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Assignment 4: Architectural History Commentary

Vastu Shastra in Present Day Modernism

EVDA 523.01: Premodern Traditions of the World


Name: Sumer Matharu
Student ID: 10047835
Date: 24 November 2015

I was born in New Delhi, India, and I came to Canada at the age of 17 to attend
University. It has been 13 years since, and now I am back in University following my
passion design.
Naturally, before I undertake any design related task, I look within before
searching for precedents. A large part of this is searching for answers from my ancestry,
heritage and culture. When I developed an interest in Architecture, I looked to my
heritage for answers and found Vastu Shastra, the science of Architecture from ancient
India.
One thing my parents always taught me was to never mock other peoples
beliefs even if I dont believe in them. This gave me an open mind to literature from the
past and I researched on the topic of Vastu without any inhibitions. To my surprise, I
found that many well-known and famous architects in history had applied the science of
Vastu, namely Le Corbusier in his design of the city of Chandigarh in India. His idea was
to use Vastu as a form of adopting a local culture, but it turned out that he ended up
using it for the entire city. Whether it be for superstitious reasons, or whether it be an
experiment, it worked for Le Corbusier in many aspects publicity, marketing, design
success and a positive result. For example, the Vastu specialist Harish Saini comments:
Yes, Chandigarh is bound to flourish. An analysis as per the Vastu Shastra
(manasara shilpa Shastra), reveals that in planning Chandigarh, due consideration
seems to have been given to the various factors elucidated in the shastras in
accordance with which Hindu architectural development has taken place. The
philosophy of Vastu Shastra an ancient science based on time-tested scriptures and
guidelines, works on the principle that correct placement of various activities in the right

direction and in the suitable zones/padas under the influence of respective planets, is
bound to bring happiness, prosperity and peace of mind. The philosophy applies to any
kind of architectural development.1
Vastu Vidya or the ancient Indian knowledge of architecture is as old as the Vedas that
belong to the period 1500-1000BC. 2 One of the questions that comes to mind is why it is
not practiced today. On doing some searching I found that Vastu has always been
around, among many other ancient practices such as palmistry, ayurvedic medicine,
astronomy through meditation, yoga, etc. Some of these topics of study have lost
credibility over the centuries. It has a lot to do with Colonialism.
Growing up in India I saw how everyone, including myself, was drawn to anything
that came from Western Media. As soon as we would hear that something is made in
England, or USA or Germany, it would have our attention. Staring at foreigners with
white skin colour was norm. Speaking to one was exciting and parents would often dare
their children to go and say hi, how do you do? to a foreigner in a restaurant.
Architecture and design was not detached from this sub-culture India has become. We
longed for the art and design that we saw in Western Media. We wanted to mimic or
emulate what was made in L.A. and did not care much for what was made in India.
Whether the grass is greener on the other side or whether we were taught to despise
our own culture, it did no good in fostering belief in the any ancient sciences our
ancestors worked hard to discover and document. Come to think of it, if you make
1 Saini, Harish, Vaastu Ordains a Full Flowering for Chandigarh, The Tribune:
Saturday Plus, Chandigarh, February 24, 1996
2 Chakrabarti, Vibhuti, Indian Architectural Theory and Practice, Contemporary Uses
of Vastu Vidya, 1998

people from a culture come to make fun of or ridicule their own culture, it will eventually
lead to the downfall or inevitable decline of the same.
As a child in India, I attended the standard system of education in New Delhi as
regulated by the Government. Although we were made to remember the names of all
the ancient practices and texts, we were never taught to take them seriously. In fact, we
would be told what they were, and then get moved on to learning more serious topics
of study such as world wars, dates of battles, Indian revolutionary uprisings before the
partition of India between present day India and Pakistan, etc. Looking back, I almost
despise the fact that as young children and students we were steered away from the
very culture and history we belonged to. For example, we were never taught in India
that the Kohinoor diamond belonged to the last Prince of Punjab before he was taken
hostage by the British as a teenager, taken to England, converted to Christianity, and
never allowed to see his mother or his homeland again. We were never taught in India
that the last standing kingdom in India was the kingdom of Punjab. We were never
taught in India that the division of the country into present day India and Pakistan was a
strategic move by the British to weaken the newly independent nation and to keep it
busy at quarrelling for the centuries to come. Although the study of Vastu forms a small
part of this frustration, it is nevertheless relevant to me now where I am studying
modern and contemporary architecture, and we look at Vastu as an object or myth of
the past. We are made to believe that it is irrelevant and unnecessary. It is evident by
the fact that we no longer study it even in Universities in India.
The reason why I brought up the topic of Vastu in our EVDA 523 class during the
lecture on Indian civilizations was completely out of the fact that it is a science, however

forgotten, that we need to be aware of as architects. Yes, I am biased because it comes


from my heritage. At the same time, I see architecture as becoming more and more
international with nationalities and cultural aesthetics being exchanged in the form of
structures around the world. Keeping this in mind, it is beneficial to us as students to
know the origin of architecture no matter what part of the world it comes from.
In reading more about Vastu, I was most intrigued by how the house, dwelling or
city would be personified by the Vastu Purusha. From my reading, Here the Vastu
Purusha Mandala is perceived as a pattern of squares in which the central squares are
ruled by Brahma. These central squares form the courtyard around which are built the
rooms opening inwards, inhaling cooled air. 3 Also, Apart from working as a lung for the
house, the courtyard is a semi-private open space that is used extensively for various
household activities. This control is dictated by the Vastu Purusha Mandala. 4 If one
observes an example of this Vastu Purusha, it is seen as a man in a yogi style posture
confined within the boundaries of the home. See Figure 1 as an example. Without
getting into the technicalities of the image, the land which is divided into grids, which are
further designated as different spaces is part of a reasoning that can be tied into simple
meanings. For example, the lungs can be designated as the central open courtyard that
lets the air in and permits the structure to breathe. There is a reasoning, and a science
behind this and just a small snippet is intriguing. There is no chance that in modern

3 Chakrabarti, Vibhuti, Indian Architectural Theory and Practice, Contemporary Uses


of Vastu Vidya, 1998
4 Chakrabarti, Vibhuti, Indian Architectural Theory and Practice, Contemporary Uses
of Vastu Vidya, 1998

architectural study we would be taught to see things this way. It is almost poetic,
scientific, and logical all at the same time.

Figure 1 - Vastu Purusha Mandala of 91 squares

Life and occurences within are cyclical in nature. There was an age of grandeur
for the Architects that practiced Vastu. The Ajanta and Ellora caves are an everlasting
example of the skill and ambition of those that practiced the ancient art in its glory days.
Then like the sands of time, it faded away and was replaced by more Western schools
of through. But Vastu is now making a comeback in the form of modernism, namely in in
a superstitious country like India. Those rare architects that practice it are seen as
mythical sages who dare to mix the ancient with the new. A prime example is the
architectural firm in called Studio Mumbai. Run by American trained architect Bijoy Jain,
the studio aims to blend modern and old, mason and engineer, architect and artist.

Figure 2 shows an inner courtyard that seems to blend the contemporary, zen and vastu
aesthetics. Figure 3 shows a term described by Jain as the bellybutton of the house 5
To pay for a house designed by Studio Mumbai is to purchase a Rolls Royce over a
Suzuki. Meaning, it comes with a hefty price tag. If this is how Vastu is to make a
comeback, then so be it.

Figure 2 - Inner Courtyard by Studio Mumbai

5 http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/sep/10/bijoy-jain-studiomumbai-architecture-design-local-nature

Figure 3 - The belly button of the Tara House, designed by Studio Mumbai, is a stone-lined chamber built around a
tidally influenced pool, with rings of light from air holes to the garden above

List of Figures
1. Vastu Purusha Mandala of 91 squares, Page 7, Chakrabarti, Vibhuti, Indian
Architectural Theory and Practice, Contemporary Uses of Vastu Vidya, 1998; Page
6
2. Inner Courtyard by Studio Mumbai,
http://images.adsttc.com/media/images/5017/d3cc/28ba/0d49/f500/09bf/medium_jp
g/stringio.jpg?1414047653; Page 7
3. The belly button of the Tara House, designed by Studio Mumbai, is a stone-lined
chamber built around a tidally influenced pool, with rings of light from air holes to the
garden above, https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sysimages/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2014/9/9/1410302713896/37edd58a-ccae-4c81bec5-fd9203cde3bd-620x372.jpeg?
w=620&q=85&auto=format&sharp=10&s=55e3ec4d9ff10a590f393672b1136639;
Page 7
Bibliography

Saini, Harish, Vaastu Ordains a Full Flowering for Chandigarh, The Tribune:
Saturday Plus, Chandigarh, February 24, 1996
Chakrabarti, Vibhuti, Indian Architectural Theory and Practice, Contemporary
Uses of Vastu Vidya, 1998
http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/sep/10/bijoy-jain-studiomumbai-architecture-design-local-nature
http://www.archdaily.com/225365/copper-house-ii-studio-mumbai