An Introduction to Vedic Architecture
An Interview with Martin Gluckman
1. What is your background in Vedic Architecture?
I was introduced to Vaastu Shastra (the ancient name for Vedic Architecture) in early 2002 when I invited a prominent author and teacher (Dr. Talavane Krishna of Mysore, India) to South Africa to deliver a workshop at the University of Cape Town Architectural School. This planted a seed inside of me that made me pursue this science through all avenues available. After much personal study I travelled to India to meet with some of it's foremost Vaastu Shastra experts and to study in particular with Dr. V. Ganapathi Sthapathi, who was the former Dean of the Mahabalipuram Architectural School and is one of the greatest living proponents of Vaastu Shastra. In the past years I have conduced in-depth research and studies into Vaastu Shastra in a quest to understand this ancient science (which has become even more relevant in our modern world) and get to the bottom of its profound concepts of time, rhythm, placement and form.
2. Is Maharishi Vedic Architecture the same as Vedic Architecture?
"Maharishi Sthapathya Veda" is based on the ancient tradition of Vaastu Shastra as taught by my teacher Dr. V. Ganapathi Sthapathi. Maharishi has been a formidable scholar, teacher and organizer and has revived many of the Vedic traditions in the East and West, making them easily accessible for one and all once again. Other examples are Ayurveda and Transcendental Meditation (a form of Vedantic meditation) all of which Maharishi has done much to bring forth the cream of India?s teachers so that people around the world can rediscover these beautiful timeless sciences wherever they may be. There is a joke that someone once said to Maharishi that they thought he should get the Nobel Peace Prize, his reply was 'Peace is the prize'. This well illustrates his illustrious efforts to remind the world of its deepest heritage.
3. Is 'Vastu Shastra' just the 'group name' for different kinds of Vedic Architecture?
The correct name for the science of Vedic architecture is 'Vaastu Shasta' with the long "aa" sound. Many books refer to it as 'Vastu Shastra' with a single "a" but this has a different meaning and is actually imprecise.
Vastu in Sanskrit means primal energy that has not taken form or manifested. In modern physics we might call this energy such as the famous "E" in Einstein's E=mc? formulae. When the 'a' is long it becomes Vaastu, which means manifested and formed energy, which is what we might call matter in modern physics. This is when energy has taken shape and form and is clearly identifiable via our 5 senses. The traditional name for Vedic architecture and design is Vaastu Shastra. Shastra can be translated as 'treatise' and thus the expression denotes a treatise on the study of matter and all that relates to matter in its deepest essence. Vaastu is matter when it has taken shape and form - as we see all around us nature is creating form all the time - a seed is planted and it knows just how to grow towards the sun and where to place every leaf - this is the perfection of the Divine architect or Creator which is the intelligence in this seed. So the form takes shape and there are rules, there are rhythms and there is balance to ensure you have a beautiful plant. In the same way when we human beings undertake to construct something, would it not make perfect sense for use to be aware of the rules and principals that nature is adhering to and thus too adhere to them? What is the result when we do this? The result is we create a space or Vaastu that is alive with nature?s vibrations. Just as one can feel immediately the difference between lying on the trunk of a tree and sitting in a noisy, polluted city street, the same difference can be felt in a space that has been constructed with the principals of Vaastu Shastra. The space carries the same qualities as nature and thus one feels calm, centred and invigorated.
4. In layman?s terms, what does Vedic architecture involve?
Vaastu Shastra, like all the Vedic sciences (such as Ayurveda, Jyotisha, Vedic Mathematics and so forth) was produced from the minds of self-realized sages who had cultivated the ability to observe nature at it's finest level. They did not sit in laboratories or build massive particle accelerators, but at the same time they knew about the finest forms of matter and how matter is affected in different shapes, forms and rhythms. My teacher used to describe architecture as "frozen music" and after spending time in his buildings and hearing their songs from the rhythmic structures, I understood well what he meant. If architecture is frozen music then some of the modern buildings we build today are very similar to the modern music we have produced. How can one compare the sustained note of a Stradivarius with the throb of our "techno" music? This is the essence of Vedic architecture - to apply this knowledge from the Vedic sages to constructing dwellings and so forth. Might I add that the principals can and have been applied for town planning and design of vehicles and furniture. In the ancient civilizations of Mohenjodarro (Indus valley civilization) the city was found to be laid out according to the principals of Vaastu shastra.
5. Do you feel that modern architects are beginning to incorporate elements of this sacred architecture into their work?
There is a gradual trend. In India and China this has been for a number of decades and now in the west there is a trend towards "natural" buildings but the basic mathematical principals of Vaastu Shastra are still known by just a few. Amazingly many of the great relics that stand till today such as Chitchen Itza in Mexico, The Great Pyramid of Giza, Maccu Piccu and Cuzco in Peru all followed the base principals of Vaastu Shastra in their construction. My teacher (Dr. Sthapathi) made a trip to these areas and found the measurements and layout to be in accordance with what he had learnt in his lineage (an unbroken family tradition he has traced back some 33 generations!). Vaastu shastra does not belong to India but it is a universal science that has existed all over the world and will revive again when people start looking for the science behind form. I have seen many modern architects playing and dabbling with "natural architecture" but in fact if they are not aware of the science of Vaastu Shastra then there is something essential missing. Let me illustrate with an example. One of the main principals in Vaastu shastra is that the middle portion of a building should be left open to the sky or if is enclosed then there should be a skylight and or windows so that star and skylight can fall into this portion. Why is this so? The centre of any space is what we call the Brahmasthan in Sanskrit, which means that it is the abode of Brahma or the creative aspect of nature - if you look at cells in a microscope or molecules in an atomic microscope you will notice that the centre is predominated by space (akash in Sanskrit) and thus in a home design we leave the centre open to sky and space and thus the home is suitably nourished. The analogy given by my teacher was that this is like the lung of the house where the prana (life force) is entering the house. Amazingly I spent much time in houses in India with a Brahmasthan and experienced the immense peace that it brings to a dwelling. Interestingly this idea was used by Greeks and especially by Romans whose houses were famous for their central courtyards - many still standing today! Think of a building you have visited which has a central, open courtyard and see how you felt there.
On a similar note, this principal is also applied to town and city planning and thus the central point of a town should be an open space such as a park. Now amazingly the Romans passed this on to the Spanish and on my many travels through South and Central America I remember that every city I visited had a plaza major (central plaza) and this would be the point of gravitation for all the dwellers of the city. It was the central meeting point and the point of the city where people seemed to gravitate to naturall. Thus it nourished the city the way that the nucleus nourishes the cell.
6. Why does Vedic Architecture concern itself with the position of the stars/ cosmology?
The planets have an effect on everything, as we see with the waxing and waning moon and the cycle of solar flares which cause cataclysms on the planet (predictable by modern science). And thus when constructing a dwelling the planets have an effect on that space too. The main point to be aware of is choosing an auspicious time to begin construction and lay the foundation stone, much the same as a farmer would choose the ideal season and time to plant a particular seed.
7. What kinds of materials are used for Vedic Architecture? Organic?
There are many references to materials that are suitable and unsuitable for dwellings. A house should be constructed as close to nature as possible and thus certain woods are mentioned as being ideal, certain types of stone and brick and so forth. All the modern materials we use such as plastic and its derivatives are very young substances and their toxicity is highly suspect. Petrochemicals have infiltrated every part of construction from the paints we use to the glazing on our tiles. The mathematical design principals of Vaastu Shastra can be implemented with any building material but if one wants to build a truly natural dwelling then one would use only raw, untreated or naturally treated substances from nature herself. Much research has been done into this and today there are natural paints, varnishes and building materials on the market. This is a sign that people are becoming more aware of these important matters as just as "you are what you eat" you also "are where and how you live".
8. Is nature and important part of Vedic architecture and why?
Nature is the underlying basis of Vedic architecture and all the Vedic sciences. Veda means wisdom or knowledge and it is something different to what we commonly think of as knowledge. Veda is the product of minds that have become highly tuned and sensitised to a deeper vision of life and then the knowledge has been given from what has been perceived. Vedic knowledge have been with humanity for timeless ages and the sole purpose is to give people health, harmony, happiness and ultimate fulfilment in every aspect of life. For example Ayurveda (science of life) is the Vedic medical system and its basis is on how to live in accordance with nature so that disease simply does not come into the picture. The further we remove ourselves from nature, the more disease is becoming part of our lives. If we remain with our bodies and minds in balance, then there is no sickness at all. One of my recent teachers of Ayurveda, a doctor from Mumbai, had a teacher who lived to 125 years in perfect health and was practicing medicine in Nepal, seeing 30-40 patients. This is a living example of the Vedic knowledge. In the same way in India and other parts of Asia (such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia) there are many temples and other structures that were build according to Vaastu shastra and they still stand today.
9. Why are the timing, direction and position of a home so important?
Timing as illustrated above is important as when one plants a seed (or builds a home) the timing will have an effect on how it grows and nourishes you. If you plant the seed at the right time, you yield a good crop and good food. The same can be said with a home, the difference might be small but it has an effect as with the timing of anything. Once we are aware that different times have different qualities, we live with more opened eyes in this regard and we become more masters of our actions rather than simply blindly performing them.
Direction is a basic fundament of Vaastu Shastra. Nature has certain rules and forms in terms of how the earth is placed in space and the position of the various planets. There is a measurable grid of energy on the surface of the earth running N/S/W/E (aligned with True N) and this is the same grid that we build our houses on in Vaastu shastra. Thus the house is aligned with the subtle currents of energy flowing up and across the earth and thus we gain the benefits of being in harmony with such elements.
Each direction has a different quality or effect. We all know the sun rises in the E so E has a quality of the sun and so forth. The sages observed that the sun is not just a ?ball of fire? but it is also a primal consciousness in the centre of all activity. Without it there is no physical life and it is also a profound representation of the eternal Self or Soul within us all which is said to shine with the "splendour of a thousand suns". Direction is very important and also with reference to the placement of the various rooms, even down to the direction one would face while sleeping, cooking or eating. Of course the difference is very subtle but if you multiply a good effect over a lifetime the benefits are highly measurable. Animals are inantly aware of the knowledge of direction, birds will build their nests facing certain directions, flowers will turn to the sun, nature is aware of direction and all activities are performed in harmony with this awareness. When we build a house with Vaastu we simply mirror nature and her rythems and bring them into our created space.
Position is important but before considering this, the nature of the land you build your home on must be considered, for the land will reflect upon its inhabitants. Ideal land is fertile land, where seeds sprout in just a few days and thus the fertile earth creates a fertile mind, heart and life. This is a very simple concept but in modern times something we have neglected as we can "master" nature to a degree and dwell even in remote, arid or otherwise uninhabitable places.
With reference to position we consider the positioning of the home itself, the positioning of various rooms and also the positioning of the person in the room to gain maximum harmony with nature at all times.
If you try one experiment in this regard: Simply observe which direction you are sleeping usually and change it so that your head is facing E. Keep a diary and after two weeks see what you notice different? Do you notice there is more enthusiasm and a general feeling of lightness? This is because the hypothalamus functions better when we face E (studies have demonstrated this in recent years) and thus sleeping E we get this and many other subtle benefits and blessings.
10. I?ve read a thesis on the positive effects on people living in MVA homes. In your opinion, is this a common symptom of MVA?
People living in a house built in accordance with Vaastu Shastra (in Maharishi's organization this is called Maharishi Sthapatya Veda) will definitely experience benefits in all aspects of their life, they will experience more health, harmony and joy. It is the same peace and harmony one gets when one lives in the forest or in the mountains in a little hut surrounded by the vastness of nature and it?s elements. Vaastu brings nature into your home in a very subtle and beautiful way. I have experienced this in the home of my teacher (Dr. Sthapathi) where I was studying where I noticed that no matter how I was feeling before I entered his home (a house built 100% with Vaastu Shastra principals), I would become calm, focused and centred in his home. So people living in MVA homes experience many benefits no matter what their state before entering the house. The benefits are always noticeable. For example the home where I am living at the moment in Kathmandu is 80% Vaastu Shastra; the rooms have been placed accordingly and most importantly it has a central Brahmasthan. The peace and harmony and clarity I experience while living in this home is like none other.
11. How does Vedic Architecture incorporate ?deeper spiritual meanings??
When we live close to nature and with nature?s rhythms, we naturally become aware of our 'deeper spiritual meanings'. We are all spiritual; we are all children of the Mother earth, of G-d and of nature. When we remove the obstructions and confusions and stresses from inside (many of which are artificially imposed upon us by "modern life") then we all become joyous and expressions of our deepest hearts.
Vedic architecture is centred around eternal spiritual wisdom, which all Vedic wisdom subscribes to. The core of that wisdom (and the essence of most of today's religions) is that we are all Divine souls. All human beings are souls and we are here on earth to become aware of this and then to live this in our daily life. When aware of our pure and joyous nature as souls, our expressions of ourselves become clear, joyous and celebratory of life. Thus living in a Vaastu Shastra house or one where the principals are accorded to as much as possible, we become less stressed and more "in-tuned" with nature and her rhythms. When this happens we naturally become spiritual, as this is who we are!
12. Is there a place for Vedic architecture in today?s modern society?
"Modern society" is a time bomb and this is clear for all to see. I recently attended the World Summit for Sustainable Development and then just some weeks ago the World Social Forum in Mumbai and at both conferences that were attended by people by all nations, it was clear for all to see that the world as it is today is a world in absolute crisis. The blind materialism and consumption, the volumes of pollution and the high levels of crime and stress are reaching a point of extreme saturation.
The ancient Vedic wisdom has answers for today?s world and they must be heard. I have many friends working in this field and I pray that more and more people return to nature and return to the their inner-nature so we can build a society that does not dominate nature but lives in awe of her and in song with her. May there be heaven on earth.
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|This article was published on Sunday 04 July, 2004.|
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