Written by Arvind Pakhale
During the last 15 years or so the so called intellectuals of our society despite being well educated seem to be enamoured of Vaastushaastra- the ancient Indian ‘science’ of architecture. This ancient Shaastra seems to have disappeared for several centuries before it popped up 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 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 Vaastu-shaastra. “Vaastushaastra” 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 Shaastra 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 Vaastushaastra 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 Vaastushaastra 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 Vaastushaastra 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 Vaastushaastra as a science. Just applying the law of cause effect to this Shaastra 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 Shaastra keeping its antiquity in mind and then 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 ant-hills; every creature chooses or builds a shelter according to its needs and as per the dictates of its instinctive and inbuilt neural mechanism. 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. Vaastushaastra-science of shelter building- is not a solely Indian phenomenon. Continuous progress in shelter building is universal and it proceeded in accordance with the needs of the various regions, its climate, its culture, the natural calamities it had to face and such other factors. What we need to keep in mind with reference to India’s Vaastushaastra, is the reality of the Aryan invasion and destruction of the native Sandhog culture. Many an advanced culture has been destroyed by an aggressive boorish people in this manner while only a few survived.
Vaastushaastra, 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. Vaastushaastra gives the utmost importance to the five natural elements, viz., 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 Shaastra, 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. Vaastushaastra is one of them. Its foundation is the Yadnya tradition. The Shaastra 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, Agatya, 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 shaastra.
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 Vaastushaastra was invented, the social structure of Chaturvarnya engendered by it and the present caste system based on it leads one to infer that Vaastushaastra was one of the devises that was used to firmly entrench the system of Chaturvarnya in society.
The advocates of Vaastushaastra quote a few Sanskrit Shlokas by the Sage Bhrigu and maintain that excellent science of architecture (Vaastushaastra), 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 Vaastushaastra 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, Chraksanhita (a book on medicine), Sushruta Sanhita (a book mainly on surgery), including Vaastushaastra 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. Vaastushaastra 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 Vaastushaastra are in no way scientific. The old Shaastra became obsolete and its advocates had to reinvent it within a ‘Modern Vaastushaastra’ framework.
As mentioned earlier the influences of all directions are of immense importance in building houses according to Vaastushaastra. They help to assess the effect of climate and to utilize it appropriately. But modern Vaastushaastra that we are analysing seems to focus less on practical utility and more towards scare-mongering with its obscure concepts and the terrible consequences forecast if its prescriptions are not followed. On examining the original Vaastushaastra, 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 Vaastushaastra in general. The present Vaastushaastra, on the contrary, sternly warns us of terrible consequences like death of sons, penury and total destruction that would follow if the Shaastra is not adhered to. Science cares little about caste or Varna of a person. And attributing different objective outcomes based on “Varnas” can hardly qualify Vaastushaastra as “scientific”.
Pseudo-sciences like Vaastushaastra utilize scientific terminology to vindicate themselves and engender many fallacies in the minds of gullible people. Even educated intellectuals are fooled by pseudoscientific terminology and ignore the defective foundation on which the whole edifice of Vaastushaastra rests. 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 traveling 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 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 Vaastushaastra be applied there? What jugglery the poor Vastushastri would require to undertake to adapt its principles to building scientific Igloos there.