Vastu-shastra (1): Canons of Architecture

by D. N. Shukla | 1960 | 63,284 words | ISBN-10: 8121506115 | ISBN-13: 9788121506113

This page describes Introduction of the study on Vastu-Shastra (Indian architecture) first part (Fundamental Canons/Literature). It discusses basic concepts such as the philosophy, astronomy, geography and history of Hindu Architecture. Vastushastra can be traced to ancient literature while this thesis also reveals details regarding some of the prime canonical works.


This Vāstu-Śāstra Vol. I—Hindu Canons of Engineering and Architecture, though first in the series of my research publications in English is seeing the light of the day after the Vāstu śāstra Vol. II.—Hindu Canons of Iconography and Painting, had already been presented to the scholarly world more than a year back. Both these Volumes have for their nuclei my Doctoral Theses—Ph. D. (Vol. I) and D.Litt. (Vol. II). In this way this Volume may be said to have come out after a long interval.

A study of Bhoja’s Samarāṅgaṇa-Sūtradhāra—a treatise on the science of architecture was submitted as my Ph. D. thesis some six years back. I was very much encouraged by the glowing tributes to this thesis, being acclaimed as a pioneer work.—vide the reports of the examiners, appended at the end of this introduction. I therefore, set for myself to extend the study from a single text to at least half a dozen representative texts like Viśvakarma-prakāśa, Aparājita-pṛcchā, Mānasāra, Mayamata and Śilparatna. Naturally this very ambitious undertaking needed some more concentrated time, the availability of which has been a very distant hope for the last so many years as I have been busy not only with my D. Litt, researches, but also with my research publications in Hindi as well, with the subsidies received from the U. P. Government. Meanwhile that illustrious sociologist economist and indologist Dr. R. K. Mukerjee, the then (1954—56) Vice-Chanceller of Lucknow University, took great fancy in my theses on account of their high merit and higher tributes and recommended their publications to the U. G. C. which sanctioned a grant of Rs. 6000 for the publication of my theses. Prof. Iyer the next Vice-Chancellor also agreed to recommend for some mere help towards the completion of work. Hence a further subsidy of Rs. 4000 enabled me to undertake the publication of this Volume also. Both these Volumes in a way may be said to complete the grand edifice of Vāstu-śāstra, which is not only the science of architcctnre, engineering but also that of sculpture and painting. Accordingly all these three broad divisions of Vāstu Śāstra, namely Vāstu, Śilpa and Citra, have been surveyed in both these Volumes. The Vāstu i.e. architecture being the subject matter of the first Volume and Śilpa and Citra that of the second. Further again Vāstu in its wider application has at least five principal branches namely Engineering, Town-planning, Secular or Civil architecture (residential houses for common middle class people), Palace-architecture and Temple-architecture, It is in accordance with these broad topics of Vāstu Śāstra (in its narrower denotation and connotation) that this Volume has been divided into five principal parts namely Introductory, Town-planning, House architecture. Palace Architecture and Templearchitecture.

It is needless to say any thing in detail in regard to these parts as every part has been preceded by some introductory remarks and the readers are referred to the introductory chapters of these parts. Here I am more concerned to introduce the broad subject of this Volume. As already pointed out, this Volume is an extended study of my Ph D. Thesis—A Study of Bhoja’s Samarāṅgaṇa’s Sūtradhāra. I am really happy to say that this very elaborate, complete and authoritative medieval manual of Vāstu-śāstra has now become a household name among the students of architecture—wide my so many publications centering round this magnificent work written by that illustrious king whose name is a household name among Indians. This work really fascinated me so much that I simply overdid it and it is under duress that I am writing this introduction—vide my prolonged ailments consequent upon too much exhausting myself during the last ten years of my researches centering round the SamarāṅgaṇaSūtradhāra of king Bhojadeva of Dhārā. It is really very difficult to study such a technical work and to present a scientific and systemetic exposition of such a technical subject, more so when there was no previous guidance. A good many scholars, notably Indians (vide the presidential addresses of technical-sciences-section of A. I. O. Conference particularly of Dr. Moti Chand) have talked very lightly of these ancient manuals of Hindu Science of Architecture. This gave me a great impetus to refute this very low estimation by the Indian scholars themselves. I cannot claim to be the first interpreter of this ancient wisdom. Ramraz and Dr. P. K. Acharya, Dr. Bhattacharya, Prof. Krramrisch and others have preceded me no doubt, but without any self-praise, I must say that my approach is altogether a new approach to this hitherto uninvestigated branch of Indology. Ramraz only summarized the contents of Mānasāra, Dr Acharya’s contribution confine to the edition, translation and dictionary of Mānasāra and Dr. Bhattacharya’s pre-occupation with the historical genesis made him too much absorbed in non-scientific matters. Nevertheless his approach to some of the architectural problems may be said to be pioneering. The domain of Prof. Kramrisch and Dr. Mallaya were limited in the sense that both these scholars have expounded the canons of Temple-architecture only, though Prof. Kramrisch’s Hindu Temple is a land mark in contemporary studies in Temple-architecture and we all owe a debt of gratitude to this gifted and eminent writer who had the credit to open an altogether new vista of vision in explaining the depth of the Hindu Temple. As regards myself my means and resources have been too meagre to cope with very highly ambitious and zealous undertaking and despite these shortcomings my diety has enabled me to complete the high edifice of my Vāstu-Śāstra Research in as many as six (four Hindi and two English) Volumes. I simply do not know how could I do it. In my youthful zeal and magnetic pursuit I simply could not foresee the very hard undertaking. I had to pursue this undertaking in a dedicated manner and the hard labour of these full six years has simply crippled me and I feel exhausted and thus my research project of ten to fourteen volumes seems to be a distant hope. Situated as we are we have no encouragement, nor are there avenues for our labour to be fully recognised. We have not yet developed detached tradition'where personal ambition must be put down in the consideration of merit and scholarship.

With this little digression let me now come to my introduction to this volume, in broad outlines. As already indicated that my Ph.D. thesis, ‘A Study of Bhoja’s Samarāṅgaṇa-Sūtradhāra’—a treatise on Hindu Science of Architecture has formed the nucleus of this Volume. I really wanted to extend my presentation in the light of at least six representative texts but due to paucity of space and patience and necessary resources, I could extend only the first part to my satisfaction. To some extent a good deal has been added in practically all parts. The antiquity of town-planning, the rise of Indian towns, villages etc. (vide part II), recast of palace architecture along with its accessory buildings and pleasure-devices and the cognate, state buildings are altogether a new introduction. Similarly an’ outline history of Hindu Temple in its different styles is also a fulfilment of characteristic design to corelate the manuals and the monuments both.

This is so far as the extension of the previous work is concerned. An altogether new approach in the contemporary studies on Hindu Architecture is the preparation of Vāstulakṣaṇa having culled the material from the representative text books. This is a poineering attempt. We did have Pratimālakṣaṇa, but so far we never had Vāstulakṣaṇa. It is a parallel and corresponding approach between the study and sources. Like my Pratimālakṣaṇa—vide Vāstu-Sāstra Volume II—Hindu Cannons of Iconography and Painting, this Vāstulakṣaṇa has also been prepared under suitable scientific headings and it now reads like an independent treatise on the Vāstu-Sāstra. My only disappointment is that I could not continue the Vāstulakṣaṇa in the way I had started as I found it was getting too wieldy. Naturally I had to curtail them; otherwise the whole of it might have been a work of at least 700 pages. This curtailment had not resulted in any harm to my presentation of the study, it really harmed the variety. It has not vitiated the quality of the work.

Now with this general introduction to the general character of the work let me proceed with some of the most important features of the treatment where the findings and the studies of the contemporary writers have also been given their due importance. P. V. Mankad, himself an engineer, has ably worked out some of the working principles of Vāstuśāstra, along with some very illuminating side-lights on he origin of the principles of Hindu architecture and the contributions of the founder architects like Viśvakarmā—vide his introduction to the ‘Aparājita-Pṛcchā’, I have tried to incorporate it in my own way, cf. Fundamental Canons of Hindu Architecture Part I chapters IV and VI. In my Ph. D. Thesis I did not bother with the rise of Indian towns in their manifold categories but this has been added as an important treatment in a comprehensive survey like this, cf. Part II ‘Canons of Town-planning’.

A scientific and systematic code of ancient Indian architecture in relation to its three main branches, the civil, the aristocratic and the religious has been a long-felt desideratum. The present writer has therefore taken a pioneering lead to rehabilitate this Hindu contribution in the realm of architecture which for many a generation was misunderstood as confined mainly to the domain of either Palace architecture or Temple architecture, more characteristically the latter. For this the monumental treatise, the Samarāṅgaṇa-Sūtradhāra of king Bhoj Deva has been my single guide. Though written by an aristocrat, this manual presents the first systematic demarcation between these aforesaid three branches of Hindu architecture—House architecture, Palace architecture and Temple architecture. Accordingly the 3rd, 4th and 5th parts of this work are devoted to the exposition of this genius of Hindu science of architecture where in all the three principal categories of houses—residential houses of ordinary men (civil architecture), the palaces of kings (palace architecture), and the abodes of gods (temple architecture)—are deliniated, upon. In the end of 5th part, I have tried to give an outline history of Hindu Temple in all its styles of both the canons and monuments of art.

This is a broad outline of this work. A perusal of its contents and the presentation thereof will convince my readers that this kind of systematised and scientific presentation of our ancient lore—the Vāstuśāstra was a long-felt desideratum and I must frankly admit that though much of the exposition is a pioneering attempt of mine, nevertheless a good deal of it has come from the renowned predecessors to whom I owe a debt of gratitude and but for whose works serving as guides this eminent exposition of work could not have been forthcoming. I therefore, recall some of these savants for my reverence and heartfelt gratitude. These are Dr. P. K. Acharya, Dr. Stella Kramrisch, Dr. Bhattacharya, Sri B. B. Dutta, P. V. Mankad, Dr. Mallaya and lastly though not least in importance that very illuminating writer Percy Brown whose ‘Indian Architecture’ has been my best source in treating an outline history of Hindu Temple.

In the end I must take this opportunity to pay my heart-felt gratitude to those who have helped me in this very difficult under-taking of getting such a technical work printed and seeing it through the press. My former pupil of the University of Lucknow, Sri Virabhadra Misra, M. A. and my son Sri Lalit Kumar Shukla M.A. have taken immense pains to correct the proof. Being ill during the printing of the work I could not take upon myself the three or four readings. I could see only the last proof. Despite all this I am doubtful if the correct printing has emerged. I crave the indulgence of my readers for the printing errors which in Indian Presses is very difficult to avoid. Lucknow, though a capital city, can not take pride in its presses. I owe a debt of gratitude to the proprietor of Shukla Printing Press Pt. Behari Lal Shukla for his very helpful and friendly treatment.

Lastly though not least in importance, I recall the real patrons of this work. They are the Uttar Pradesh Govt, and the University Grants Commission, but for their benevolent patronage vide their subsidies and grants, my Vāstu-śāstra publications would not have seen the light of the day. I know my limitations, but the performance was worth of an institute, naturally the blemishes there must be and the avoidance of which, though a constant vigilence, could not be fully accomplished.

University Campus, Chandigarh,

Āśvina Navarātra
2017 Sam. 1960 A.D,

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