Fundamental Concepts

Vaastu Shastra (Vaastu- physical environment and Shastra- knowledge/text/principles. The 't' in both the words is pronounced softly. Also spelled (Vastu) is one of the traditional Hindu canons of town planning and architecture.

These canons are codified in texts such as Manasara Silpa Shastra (by Manasara), Mayamatam (by Maya), Viswakarma Vaastushastra (by Viswakarma), Samarangana Sutradara (by Raja Bhoja), Aparajita Praccha (by Viswakarma's son Aparajita) and Silparatna. Other treatises such as Agni Purana and works by Kautilya and Sukracharya are not popular even though they preceded the previously mentioned documents.

Distinction of style exists due to each documents place of origin. Mayamata and Mansara Silpa Shastra are considered Dravidian because they are from South India whereas Viswaskarama Vaastu Shastra is considered Aryan due to its North Indian origin. Vaastu Shastra deals with various aspects of designing and building living environments that are in harmony with the physical and metaphysical forces/energies of the cosmos such as the gravitational, electromagnetic and supernatural. Building practices based on limited interpretations of these principles are still sustained in specific areas of India.

Though Vastu is conceptually similar to Feng Shui in that it also tries to harmonize the flow of energy (Also called Life-force, and Prana in Sanskrit, similar to Chi in Chinese) through the house, it differs in the details, such as the exact directions in which various objects, rooms, materials etc are to be placed.

Components of Vaastu Shastra

All places of dwelling are termed Vastu however the actual physical manifestation of the dwelling is called Vaastu. There are four categories of Vaastu:

The earth site - Bhoomi, the principal dwelling place on which everything else rests
The structures on the earth - Prasada
Movable objects (vehicles) - Yaana
Furniture- Sayana

As these categories suggest, the principles of Vaastu Shastra extend from the macro level to the micro level- site selection, site planning and orientation, zoning and disposition of rooms, proportional relationships between the various parts of buildings and the character of buildings.

Vaastu Purusha Mandala

The Vaastu Purusha Mandala is an indispensable part of Vaastu Shastra and constitutes the mathematical and diagrammatic basis for generating design. Purusha refers to energy, power, soul or cosmic man. Mandala is the generic name for any plan/chart, which represents the cosmos metaphysically/symbolically, a microcosm of the universe.

In Hindu cosmology the surface of the earth is represented as a square, the most fundamental of all Hindu forms. The earth is represented as four cornered with reference to the horizon's relationship with sunrise and sunset, the North and South direction. It is called Chaturbhuji - four cornered- and represented in the symbolic form of the Prithvi Mandala. The astrological charts or horoscopes(Rasi, Navamsa, etc.,) also represent in a square plan the ecliptic - the positions of the sun, moon, planets and zodiacal constellations with reference to a specific person's place and time of birth.

The Vaastu Purusha Mandala is a specific type of mandala used in Vaastu Shastra. It is the metaphysical plan of a building/ temple/site that incorporates the course of the heavenly bodies and supernatural forces.

The legend of the Vaastu Purusha is related thus. Once a formless being blocked the heaven from the earth and Brahma with many other Gods trapped him to the ground. This incident is depicted graphically in the Vaastu Purusha Mandala with portions allocated hierarchically to each God based on the contributions and positions in performing this act. Brahma occupied the central portion - the Brahmasthana - and other Gods were distributed around in a concentric pattern. There are 45 Gods in all including 32 outer Gods.

The principal Gods/presiding deities of each direction (called the ashtadikpalar) are:

Northeast - Isaana - Lord of all quarters (Religions,Luck and Faith)
East - Aditya - Sun God (Seeing the world)
Southeast - Agni -Lord of Fire(Genrating)
South - Yama - Lord of Death (Damaging)
Southwest - Pitru - ancestors (History)
West - Varuna - Lord of water (Physical)
Northwest - Vayu - Lord Of Winds (Advertisement)
North - Kubera - Lord of Wealth (Finance)
Centre - Brahma - Lord/Creator of the Universe (Desire)

The Vaastu Purusha is the presiding deity of any site. Usually he is depicted as lying on it with the head in the Northeast and the legs in the Southwest but he keeps changing his position throughout the year.

Mandalas - types and properties

The form of the Vaastu Purusha Mandala is basically a square but there are various types of mandalas depending on the way in which the basic square is divided. In each case, the square is subdivided into smaller squares by lines running parallel/ perpendicular to the sides. Each side of the square can be divided from 1 to 32 divisions. Thus, the number of squares in the Vaastu Purusha Mandala may vary from 12 to 322, i.e. from 1, 4, 16, 25 and so on to 1024. Each of these mandalas has a distinct name and is used in specific contexts.

As mentioned earlier, the central area in all mandalas is the Brahmasthana. The space occupied by it varies in different mandalas. In Pitha (9) and Upapitha (25) it occupies one square module, in Mahaapitha (16), Ugrapitha (36) and Manduka (64), four square modules and in Sthandila (49) and Paramasaayika (81), nine square modules. The Pitha is an amplified Prithvimandala in which, according to some texts, the central space is occupied by earth. The Sthandila mandala is used in a concentric manner.

The most important mandalas are the Manduka/Chandita Mandala of 64 squares and the Paramasaayika Mandala of 81 squares- especially the former. The normal position of the Vaastu Purusha - head in Northeast, legs in Southwest - is as depicted in the Paramasaayika Mandala. However, in the Manduka Mandala the Vaastu Purusha is depicted with head towards East and feet towards West.

An important number of squares, or ayugma, has its centre constituted by one module or pada and when divided into an even number of squares or yugma, its centre is constituted by a point formed by the intersection of the two perpendicular central lines. In spatial terms, the former is sakala or manifest/morphic and the latter is nishkala or unmanifest/amorphous.

Mandala in site planning and architecture

The mandala being a metaphysical plan is put to use in site planning and architecture through a process called the Pada Vinyasa. Pada Vinyasa is a method whereby any site can be divided into uniform grids/modules or padas. Depending on the position of the Gods occupying the various modules, the zoning of the site and disposition of functions in a building are arrived at.

Mandalas have certain points known as marmas which are vital and vulnerable energy spots on which nothing should be built. They are determined by certain proportional relationships of the squares and the diagonals.

Mandala and site

A site of any shape can be divided using the Pada Vinyasa. Sites are known by the number of divisions on each side. The type of mandala with the corresponding names of sites is given below.

Sakala (1 square)corresponds to Eka-pada (single divided site)
Pechaka (4 squares) corresponds to Dwi-pada (two divided site)
Pitha (9 squares) corresponds to Tri-pada (three divided site)
Mahaapitha (16 squares) corresponds to Chatush-pada (four divided site)
Upapitha (25 squares) corresponds to Pancha-pada (five divided site)
Ugrapitha (36 squares) corresponds to Shashtha-pada (six divided site)
Sthandila (49 squares) corresponds to sapta-pada (seven divided site)
Manduka/Chandita (64 square) corresponds to Ashta-pada (eight divided site)
Paramasaayika (81 squares) corresponds to Nava-pada (nine divided site)
Aasana (100 squares) corresponds to Dasa-pada (ten divided site)

Mandala and building

The concept of sakala and nishkala are applied in buildings appropriately.

In temples, the concepts of sakala and nishkala are related to the two aspects of the Hindu idea of god/worship - Sagunopaasana, the supreme as personal God with attributes and Nirgunopaasana, the supreme as absolute spirit unconditioned by attributes. Correspondingly, the Sakala, complete in itself, is used for shrines of gods with form – sakalamoorthy - and to perform yajnas. However the Nishkala is used for installation of idols without form - nishkalamoorthy - and for auspicious, pure performances. The amorphous centre is considered beneficial to the worshippers, being a source of great energy. This could also be used for settlements.

In commercial buildings, only odd numbers of modules are prescribed as the nishkala or amorphous centre would cause too high a concentration of energy for human occupants. Even here, the Brahmasthana is left unbuilt with rooms organised around.

In accordance with the position occupied by the Gods in the mandala, guidelines are given for zoning of site and distribution of rooms in a building. Some of these are northeast should house the pooja room, east- bathroom, southeast - kitchen, south - bedroom, southwest - armoury, west - dining, northwest - cowshed, north - treasury.

Aspects of environment and energy

Vaastu Shastra describes various criteria which determine the choice of a site. The most exalted shape for a site is square, however rectangle is also acceptable. It explains about soil examination or Bhu - Pariksha. One particular test involves the digging of a hole and refilling it again with the dug soil. Based on the volume occupied by this soil in the pit, its characteristics are determined. A gnomon is used in determining the orientation. This practice is called Sanku Sthaapanam. Vaastu Shastra also prescribes sites suitable for different castes.

Vaastu Shastra prescribes desirable characteristics for sites and buildings based on flow of energy. Many of the rules are attributed to cosmological considerations - the sun's path, the rotation of the earth, magnetic field, etc. The morning sun is considered especially beneficial and purifying and hence the East is a treasured direction. The body is considered a magnet with the head, the heaviest and most important part, being considered the North Pole and the feet the South Pole. Hence sleeping with one's head in the North is believed to cause a repulsive force with the earth's magnetic North and thus considered harmful. Bedrooms are therefore designed keeping this in mind. This is a wide spread practice in Tamil Nadu even today.

Energy is primarily considered as emanating from the Northeast corner and many site and building characteristics are derived from this. Sites sloping down towards North or East from higher levels of South and West are considered good. Open spaces in site and openings in the building are to be more in the North and East than in the South and the West. No obstacles are to be present in the North and the East. Levels and height of buildings are to be higher in the South and West when compared to the North and East. The Southwest corner is to be the highest, followed by Southeast, then by Northwest and finally by Northeast. The triangle formed by joining the Southwest, Southeast and the Northwest corner of the site is attributed to the moon and the triangle formed by joining the Northeast, Northwest and Southeast corner of the site is attributed to the sun. The former are prescribed to be heavier and higher and the latter light and lower. Sites having a longer East - West axis are considered better. The diagonal connecting Southwest and Northeast is to be longer than the diagonal connecting Southeast and Northwest. An extended Northeast corner is considered beneficial.

Other aspects of buildings

There are many other principles in Vaastu Shastra, to mention a few which involve certain mathematical calculations - Maana for proportional relationships in a building and Aayaadi which specify conditions for maximum wellbeing and benefits for the residents of a building.


Vaastu Shastra evolved as a compilation of planning principles for a healthy living based on the knowledge base of the time (similar to Western treatises such as Vitruvius') and was not meant to be absolute. Its current popularity stems from its focus on a wholesome approach to space and form. Vastu was earlier used in the design of Hindu homes, but became less prominent in the industrialization period during and following the colonial British Raj. But it is used extensively in temple design, and so survived in the clans of temple designers and architects. In recent years, it has again gained mainstream popularity, and there are several Vastu 'consultants' in India, some dubious, some genuine.

One of the leading lights in this renewal is the famed temple architect Ganapathi Sthapati, of the ancient Sthapati clan of temple architects and sculptors.