Vastu-shastra (1): Canons of Architecture

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

This page describes (v,2) Vastu in Epic literature 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.

After Sūtra period comes the period of Itihāsas, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, both of which mirror a very advanced state of Indian architecture. Descriptions of town, palace, sabhās, forts simply abound. Experts in the Sthāpatya were highly honoured. Viśvakarmā and Maya are repeatedly alluded as master-architects of Devas and Asuras. Technical words, like “Sthapati”, ‘Vārdhaki’ ‘Takṣaka’ and ‘Sūtradhāra’ occur in the Rāmāyaṇa as also the storeyed buildings ‘anekabhauma (R. IV. 33), ‘saptabhauma’ (R. V. 2. 49).

Dr. Bhattacharya (ibid) observes:

‘Houses and palaces had already been classified with their appropriate technical names according to their different characteristics, e.g. the Catuśśāla [Catuḥśāla?], the Padma, the Svastika, the Vardhamāna houses, and the Vimāna (palace) called the Puṣpāhvaya. All these names occur in later Śilpa-śāstras and will be explained later on. Forts were also divided into four classes such as river-fort (Nādeya), the hill fort (Pārvatya), the forest-fort (Vanya) and the artificial fort (Kṛtrima) (VI. 3). Fortification of towns and Inner-chambers of queens with ditches and ramparts adorned with Gopuras and Toraṇas are a stereotyped description of the capital cities like Ayodhyā, Kiṣkindhā and Laṅkā. Palaces or ostentatious buildings were known as Prāsādas, Vimānas, Harmyas and Saudhas and Prāsādas are described as Saptabhauma, Aṣṭabhauma, Anekabhauma and the like. These palaces were also crowned with domes or pinnacles (śikhara, śṛṅga etc.). Over the tops of houses, besides the śikharas and śṛṅgas (pinnacles) were constructed the candraśālās. Viṭaṅkas and balabhīs the technical members of houses are also mentioned. Decoration of houses with paintings and sculptures was also a current tradition. Palace-architecture has found an eloquent description in the Rāmāyaṇa.

Religious edifices like sacrificial halls, sabhās, fire-altars and temples of gods (devatāyatana) also found a place. The mention of numerous pillars inside the structure of a caitya hall suggests affinity with Buddhist caityas of later times found at Karie and Ajantā. Similar cognate details abound in every page of these monumental poetic works couthed in poetic language full of similes and metaphors.

Similar identical descriptions with more profoundity in some cases like the descriptions of forts and towns are met in the greater Epic, the Mahābhārata and Dr. Bhattacharya has gathered together all these details in his learned dissertation ‘A study of Vāstu-Vidyā or Canons of Indian architecture.’ I do not want to repeat them here for want of space. A brief notice of the Rāmāyaṇa testifies to the highly advanced state of architecture in Epic Age.

The greater Epic ‘contains short but comprehensive accounts of the cities of Dvārakā (III, 15), Indraprastha (T, 207, 30ff.), a floating city (III, 173, 3), Mithilā (III, 207, 7), and others’.

‘In the Sabhā-parva there are interesting descriptions of some assembly halls. Maya built an assembly hall for the Pāṇḍavas (Chapter 1). A description is given also of the assembly halls of Indra (Chapter VII), of Yama (Chapter VIII), of Varuṇa (Chapter IX), of Kubera (Chapter X), and of Brahmā (Chapter XI)’.

Now before taking up Purāṇas, a natural sequence after Itihāsa let us pause a little and have a glimpse of the Buddhist India as mirrored in the Jātakas—the Buddhist Folklore and the Pali Canons.

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