Note: Mr. Michael Borden was trained by Dr. Sthapati. Also see his India Portfolio of Vastu Home Plans which are designed using the Shiva or Vishnu star for setting up the correct Vaastu dimensions.
Harmonizing Humanity and Nature Through
An interview in YogaLife with Dr. V. Ganapati Sthapati
Vastu Shastra, The Ancient Indian Science of Time and Space
by Savita Rao, Madras
Dr. Vaidyanathan Ganapati Sthapati is a traditional architect, builder and sculptor of international repute. He comes from the Sthapati clan, a family of hereditary designers and builders, many of whom have built famous monuments. His early training was with his father, Vaidyanatha Sthapati, and also from his uncle.
In order to promote this ancient science of Vastu, the Government of Tamil Nadu, with the help of the Sthapati family, set up the Government College of Architecture and Sculpture in Mamallapuram, about 60 kms from Madras. Dr. Sthapati served as the Principal of this College for almost thirty years. Under his leadership, this small craftshop blossomed into a fully-fledged educational institution offering degrees in Sculpture and Architecture. The syllabus for most courses was personally drawn up by him. Dr. Sthapati has authored many books on vastu shastra and his text on iconometry is very useful for practising sculptors.
After his retirement, he set up a private company 'V. Ganapati Sthapati and Associates' in Madras which undertakes the design and construction of residential buildings, factories, temples and sculptures according to the principles of vaastu both in India and abroad. The Company is also involved with the conservation of ancient monuments and buildings using traditional techniques. In an attempt to popularize and strengthen vastu shastra, he set up the 'Vaastu Vedic Research Foundation', which publishes a periodical, Vastu Purusha, edited by Dr. Sthapati. The foundation also translates original texts on vastu from Tamil to English so as to make them available for scholars and scientists all over the world. It organizes periodical seminars, both at the local and international levels, to disseminate important aspects of vastu shastra. Dr. Sthapati plans to set up a Gurukula system of training and education called 'International School of Vaastu Sciences and Technologies' in Madras and Thiruvanthapuram (Kerala) to share his knowledge of this ancient science of art and architecture with contemporary architects. Dr. Sthapati, who is noted for his tireless research and commitment to vaastu, has won several national awards and titles. Madras-based he is in the process of training a new generation of shilpis (traditional builders, carvers, artists, etc.) in the vaastu tradition.
In a recent interview in Madras, YogaLife asked Dr. Sthapati the following questions:
YOGALife: Over the past few years vastu shastra has become a very popular phrase, yet few have a real understanding of the meaning and philosophy behind it. How would you define the term vastu shastra?
Dr. V. Ganapati Sthapati: In literal terms, vastu means 'to dwell' or 'to exist' and shastra means science. There are two words associated with this science - vastu and vaastu. Vastu means pure, subtle energy and vaastu means embodied material energy. When vastu or subtle energy goes into vibration of its own, many objects of nature such as buildings, temples, idols, etc. come into being. These material forms are called vaastu. Today, vaastu is commonly used to denote buildings.
YL: Why is vastu called the science of time and space? What is the philosophy behind it?
VGS: The science of vastu is based on the concept of space (subtle energy) as a dynamic element out of which all objects of nature come into existence and into which all disappear ultimately. The frequency of vibration of this subtle energy, which is based on a particular rhythm or time measure, causes the birth and development of all objects of nature. So time is the causal element of all material forms. The main aim of vastu science is to create building spaces to live in harmony with subtle nature. The inner space of an individual and the outer space in the cosmos are vibrating at a particular frequency or rhythm. If a part of the vast space is isolated and enclosed by a four-walled structure, called a building, it becomes a living organism and the enclosed space starts vibrating at a particular frequency. The architect trained in the science and technology of vastu and vaastu designs the building in such a way that its vibrations are numerically equal to the vibrations of the occupants of the building which is determined by their birth stars. This is made possible by a special calculation maintained in vaastu technology. The building encloses a part of the cosmic space which is filled with particles of energy each in the form of 'Vaastu Purusha Mandala' where'Vaastu Purusha' means material energy and 'Mandala' means diagram. This energy grid pattern consists of 9 x 9 = 81 squares and is the basic layout for all building spaces.
YL: Who was the author of vastu shastra and how old is this science?
VGS: Mayan, the great scientist, architect and town planner of ancient India, was the author of vastu shastra which may have been developed anywhere between 10,000 B.C. and 5,000 B.C. He was the author of Mayamata Vastu Shastra and Surya Siddhanta. His name appears in several epics like the Mahabharatha, Ramayana and the Tamil epic Silappathikaram. Later this system was codified in Vaastu Veda and Sthapatya Veda. While Vaastu Veda deals with vaastu (construction of buildings), Sthapatya Veda extends not only to vaastu but also to music, dance, poetry, etc.
YL: Can we see the influence of the ancient Indian science of vaastu in other cultures?
VGS: Vaastu viyda has gone abroad and as you know, its Chinese counterpart, Feng-Shui, is very popular in the West. On my recent visit to Sri Lanka, I noticed that their houses and monasteries were designed on the basis of the Vaastu Purusha Mandala. The city of Guatemala has also applied the concept of the Vaastu Purusha Mandala as the basic plan for their city layout, design of buildings and pyramids. When I visited Mexico, I noticed that the Mayan pyramids resembled the gopurams (pyramids) of South Indian temples.
YL: Could you tell us how much vastu shastra has influenced the design and construction of Indian temples.
VGS: The design and layout of the temple, idols and selection of site of Indian temples is based on vastu. Temples are always constructed on a square or rectangular plot of land, this helps to confer spiritual peace to the temple goers. This rule is also applicable to houses and other buildings. The central core, Brahmasthan (belonging to Brahma, the Creator) is left open. The subtle God is always in the middle of the Brahmasthan. When God is manifested in idol form, it must be placed a little away from the center in a direction moving away from the main entrance. Ferocious deities such as Kali are located at the periphery of the temple as they are considered too gross. The only God that occupies the center of the temple is Shiva Linga, not even Lord Shiva.
Mathematically speaking, the temple and the idol in the temple are of the same mould. A temple is built in the shape of a human God by slightly modifying the structure using certain vibrational measures. Hence it is said that the temple is not merely the home of God but the form of God as well.
YL: What is the significance of gopurams (pyramids) which are found in South Indian temples?
VGS: A pyramid is a structure that has a square or polygonal base with sloping sides and meeting centrally at the apex. In literal terms, the word pyramid means 'fire at the center'. The crest of the gopuram found in South Indian temples has the same significance of representing the central Brahmasthan which is the nuclear energy field of any building. This energy field in tri-dimension is taken to the top level of the gopuram and this confers spiritual benefits to the visitors of the temple.
YL: What is the meaning of 'space therapy'?
VGS: We are all surrounded by subtle energy and this energy has got both good and bad qualities. The Vaastu Purusha Mandala guides the arrangement of the construction so as to ward off negative qualities and arouse the good qualities into action so that the building helps to confer peace and bliss on the individuals occupying it. If the arrangement of building space is not in order, the building becomes 'sick', creating various physical and mental problems for its occupants. On the other hand, well-defined spaces have the quality of promoting health. This is called 'space therapy', a phrase coined by American architects.
YL: What are the rules of orientation as prescribed by vaastu texts?
VGS: The rules of orientation are one and the same for the layout of villages, cities, buildings, factories, etc. Orientation is given great importance in the vaastu tradition and only if this requirement is fulfilled can the occupants of the building enjoy the benefits that accrue from the design of the building. We are constantly exposed to the energies emanating from the earth. Proper orientation implies that the earth and building respond harmoniously to each other in terms of energy spaces. Using the Vaastu Purusha Mandala, buildings are oriented with respect to the Sun's directions. The horizontal line running east-west of the earth is called Suddha Praachee (true east). A building oriented parallel to the 'true east' is ideal for sages, scientists, artists and deep thinkers. When the east-west line is deflected a few degrees towards the north east point, it is called Esa Prachee and this orientation is ideal for those who seek earthly comforts and prosperity. Even temples dedicated to deities like Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth) are aligned with the Esa Prachee so that the deity has the power to confer prosperity to its visitors.
YL: Why is the positioning of the main entrance door considered so vital in the building design process?
VGS: The main entrance door is the passage for Prana (life-energy) to enter the building. Thus the positioning of the door and the size of its opening are determined by special vaastu calculations to maximize this positive flow. Front entry doors and rear entry doors are positioned in a straight line as this ensures the flow of energy in and out of a building without any obstructions. This energy tunnel is called the 'vamsa dandam', meaning bamboo pole or backbone. The material benefit of this is cross-ventilation while the spiritual significance is that solar energy enters the main entrance and exits through the rear door, thereby ensuring unobstructed and constant flow of energy into the house. Since the main objective is to maximize the energy inside the house, it is not advisable to have arched doors and windows inside the house as they distort the flow of energy. Arched doors and windows, however, are permitted in verandahs and porticos outside the house.
YL: Could you give us a few vaastu suggestions for selection of sites.
VGS: Vaastu shastra looks on the earth as a living organism sending out waves of energy in a particular order that affects all animate objects. Vaastu texts prescribe a set of tests for selecting good grounds in view of the fact that the physical properties of the Earth are not uniform throughout its surface. The tests carried out must indicate fertile soil and presence of subsoil water moving in a clockwise direction. The shastras object to selection of sites that are marshy or clayey, that contain skulls of animals or human beings, scraps of iron, nails, hair, charred wood or charcoal, lignite and holes giving room for white ants and serpents. On account of pollution, living in proximity to factories is not advisable. Vaastu shastra also recommends outright rejection of bad sites as any improvement of such sites only results in temporary benefits.
YL: Why does vaastu tradition lay emphasis on compound walls for buildings?
VGS: There are two vaastus, one within the other. They are Prasada Vaastu or Griha Vaastu, which is the house or the building, and Bhoomi Vaastu or Pradhan Vaastu, which is the earthly space surrounding the building. Both these spaces or vaastus have to be in harmonious vibrations with each other. The compound wall protects the building and the earthly space surrounding it from negative energies in outer space. Also, irregular shaped properties have a negative effect on the human psyche. Hence compound walls must be either square or rectangular in shape. In the case of irregular shaped properties, a square or rectangular wall is built and the remaining area is left for growing trees and plants.
YL: Could you give us an example of a vaastu-perfect house with regard to configuration of living spaces.
VGS: The designer is advised to keep the Brahmasthan (central space) vacant as it will attract energetic space surrounding the earth and helps to confer spiritual benefits on the residents. For security reasons, a grill or a flat roof with raised ventilators can be used above the Brahmasthan so as to retain its benefits. Except for this central area, all other spaces can be used for living purposes. The living spaces are assigned on the basis of energy zones in the Vaastu Purusha Mandala which are as follows: (a) North East or Esana is the source of power; (b) South East or Agni (fire) is the source of heat; (c) South West or Nirutti has the qualities of heaviness, calmness and coolness; (d) North West or Vayu (air) signifies movement. Based on these qualities, the North East corner is ideal for the Pooja room, the South East region for the kitchen, the South West quarter for the master bedroom and living room and the Western side for the dining room. The North East corner outside the building is ideal for the location of a well.
YL: Does vaastu tradition permit post-construction alterations?
VGS: Modifications of a building leads to a disturbance of energy inside the enclosed space. Hence the shastras do not recommend any post-construction alterations. If people want to add more living spaces to their existing homes, then the North and East side of the house are considered favorable for expansion. Vaastu also recommends that the new building spaces not be connected to the old building because every building is considered to be a living organism possessing certain energy qualities and this would be diluted by the flow of energy from the attachment of new built spaces. In ancient times, town planners always ensured at least 6Ó space between two buildings so as to ensure the purity of the energy of the respective enclosed spaces.
YL: What is your advice for city dwellers who may not be able to follow vaastu principles in their entirety because of space constraints?
VGS: Vaastu designs can be adapted to any type of house or apartment building so that there is the correct orientation and configuration of living spaces in the proper order. This helps to confer physical and mental benefits on the occupants. Thus space constraints should not come in the way of adopting vaastu principles and designs.
YL: What would you say is the relevance of vaastu shastra in today's world?
VGS: As you know, public awareness of vaastu shastra and its benefits has increased greatly. People are becoming aware that architecture affects both the place and its occupants. A classic example is the Indian Parliament House (Lok Sabha building). I would suggest that the seating inside the Parliament House be rearranged into a square or rectangular form so as to meet vaastu dictates. This would help bring a bit of calmness to the workings of our lawmakers.
YL: How does the science of vastu and vaastu fit in with yoga?
VGS: The aim of vaastu shastra is to design building spaces that vibrate at the same frequency as the resident of the building so that the occupant is able to experience peace and harmony or 'perfect union with the Universal Self'. This is nothing but yoga. As in yoga, the role of Dhyanam (concentration) plays a vital role in the vaastu process. As shilpis (architects), we still our thoughts, withdraw inside and draw on the resources within and then perform our creative tasks. In yoga, a healthy spine contributes to a healthy body by ensuring the free flow of prana to all nerve channels. Similarly, in vaastu,the energy tunnel called 'vamsa dandam'or backbone of the house (created by positioning the front and rear entrance doors on a straight line) ensures free flow of prana to all parts of the house.
YL: Anything else you might like to add for our readers?
VGS: As our modern age has created a lifestyle crisis, many architects and designers are now turning to the ancient traditions of vaastu for inspiration. Sadly this has led to a lot of exploitation and misinterpretation. We must understand that vastu shastra is a subtle science, not material science. When I was the Principal of the College of Architecture and Sculpture in Mamallapuram, I met many scholars and scientists from both India and abroad who seemed to appreciate the technology of vastu shastra but questioned the scientific aspect of it. This provoked me to do a great deal of research. I set about collecting old literature from the Sthapati community and probed deeply into this field and interpreted it. My knowledge of English, Sanskrit, Tamil and mathematics greatly facilitated the research process. I hope to pass this precious legacy on to others and am in the process of training many students in this field. I would like to share this traditional knowledge and wisdom of vaastu with contemporary architects who are genuinely interested in this field of 'sacred art and architecture'. Through my research foundation, I hope to take this message of vaastu across to many others in India and abroad.
YL: Thank you, Dr. Sthapati for sharing your knowledge with our readers. And, on behalf of them, we would like to wish you all the best in your research and propagation of vastu shastra.
If you'd like to learn more, see the Online Vastu Seminar which is a condensation of Mr. Borden's on-going training with Dr. Sthapati. It includes both theory and practical considerations.