Vastu forms the basis of modern eco-design

Vastu Shastra is the oldest traditional design
practice in the world and has also influenced the other traditional design
practice – Feng Shui. Scholars (Schmieke, 2012) have asserted that nearly 3000
years ago monks crossed over the Himalayan Mountains from India, through Tibet
and into China, carrying with them this ancient Vedic knowledge. Adapting to
the local climate, Vastu Shastra evolved into Feng Shui (Maestro and Maestro,
2006).

Vastu Shastra is the force that influenced other
principles or science of design and construction throughout the globe.
Monuments like the Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, Taj Mahal, Greek Parthenon and
Roman Coliseum have largely been influenced by the science of Vastu Shastra;
with regards to shape, proportion, measurements and alignment to the cardinal
points, says a team of researchers including C Koranteng, S.O. Afram and E.
Ayeke.  Contemporary theories that
arrived later in the subsequent centuries have largely been influenced directly
or indirectly by the principles of Vastu.

Active and passive design considerations of the
environmental factors such as wind, sunlight direction, building orientation on
a plot resulted from the long existence and influence of Vastu Shastra.

Vastu scholar and practitioner Sashikala Ananth speaks about Vastu’s journey outside India and its contemporary relevance. She and her husband Raghu Ananthanarayanan are founders of Ritambhara - a quiet yoga and meditation centre, tucked away in the hills of the Nilgiris.

How
did the knowledge of Vastu travel outside Indian shores?

There is some data about this but it has not been
recorded. It is well known that Hinduism as Sanatana dharma has travelled to
various parts of the world over the centuries. From my discussions with Feng
Shui practitioners I have understood that many of the principles are actually
taken from Vastu shastra. There is also new evidence that the Central American
and South American cultures were influenced by the sea faring travellers from
India over time. It is well known that the Mahabharata war date was recorded in
the Aztec calendar. In my opinion, the way we understand Vastu today has
definitely been taken abroad by Shri Ganapati Sthapati.

A quick survey of the thousands
of houses, monuments, temples and viharas, tanks, stepped wells, caves, and
schools in the different parts of the Indian sub-continent, the Himalayas, Sri
Lanka Far East countries where the Dharma traditions spread, will reveal the
extraordinary skill and diversity of the builder community. The buildings have
withstood the onslaught of nature, the violence of the conquerors and the
wilful misuse of the vandals, and are a testimony to the brilliant skill,
aesthetic sensibility and great artistry of our ancestors. Many civilisations
boast of great monuments but none can trace a continuity of this knowledge and
skill to the present date.

What are the highlights of this
extraordinary skill? An innate understanding of the behaviour of materials, a
brilliant ability to translate the design in the mind to the field without
having to develop 3D models or even prepare detailed drawings, to create
perfect elements of stone brick and timber and to join them so precisely that
they need no mortar in stone, or plastering in brick, and nails in timber.
There are temples where a paper can be inserted below the pillar because it
stands on the attraction of magnetic rocks, sculptures can be made so perfectly
that a ball can roll within the mouth of a lion and so on. The cave temple, the
frescoes with vegetable dyes that are still perfect after hundreds of years,
the monolith temples such as Mahabalipuram’s 5 Rathas and the Ellora
Kailasanatha temple, the Brihadeswara temple in Tanjavur, are some of the
examples of the pinnacles of this achievement.

Construction techniques were
varied and evolved over time, absorbing methods from each other and also from
other cultures. The craft guild contained the entire process of the building
including the sourcing of material, transportation, building and maintenance.
The craft groups travelled widely and trained many new groups, which is why we
see similar techniques in Sri Lanka Indonesia Cambodia and other neighboring
countries. The engineering skill is also staggering, as can be seen in some of
the monuments in Rajasthan, Orissa and others. Such precision and skill in
design and construction is possible only if the entire chain of the team is
excellent and offering their best. In the language of current Management
theory, the link task and role responsibilities are all in place!

Is
Vastu as popular as other similar systems abroad?

In the recent past, there has been a great deal of
interest in Vastu from various parts of the world. I have personally taught the
subject for over 20 years to students from Europe, America, Australia and
Russia.

Can
Vastu be easily transposed in non-Indian built spaces?

There are 2 aspects of Vastu shastra, one is the
principle base and this can be translated to any kind of building anywhere in
the world, the other is the specific locality application and this needs to be
reexamined for other applications because of climatic and geographic
necessities. Vastu is a design principle and therefore applied to residences,
temples, public buildings, village and town plans as well as interior design
and vehicular design.

 What does Vastu offer to modern building
design?

Contemporary buildings are losing their connection
to culture and to energetic connection with the environment. Vastu can
definitely influence this in a very powerful manner. 

To
understand how the tradition of Vastu has looked at the whole process of
transformation from energy and idea on to the three-dimensional plane is to
look at sculpture and architecture of religious centres such as temples. It is
only through the study of this devalaya tradition that we can comprehend
the application in Manushyalaya and in the construction of public
buildings. What must be remembered is that the separation between spiritual and
secular did not exist in the Indian tradition. What is applicable for the gods
is also applicable for human beings. It is only in the scale and the use of
materials that the difference was shown.

Sashikala Ananth, Vastu scholar and practitioner

What
is the connection between Vastu and aesthetic?

One of the anchors of Vastu shastra is aesthetics the others are utility and spiritual delight. The built environment was
designed in very creative ways based on the local terrain, climate, natural surroundings,
temperature, water availability, bearing capacity of the soil, material
availability, life style, and cultural traits. The designer had to sensitise
himself in specific ways so that he could comprehend both the visible world and
invisible energies. He had to study the natural habitat of birds and animals to
understand the nature of the abode and its appropriateness.

There are 3 basic principle for design, Bhogadyam or utility, Sukha Darsham or aesthetics, Ramya or spiritual satisfaction/ inner delight. Bhogadyam includes the practical aspect of the design, be it a building or craft item; Sukha Darsham includes the aesthetic of the visual and the textural in the manifested form and the aural in melody and music and this includes acoustics in built spaces and the vibrations in a musical pillar; Ramya refers to spiritual wellbeing or inner delight and is a product of ratios, proportions,  vibrations, frequency, sacred geometry and mandalas, and the connection to the astrological patterns of the users identity. The chief Sthapati and the Musician or Dancer had to experience these principles before he/she could translate them onto the field of manifestation. The other aspects of the 3 principles are- the unseen energies that inhabit the space of the built form, the possible healing energies that can be tapped to change the state of duhka in an occupant of a building or the movement into health of a person in Roga or illness. The presence of nature and the subtle ways in which it affects and heals the individual was well known to the Kalaignya/ builder and the Vaidya/healer. Plants, trees, herbs, birds, animals were recommended for wellness.

What
are the sources of Prana in Vastu?

 Energy is an
element that is not being taken seriously by vAstu consultants. The
entrance represents prAna vAyu and the rear exits denotes apAnavAyu.
Therefore, all the energies that enter a built form which includes breeze,
light, visitors and other people, the desires and needs of the occupants as
well as the visitors and finally the success and failures experienced by the
people who occupy the space.

Westerners
are attracted to India because of yoga. What is the connection between yoga and
Vastu?

Almost all traditional systems such as Vastu, shilpa,
sangeeta and natya have insisted on the practitioner being a yogi. The
connection between the body, the breath, the mind and creative activity in the
world has been looked at in a very powerful manner by all the traditions.
Today, I am trying to bring back the concept of inner space that is connected
to the practice of yoga and outer form that is connected to the practice of Vastu.
There is tremendous response to this amongst students and practitioners.

To comprehend the sheer
brilliance of Sanatana Dharma one has to examine the links between the micro
individual and the macro Intelligence “AnoraNeeyam Mahatormaheeyam”;  the envelop and the space within; the journey
of personal perfection and collective harmony; the alignment of the individual
to the Cosmic purpose; and finally the relationship between theoretical rigour
and personal practice or Sadhana. Each of the Parampara systems had their own
personal and collective disciplines so that they achieved a certain balance and
wellbeing in their life on earth as well as created a collective process or
manifested art work for the rest of society to experience and feel deep inner
evocation.

If they were priests and scholars
they followed a Dvaita or an Advaita path of personal practice, followed the
precepts of Vedic or Agamic knowledge and belief, sacred texts were learnt and
followed in everyday life, they trained their body breath and voice to chant
and to sing, they learnt to perform pujas and ceremonies, they trained their
minds to learn huge amounts of textual knowledge known as Mananam. These are
disciplines set out as part of Ashtanga Yoga.

For the grand dream of Yoga, Vedanta and Gandharva Kalaa to be realised we have to create new institutions where such exchanges can become possible again. The individual body, breath, mind and voice must once again be tuned to the larger yearnings and intelligence of a culture and a heritage that is capable of shaping the individual and transforming a society.

Dancers studied the texts as well
as trained their bodies, their Indriyas or senses to express emotions known as
navarasa, they understood music, they learnt poetry, and trained their body and
breath to work in balance. This too is Yoga.

In Sangeeta they trained the body
breath and voice, they learnt to stay with the central thread of awareness or
Shruti, this too is a part of Yoga Sadhana. The sculptor and the temple
architect learnt proportions, hand and eye skills, understood materials and
felt the balance between the body and the manifested form. This too is a yoga
sadhana.

In all the fields of Kalaa the alignment of body, senses, breath and the mind is the basic Sadhana. Hence practice of Yoga appropriate for each system was a must in the training process. Each practitioner had an awareness and basic understanding of the interconnected systems, and many meeting grounds were available where these ideas and understanding could be shared and honed.