Vastu-shastra (1): Canons of Architecture

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

This page describes Expert Opinions 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.

Expert Opinions

Ph.D. Thesis:

Extracts from the report of Dr. J. N. Baneṛjea, M. A., Ph. D., F.A.S., Charmichael Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Calcutta University, Calcutta.

Scholars intending to go in for advanced studies should be encouraged to take up such subjects as require not only the basic equipment of a good knowledge of Sanskrit, but also a sound idea about the technicalities of the artistic and architectural remains of ancient India. Shri Shukla is an eminent Sanskritist, and he possesses a thorough idea about the nature and quality of the architecture of the ancient Indian people. He is thus eminently fit for scientific appraisal of such a highly technical work like the Samarangana-Sutradhara of king Bhoja. The treatise is a very elaborate work on the lata [laṭā] school of Indian Architecture. It has not so far been systematically and scientifically studied, though some Purvacharyas had made occasional use of it. Shri Shukla’s work is, thus, a sort of pioneer work, and it deserves full appreciation and praise for breaking new grounds.

Bhoja’s monumental treatise, though dealing pre-eminently with the science of Indian architecture, does not fail to treat such allied topics as sculpture (iconography) and painting. The former technically known as, Vastuvidya comprises within it the other two branches of the Silpasastras, which can in a way be regarded as its adjuncts. Many of the recognized and authoritative works on the Silpasastra seldom omit treatment of these allied topics while mainly dealing with the architectural science. This work also deals with various other topics like ‘Town-planning’, ‘The Construction of Machines’ (Yantra-ghatana). ‘The Construction of Household Furniture—Cots and Couches’ (Sayanasana), etc.

It is thus a much more comprehensive work than many others of a similar nature, and a critical and scientific study of it has long been a desideratum.

Shri Shukla’s thesis is divided into eight parts, the last two of which deal with iconography as associated with sculpture and painting. The first six parts of it treat of such highly interesting topics as ‘Town Planning’, ‘House Architecture’, ‘Temple Architecture’ ‘The Construction of Machines’, ‘The Articles of Household Furniture’ etc., with the usual introductory chapters in the beginning and the Appendices in the end. In the last part (VIII)—Appendices), the author includes charts on site plans, road plans and plan of a palace as well as extensive quotations from the text of Samarangana-Sutradhara, subjectwise. In page 14 of his introductory chapter, he has tried to rearrange the chapters of the text (first 48 ones) in a coherent manner, the arrangement of which in the edited text seems to have been faulty. In all this task he has seldom failed to make full use of the contributions of previous authors on Indian architecture and allied subjects in a critical manner, and to substantiate his own conclusions on the basis of proper evaluation of comprehensive data. The author’s own contribution has thus been of a very high order, and the award of the Ph.D. degree is the least credit that can be given to him for this type of scientific and conscientious labour.

D.Litt. Thesis:

Extracts from the Reports of Dr. Shukla’s D. Litt. Thesis—“Foundations and Canons of Hindu Iconography.”


Dr. V. V. Mirashi: This brief account of the contents of the four books submitted by the author will show how comprehensively he has dealt with the subjects of iconography and painting. These subjects have, indeed, already attracted some eminent scholars who have made notable contributions to our knowledge about them. The merit of Shri Shukla's work lies in this that he has tapped Sanskrit sources exhaustively. This will be seen from the list of fifty-five works which he has appended at the end of his Pratima-Lakshanam. He has also drawn upon the previous works of several authors such as R. C. Bhandarkar, P. V. Kane, Stella Kramrisch, P. C. Brown, Raghavan, Sivaramamurti etc. He has analysed his material thoroughly and has collected all available information under several heads. We have thus in one place all available material bearing on iconography and pointing in the existing Silpasastras...... Many of the works which treat of iconography and painting have come down to us in a corrupt form. Again, they abound in technical terms, the meaning of some of which is now far from certain. Dr. Shukla’s good knowledge of Sanskrit has enabled him to restore original readings in some cases. He has also succeeded in giving plausible explanations of several judicious uses of the words of previous writers and has exercised independent judgment in several places. All these books testify to the immense labour which he has spent in collecting material and the ingenuity he has displayed in interpreting it. The author has taken infinite pains in writing these works which are packed with information about iconography and painting. He has considerably advanced our knowledge of these subjects by his devoted labours. I heartily recommend him for the award of the D.Litt. degree of the Lucknow University, without further examination.

Dr. J. N. Banerjea—

Dr. D. N. Shukla, A., Ph. D., at present of the Gorakhpur University, earned the Ph. D. Degree of the University of Lucknow sometime ago by his well-written thesis on Bhoja’s Samarangana-Sutradhara, a mediaeval Sanskrit Anthology throwing a flood of light on architecture (Vastuvidya and other allied arts of ancient India). The works now submitted by him for the D. Litt degree of the same University are on Hindu Iconography, Hindu Canons of Painting, Pratima Vijnana and Pratima Lakshanam, the first two being in English and the last two being written in Hindi. These works, all printed, contain valuable information about the iconographic and pictorial art as practised by the Silpis of ancient India. Numerous are the source materials which have been culled by him from a wide range of Sanskrit texts of a varied character—Vedic, Epic and Puranic, technical literature like the Silpasastras, and works, in verse and prose of eminent authors like Kalidasa and others. Relevant text in Prakrit and Pali have also been utilised by him in throwing light on different aspects of the theme in question. He has also made sparing use of the iconographic and pictorial remains of ancient and mediaeval India to illustrate his point, and it would have been better if such use had been more exhaustive. Some well-chosen and well reproduced illustrations of relevant specimens would have enhanced the quality of his researches. It should be observed, however, to his credit, that he has seldom failed to refer to the many authoritative works on ancient and mediaeval Indian painting and iconography which contain numerous illustrations. His appraisal of the views of respective scholars about the different problems raised by him has been critical and scholarly. Attention may only be drawn to p.201 of his Hindi book on Pratima Vijnana, where he rightly pointed out that my comment on the list of different materials for imagemaking as given in the Samarangana-Sutradhara was based on a faulty reading of the text, and the word lekhya in the passage should really be lepya. He has collected numerous iconographic texts containing the descriptions of different images from a large number of authoritative original works in his Hindi work on Pratimalakshanam, which will be of great use to research scholars in this field of Indology. His two works on Hindu Canons of Painting and Iconography (Introductory and Part I portions only) in English also contain much useful matter, and I wish he will be able to complete the latter work in no distant future, I should like to suggest that he makes full use of the representative icons belonging to the different creeds which have been found in the Uttar Pradesh, and their number, variety and workmanship are certainly great. I need not prolong my report any further. I hereby recommend the award of the D. Litt. Degree of the University of Lucknow to Dr. D. N. Shukla for his meritorious publications. His works in the Rashtrabhasha have enriched the technical branch of the Hindi literature.

Prof C. D. Chatterji—

Although eminent scholars like Sri Gopi Nath Rao, Dr. J. N. Banerjea, Sri N. K. Bhattasali, Dr. B. T. Bhattacharyya, and Sri B. Bhattacharyya, have made valuable contributions to the study of Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Jaina Iconography, a critical and scientific study of the. subject as a whole, particularly on the basis of available literary data as contained in different Agamas, Puranas and Silpa-Sastras, was a long-felt desideratum. Again, the study of Hindu Iconography in the light of the canons of paintings was never attempted before by any scholar, whether Indian or foreign. It was, therefore, felt by me as well as by the supplicant that a detailed study of the canons as preserved in Sanskrit literature, should also be made so as to make the dissertation as thorough, comprehensive, and useful as possible. Keeping all these facts in view and bearing in mind the furture [future?] needs of Indian Archaeology, I suggested to the supplicant the scheme on the basis of which his thesis has been written.

I am glad to find that Dr. Shukla has admirably executed his task. His thesis is indeed a valuable contribution to the study of Hindu Iconography, which has considerably advanced our knowledge of that subject in some of its aspects. One may differ from him in respect of a few minor points; but it should be remembered that he has strictly followed the orthodox iconic traditions as preserved in Sanskrit literature, and has substantiated them as far as possible by referring to their best and typical examples, whether executed by sculptors or by painters.

Dr. Shukla’s works on Pratima-vijnan, Pratima-lakshana, and Citra Lakshana (Hindu Canons of Painting), which comprise his D.Litt. thesis and which form parts of the Series entitled Bharatiya-Vastusastra, which has been instituted by him, will be, as I do believe, welcomed by all Indologist, since the treatment of these subjects is unprecedented, scientific, and scholarly. I, therefore, strongly recommend that the Degree of the Doctor of Literature be awarded to him on the basis of these published works on Hindu Iconography, which I sincerely believe, will not only bring credit to him but also to the University associated with his researches.

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