For most people in urban and semi-urban areas, the maximum part of the day is spent in the built-up environment, be it in an office, shop or home. Naturally, the quality of this man-made environment plays a vital role in the physical and mental well-being of people. Along with aesthetic beauty, any building should first satisfy the utility factor for its occupants, both at the levels of matter and energy.
This is what the ancient Vaastu Shastra of Indic origin aims at. The recently organized workshop on ‘Vaastu Shastra for Design’ beautifully delved into the holistic Indian way of looking at architecture seamlessly in connection with other disciplines. The 4-day workshop organized jointly by Indic Academy, MIT School of Vedic Sciences (SVS), and Ritambhara in Pune, was attended by a mixed group of professionals and students from the disciplines of architecture, finance, engineering, and media.
The common thread that bound them together was their interest in exploring the all-encompassing knowledge from India that spans across myriad human endeavours and gives sustainable solutions to challenges of every era. To all the participants who were curious about this ancient discipline, there were lingering questions such as - Is Vaastu Shastra a science or a belief system? Is it relevant to modern design and architecture? If so, how?
Not only did the workshop successfully address these queries, it also went beyond to establish the linkages- between the physical and spiritual aspects of architecture, as well as those between architecture and other walks of life. It explored the science, technology, and application of India’s systematic approach to space, architecture, and design, in the modern context.
It provided in-depth overview of Indic science and technology of making vibrant and healthy spaces. Smt. Shashikala Ananth, an architect trained under the famous Ganapati Sthapati – a renowned Vaastu practitioner – was the expert tutor who took the participants on an interesting journey through India’s invigorating spaces.
Till the 16th century, the entire built environment, sculptures and craftware were made by artisans and craft communities, under guidance of the deity - Vishvakarma. Vaastu Shilpa Shastra is one of the oldest design systems in the world. The great cities of Ayodhya, Mohenjo-Daro and Lanka were designed on its principles.
This knowledge was available in sixty-four Sanskrit texts of which thirty-two still survive, apart from scores of texts in other Indian languages, which bring in the much needed regional angle. Architecture has also been dealt with in treatises such as Skanda Purana, Mahabharata, Atharva Veda, Vaastu Sutra Upanishad, Buddhist Brahmanas, and Surya Siddhanta. This timeless knowledge of architecture and sculpture is capable of contemporary application in the following aspects.
- Site selection
- Understanding wind, rain, and thermal patterns
- Ratios and proportion
- Functionality and aesthetics
- Inner delight of the designer, and the user and his wellness
- Harmonizing with unseen energies and natural systems
- Cosmology and beneficial measures
Along with the above aspects, the workshop also covered the following concepts that went beyond the typical architecture curriculum.
- Principles, philosophies and manifestation: Individual element (Vastu) and the space it occupies (Vaastu) – Impact and relationship between the built space and the occupant
- The theory of design - Understanding materials
- Benefits that accrue from the application of Ayadi or sacred measures
- Responsibility and qualifications of the designer
- Creating a community using the interactive nature of space and form
- Design as an inclusive process, where the user can be a part of the solution
Day-1 – Indic Thought and Vaastu
The first day started off with the Upanishadic prayer that highlights the fact that every living being is a part of the cosmic consciousness, both of which are complete in every aspect, which only needs to be realized by all. That which is the smallest and that which is the largest are actually consonant with each other and a part of the inter-connected universe.
The discussion commenced with acknowledgement of the reality, that after centuries of subjugation by invaders, a large part of India’s knowledge wealth has been lost; but we are lucky to still have retained a significant part, as well as some people who can still interpret it. Stressing upon the importance of drawing from this eternal wisdom, Smt. Sashikala expressed belief in the thought that the only way India can move forward is to go back.
The first day essentially dwelt upon Indian traditional knowledge in general, and the concepts of Vaastu and space in particular. Traditional knowledge of India opens up all the senses and is seamless across disciplines. With spiritual practices (Sadhana), a different intelligence awakens inside a person, which helps one to flower in every endeavor, a phenomenon that can greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of any professional, including architects.
Quietening the mind and being in balance, thus enables one to get over the cynical voices that keep erupting inside, thereby facilitating superior professional work. Exercises comprising meditation and ‘feeling the space around’ were conducted to experience a bit of it, firsthand. Such practices provide gains at the level of the society and the nation, going much beyond personal benefits.
(Smt. Sashikala Explaining Nuances of Vaastu)
Indian tradition defines professionalism as acting with Dharma (in tune with the eternal cosmic principles), offering services with empathy and reconnecting people to their natural systems. Understanding of the larger picture is considered important. Learning is also looked at holistically wherein one part comes from the teacher, one from fellow students, one from the environment, and one from experience.
Vaastu Shastra covers design for categories such as Yana (vehicles), Shayana (furniture), Shilpam (sculpture), Gruha (residential buildings), Devalaya (temples), and Nagara/Grama Nirmana (town/village planning). It puts a lot of emphasis on being in consonance with nature, climate and the energies prevailing in a bounded space such as a house or a plot.
The study of intangible aspects of space is an important feature of Indian architecture. It advocates proper understanding and management of energy patterns, while also creating a protective spiritual layer (Kawach), to positively change the nature of the space. Regular practice of the dos and don’ts of Ashtang Yoga, known as Yama and Niyama, as well as one’s own Sadhana can help in this. Similar thoughts prevail among other native cultures, such as the Space Ceremony practiced by Australian aboriginals.
Matter and Energy
The design of a home should essentially look into the aspects related to matter and energy, and should be suitable to the needs and well-being of the end users. It should also enable the occupants to tide over both, the good and the bad patches in one’s life with relative ease. Smt. Sashikala cited the example of Harihara and Bukkaraya – the founders of Vijaynagar empire – who had chosen the site of their capital city after witnessing a strange episode of a rabbit chasing their horses in the forest, which indicated them about powerful unseen energies at the place.
Health, offspring, prosperity, and spiritual uplifting are all considered important under this science. This is expected to be achieved if the building enables Bhogadyam, Sukhadarshanam and Ramya, which translates into utility, aesthetics and joyfulness respectively. A ‘copy-paste approach’ is not expected; but individualized solutions giving wellness are.
Following are some points to ponder. Nevertheless, it should be noted that these are guidelines for the ideal physical and spiritual aspects of a building, and should not be inferred rigidly or out of context. It is necessary to blend modernity with tradition in a judicious manner.
- Use of natural light and heat from the Sun is an integral part, just like natural breeze.
- Verandahs play an important role in this context.
- The overall length, width, and height of a building should also be in proportion, which is not adhered to in most high-rises of today.
- Holy Basil (Tulsi) is considered to be the representative of Mother Earth; and has immense medicinal properties too. It is generally planted in the central courtyard or in the backyard.
- The garden around the house is considered to be the inspiring area.
- The main door and the threshold are considered to be the Prana energy and hence important in managing the energies in the house. Traditionally it was changed in the fourth generation as the Karmas get cleared out in three generations.
- Pillars centrally located in the house are not recommended in order to prevent blocking the flow of energies.
- The presence or absence of busy streets adjoining the house also has an impact on the energies.
Vaastu Shastra practitioners today seem to have lost its original essence and too much emphasis is put on rigid dos and don’ts regarding directions and placement of rooms, without taking into consideration the practicalities. Smt. Sashikala pointed out that when people say that their house has some ‘problems’, it is actually their thinking that needs to change; since buildings are inanimate objects that are low on the energy plane, and without any intent of harm.
It is those who live in the house that create energies that are absorbed by the building, and get reflected back at the occupants. Thus, pure balanced thoughts and traditional scientific rituals can help in enhancing positive energies around. For this purpose, the trio of Yantra (object), Mantra (spoken word), and Tantra (process) are used.
Day-2 – Vaastu Purusha and Beyond
Continuing the tone of merging the study of matter and energy, while designing buildings, the second day started off with a discussion on ways and means to tap into positive energy. Smt. Sashikala explained that Tantra has been highly misinterpreted and misused over the centuries, which in reality is a different way to connecting with the divine through the Bhakti route.
In a more day-to-day setting, she emphasized the importance of chanting 'Om' daily. Shubha Muhurta is when the Earth and other planets are in a favourable position; and not adhering to it does not mean an impending disaster; but a mere inability to tap into the additional benefits that could have accrued from the powerful energies. Energy that is latent is called the Purusha and once it gets into motion it is called Pakriti.
(Workshop in Progress)
The Vaastu Purusha Mandala or design, depicting the various energies located in various directions of the building or plot, has been used in India for structures as well as for village and town planning. There is an energy – Chara Vaastu or mobile energy, and Sthira Vaastu or fixed energy - contained within the boundaries of a defined place, which can be favourably utilized.
An importance aspect is to harmonize with elements such as the surrounding buildings, terrain, directions, water table, soil fertility, climatic patterns and the six seasons (in context of India), while understanding natural rhythms. In line with the Indic principles, it seeks to utilize knowledge and not merely information.
The centre of a defined space is called Brahmapada, which is the most potent and was used to locate a temple and an open gathering place during town planning. Government buildings with less permanent occupancy were constructed in the zone surrounding the Brahmapada, while buildings with dense occupancy such as residential structures were housed beyond that, facing the temple. The outermost zone was kept for business establishments, beyond which satellite towns were created as per the need.
Triangles and squares are said to encourage Sattvika energy, hexagons create Rajasika energy, while circles are generally said to generate Tamasika energy, if continuously inhabited for long periods of the day. The placement of various Murtis in the temple is also based on similar spiritual considerations depending upon the deity depicted by a particular form.
While planning houses and towns, the topography of the region, slopes and natural drainage of water should also be considered. Interestingly, bricks (mostly of the same size) have been in use since the earliest times of urbanization in the Sindhu-Saraswati river basin;s and they were much like the bricks used today.
The participants had started enjoying this enriching workshop from the first day itself. Vijay Nishtala, a software professional from Bengaluru, was greatly impressed by the way in which Smt. Sashikala imparted knowledge, not only about architecture; but also the holistic Indian way of life.
He added, “This is the right way to teach Indic thought without compartmentalizing disciplines. The mode of teaching clearly points out to the Sattvika lifestyle of the Guru, developed over the years. We have become skeptics of our own knowledge and workshops such as this help in changing that perception. Moreover, we have realized that Vaastu is a part of the larger environment.”
Sanchara Devadoss, a student of architecture from Madurai, said, “I am very pleased with the way in which the workshop is being conducted, with so much learning. The teacher as well as the participants are open to new ideas and it is so different than a typical lecture format. The concepts being shared are eye-opening. Links to other disciplines such as Yoga and Ayurveda are very useful.”
Energy & Design: Structures and Sculptures
The later part of the day focused on design in consonance with the surrounding space and energies, for buildings as well as sculptures, with appropriate interventions or the lack of it. For instance, Smt. Sashikala emphasized on the importance of retaining the original design of a house built on scientific Vaastu concepts. This avoids the breakage of energies, which can happen with too many modifications.
The immediate physical surroundings also matter a lot. Trees are an integral part of any landscape. It is inappropriate to cut trees because of misunderstandings about the physical and spiritual concepts. A tree standing 12.5 feet away is generally safe to the physical existence of the building. If it is closer, rather than cutting it, some roots on the nearer side can be trimmed and a retaining wall can be constructed.
On the energy plane, chanting of relevant Mantras and worship with scientifically proven accessories, can create harmony. Bahiranga (outer) Sadhana with flowers and other offerings and Antaranga Sadhana (inner) with the offering of the mind, are the two ways of doing it. The presence of elements such as fire and water in the house aids the process. Early morning and evening are the periods considered conducive for such Sadhana. An exercise on the use of a pendulum to detect energies in a place was also done by the participants.
Just as in case of structures, this discipline also deals with the scientific design of sculptures. Different measurements or Talas are used for different sculptures depending upon the status of evolution of the being that is being sculpted. The smallest Murtis are of the lesser evolved beings such as tortoise and fish, depicted by the first two Avataras of Vishnu.
The sculptures of celestial beings such as Kinnaras are slightly larger, while those of other dwarf creatures are in the fourth category. Bigger still are the Murtis of Ganpati and Vamana. Balakrishna and Balamurugan are sculpted bigger than that, while the Murtis of Rishis are even bigger.
The next level is that of other Devatas and then the divine beings such as Buddha and Mahavira. The biggest ones are those of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesha, and Skanda. A very detailed set of proportions is also used in sculpting temples, including the Vimanam and Gopuram. An insightful movie depicting the works of Ganapati Sthapati was screened in the fag end of the day, which enlightened the participants about the science of sculpture in India.
Day-3 & 4 - Cosmology
The universal forces operating on the Earth in the form of various energies are also important. The various directions bring various such energies, that affect all beings in different manner. However, before interpreting this part, the speaker gave a word of caution that everything can be seen in either a positive or negative spirit. No direction is bad per say, and adherence to these guidelines is only for getting the additional benefits that can be derived from different directions.
Moreover, a different set of rules would apply in the southern hemisphere; and location-specific considerations also need to be looked into. An exercise where half the participants were blindfolded and the other half guided them across the corridors of the building, was carried out to enable the participants to attempt to connect with surroundings and energies with other senses.
(Smt. Sashikala Explaining the Directions)
As mentioned earlier, even in context of an individual house, Brahmasthana is the most potent energy centre. The earth element is said to be present in the centre, water in the north east, fire in the south east, space in the south west, and air in the north west. The workshop also discussed the benefits associated with various directions, which are however indicative in nature; and should be interpreted in the proper context, and not with the intention to scare or mislead people. The details are as follows.
- North east is the direction of the deity Ishana and provides nurturance. Pooja room can be located here.
- East belongs to Aditya and denotes life energy. Doors and windows on the east, as the default option, enable the morning sunlight to enter the house.
- South east belongs to Agni and denotes spiritual energy. Cooking and spiritual work can be done here.
- South is the direction of death and rebirth. It denotes spiritual growth and Dharma (that which upholds) and Yogis prefer to face this direction.
- South west belongs to Pitru, which denotes space. It is the direction of ancestral connections; and the owner of the house should sleep here, as well as the Murti of Kuladevata is placed here.
- West is the direction of Varuna, who is the lord of the oceans. It denotes financial and physical growth, as well as mystic energies.
- North west is Vayu or wind, and denotes intellectual growth and creativity. Study room can be located here.
- North is Kubera, the lord of wealth and health, which denotes prosperity.
Commenting on the takeaways of the workshop, Abhijit Phadnis, a finance professional from Thane, said, “Vedic tradition is holistic and integral in nature. The course content, while remaining focused on Vaastu Shilpa Shastra, also indicates its interactions with other dimensions such as Yoga, music and Ayurveda. My objective of attending this workshop was to get an overview of the traditional knowledge as rooted in real traditions. The same has been very well served, while also opening my mind to the multiple dimensions mentioned earlier.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Tanveer Singh Sandhu, an architect from Delhi, said, “What the speaker said has greatly appealed to my mind. Every word said is like a poem and carries deep meaning. The topics discussed have the potential to provide direction for people to follow. Many areas that have innate connections with architecture have also been beautifully covered, rather than following a narrow outlook as happens in many course contents.”
This is a linear measure for a built form, that is appropriate for an occupant, based on his birth chart. The final step to complete the design of a space, after having fulfilled all the other aspects, is to customize the measurement using Ayadi Shadvarga. Ayadi basically means the various benefits that can be accrued from outside. This includes 12 aspects such as Yoga, Bhoga, Samprapti, Virya and Dhanyam. Other important areas associated with Ayadi are Nakshatra, Ayam, Vyayam, Yoni, Amsam and Varam. The calculation is done in the following manner.
- Ayadi Nakshatra: Number x 8/27
- Aya: Number x 8/12
- Vyayama: Number x 9/10
- Yoni: Number x 3/8
- Amsham: Number x 4/9
- Varam: Number x 9/7
Commenting on the utility of such techniques and calculations, Kalapi Buch, an architect practicing in Bharuch, said, “Knowledge is not just of utility; but is also liberating in nature and leads one to infinity. The best thing about the workshop was being in the presence of the right Guru. It was also an eye-opener and helped in busting many myths prevailing in the minds of the participants.”
The candid feedback of two architecture students from Pune – Saloni Gajabi and Apurva Zope – sums up the practical utility of events such as these for young generation. They categorically mentioned that the workshop taught them to observe and connect better, and look beyond architecture at the world as a whole and at energies and matter at the same time. They also realized that a person is capable of creating his own energies that can positively influence his life, his dwelling and the world around him.
In a nutshell, the workshop was a great combination of knowledge about matter and energy, about architecture and various directly and indirectly related disciplines such as Ayurveda, Yoga, music, art and spiritual pursuits, about looking at the world in holistic manner and not as water-tight compartments as is often taught in modern educational systems, and most importantly it was about application of timeless principles in contemporary daily life, in a way that suits the person and the location.
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