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As North Americans become more ‘green conscious’ in a world of global warming bad news, architects and designers have begun to consider incorporating spiritual aspects of Vedic architecture. Much like the imported practices of yoga and ayurveda, the introduction of vaastu into popular culture will give devotees one more way to introduce Vedic concepts to the western world. In recent news, SFGate.com reports that vaastu design is gaining interest.
“An ancient design philosophy from the East that stresses achieving harmony between home and body is finding its way into the United States. Feng shui? That’s been done. Bay Area, get ready for vaastu shastra. A design framework that comes from ancient Indian Hindu scriptures, vaastu at its heart is the belief that one’s environment is a physical extension of the body, and that home design can affect a person’s health.
Vaastu design is undergoing something of a renaissance in India and remains better known there than in the United States. But anyone familiar with green building techniques and the more-recognized feng shui may be surprised to learn how much vaastu has in common with them. “The idea behind vaastu is to orient rooms toward different positions of the sun at different times of the day, being mindful of the quality of the sunlight and not just the level of solar energy,” says Anthony Lawlor, an architect at Polsky Perlstein Architects in Larkspur and the author of “The Temple in the House: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Architecture.”
Pandit Pravinji, an astrologer and vaastu consultant in Antioch, says that when it comes to vaastu design and an existing home, “You just can’t do everything. But if the home you live in is, say, 70 to 75 percent balanced according to vaastu, you will still get good results.” In selecting his own home, Pravinji notes that some aspects of the existing layout were very favorable, such as the morning sun that streams into his kitchen at breakfast time, and the room where he performs his puja, or daily worship. And he has furnished the home carefully in accordance with vaastu principles to lend it a feeling of spaciousness and quiet: painting the worship room blue to promote meditative calm, for instance.
In the Bay Area, it’s not easy to find a building – residential or commercial – that has been torn down and rebuilt according to vaastu principles. More often than not, people are interested in fixes for an existing home. If they’re lucky, as Pravinji was, their homes might (mostly) conform to vaastu principles without having been designed that way. Otherwise, McCutcheon says, they will be limited to the quick fix, which can limit vaastu’s effectiveness. “There’s no evidence that people are knocking down their homes,” McCutcheon says. “Rather, they’re tinkering with it. Feng shui is actually a much better way to tinker with a building,” he says, because it is more flexible than vaastu, which demands a rigidly prescribed geometric and compass-point approach.”
While vaastu has interesting possibilities, even in remediating and improving the interiors of non-vaastu legacy buildings, the greatest prospects in today’s world are in new development. Neighborhoods, villages, and even cities in the future will be designed following vaastu principles. Early last year, reporter Niranjan Babu described an ambitious building project proposed for Bangalore, to be known as the “Knowledge City”.
“The Karnataka State Government in a bid to decongest the growing pressure on Bangalore, is planning to set up five sector-specific cities around the city, of which one is the ‘Knowledge City’. The proposed cities would be integrated townships consisting of commercial and residential sectors and will obviate the need for travel to and from Bangalore. The mega technology center to be constructed at Bidadi situated to the southwest of the capital city, Bangalore is indeed a Vastu appropriate move by the State Government. While congratulating our Esteemed Chief Minister, I am sure, he, along with his team consisting of the IT and BT Secretary Mr. Vidyashankar and the private partners bidding for this mega project will take the assistance of this great science of Vastu which has been handed over to us, on a platter, by the ancient scholars of wisdom.
The following write-up highlights the ways of planning and building a city on natural laws of Vastu Shastra and can perhaps considerably contribute to the health, harmony and happiness of the residents and the vocations of these mega cities.
Our ancients have spoken about not only human and divine (Manushyalaya and Devalaya) habitations but also about village and town (grama and nagara) planning. Today, we see layouts coming in and around our cities, which by themselves are supposed to constitute mini townships.
Importance of Shapes
The ancient writings of Vastu have expounded the importance of the shape of land and structures and have recommended square and rectangular shapes and tell us that proper shapes can enhance the comfort and contentment of the residents of a township.
The planning of a layout should take into account its location – situation and environs, richness of soil and vicinity to the city proper. Land for selection is divided into three varieties. The first variety (jangal) refers to land that is infertile and has ground (well) water that is inaccessible to the residents of the locality and has soil that is black in color. The second variety (Anoopa) refers to land that is fertile and has accessible water sources (wells, lakes and rivers) with beautiful scenery and good weather conditions and abundance of natural food. The third variety (Sadharana) refers to attributes of both Jangal and Anoopa with a moderate climate.
An ideal township should have a green belt of tall trees where flower plants grow in profusion. The following trees and plants normally render a layout propitious. Bilva, pomegranate (dadimba), jackfruit (panasa), coconut (narikelam), neem (nimba), soapberry (arishta), asoka, punnaga, sirisa, kesara, champaka and the priyangu creeper are said to be auspicious. The planners of the mega city can take this cue of the ancient masters of wisdom.
Samarangana Sutradhara highlights the importance of gardens when it mentions a beautiful belt of trees and plants surrounding the entire town.
In ancient India, gardens were an essential part of town planning and large gardens and parks were laid out in various parts of the city including the central area of the town. Sacredness and sanctity were attached to a number of trees apart from looking at their visual grandeur. The shady banyan tree is recommended in the center of a town and it also served as a council hall. Some of the trees that King Bhoja recommends are the holy bilva, the magnificent kadamba, the neem, the sacred asvattha and the flowering champaka.
A natural and abundant source of water or udaka, is one of most essential primary elements of nature (Panchabhoota). This particular aspect of town planning is reflected in our old towns and cities, which invariably rose on sea-shores or river-banks. It is to be understood that commercial activity with other cities (and countries) was one of the reasons for highlighting the importance of rivers and seas by our ancients.
Town planning and village planning are elaborated in the great architectural treatise Manasara as Nagara Vidhana and Grama Vidhana. Samarangana Sutradhara of Bhoja Raja also gives us much information on town and village planning. A town is an extension of a village.
The planning of a layout (or town) can be on the following lines :
Having a square (or rectangular) wall on all the four sides of the proposed layout will constitute the basic layout Mandala, and should be oriented to the cardinal directions. Four main gates on each wall (in the exalted zones) can be identified. Subsidiary gates in the second and seventh modules can also be considered.. Inside this campus along the wall, street can run all around with green plant borders. Between the street and the green border, a pavement for pedestrians can also be planned. Two large streets, each connecting the two opposite main gates on the East and West, and North and South respectively can lead to the center of the township..
Importance of the Brahmastana
The place of inter-section of these two streets corresponds to the Brahmastana of the layout. This area, that I normally refer to as the place of “zero ego and total awareness” can be for the layout office, the public auditorium or the meditation zone. It would also mean that this area would be accessible to all the residents of the layout. The Brahmastana divides the layout into four equal segments. Each of these divisions can further be divided into smaller sub-divisions. The streets run straight from one end to the other end of the segment. Residential houses can be on the two main streets face to face with, perhaps, the ground floors reserved for shops and offices. The streets that run round the layout can have buildings on one side. These buildings can relate to schools, colleges, public libraries and buildings, offices, guest houses etc. The smaller streets can have residential buildings on both sides. Each segment or block can have houses that are uniform in height and appearance.
Samarangana Sutradhara recommends 34 roads in a model town, running from East to West and North to South.
The drains and sewers can be towards the slopes of the layout. Tanks, swimming pools and ponds can be provided in all the four segments so that they are accessible to all the layout residents. While laying the drains and sewers, digging tanks and swimming pools, you can take cognizance of the Vastu fact that slopes to the East and North are preferred and that the North-east (Easanya) is earmarked for the primary element (Mahabhoota) udaka or water.
Temples, Churches, Mosques or places of worship, public gardens, parks and public toilets in all the four segments can be similarly earmarked. Temples of Ugradevatas or fearful deities are better placed outside the walls of the layout. People of similar professions, age groups, health can be housed in the same quarters. It would be in order if the crematoria were placed outside the layout Mandala in the north-west region.
Importance of Sunlight
The ancient writers on the great science of Indian architecture tell us, ground can be elevated in the middle and slope towards the East, North and/or North-east. Every major text on Vastu unanimously extols the land gradient towards East. Such slopes also offer the full benefits of the morning energies of the Sun.
Importance of Slopes
The ancients are vocal in rejecting land that slopes down to the South, West, South-east, South-west and North-west and advise us to altogether discard land that has depression in the middle area corresponding to Brahmastana. It is therefore necessary that after finalisation of the architectural plans of the mega city, the lands are leveled such that they are uniform all over.
Sital slopes towards the north and east directions are good.
The placement of streets on the borders of the layout as suggested above goes well with their advice that depression in the borders bring in happiness to the residents.
Manasara speaks about building towns based on plans that range from Pechaka (plan of 4 squares) to Asana (plan of 100 squares). It speaks of the street that is on the border of the street (Mangalaveedhi) and the street that surrounds the Brahmasthana (Brahmaveedhi) and clearly tells us that the laying out should start in the North-east (Easanya). Manasara refers to the modern town (layout) as pattana where products from other countries are found and is inhabitated by all classes of people. There are shops with merchandise, jewels, grains and perfumes and a prosperous town is normally situated along a sea or river coast. A stream on the north border of the city running to the east or the concept of the mega-city as an island will indeed contribute to its global success.
I am sure, the readers, some of whom may be city development authorities and layout designers, will adapt the Vastu guidelines given in this write up and ensure that the inhabitants of the layout reside in peace, harmony and prosperity. The idea to decongest the growing pressure on Bangalore by setting up five sector specific cities around the city, is indeed notable. If the planning and construction is based on Vastu orientation, locations, and guidelines Banglalore can indeed become a Super Global IT and BT Power.