/-jti discrimination of
the Dharmastra-s entered the Vstu-stra and filled it with myths and bizarre beliefs, vitiating the
embedded objective knowledge of house building, namely Vstuvidy. Over time, with the progress on
technical, material and economo-social fronts, two events can be traced. One is the emergence of focused
communities of workers and artisans who specialize in the vocations relating to building design, architecture
and construction. The second significant event is that the insights and practices of this science of
construction have been documented and frozen into textual canons. These two events do not occur in
succession, but occur concurrently, and interact with each other. An attempt is made here to
epistemologically distinguish Vstu-vidy, the building science from Vstu-stra that has degenerated
into factoids.
Key words: Anomaly, Controversion, Degeneration, Vstu-stra, Vstu-vidy, Vaa-jti.

1. INTRODUCTION lamps, costumes, coiffures, crowns and ornaments.


This prescriptive compendium was also to deal
The term Vstu-stra (hereafter V) has
with matters such as the features of the ideal site,
been in use to denote the compendium of
soil conditions, planning and designing besides
architectural knowledge not only of buildings and
various normative factors such as gnomonic and
their constituents, but also of the construction of
astrological calculations (Acharya, 1946; Shukla,
markets, towns, streets, drains, sewers, bridges,
1996; Chakrabarti, 1998).
ferries, ports, wells, bath-tanks, reservoirs, dams,
embankments, parks, gate ways, arches, ladders, It is well known that there is a long history
flights of steps to hill-tops and so on. As another of architectural practices in the Indian sub-
term for ilpastr the knowledge of iconography continent, an advanced phase of which goes back
and sculpture, V was meant to deal with the art to the Indus Valley Civilisation of c. 3000 BC
and craft of all artefacts like bedsteads, couches, (Brown, 1956). The houses in Mohanjo-daro
palanquins, wardrobes, baskets, cages, nests, consisted of rooms spaced irregularly around one

* No. 20, 100 Ft. Ring Road, 6th Block, BSK, 3rd Stage, Bangalore - 560 085; Email: acharirv@gmail.com
FROM THE MYTHOLOGY OF VSTUSTRA TO THE METHODOLOGY OF VSTUVIDY 157

or more open courtyards, which were often paved architecture which address the domain of
with baked bricks. They were imposing structures. knowledge called Vstustra. There are several
The open central space would have provided light late medieval regional texts in the country, as
in the absence of large windows in the external Anka-stra, Aparjita Vstustra, Vstu- tattva,
walls (Ratnagar, 2001, p.88). All that could not Vstu-niraya, Vstu-purua-lakaa, Vstu-
withstand the ravages of time are lost and praka, Vstu-pradpa, Vstu-majari, Vstu-
consummated back in the earth. However, many vicra, Vstu-vidhi, Vstu-samgraha, Vstu-
monumental structures of the Buddhists and Jain sarvasva, Tantra-samuccaya and MAC exemplify.
monastic establishments besides the Hindu vstujnamathta kamalabhavn
temples have survived to our times as brilliant muni-paraparytam |
testimonies of Indian architecture, almost entirely kriyatedhun mayedam . || Bhat-
anterior to the extant V texts that are dated to sahit 52.1 ||
c.6th century AD and after. Monuments at Sanchi, This architectural knowledge, passed
Sarnath, Amaravati, Barhut, Ajanta, Ellora, down from the Lotus-born (Brahm) to
Aurangabad, Bhaja, Karle, Kanheri, and Andheri the succession of sages (muni-
are examples. These structures in stone actually parapar) is now expounded by me
(etc.)... [Bhat sahit 52.1].
indicate how accomplished was the wooden
architecture, for their concepts, designs, plans, Thus opens V its eyes for the first time
constituents and features look like facsimiles of through Varhamihira in the Bhat- sahita in the
woodwork. They remain the enduring testimony 6th century AD. By the period the sub-continent
of the amazing level of perfection achieved by the had witnessed the execution of many impressive
architectural designers, masons, craftsmen and architectural projects in different parts.
artisans of early India (Havell, 1915; Architectural knowledge and skill in pre-modern
Coomaraswamy, 1914; Brown, 1956; George, India had been developing as continuously
2000). It is on the basis of these umpteen inherited, improved, and sustained by the
monuments the architectural knowledge of India communities of artisans and craftsmen who
became explicitly coded and systematised practice it. There is the persistence of traditional
subsequently. The temple architecture of India practices even today, despite the massive impact
represents the continuation of the Buddhist and of the modern architecture.
Jain designs, plans, and principles as adapted to However, there is a wide gulf between the
the gamic, brhmaical cosmology, mode of knowledge presented in the archive of the
worship and iconography (Benjamin, 1967). traditional V texts, and the unsubstantiated advice
It has been claimed that V is an offshoot being dispensed by the current practitioners of
of Atharvaveda that is generally assigned c.800 V. The lineage of texts (which is discussed ahead)
500 BC (Romila Thapar, 1991). Nevertheless, the constitute a body of systematized knowledge that
extant texts are not of that antiquity. Scholars have is significantly at odds with the V being touted
classified traditional Indian architecture into three in the marketplace, and these are some of the
schools, viz; the ngara, drvia and vesara with differences we attempt to highlight.
their own prescriptive texts. Bhat-samhit, It is evident that all the earlier texts were
Vivakarma-praka, Samarngaa-stradhra, coded and systematised on the basis of oral
Aparjita-Praccha, Rpa-maana, Mayamata, traditions and conventions among the artisan/
Amumad-bheda, Agastya-Sakaladhikara, craftsmen (karmakra-s) besides observations of
ilparatna, and Mnasra are the main texts of their working as well as the concrete output.
158 INDIAN JOURNAL OF HISTORY OF SCIENCE

Mnasra seems to be the most comprehensive was the Mayamatam, and these along with
of all the related texts, which runs into seventy Mnasra, Tantrasamuccaya [15 th century
chapters dealing with the preliminaries, subject approx.] and Nlakahan Msats Manuylaya-
matter of architecture, sculpture and iconography. candrik [16th century AD] constitute a partial list
Since the text contains standardized prescriptions of the texts that offer authoritative source material
of the Jain, Buddhist and Brhmaical to understand the V in a historically meaningful
architecture, sculpture and iconography, it is clear and honest way.
that it was compiled after several ancient
monuments were built. As no grammar ever 3. SOME PRINCIPAL FEATURES OF V
created a language, V or for that matter
Some important concepts of V need to
Vstuvidy did not create any shelter. V cannot
be discussed, to understand the discipline in any
claim the splendour of architectural marvels man
measure. The current discussion relies largely on
has achieved as depicted above since vstujnam
the descriptions in Nlakahan Msatts
or V came out as a revelation from the all
Manuylaya-candrik (henceforth MAC). The
knowing Brahma only after these edifices are
yoni is a technical concept in V, with a different
built by the toiling hands.
one assigned to each of the eight cardinal
directions, and they have names such as dhma,
2. THE TEXTUAL TRADITION OF V kukkuma etc, and each architectural yoni is
The image we have of V is hopelessly somewhat theomorphised, attributed a caste
piecemeal, fragmented and delinked from its (vaa) and is said to confer certain good or bad
historical contexts. V can only be understood effects on the house [MAC 3.32].
meaningfully if we locate it within the matrix of According to V it is yoni that is
allied stra-s [disciplinary domains] such as considered as the pa or the life of a house and
ilpa-stra [sculpture and iconography], Jyotia- therefore, one has to accept or adopt the yoni
stra [astronomy and astrology] and Citra-stra ordained or prescribed for each (MAC- 3.32).The
[painting and illustration]. Often the names ilpa yoni is identified with (the yoni of) four birds
and Vstu are used interchangeably in the classical (dhuma, kukkuma, khara, and kka), three animals
texts. (simha, gaja, and va) and an inanimate object
As stated earlier, the oldest significant (dwaja). They are ordained as the following
chapter in the V is in the Bhat sahit of dhwaja for Brhmin, simha for Katriya, gaja for
Varhamihira [6th Century AD], while there are Vaiya and va for dra. This is the most
minor discussions [or descriptions] in the two important stanza of MAC as it deals with pra.
majors epics and in the Artha stra. The Matsya ydi advarga is the category next only to yoni
Pura enumerates a list of 18 masters of V, in importance, which consist of vyaya, ya,
abounds in names of mythological characters, but nakatra, vayas, tithi and vra. Vayas is the
surprisingly doesnt include the historically quotient and all others are reminders obtained on
identifiable Varhamihira. The Samargaa division of multiplied perimeters by certain
Stradhra attributed to Bhoja is an early and arbitrary numbers as given below:
important text from the turn of the millennium, Vyaya (expenditure) = reminder of 3/14 of
exclusively dedicated to ilpa and Vstu. The perimeter
Visvakarmyam, also known as Vstuvidy is
ya (income) = reminder of 8/12 of perimeter
undated, and was edited by Ganapati Shastri, as
part of the Trivandrum Sanskrit series (1913) as Nakatra (star) = reminder of 8/27 of perimeter
FROM THE MYTHOLOGY OF VSTUSTRA TO THE METHODOLOGY OF VSTUVIDY 159

Vayas (age) = quotient of 8/27 of perimeter shall be equal. Accordingly, the ratio shall be 1 1/
Tithi (phase of moon) = reminder of 8/30 of 8 for Katriya, 1 1/6 for Vaiya and 1 1/4 for dra.
perimeter It is prescribed that there shall be a naturally grown
tree in the plot, different for each of the vara-s -
Vra (week) = reminder of 8/7 of perimeter atti (ficus racemosa) for a Brhmin, arayl (ficus
Then comes the site or the land slope, religiosa) for a Katriya, perl (ficus macrophylla)
proposed for the construction of a house, which is for a Vaiya and itti (ficus microcarpa) for a dra.
to be sloped as follows: low north for Brhmin, Likewise, the colour of the soil at the plot proposed
low east for Katriya, low west for Vaiya and low for the house should also vary according to the
north for dra. Here the length width ratio of vaa order: white for a Brahmin, blood colour
plot has been prescribed. For a Brhmin this ratio for a Katriya, yellow for a Vaiya and black for a
shall be 1, in other words the length and width dra. Further the grass (naturally grown) in the

BASIS PERIMETER IN KOLS OF 24 TO 31 AGULAS AND AGULA=30 MM


(MM) (Dr Achuthan, Dr Prabhu1)
24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Perimeter P1=18380 25.53 24.51 23.56 22.69 21.88 21.13 20.4 19.8
Yoni Reminder of P1x3/8 2 7 5 2 8 6 4 2
Vyaya Reminder of P1x 3/14 7 4 1 12 10 7 5 3
Reminder of P1x9/10 10 1 2 4 7 10 4 8
ya Reminder of P1x8/12 12 4 8 2 7 1 7 2
Same as x2/3 3 1 2 3 2 3 2 1
Star Reminder of P1x8/27 27 14 2 18 8 25 16 8
Vayas Quotient of P1x 8/27 12 11 11 10 10 9 9 9
Tithi Reminder of P1x8/30 24 16 8 2 25 19 13 8
Same as x4/15 12 8 4 1 13 10 7 4
Vra Reminder of P1x8/7 1 7 6 7 7 1 2 4

BASIS PERIMETER IN KOLS OF 24 TO 31 AGULAS AND AGULA=27 MM


(MM) (Dr Ashalatha)2
24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Perimeter P1= 18380 28.37 27.23 26.18 25.21 24.31 23.48 22.7 22
Yoni Reminder of P1x3/8 5 2 7 4 1 8 4 2
Vyaya Reminder of P1x 3/14 1 12 9 6 3 14 12 10
Reminder of P1x9/10 5 5 6 7 9 1 4 8
ya Reminder of P1x8/12 11 2 5 10 2 8 2 8
Same as x2/3 3 3 1 2 1 2 3 2
Star Reminder of P1x8/27 11 2 20 13 5 18 3 17
Vayas Quotient of P1x 8/27 8 8 7 7 7 6 6 6
Tithi Reminder of P1x8/30 17 8 29 22 14 8 2 26
Same as x4/15 8 4 15 11 7 4 1 13
Vra Reminder of P1x8/7 3 1 6 6 5 6 7 1
1
Engg Professors and Joint Authors of Engineering Commentary on Manulaya-candrika.
2
Arch Professor and Author of Traditional Architectural Forms of Malabar Coast.
160 INDIAN JOURNAL OF HISTORY OF SCIENCE

plot should also vary kua (desmostachya makes V superstitious. Is the declared benefit of
bipinnata) for a Brhmin, makham for a land slope true? Absolutely no, as per the very
Katriya, kruka for a Vaiya and mudarbha for same V (anuloma rule, MAC, 3.07) Brhmin can
a dra. Even the smell of the soil has to be use low south.
different from vaa to vaa the aroma of ghee
for a Brhmin, of blood for a Katriya, of rice for 3.1 Irrational Prescriptions
a Vaiya and of alcohol for a dra. Similarly the The entire prescriptions are primarily
taste of the soil in the site of the proposed house vaa based and the central principle is that of
should be different too sweet for a Brhmin, anuloma. Prescription ordained for a higher vaa
kayam (astringent) for a Katriya, sour for a cannot be followed by the lower vaa. But
Vaiya and (pungent) hot for a dra. prescription for any vaa can be used by the
As regards the measuring rod to be used, higher vaa. (This is one prescription that is
there are different types of kol prescribed for the controlling or binding all other rules). There are
houses of each of the four categories of the vaa. certain rituals prescribed as divine specifications
Each of these rods (kol-s) consists of certain for sanctifying the plot of land proposed for the
specified numbers of agulas (linear measure) and house (bhmi pja), for selecting the crya who
has specific names. Dhanurgham (27 agula) and shall be a Brhmin, for propitiation of gods, for
prakam (31) for Brhmin, vaipulyam (26) and ghapravea and for rewarding the crya and the
dhanurmui (30) for Katriya, prajpathyam (25) ilpi-s. As part of the divine rules, certain
and vydham (29) for Vaiya and kiku (24) and specifications about the division of the plot into
prchyam (28) for dra. There is a prescription quadrants (vthi-s) and for the propitiation of gods
of the type of house differing according to the in order to secure auspicious rewards and to ward
vaa. It is mentioned as auspicious la or unit off their displeasure are prescribed.
of a four-some house kizhakkini (eastern unit)
Stanza 1.33 of MAC provides an ingenious
for a Brhmin, tekkini (southern unit) for a
test to determine whether or not the soil of the
Katriya, vaakkini (northern unit) for a Vaiya and
proposed site satisfies the vaa prescriptions. In
painjrrini (western unit) for a dra.
case the vaa aspects like colour, smell, taste etc.
Stanza (MAC 1.20) gives the effect of land of the soil are not clearly discernible, there is a
slope thus: Land low in north gives wealth, east prescription to test and affirm. The text advises to
prosperity, west poverty and south death. The take a pit with one kol square to a depth of one kol
proposed land for house construction shall be in the middle of the land to be examined, place an
sloping (Manucylaya- chandrik 1.31) low unfired earthen vessel filled with paddy in the pit,
north for Brhmin, low east for Katriya, low west place another earthen vessel filled with ghee upon
for Vaiya and low north for dra. These two it, place wicks in each of four directions staring
together would mean Brhmin should be wealthy, from east and light the wicks. It is specified that
Kshatriya should prosper, Vaiya should suffer the wicks shall be of white, red, yellow and black
poverty and death warrant for dra. in colour and the direction towards which the wick
When the vaa aspect is removed, from is oriented shall be east, south, west and north for
this prescription, and low North or low East is white, red, yellow and black respectively. The four
prescribed for all as is done today a question will wicks are to be lit as prescribed and after two
arise why? This is being answered with nzhika (one nzhika = 24 minutes) if the white
manufactured reasons - to see rising sun or to see wick is still burning the land is suitable for a
saptacis [the constellation Ursa Major]. That Brhmin, and if it is the red wick, it is suitable for
FROM THE MYTHOLOGY OF VSTUSTRA TO THE METHODOLOGY OF VSTUVIDY 161

a Katriya; if it is yellow wick, it is suitable for a 3.2 Discrimination


Vaiya and; if it is black wick, it is suitable for a Another notable feature of the V
dra. If all the four wicks are burning even after prescriptions is discrimination. Discrimination
the stipulated duration, the land is suitable for all, against people of other faiths, discrimination
and if all the four wicks cease to burn, the land is against avaa-s, discrimination within savaa-
unsuitable for all. s, and discrimination against women, are explicit
in its prescriptions and specifications. The only
This test is used when there is no clear
stanzas dealing with woman are one entitling
evidence in colour, smell, taste of soil and self
her to accompany her yajamna in the ceremonial
grown trees and plants in the plot to appropriate
ghapavea, rear children and grand children and
for any of the vaa-s this test can be used. In
live happily ever after and the other:
bigger pit, thin wicks and more oil, the wicks can
E ka-jti-tarubhi : prakalpitam dvra-
outlast 24 minutes. Between 24 agula kol and
pda-phalakdikam ubham |
31 agula kol the volume and therefore the
Anyath yadi vadh kuilatm
quantity of oxygen in the pit increases more than
sambhavediti vadanti kecana ||
twice and surface area of the pit increases 10 fold
and the wicks can draw 10 times air trapped in In the case of any house, it is auspicious
the soil. If only white wick is burning Brhmin to have all elements of its door (frame, shutters
can use it and he can use the site even if any wick etc) made of the same wood. If not, the
is burning by anuloma rule! Heads I win tails householders wife will turn unfaithful, which is
certain according to the carya-s. There is,
you lose!
however, no prescription in any of the V-s to
Even aspects of technical prescriptions are prevent the husbands behaviour leading to
marred by irrationality. There are a number of infidelity. There is no specific prescription for
prescriptions regarding the firmness of the ground; women, anywhere in the text and the term purua
height of the plinth; height, size and shape of the (male) is not used in the plural, common and multi-
column; sizes of the wall plate, rafter, collar pins lingual sense.
etc., obviously technical. But all of them are of an Yoni is reminder of perimeter in Kol
arbitrary nature endowed with divine or of multiplied with 3 and divided by 8. Let us consider
auspicious benefaction. It is random, faulty, a single room house 12 15 with concrete roof.
irrelevant and invariably bizarre, with varying The room as constructed actually measures in
margins of ignorance. millimeters 3596 x 4542 inside and 4142 x 5068
la with conical roof is the basic model outside. For the limited purpose of understanding
for a house in the Vsustr. It is the rafters that the nuances of V let us accept (without
questioning at this stage) certain factors the
provide the conical form. For rafter the margin of
engineering professors who are also vstu pundits
ignorance is 18 times by size. From a single log
have accepted: Agula is 30 mm long. Kol of 24
of wood one can make one rafter or the entire
agula-s is 720 mm. Perimeter P shall be outside
requirement of rafters up to a total of 18. The
of wall. Let us accept a two decimal accuracy and
margin of ignorance varies 54 times by strength. usual rounding of rule:
The margin against deformation is 162 times. It is
the collar that braces the rafters on opposite slopes p=2x4132+2x5058 = 18380 mm; Or p= 18380/
and hold rafters together in the conical form. There 720=25.53 kol.
is no collar in MAC, but there is collar pin which 3/8 x p = 3/8 x 25.53 =9.57; y=0.57 x 8 = 4.56 = 5
connects the collar to the rafter! or panca-yoni.
162 INDIAN JOURNAL OF HISTORY OF SCIENCE

In the charts mentioned before one with predominant sections in India namely Buddhists,
30 millimeter per agula and other with 27 the Jains, the Hindus and the Muslims. Sufism and
millimeter per agula we find that yoni changes the Bhakti movements were the remarkable
when measured with a kol of different number of features in this medieval age. Bhakti cult was the
agula-s. The exact measure of agula is neither result of the feeling of despondency of the Hindus
30 mm nor 27 mm. It is the combined thickness as a result of their being on the defensive in
of 64 number of til seed which cannot have a politics, society and religion. It achieved two
definitive measure. And let the reader come to his objectives: firstly it tried to reform Hinduism and
or her conclusion as to the blackmail with the emphasised the neglect of image worship and caste
pra of the house. system and secondly it tried to harmonise the
Just like the yoni, six other attributes relation between Hindus and Muslims. The rituals
beginning with ya (expenditure) - ydi avarga and the practices of Hinduism were under severe
are next discussed as being the features that attack. This naturally sounded the alarm bells
influence the house. Similarly, the slope or cline against the Cturvaya system and Tantra-
of the terrain, the quality of the soil (taste, samuccaya and MAC are the results. The MAC
appearance etc.) and the grasses and trees that prescriptions of vstu therefore are clearly crafted
grow in it naturally are recommended for those functioning within a rigid framework of
differentially for house-owners as per their vaa. vaa. There is no place for women, avaa-s (the
Even the scale of measurement (termed kl) is not casteless) and even for the adherents of the vaa
a universal standard, but is determined by the body framework; there is discrimination, in terms of
dimensions of the house-owner, again varying per quality and other criteria. The multi-religious
his caste. It is not by accident that the owner is milieu of the medieval times, must have rattled
referred to as a him. All the V texts are produced the upper classes to take more and more strident
with a highly patriarchal bias, and no mention is measures to assert and uphold their caste
made of female inhabitants or owners of the superiority, in a knee-jerk response to their
residences. dissipating numbers, given the competition posed
by other vaa-less religious orders such as
3.3 Vstu as a Savaa Doctrine Jainism, Islam, Lingyatism and the many
The V was composed at a much later stage syncretic Sufi and Bhakti cults that disregarded
as its most striking feature of discriminatory vaa distinctions.
specifications and prescriptions, which would We must step back and trace the historical
exist only in a stratified society, clearly shows. In development of the highly advanced sciences of
India vara and caste are suggestive of a stratified painting, architecture, sculpture, carpentry,
class structured society. It is clear that V is a engineering and metalwork; which must have
savaa doctrine that hardly matters to the lower flourished in the oral-aural mode of transmission
rungs in the class structured society of vaa-jti with social structures such as workers guilds and
differentiation. It is at once an outcome of the apprenticeship programmes, and patronage from
vaa-jti society and an instrument of its prosperous members of the stable economy. Even
ideological reproduction and perpetuation. if there was some minor caste-fluidity, and there
Why did V surge in the 15th century AD are occasional mentions of upper-caste individuals
in the form of Tantra-samuccaya and in 16th training as artisans or craftsmen in these domains,
century in the form of MAC is a relevant question. the bulk of the workers, teachers and artisans were
By the 15th and 16th century there were four from the lower vaa-s. When the rulers of
FROM THE MYTHOLOGY OF VSTUSTRA TO THE METHODOLOGY OF VSTUVIDY 163

prosperous kingdoms and principalities decided in the stanza (MAC 2.28) defines the positions of
that homegrown knowledge of the artisan jti-s gods pinning him down to earth. For example Janta
should be committed to texts, the intercession of is positioned on the left ear; Aditi on the right;
the literate class became necessary, and in all Indra on left shoulder and Argala on the right. In
likelihood, the vaa-based discrimination of other texts, for instance Mnasr the posture of
architectural practices were enshrined in the the lying Vstu Purua is face down. So what
treatises in this stage, as were oppressive features happens to the positions of Janta and Aditi? Their
of feudalism and patriarchy. positions are inter-changed. What happens to the
offering to Indra? It is wrongly given to Argala.
4. TRANSITIONS IN V: ANOMALIES AND Both Indra and Argala will become angry Indra
ABERRATIONS for no offering and Argala for wrong offering!
There is a big temporal gap between the A central concept in V is the idea of a
early texts with V content and the later medieval spatial coordinate frame, which is constituted by
digests of V that reflect the social circumstances the Vstu-Purua a semi-divine character who
of their production. It may be useful for us to note lies splayed over the architectural framework of
some of these distinctions, since modern practice the vstu-maala. This is the framework over
of Vstu almost entirely relies on unscholarly which the blueprint of the building or residence is
editions of these medieval redactions. Not just is developed, and there is an elaborate pantheon of
there variation in content, some materials are even deities positioned in the framework with respect
contradictory between the two phases. to the orientation of the Vstu-Purua. As per the
V rests on the myth of Vstu-Purua, MAC, the posture of Vstu-purua is face upward
which says that once upon a time there was a with his legs in southwest corner and head in north
troublesome Asura who won over all around by east corner of the VM [ MAC 2.28]. The other
his physical strength, valour etc and abused the divinities are arranged all over the maala
gods. Exhausted in battle he fell on the ground pinning down different parts of the VP. In other
and yet by rolling he out-reached everywhere and texts (such as Mnasra) the posture of Vstu-
caused hardships. Then men, sages and gods were purua is face down, thereby entirely reversing
overtaken by fright. When he was lying flat in face and confounding the order of arrangement of the
up posture with feet in the southwest and head in different deities, and the activities they govern.
the northeast corner the gods all of a sudden
pounced on him, turned him face down and pinned 5. THE POSTURES OF VASTU PURUS. A
him down to the earth. All together 53 gods
occupied various limbs of this Asura. If these gods The deities occupying various limbs of
sitting on the body of Vstu Purua are appeased, Vstu Purua interchange their positions in the
they will reward with the desired results. If not, maala between the face-up and face-down
they will bestow the opposite reward. That is the postures. In MAC and other V texts, the positions
myth of vstu-puja. of deities are the same with reference to cardinal
directions. If both versions are correct, the house
Vstu Purua spreading himself over the in one would be upside down!
entire vstu-maala, which forms the basic
presupposition, is often applied in a self- The Vstu-maala has nine concentric
contradictory manner. The posture of Vstu layers termed vthi-s. Now, what shall be the width
Purua with face upward with his legs in of a vthi? MAC specifies it as 10, 9 or 8 times the
southwest corner and head in north east corner as height of the male house owner (MAC 2.15). For
164 INDIAN JOURNAL OF HISTORY OF SCIENCE

North N/W North N/E

West

East
West East

South S/W South S/E


Fig. 1a. Vstu-Purua face down Fig. 1b. Vstu-Purua face up

6. THE MODERN REINVENTION


The final blow in this bout of ironies, is
the percolation and successful reinvention of this
modern avatar of V. We are all witnesses to a
modern resurgence of interest in the science of
V. There are many ironies and paradoxes in our
avowed affiliation to such a historically
unsubstantiated V, while we are wilfully and
deliberately ignoring the Vstu-vidy that we
ought to take more seriously. The knowledge of
the traditional craftsmen the Vivakarm-s - the
ilpi-s, sthpati-s, pacakarmra-s or
paclamvru, the vardhaki-s, stradhra-s and
takaka-s have all been left to languish. There is
no patronage for the architectural and design
sensibilities of traditional craftsmen, and we are
Fig. 1. Maala, Khana and Vthi
all selecting elements of design and construction
materials that are most unsuited for Indian climes.
a five feet six inch tall man the minimum vthi However we are happily patronizing pseudo-
shall be 44 ft. That means the minimum width of sciences such as the 20th century V, with all
plot shall be 18 times this width or 792 ft. The its baggage of superstition, feudalism, patriarchy,
minimum size of plot will then be 792x792 (14 vaa discrimination, while being blissfully
acres) for Brhmin, 792x891 (16 acres) for unaware of it, and simultaneously espouse
Katriya, 792x924 (17 acres) for Vaiya and modern, democratic moral principles. While
792x990 (18 acres) for dra. While this vaa- both the practical-oral tradition and textual
based distinction is undemocratic, offensive and tradition have been ignored, we are celebrating a
irrelevant in modern times, it also points to spurious development that is of unsure
medieval notions of what were the permitted land- provenance, and has sprung up sui generis in the
holdings for each caste group. last half century.
FROM THE MYTHOLOGY OF VSTUSTRA TO THE METHODOLOGY OF VSTUVIDY 165

V, a historical specialization of the social value and allure of this pseudo-science.


knowledge, has been co-opted into responding to The last straw is the emergence of vstu for
the uninformed anxieties of Indian citizens, who websites and thereby the circle is complete
are caught between their modern lives and homes, the fraudulent controversion of bits of a genuine
and the felt need for a connection to their discipline moves from peddling lies in the real
historical-cultural roots, or a need for spiritual and world to doing the same in the domain of virtual
supernatural solutions derived from that historical- reality.
cultural matrix. Hopefully the case studies and
history will shed light on the inherent anomalies 7. CONCLUSIONS
and contradictions. V along with other exotic This paper attempts to depict a historically
eastern cousins such as feng shui has achieved grounded picture of Vstuvidy as a pre-modern
cult-status; and has gotten entrenched in the knowledge schema, and presents the distortions
marketplace and elsewhere. It has many adherents and contradictions between the traditional
in all aspects of professional and social life. knowledge of Vstu-vidy which may have a few
Architects confess that an increasing section of valid insights to offer us in terms of general
their clientele ask for projects and blueprints that architectural principles, and the modern avatar of
are endorsed by vstu experts. The exasperation V which is an ethically dubious combination of
of architects in dealing with difficult pundits of ancient principles with recent distortions. Its
vstu, and the possibility of cornering another bit purport is to show how over the years the norms
of the market place, has led to the inclusion of of vaa/-jti discrimination of the
vstu into the curricula of colleges and universities Dharmastra-s entered the practice of
that teach Architecture and Design. The architecture in traditional India and filled it with
resonances of this phenomenon, with the myths and bizarre beliefs, vitiating the embedded
instituting of graduate and post-graduate courses objective knowledge. The result was the making
in Astrology need hardly be pointed out. However, of several prescriptive texts in V, which helped
the phenomenon of vstu percolating into syllabi the protection of the vaa-jti system norms. The
did not garner as much outrage or even public modern vstu pundits using the terms,
expressions of concern, as did the case of Vstuvidy, V and Taccustr interchangeably
Astrology [in 2001]. Thus, because of a lack of and letting the architectural knowledge lost in
active and involved public engagement, we see superstitions and factoids think that V minus its
pseudo-scientific practices getting established and prescriptions based on caste discrimination is
ratified in multiple ways from academia, from architecture pure and simple. This would mean
different kinds of professionals and from the that democratization of the ideal prescribed for
market place. The mushrooming of websites and the Brhmins could retrieve the real rational
books that offer vstu solutions for everything knowledge. By prescribing slopes ordained for
ranging from interpersonal problems to health Brhmin to all, how can one retrieve architectural
issues to economic difficulties serve as very knowledge out of V that ascribes vstudoa to
effective peripheral bolsters for this charade. It the practice? It can only retain explanations like
doesnt help that popular media offer generous and east low enables to see the rising sun, north low
uncritical space and attention for the cottage enables to see Saptaris and various others, which
industry of vstu practitioners, books and gadgets. are bizarre. It is epistemologically valid
Similarly instances of political personages, explanations to what building problems a
sportspersons and other celebrities reliance on this technology resolves and how, which constitute
modern reincarnation of vstu do help augment knowledge in architecture! It is abundantly there
166 INDIAN JOURNAL OF HISTORY OF SCIENCE

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