Vastu-shastra (1): Canons of Architecture

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

This page describes The Schools of Architecture and the Allocation of the Samaranguna 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.

(iii) The Schools of Architecture and the Allocation of the Samarāṅguṇa

In the history of Indian Architecture it is not the schools but the orders or the styles that are most talked of. But when we study the works of architecture both architectural like Mānasāra, Mayamata, Viśvakarmīya-Śilpa, Agastya-Sakalādhikāra, Kāśyapa’s Aṃśumadbheda, Varāhamihira’s Bṛhatsaṃhitā, Bhoja’s Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra and others; and non-architectural like ĀgamasKāmika, Suprabheda and a host of others; Purāṇas, particularly Matsya, Agni, Brahmāṇda, etc. and Pratiṣṭhā Granthas, and Pūjā-Paddhatis like Īśānaśivagurudeva’s, Raghunandana’s, and miscellaneous other works, like Haribhakti-vilāsa, Hemādri’s Caturvarga-cintāmaṇi etc., we are bound to come to the conclusion that there were at least two distinct and different architectural traditions in our land.

These two streams of architectural traditions represent the two civilizations which were the precursors of the composite culture of India as we have evolved in these two thousand years. The rudimentary norms of Indian architecture go as far back as Vedic and pre-Vedic times of Indus Valley and Mesopotamian civilisations. One of the component parts of story of civilisation of mankind is the story of architecture that man had evolved in order to satisfy one of the three fundamental necessities of life, the habitation; the other two being clothing and food.

Resuming the lost thread, from the study of architectural literature, there appear to be two different and distinct schools of architecture. This statement needs be elaborated. The system of classification of the temples or the palaces, differ in the two sets of works. In one the crowning part of the temple is Āmalaka, it is absent in the other. The names of pillars and their component mouldings also differ. In works like Mānasāra the names of most of the Prāsadas end in the suffix “kānta”. It is not so in works like the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra, the Matsyapurāṇa, Bṛhatsaṃhitā and others of group. The Vesara so much talked of as one of the triad—Nāgara, Drāviḍa and Vesara—is completely absent in the works like Matsyapurāṇa, Bṛhat-saṃhitā and Samarāṅgaṇa. Similarly names of residential houses and Maṇḍapas also differ. The Gopuras attached to temples are mentioned only in works like the Mānasāra and are completely absent in other treatises like the Samarāṅgaṇa.

All these differences, I may point out, revolve round the orbit of the temple, the chief feature of Indian architecture coming within the devotional architecture containing in it the Prāsadas, Cave-temples, Caityas, Vihāras, Stūpas, Column-halls, the Maṇḍapas and the towery Gopuras and the like. And as a matter of fact these are really the ancient monuments in the field of Indian architecture of which we can be proud of and by which the Indian Architecture is worth the name. The devotional architecture is the outcome of the Bhakti-cult founded by the Purāṇas and Āgamas. The Pauranic Dharma, more popular in this part of the land—the Uttrāpatha, enjoined the consecration of the images of gods and goddesses in the Devālayas, with Vāpi, Kūpa, Tadāgas as the most virtuous act. Naturally, therefore, under the patronage of the devoted kings, religious minded wealthy people and the common men (not excluded) all contributed their mite in the construction of temples and the enshrinements of the deities therein, in all parts of the land, afterwards known as Tīrthas. Similiarly, what the Purāṇas did for the North, the Āgamas did for the South. These two religious traditions are recorded and incorporated in the Purāṇas and Āgamas. There were correspondingly two architectural traditions in the works on the Vāstu-vidyā. This is one way in which we can explain the difference.

We know that in India the origin of a Śāstra is invariably connected with some God or great personage—Ṛṣi or Muni. Brahmā and Śiva have the largest share of founding so many systems of sciences and arts. The science of architecture too had a number of gods and sages and other heavenly beings as its originators, propounders and writer-Ācāryas. Two foremost names among them are Viśvakarmā and Maya. Viśvakarmā, the heavenly architect is alluded to in many places in the literature, to have built capitals of kings. Maya the demon-architect is similarly alluded to in many places in the literature, to have built assembly halls, etc. Viśvakarmā and Maya are respectively called the originators of architecture on earth who in their turn got this sacred lore from the Creator-God Brahmā.

Dr. Bhattacharya, in his zeal for establishing the two principal schools of Indian Architecture, has tried to locate the mythical and real personages to two branches of the art (vide “Canons of Indian Architecture”. Chapter XX). Of the twenty five preceptors of the Vāstu-vidyā whom he has taken notice of, on the authority of the Matsya Purāṇa, Bṛhatsṃhitā and Mānasāra, most of them are allocated to the Dravidian School and some to the Northern School, This list consists of names such as Bhṛgu, Atri, Vaiśiṣṭha [Vaisiṣṭha?], Viśvakarmā, Maya, Nārada, Nagnajit, Viśālākṣa, Anirudha, Śukra and Bṛhasapti. These are all the great sages of the past, in some way or other related to sacred scriptures of India. The other personages are, Manu, Parāśara, Kaśyapa, Bharadvāja; Prahlada, Agastya, and Mārkaṇḍeya etc.

On the authority of the scattered references in the literature; Dr. Bhattacharya takes all these teachers to be historical personages and not mythical personalities. I am not concerned with this controversial matter, my aim being the ascertainment of the place of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra, the most authoritative medieval compendium on architecture, I have therefore to take into my account only this point of the learned doctor, namely, that he has mentioned Brahmā in the list of Ācāryas belonging to the pre-Sixth Century Drāviḍa Vāstu-vidyā, along with Śakra, Śukra, Maya, Bhṛgu, Bṛhaspati, Nārada, Nagnajit and Agastya (see page 206). Among the Acharyas of the Nagara school, the first and foremost place he allotts to Garga and then follow Parāśara, Vṛhadratha and Viśvakarmā.

As regards the available works dealing with the canons of architecture, Dr. Bhattacharya’s allocation of the different treatises may be tabulated as hereunder

Northern School:

  1. Matsya-Purāṇa
  2. Agni-Purāṇa,
  3. Bhaviṣya-Purāṇa,
  4. Viśvakarma-prakāśa,
  5. Bṛhat-Saṃhitā,
  6. Tantras like Kiraṇatantra,
  7. Hayaśīrṣa-Pañcarātra,
  8. Samarāṅgaṇa-sūtradhāra,
  9. Viṣṇu-dharmottara,
  10. Works of Maṇḍana,
  11. Pratiṣṭhā-works like Hemadri’s [Hemādri’s?],
  12. Vastu-ratnāvalī,
  13. Vāstu-pradīpa,
  14. Haribhakti-vilāsa.

Southern School:

  1. Śaiva-Āgamas,
  2. Vaiṣṇava Pañcarātras,
  3. Atri-Saṃhitā,
  4. Vaikhānasāgamas,
  5. Mayamata [Mayamatam],
  6. Śilparatna [Śilparatnam],
  7. Kāśyapas’s Aṃśumadbheda,
  8. Viśvakarmīya-Śilpa,
  9. Dīpta-Tantra,
  10. Agastya-Sakalādhikāra,
  11. Mānasāra,
  12. Sanatkumāra-Vāstuśāstra,
  13. Śilpa-saṅgraha,
  14. Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati,
  15. Tantrasamuccaya,
  16. Citralakṣaṇa,

The account of the traditional schools and their works as brought forth by Dr. Bhattacarya in his book ‘A Study of Vāstu-Vidyā,’ a pioneering work indeed, may not be taken for granted. It however, throws sufficient light, to enlighten some of the darker corners of the Hindu architectural traditions, handed down from generation to generation. Though these accounts may appear legendary, there is always some historical truth enshrined in them. The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra represents that period of history, the First Part of the Eleventh Century A. D. by the time of which a composite culture had been evolved by the admixture of the Aryan, Non-Aryan, Southern and Northern, Nagas and Asuras cultures. Naturally, therefore, its accounts regarding the architectural tradition of the past, give impression that these water-tight divisions of the two schools had lost their importance. Brahmā, the chief Progenitor of the Drāviḍa School is hailed here as the Founder of the Śāstra, Creator of the Vāstu (vide First Chapter of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra) The self-same Creator Lord, Brahmā is the harbinger of the Prāsādas on the earth from the celestial Vimānas. Brahmā, the Creator Lord, entrusts the task of the planning of the world to Viśvakarmā. Creation in its primordial aspect of the evolution being done, it was left to two great personages, the first king Pṛthu and the heavenly architect, Viśvakarmā, to establish the order and law, the work of a king and habitations, villages, houses, forts, gardens, and places of manifold varieties to serve the needs of mankind, the work of a founder architect. After creation, the levelling of the earth with all its mountains, rivers, rocks, seas and forests was the task of a patron king. Creator Brahmā installed Pṛthu (from whom the earth has assumed one of its names Pṛthvī), the lord of the world to supervise the planning and to fulfil the task of the right government, right society, right living, the fundamental pre-requisite of any cultural advancement. This is what is meant by Varṅāśrama-saṃsthāna-vibhāga and Mahāsamāgamana (Chapters VIII & I). It was the coordinated and co-related planning in which the trinity of Pṛthu, Pṛthvi and Viśvakarmā played the primordial role.

This Viśvakarmā, as the appointed missionary for the Universal Planning by the Lord Brahmā Himself, became the founder Architect on earth, the originator and the First Ācārya of the Aryan School, Nāgara School or Northern School. This is what the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra says to us. In Samarāngaṇa Viśvakarmā is made to transmit the architectural knowledge to his sons, the representative proto-types of the architectural tradition on the earth. He is the Pravaktā of the Śāstra. It is from his mouth that the canons of architectural science as propounded in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra are laid down.

No one having even a cursory acquaintance with the contents of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra will dispute its allocation to the Northern Vāstu-Vidyā as it is understood by the scholars like Dr. Bhattacharya who himself assigned this work to this branch. But apart from the regional and social considerations, I am inclined to say that the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra is the representative of the composite architecture of our land in which both the schools, though distinct and different in some respects in the beginning got themselves integrated to evolve neoarchitecture. My contention regarding this fundamental aspect of the work will be amplified in the subsequent chapter of the Study (vide Prāsāda Part V).

In the end, I may touch on the pertinent problem of the sources from which it has drawn and the originality it can claim, I am of the definite view that the whole work is a master-piece of original contribution. Even śbme of the preliminary chapters (i.e. Mahadādisarga, Bhuvanakośa and Sahadevādhikāra, etc. etc) though drawn from the Purāṇas, are independent and original in sense that they are not reproductions. The Yantra, and the Citra—machines and paintings all these portion of the work are quite original. The House architecture is its special contribution. The S. S may be deemed as the founder of the civil architecture among the ancient classics of this branch of lore. Among the manifold varieties of the Prāsāda, dealt with in this work, though some of the types represent the Pauranic classification of the Prāsādas, their ramifications into so many classificationions of the Prāsādas with their architectural details are Samarāṅgaṇa’s original contributions. Even in matters of the proportions, more particularly of the finial the geometrical progressions which do not tally with the earlier works like the Agni-purāṇa, are the original workings of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra I shall say more on all this in the concluding chapter of this study.

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