“What is a Culture?” Dance, music, clothing, food, all these are the most obvious and tangible bookmarks in our books of evolution, anchoring us to a certain place and time in History. What happens when we as a people allow these bookmarks to fly off in the winds that blow from afar? When the anchor chains snap and we are adrift in what we see as the world where only change does not change?
We look for other points of reference within the constraints of the state of flux to anchor ourselves to, in order to assure us that we still imbibe those qualities for which our civilisation stood for thousands of years. It is an attempt to find that identity that we feel we have lost. In this regard, unlike most of the west, where history is measured in centuries, we are between the horns of a dilemma.
What is Vastu Shastra?
Our history is not a simple linear progression from discovery to the present day but is a civilisation that has evolved for thousands of years and is a complex web of influences and practices that are truly global. Then what exactly do we call Indian? The Vedic period is the period of Indian evolution of which we can boast of as being the most advanced in the world at that time, in philosophy, mathematics, science and theology.
Those points of reference present themselves to us as adaptations of practices and if I may call them, cultural nuances, from the past in a manner that they may be inserted into a thoroughly chaotic and accidental lifestyle, albeit in a suitably palatable manner. So much so that the west finds India in particular, and the East in general as a sort of spiritual dustbin.
The science of Vastushastra and its sudden emergence as an architectural movement in recent times is one such tangible proof of our search for Indianness. Vastushastra, in Vedic times, was not a part of the architecture. It was Architecture! Vastushastra in Sanskrit means architecture, not a piecemeal adaptation or a fashion statement. True Vastushastra takes into account materials, context, climate, orientation, the then prevalent sociocultural fabric, and it all has a sound scientific basis. Vastushastra has been called an art, but it is first a science and only after that does its aesthetics come to the fore.
Origin of Vastu Shastra
To explore the science, let us travel thousands of years ago. Yes, to an age before cell phones and the World Wide Web! The typical Vedic village was an organic development that was governed by constraints of a rigid class structure, a well-defined administrative and financial hierarchy, and a vast pantheon of Gods that influenced all aspects of life.
The typical Vedic settlement was a construction in stone, wood and mud and the lives of the inhabitants revolved around the natural cycles of day and night, of summer and winter, of the cycles of the moon. Any ancient settlement took place due to three principal reasons, which to a large extent remain unchanged to the present day.
1. Fertile arable land in close proximity to a water body.
2. The intersection of land and/or water trade routes.
3. An area of strategic military importance.
The Brahmins were a very powerful class in Vedic society, as was the church in medieval Europe. Perhaps this is why all of the Vastushastra has an intensely religious overtone. Vastushastra is a detailed science that deals with the evolution of the human as an integral module within the cosmos, who is emotionally and physically one with his natural habitat. Vastushastra in this day and age should be looked upon as a shortcut for the user of a built form to have health, wealth, fame, glory, stability, but as a tool to build a sustainable environment that is closer to nature, where he can repair the ills of his existence from the roots, himself.
The debate rages on about the merits and relevance of this science in contemporary architectural design. Outright conclusions are practically impossible to draw, but a few points need to be kept in mind while applying Vastushastra or buying a property that is “Vastu-Compliant.”
1. The contemporary architecture uses materials and techniques very different from those used a few millennia ago.
2. Our social fabric has changed.
3. We tend to look for our roots to assert our cultural identity without really knowing how.
4. Vastushastra is a science based on logical deduction and reasoning as much as Nuclear Physics.
But the interpretations of this science are many, and the propounding gurus of Vastushastra interpret it according to the laws of supply and demand. There are only a very few truly knowledgeable consultants who are actually able to suggest holistic design solutions according to Vastushastra. For example, changing the position of a column in a multistoried commercial building is not the same as repositioning a stone column in a but to improve the cross ventilation.
This article does not encapsulate Vastushastra. Nor is it a Vastushastra ready reckoner. It has merely attempted to put this oft-misunderstood concept in the right perspective. After reading it one should be able to try and self-evaluate the inherent beauty of the perhaps most artistic and subtle of all building sciences. Also, Vastushastra is an important part of Indian architecture.