Vastu Myths

What is Vastu! It is sanskrit ‘for the place where we stay’. When Vastushastra came into being there were no municipalities, town development authorities and building by-laws. Vastu says, logically enough, that the kitchen in a house should be in leeward direction for the simple reason that the wind would take away kitchen smoke instead of spreading it inside the house.  There were no exhaust fans then, nor chimneys.  The erstwhile wisdom is now put to absurd interpretation by today’s Vastu pundits to advise factories where to put the boiler room.  Kitchen had agni (fire) and so do boilers, they think, so these pundits advise you on the location of the boiler in your factory.   I know of many cases e.g. Bharat Forge who re-designed their plant according to Vastu at great cost, but show me one sloka where any factory is mentioned in Vastushastra.  They are not mentioned because there were no factories then.  We should decide what part of Vastu should be used in the changed circumstances of today, when, for instance we have smokeless fuels and the kitchen need not be according to the wind direction.

According to Vastushastra, an establishment with an entrance from the south is inauspicious and doom is guaranteed.  But half the shops on commercial streets have south entrances.  Are they doomed en masse?  The White House in WashingtonDC has a door facing south.  It further defies Vastu in that it has a door in the middle of a wall.  But it has had Presidents of the United States and is the dwelling of the head of the biggest super power in the world.

Doors and windows in those days had to be in a straight line for cross ventilation and the straight pattern was to help the women of those days who used to stay shyly in the interiors and needed the facility to talk from far with in the house. One treatise says that the west should have shady trees.  It was a common sense instruction to cut the sun in that particular region.  But this is not a necessity in north India.  In the south, we get the sunrays from the north.  All Vastu books were region specific, but they were applied in discriminatory nowadays from Delhi to Kanyakumari.  One Vastu edict is that Brahmins should have no houses at all.  That may have been appropriate sociologically at that time, but are we blindly follow such instructions.

What the Vastu Shastries of today do not reveal (and many may not themselves know) is that the ancient science dating back many centuries had many versions.  In essence there were many Vastushastra because there were many authors, e.g. Varahamihira, Bhrigu, Manusara, Mayamata.  Each had his own treatise, his own interpretations and had taken into consideration his own regions location, climate , social norms, materials of his time and his ethnicity.  Caves, huts and houses were built in those days, using various materials available then and so a lot of what they wrote made perfect sense.  If cross ventilation had to be achieved, doors and windows would have to be constructed in certain direction.  Cross ventilation can however, be created artificially now a days and if air conditioning is resorted to, it is a non-issue.

If water reserves are to the west, they bring bad luck, according to one Vastu treatise.  Did Mumbai with the Arabian Sea to the west, become the commercial capital of India due to bad luck?  More than a quarter of India’s commercial turn over is ascribed to this city.  A quarter of our government’s earnings come from this metropolis.  Is this bad luck?  However, Vastu pandits of today used their ingenuity and say that Mumbai is on reclaimed land, so the rules do not apply.  It is another matter that not all of Mumbai is on reclaimed land.

Or let us look at history in out parts. The famed Maratha rulers, the Peshwas, had north-facing doors to ensure wealth and happiness.  And in Pune at an area called Shaniwar Wada, the Peshwas had a massive north facing entrance. Vastu did nothing to ward off the Peshwas bankruptcy and misfortunes. In those days there was not drainage.  And so, according to Vastu the bathroom was supposed to be far from the well.  It would prevent sewage from entering the wells.  But these days not only is there drainage, there are drastic changes in conditions.  In a ten-storey structure of modern times the overhead tank, today’s well, is up above.  So should the occupants of the tenth floor be given a toilet far away, on the ground floor?  In that multistory apartment house only one flat would be north facing.  So are the other three flats on every single floor doomed?

If we do not use some common sense we come up with some hilarious bits.  One Vastu treatise says that only eastern flowing rivers bring prosperity and this was probably true in the region for which it was written.  We have Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, which do not have eastern flowing rivers, and they are prosperous states.

It is said that the temple at Tirupati is rich because of Vastu, others are not so because of Vastu.  Even Gods come into the clutches of Vastu!  If you enter from the east you will experience peace but if you enter from the west you will not.  But so many temples are Sarvobhadra (entry from many directions).  Would we then experience both peace and the opposite?

But why is there such an upsurge of Vastu nowadays, one may ask.  This is a cultural and sociological question. The reason may be fourfold; Vastu is a convenient peg upon which to hang one’s failures.  There are a lot of people who get rich overnight, but approach Vastu pandit for atonement ….. to bribe the gods, as it were.  The blind faith to which we in India are prone often takes epidemic proportions.  It is simply a fashion – a minister goes to a Vastu pandit so, like sheep many follow him.

The sad part is that Vastu pandits are today great threats to architectural practice.  Fifty different subjects are studied and the culmination of knowledge gained over a five year period is put to nil by the Vastu pandits, most of whom don’t know the difference between column, lintel, beam.  And yet, they advised what should be done to entire structures, even townships. I have had brilliant architecture graduate who are my students.  They come almost crying to me saying that their practices are often threatened.  After plans are carefully made, sanctioned by the authorities and so on, the client brings a Vastu pandit, who dictate changes that would make the structure look awful and architecturally unsound.  Reworking has become increasingly frequent and not in the best interest of the client.

You may recall the incident of Deve Gawda being told that since his structure made him go up only two steps, he would not last his full term.  Since the construction in question was already complete, the architect used his ingenuity, made an indent on the floor and inserted paper-thin tiles that were embedded at the ground level.  Voila!  That was the third step and all were happy.  That the third did not bring about a full term is well known.  NT Rama Rao was advised that he should have ‘X’ meters of clear passage from the north. His secretariat had slums in the north, so all land there was acquired at the expense of crores of rupees.  The shantytown structures thereon were then demolished and a northern entrance was established for him.  But he was soon removed from Chief Ministership, and seven months thereafter, he died.  Spending astronomical amount on Vastu correction did not helped. The Central Public Works Departments adjust accounts to suit the whims and fancies of powerful politicians, who routinely go over budget.  The public should become aware and public interest litigation should be filed to reverse this this  trend of misuse of taxpayer’s money.

Unfortunately, there are no statutes to govern Vastu shastries.  Their misdeeds should come under purview of the Consumer Protection Act.  The print media, TV and others should come more alert and give no fillip to function to honour their kind in paraspara prashamsa (mutual admiration) where Vastu shastries bestow upon each other fancy titles like Vastu samrat, Vastu pravin, Vastu shiromani. The original Vastu books themselves say that if quacks practice this science, they should be executed. Vastu pandits should be asked about this provision.

Christopher Wren had built a church that had no interim columns.  There was fear expressed that the church would fail, although the famed architect guaranteed that nothing would happen for a hundred years.  Under pressure, a column was finally put in place to allay public fears.  The interim column was placed, but it was deliberately six inches short of the roof.  It supports nothing… It’s a psychological prop!

The sad development in the Vastu myths is that Muslims and Christians are also believers now, and I am fighting against a tide.  I want volunteers to start a foundation to stall this epidemic.  What is required is the equivalent of the Medical Remedies Act 1910.  Vastu shastris should be made to give their opinions in writing.  Committees should be set up to check superstition, similar to the one already set up in Maharashtra.

R V Kolhatkar

(Courtesy: Deccan Herald)