The Oxford Dictionary describes ‘superstition’ as “a practice or belief based on the irrational fear of the unknown; or the belief of a supernatural”. Today, in the world of Indian architecture, adhering to Vaastu principles is considered a superstition. A client expecting a Vaastu-based residence or structure is considered a petulant customer who doesn’t value the architect’s style.
What Indian architects fail to understand is that Vaastu Shilpa Shastra, as the text is originally called, is merely a set of rules that the ancient architects and builders followed that help to keep man better connected with his building. The text essentially deals with the correct placement of man `with respect to his environment to achieve harmony with nature.’ It is also based on the influences of the five natural elements – air, water, sun, sky and earth.
Sure, these text were practiced like a religion, especially among South Indians; sure, it was thought to bring prosperity and good health; sure, it uses phrases like cosmic influence, attaining total connection with the environment, and many more from astrology; but has anyone actually considered reading through it before casting it away?
The history behind the word itself, its meaning and significance could make for a whole chapter. ‘Vaastu’ means everything that is inclusive from the environment, ‘Shilpa’ is the art of creation and ‘Shastra’ denotes the knowledge bank. The Vaastu principles commonly known today were formulated by an architect and town planner, who belonged to an era somewhere between 10,000 – 5000 B.C., called Mayan.
This ideology originated for the purpose of temple construction. It was believed that to attain maximum positive energy, these principles had to be followed. On reading the scriptures, it is evident that they adhere to those principles commonly taught in colleges and expected from professionals. For, it is nothing but the climate that forms the basic idea. Smita Gupta from Arizona State University even went on to name it as ‘The Ancient Indian, Bioclimatically Responsive Science of Building.’
The cardinal directions for each plot represent some source of energy and these scriptures have mentioned what space should go where based on these cardinal directions only. The North is the Lord of Wealth, South the Lord of Death, East the Lord of Light, and West the Lord of Winds. The centre of the plot represents the Lord of the Cosmos. Following this, it is apparent that living spaces would occupy the North and the East, working spaces occupy the east and west and serviced areas should be aligned to the South.
The deities of the nine houses
Now, everyone knows that the Sun, which is considered the source of all energy, travels from the East to the West as far as the earth is considered. In fact, it tilts itself towards the South while travelling. Thus the light coming from the North is diffused and can be called indirect, unaccompanied by heat. So, maximum heat comes from the South and the West (the setting Sun). According to this information, the spaces should be designed as suggested by Vaastu Shilpa Shastra.
Placement of spaces according to Vaastu principles
This is just the beginning. There is much more truth and logic to the text than what meets the eyes. It gives information about ventilation, light, sanitation, working spaces, entrances and much more which also seem reasonable.
It is necessary that we give more importance to such an ancient text than just discard it as superstition or religion. It may be necessary that for once we refrain from becoming atheists and jettison personal egos, visual aesthetics and social acceptance, for which we architects are famed for. These maybe needed at some level but it is much more crucial to design better spaces for ourselves and Mother Nature.