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Vastu shastra

Vastu shastra is a traditional Hindu system of architecture which literally translates to "science of architecture." These are texts found on the Indian subcontinent that describe principles of design, layout, measurements, ground preparation, space arrangement and spatial geometry. Vastu sastras incorporate traditional Hindu and in some cases Buddhist beliefs. The designs are intended to integrate architecture with nature, the relative functions of various parts of the structure, and ancient beliefs utilizing geometric patterns (yantra), symmetry and directional alignments.

Vastu Shastra are the textual part of Vastu Vidya, the latter being the broader knowledge about architecture and design theories from ancient India. Vastu Vidya knowledge is a collection of ideas and concepts, with or without the support of layout diagrams that are not rigid. Rather, they are models for the organization of space and form within a building or collection of buildings, based on their functions in relation to each other, their usage and to the overall fabric of the Vastu. Ancient Vastu Shastra principles include those for the design of Mandir (Hindu temples), and the principles for the design and layout of houses, towns, cities, gardens, roads, water works, shops and other public areas.

The use of Vastu shastra in the modern era has been controversial. Some architects, particularly during India's colonial era, considered it arcane and superstitious. Other architects state that critics have not read the texts and that most of the text is about flexible design guidelines for space, sunlight, flow and function.

Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan and called the pink city, was founded and built in early 1700s incorporating many of the layout principles for a city found in Vastu Shastras. Similarly, modern era projects such as the architect Charles Correa's designed Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya in Ahmedabad, Vidhan Bhavan in Bhopal, and Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur, adapt and apply concepts from the Vastu Shastra Vidya. In the design of Chandigarh city, Le Corbusier incorporated modern architecture theories with those of Vastu Shastra.

Terminology

The Sanskrit word vastu means a dwelling or house with a corresponding plot of land. The vrddhi, v?stu, 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, reside". The term shastra may loosely be translated as "doctrine, teaching".

Vastu-Sastras (literally, science of dwelling) are ancient Sanskrit manuals of architecture. These contain Vastu-Vidya (literally, knowledge of dwelling).

Description

Ancient India produced many Sanskrit manuals of architecture, called Vastu Sastra. Many of these are about Hindu temple layout (above), design and construction, along with chapters on design principles for houses, villages, towns. The architect and artists (Silpins) were given wide latitude to experiment and express their creativity.

There exist many Vastu-Sastras on the art of building houses, temples, towns and cities. One such Vastu Sastra is by Thakkura Pheru, describing where and how temples should be built. By 6th century AD, Sanskrit manuals for constructing palatial temples were in circulation in India. Vastu-Sastra manuals included chapters on home construction, town planning, and how efficient villages, towns and kingdoms integrated temples, water bodies and gardens within them to achieve harmony with nature. While it is unclear, states Barnett, as to whether these temple and town planning texts were theoretical studies and if or when they were properly implemented in practice, the manuals suggest that town planning and Hindu temples were conceived as ideals of art and integral part of Hindu social and spiritual life.

The Silpa Prakasa of Odisha, authored by Ramacandra Bhattaraka Kaulacara sometime in ninth or tenth century CE, is another Vastu Sastra. Silpa Prakasa describes the geometric principles in every aspect of the temple and symbolism such as 16 emotions of human beings carved as 16 types of female figures. These styles were perfected in Hindu temples prevalent in eastern states of India. Other ancient texts found expand these architectural principles, suggesting that different parts of India developed, invented and added their own interpretations. For example, in Saurastra tradition of temple building found in western states of India, the feminine form, expressions and emotions are depicted in 32 types of Nataka-stri compared to 16 types described in Silpa Prakasa. Silpa Prakasa provides brief introduction to 12 types of Hindu temples. Other texts, such as Pancaratra Prasada Prasadhana compiled by Daniel Smith and Silpa Ratnakara compiled by Narmada Sankara provide a more extensive list of Hindu temple types.

Ancient Sanskrit manuals for temple construction discovered in Rajasthan, in northwestern region of India, include Sutradhara Mandana’s Prasadamandana (literally, manual for planning and building a temple) with chapters on town building. Manasara shilpa and Mayamata, texts of South Indian origin, estimated to be in circulation by 5th to 7th century AD, is a guidebook on South Indian Vastu design and construction. Isanasivagurudeva paddhati is another Sanskrit text from the 9th century describing the art of building in India in south and central India. In north India, Brihat-samhita by Var?hamihira is the widely cited ancient Sanskrit manual from 6th century describing the design and construction of Nagara style of Hindu temples.

These ancient Vastu Sastras, often discuss and describe the principles of Hindu temple design, but do not limit themselves to the design of a Hindu temple. They describe the temple as a holistic part of its community, and lay out various principles and a diversity of alternate designs for home, village and city layout along with the temple, gardens, water bodies and nature.

Mandala types and properties

The 8x8 (64) grid Manduka Vastu Purusha Mandala layout for Hindu Temples. It is one of 32 Vastu Purusha Mandala grid patterns described in Vastu sastras. In this grid structure of symmetry, each concentric layer has significance.

The central area in all mandala is the Brahmasthana. Mandala "circle-circumference" or "completion", is a concentric diagram having spiritual and ritual significance in both Hinduism and Buddhism. 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 is the Manduka/ Chandita Mandala of 64 squares and the Paramasaayika Mandala of 81 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.

It is believed that every piece of a land or a building has a soul of its own and that soul is known as Vastu Purusha.

A site of any shape can be divided using the Pada Vinyasa. Sites are known by the number of squares. They range from 1x1 to 32x32 (1024) square sites. Examples of mandalas with the corresponding names of sites include:

  • 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)
  • Paramasaayika (81 squares) corresponds to Nava-pada (nine divided site)
  • Aasana (100 squares) corresponds to Dasa-pada (ten divided site)

Vastu Shastras — Sanskrit treatises on architecture

Of the numerous Sanskrit treatises mentioned in ancient Indian literature, some have been translated in English. Many Agamas, Puranas and Hindu scriptures include chapters on architecture of temples, homes, villages, towns, fortifications, streets, shop layout, public wells, public bathing, public halls, gardens, river fronts among other things. In some cases, the manuscripts are partially lost, some are available only in Tibetan, Nepalese or South Indian languages, while in others original Sanskrit manuscripts are available in different parts of India. Some treatises, or books with chapters on Vaastu Shastra include:

  • Manasara
  • Brhat samhita
  • Mayamata
  • Anka sastra
  • Aparajita Vastu Sastra
  • Maha-agamas (28 books, each with 12 to 75 chapters)
  • Ayadi Lakshana
  • Aramadi Pratishtha Paddhati (includes garden design)
  • Kasyapiya
  • Kupadi Jala Sthana Lakshana
  • Kshetra Nirmana Vidhi (preparation of land and foundation of buildings including temples)
  • Gargya samhita (pillars, doors, windows, wall design and architecture)
  • Griha Pithika (types of houses and their construction)
  • Ghattotsarga Suchanika (riverfront and steps architecture)
  • Chakra sastra
  • Jnana ratna kosha
  • Vastu sarani (measurement, ratio and design layouts of objects, particularly buildings)
  • Devalaya Lakshana (treatise on construction of temples)
  • Dhruvadi shodasa gehani (guidelines for arrangement of buildings with respect to each other for harmony)
  • Nava sastra (36 books, most lost)
  • Agni Purana (Chapters 42 through 55, and 106 - Nagaradi Vastu)
  • Matsya Purana (Chapters 252 through 270)
  • Maya samgraha
  • Prasada kirtana
  • Prasada Lakshana
  • Tachchu sastra (primarily home design for families)
  • Manushyalaya Lakshana (primarily human dwelings)
  • Mantra dipika
  • Mana kathana (measurement principles)
  • Manava vastu lakshana
  • Manasollasa (chapters on house layout, mostly ancient cooking recipes)
  • Raja griha nirmana (architecture and construction principles for royal palaces)
  • Rupa mandana
  • Vastu chakra
  • Vastu tattva
  • Vastu nirnaya
  • Vastu purusha lakshana
  • Vastu prakasa
  • Vastu pradipa
  • Vastu manjari
  • Vastu mandana
  • Vastu lakshana
  • Vastu vichara
  • Vastu vidya
  • Vastu vidhi
  • Vastu samgraha
  • Vastu sarvasva
  • Vimana lakshana (tower design)
  • Visvakarma prakasa (home, roads, water tanks and public works architecture)
  • Vaikhanasa
  • Sastra jaladhi ratna
  • Sipla prakasa
  • Silpakala Dipika
  • Silpartha sastra
  • Sanatkumara vastu sastra