During the last 15 years or so, the so called intellectuals of our society despite being well educated seem to be enamoured of Vastushastra- the ancient Indian ‘science’ of architecture. This ancient Shastra seems to have disappeared for several centuries before it popped up again in the late 80s. The progress of the society was not, however, hampered in any way during this period. On the contrary it is during this period Le., when the Vastushastra had disappeared that science has advanced by leaps and bounds bringing about great progress in the life of individual human beings and societies.
Man has made obvious progress through science without the help of Vastushastra. “Vastushastra” is now being propagated as our great ancestral tradition. It is made out to be scientific in every respect and claims that whoever makes use of it is sure to be successful, healthy, happy and rich’-and is spreading fast in our society. Now this notion that ‘this age old shastra is completely scientific’ ought to be scrutinized. The key principle of science or scientific outlook is that real knowledge is possible only through the perception by sense organs. On this basis, Scientific Method progressed gradually through the processes of observation, investigation, experiment, inference and conclusion. This method gave us the most reliable means of acquiring knowledge.
Since all progress is made possible by this method, it follows that Vastushastra that is claimed to be scientific in all respects, should also be examined like any other scientific fact or construction, applying the criterion of cause-effect relationship. Accepting Vastushastra without such examination is inconsistent and dishonest. It means enjoying all the benefits made possible by science and yet adamantly denying science and scientific outlook.
Accepting or denying Vastushastra is of course a personal matter; but calling it a science is certainly not. Every one has the right to decide whether it really is a science. Today it is not possible for anyone to deny science, its benefits or its reliability. Being scientific is impressive and prestigious. That is why all these laborious attempts to present Vastushastra as a science.
Just applying the law of cause and effect to this Shastra of antiquity will not be appropriate. What we need to do is to take into account the conditions in which it was conceived and initiated, viz., the social environment, the every day dealings and practices of the people and their means of livelihood. It would be instructive to apply scientific criteria to this Shastra keeping its antiquity in mind and then to study how it developed.
From the very beginning man has sensed the need for shelter. Not just man, even animals, birds, ants and insects need shelter. Birds build nests; animals choose caves for refuge; ants live in anthills; every creature chooses or builds a shelter according to its needs and as per the dictates of its instinctive and inbuilt natural mechanism which does not change much for ages. Man being a thinking animal however kept on making changes in his shelter in accordance with his changing needs. The process of improvement in shelters commenced with the shelter building itself. Vastushastra-science of shelter building- is not a solely Indian phenomenon; but an interesting story about how the first Vastu materialized on the earth as told in the Samarangana Sootra-an ancient tome on this Shastra surely is purely an Indian phenomenon.
According to this story all human beings once went to the heaven. They had a lot of fun with the trees and even the deities there. The fun loving humans got intoxicated with this experience.
So the gods in the heaven pushed them back to the earth. But the clever human beings brought a tree called Shali- Tandul with them and planted it. This tree gave such a lot of fruit that the human beings consumed and collected an enormous stock of it. But this caused an outbreak of cupidity, rage, pride, malice and laziness (the six enemies of the human soul) among them. So all the fruit got pulverized and everybody became weak and needed protection. They then made a shelter for themselves from the branches of the same Shali tree that they brought from the heaven. This was the first house on this earth-the origin of Vastu Shastra!
Fortunately, however the human race did not stop at this Shali tree stolen from the heaven. Continuous progress in shelter building occurred universally and it proceeded in accordance with the needs of the various regions, their different climates, cultures, natural calamities they had to face and such other factors. What we need to keep in mind with reference to India’s Vastushastra, is the reality of the Aryan invasion and destruction of the native Sindhu culture. Many an advanced culture has been destroyed by an aggressive boorish people in this manner while only a few survived.
Vastushastra, it is said, is a ‘science of nature’. And it is not surprising, as all sciences develop as man deliberates on natural events, good or bad that affect human life and hence are related to it. Vastushastra gives the utmost importance to the five natural elements, viz., earth, sky, wind, fire and water. But it cannot be accepted as scientific unless it stands the tests of scientific criteria.
But before verifying whether it is a proper science it is necessary to consider the period when it originated and the effects of the events that occurred then. As per the advocates of this shastra, it originated during the Vedic period as a few references of it can be found in the Rig- Veda. The original Indus valley inhabitants had well constructed houses and buildings before the Aryan invasion. To dominate over these inhabitants and to establish their own rule the Aryans had to resort to many tactics. Vastushastra is one of them. Its foundation is the Yadnya tradition. The Shastra was developed in the process of building the Yadnya Vedi- the structure built to contain the fire sacrifice. As the Yadnya Institution expanded, it reinforced the Chaturvarnya system and in this process, construction of dwellings became a religious undertaking. This was then associated with awesome mysterious powers that had to be appeased through religious rituals. These powers were named as Gana, Guru, Sthapati, Agastya, Purush, etc. A few other concepts like Vastupurush Mandal and Vastoshpati were established. A number of other concepts like auspicious-inauspicious, ancestors, Vastupurush, Brahma, Ishwar, Swarga, Moksha, Atma, etc. were spawned by this shastra.
Very well planned cities existed in the Indus valley prior to the Vedic period as has been proved by several excavations in this region. The period when Vastushastra was invented, the social structure of Chaturvarnya engendered by it and the present caste system based on it leads one to infer that Vastushastra was one of the devises that was used to firmly entrench the system of Chaturvarnya in society.
The advocates of Vastushastra quote a few Sanskrit Shlokas by the Sage Bhrigu and maintain that excellent science of architecture (Vastushastra), broad well constructed roads, airplanes, and huge edifices existed during the Vedic Period. One researcher-writer once asked a very pertinent question in this connection. It is difficult to refrain from quoting it. He asks these staunch advocates, ‘you claim that we did have in the past airplanes and sophisticated weapons. Our Vedas had already discovered and invented all possible knowledge and technology. All the western discoveries and inventions are derived from Vedic wisdom. Granted, my friends; but did they invent a bicycle at that time?’ The most important doubt that arises here is ‘how is it that the excavations undertaken at places like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Dholveera etc provide ample evidence of the advanced civilization that existed in the pre- Vedic period; while there is no evidence whatsoever of any scientific or technological advances made by Vedic Civilization after the pre- Vedic period?’
Attempts are made to fit this ancient Vastushastra into a scientific frame relating phenomena like wind-direction, solar energy, gravity, etc., to the eight directions considered quite important to it. This relationship is then used to decide whether things and acts are auspicious or inauspicious; whether they will bring riches and happiness or ruin and worry and whether they will lead to success or failure. In reality, however, no scientific
conclusions are in any way related to these concepts of auspiciousness or success and failure. Since all the above concepts are related to even more incomprehensible concepts like God, Heaven and Hell, Liberation, etc., things are readily accepted forgoing scientific criteria completely.
This mentality loses all sense of proportion and objectivity when it comes to admiring our ancient culture. A number of branches of science, like Ayurved, Arithmetic, Metallurgy, Charaksamhita (a book on medicine), Sushruta Samhita (a book mainly on surgery), including Vastushastra were advanced in the ancient past. Those of them that stopped evolving became obsolete. But a few like Ayurveda not only survived for ages but are still making progress. Continuous research is being carried on in it. Vastushastra however was not even heard of till about 20 years back. The reason is not difficult to find. With the passage of time, people must have realized that the principles of Vastushastra are in no way scientific. The old shastra became obsolete and its advocates had to reinvent it within a ‘Modem Scientific’ framework.
As mentioned earlier the influences of all directions are of immense importance in building houses according to Vastushastra. They help to assess the effect of climate and to utilize it appropriately. But modem Vastushastra that we are analysing seems to focus less on practical utility and more towards scare-mongering with its obscure concepts and prediction of terrible consequences if its prescriptions are not followed. On examining the original Vastushastra, the Mayamat, for example, the reader will agree with us. The Mayamata does not even mention earth’s magnetic field or the power of the magnetic field to control anybody’s future or progress. It only mildly cautions us about the ill effects of not observing the principles of Vastushastra in general. The present Vastushastra, on the contrary, sternly warns us of terrible consequences like death of sons, penury and total destruction that would follow if the shastra is not adhered to. While they claim that the present shastra is age old and was developed by our wise ancestors, they conveniently conceal the fact that the original Mayamata, maintains that the various directions affect different Varnas in a different fashion. Science cares little about caste or Varna of a person. And attributing different objective outcomes based on “Varnas” can hardly qualify Vastushastra as “scientific”. Another ritual mandated by the Vastushastra was worshiping the deity ‘Bhringaraj’ and offering human sacrifice to the Rudra before commencing the building of a house. No mention is found of this in the modem versions dished out as Vastushastra.
To pass the tests of science the various Vastushastras-the Mayamat from the South and the Vishvakarma Prakash from the North to quote just two -should see eye to eye at least on basic principles. Regrettably there is no such agreement in any of the ancient tomes on Vastushastra. They all differ in several important respects-effects of direction, the places that various Gods and Goddesses occupy etc. Science does not permit any prejudice or favouritism with respect to caste, religion, country or region.
Yet we cannot fail to notice the natural human tendency of observation, formulating hypothesis on the basis of those observations and relating them to the prevailing conditions, making necessary changes as and when required and thus trying to perfect the shastra gradually in the books of the old Vastushastra.
For example, the Mayamat was formulated in the southern part of India in the present state of Kerala. This part is hemmed in by the sea to South and West. The writer of Mayamat naturally concluded that progress is possible only on the remaining two directions, North and East. On the contrary, Vishvakarma of the North India visualized obstruction in the North and East directions because of the insuperable heights of the Himalayas. For him the West and the South were conducive to progress. The Mayamat looked up to the god Yama for support and emphasized the west as determining the climate of the region, being the direction of the wind.
With this background the old Vastushastra, a primitive science at best, was totally forgotten with the passage of time. In its new pseudo-scientific form it is an endeavour to misguide people and create confusion in society. Pseudo-sciences like Vastushastra utilize scientific terminology to vindicate themselves and engender many fallacies in the minds of gullible people. V. Ganapati Sthapati maintains that the Vastushastra uses the so called scientific principle VRF-vibration, rhythm, and form. He further elaborates that the ‘E’ in the equation is the square field of the energy of the object -the infinite energy. The universe is a huge cube. Since sound and vibrations are generated in it, it becomes a perfect sphere. This is the principle of absolute unity of man and the universe (Adwaita). And so on and so forth. Even educated intellectuals are fooled by pseudo-scientific terminology and ignore the defective foundation on which the whole edifice of Vastushastra rests. Big companies and industries like- Larsen & Tubro, the advertising company-Lintas Enterprises, the factory of the Easel Paging Company, Zee at Noida, Vikram Ispat, buildings of Birla Group of companies-the list is endless- are making huge changes in accordance with the Vastushastra. Though all adhere to this Shastra some of them are successful while others are not.
The basis of this pseudo-science is the eight directions. Now these directions are not born of nature. They are man made. How can they be auspicious or inauspicious, beneficial or harmful and so on? The earth rotates round itself on its axis from west to East, so that a person standing on the earth and looking towards the sky sees the stars moving from East to west. It is similar to a rotating giant wheel on which we take a ride. When the wheel starts moving we see all that is surrounding us moving in a circle, although every thing else except us- the riders on the wheel- is stationary. Similarly we see the sun rising in the East and travelling all the way to the west. Where is the propriety, then, in attaching labels like auspicious and inauspicious to the directions and bestow on them virtues or vices? The earth being a sphere the east of India is the west of China and Japan. The funniest situation can be noticed in the Arctic and Antarctic circles where day and night last for six months. One can see the Sun in the dead of the night from 21st March to.23rd September. How can the principles of Vastushastra be applied there? What jugglery the poor Vastushastri would require to undertake to adapt its principles to building perfectly Vatushastric Igloos there?
Intellectual inertia is one reason of blindly accepting Vastushastra.
An attempt is made to cover up this intellectual inertia by giving it very cute names as ‘honouring the great traditions, old is gold, essence of wisdom of umpteen generations, etc.’ The long chain of hustle and bustle, anxiety, alienation, stress and strain, crass consumerism, frustration, rampant corruption and criminalization engendered by express modernization has aggravated the problem, greatly increasing and spreading the intellectual inertia in ever bigger populations.