Vastu-shastra (1): Canons of Architecture

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

This page describes The character of the building aspect etc. (Patakadi-shat-chandas) 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.

(v) The character of the building aspect etc. (Patākādi-ṣaṭ-chandas)


Chanda is the aspect of the building. It is its rythmical disposition. It is rhythm of the structure like that of poetry. It is poetry of building.

The Science of metres or rhythms (chandas) extends to the rhythmical disposition of the ground-plan of the building and their vertical section (ūrdhvachanda).

“The ground plan of the temple, whatever may be its variations, is analogous to the Vāstupuruṣamaṇḍala and retains in its rhythmic order proceeding from the centre and in the modulations of its perimeter, the knowledge of the Vāstupuruṣa in all his parts. The rhythm (chandas) of the ground-plan is derived from the order in the Vāstumaṇḍala. The telation of sacred architecture to the Vastu-puruṣa-maṇḍala is reflected more over in the sculptures on its walls; their iconography is essentially an iconometry (tālamāna)”.

This chanda of building has come down from the Vedic Altar (Agni).

Thus it is said in the ‘Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa’ ( VIII. 3. 3 5):

“The metre measure (mā) is this terrestrial world, for this world is measured; the metre forth-measure (pra-mā), is the air world, for this is measured from this world; the metre counter measure ( Pratimā) is that heavenly world; for that world is counter measured in the air.”

The rhythmic formulae for the Bṛhatī and Vālakhilya bricks, are (‘Tait. Samh.’ IV.3.7.1):

“Thou art Earth metre (mā), Air metre (pramā) Heaven metre (pratimā).............. The Season metre, the Star metre, the Mind metre, the Speech metre.................”

The inner rhythms of man and the worlds, and their presiding divinities Agni, Vāta Śūrya, the impelling and regulating agents in and of the special metre, are invoked in these mantras or rhythmic formulae which are addressed each to one brick, identified with the deity. Mahīdhara, comm, ‘Vāj. S.’ XIV, 18 explains Chandas, metres, as derived from the foot ‘chad’ to cover. Each brick, each building unit is imbued with rhythm. It is a charged and compelling weight and shape, in the hands of the builder. (cf. Āp. Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra, XVI, 28. 1. cf., the 12 mantras when laying the bricks in conformity with the golden Puruṣa.) With this rhythmic formula (mantra) are laid down three layers of the altar (Agni); the fourth layer is the Brahman (S. B. VIII. 4. 1. 3).

Rhythm evokes a reality and measure builds it up. Whatever is produced is called ‘Meya’ (‘Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra’, IX. 28), It is measurable, capable of being known, a quantity (gaṇa; ‘Gaṇitasārasaṅgraha’ 1. 10-15). (Gaṇita, the science of quantities and their computation, mathematics, is applied to architecture, Vāstuvidyā; to Chandas, the science of rhythms, etc., to the dimensions of this earth, to the space world ( the interspace, ‘antarikṣa’) and to the world of light and the gods; and to the configuration and destinies of the beings therein ) Proportionate measurement (pra-māṇa) is essential to the temple ( vi-māna) and to the image (pratimā) alike. They are ‘made’ by it to the same extent as the Vedic altar and also the Vedi.

When the Vedi is outlined on the ground, with the tip of the wooden sacrificial sword, this rhythmic formula (mantra) is recited: “With the sacrifice’s forth-measure (pra-mā), peri-metre (abhi-mā), counter-measure (prati-mā) and upward measure ( un-mā), I comprise thee” (Āpastamba Śrauta Sūtra’, IV. 5. 4.).

Three-fold and fourfold measure is here meted out; it has direction and building power. It is the object, its energy and form, To have measured the measure, “so that one may not measure further; in a hundred autumns, not before” (AV. XVIII. 2 38) means, that life has been lived consciously, adequately in every direction. “This measure (of life) man measures forth (pra), off (apa), apart (vi), out (nir), up (ut) together (sam), so that when he has measured it, it is said of him that lie has gone to heaven” (AV XVIII. 2. 39-45).

“Whereas temple are built in differing styles, the Fire-Altar is subject to no such variation; its shape is independent of time and place, independent even of extensiveness, so much so that one of the types of the Vedic Altar is prescribed to be made of rhythms only (chandasciti [chandaściti?]) and not of bricks which are their representatives. (Baudhāyana Śulba Sūtra, II. 62-85); “In the case of the Chandaściti, the Agnicit, the builder of the Fire-Altar, draws on the ground the Agni of prescribed shape. He then goes through the whole prescribed process of construction imagining all the while that he is placing every brick in its proper place with the rhythmic formula (mantra) that belongs to it. The mantras are recited but the brick it are not actually laid. The chandciti [chandaściti?] thus is the Citi or altar made up of Chandas rhythms or mantras instead of bricks or loose mud pieces (B. B. Dutt, ‘The science of the śūlba [śulba?], p. 3, note)—of the 36,000 Fire-altars made of mind, speech, breath etc.; ‘Vedānta Sūtra’, III 3. 44 Śaṅkarācārya’s comm).

The rhythmic formulae, the mantras however, even mentally recited, are extended in time. This time is not the dated time of history. It has its architectural analogy and notation in the Talacchand [Talacchanda?], the ground-plan of the temple.

Chanda is a characteristic of Nāgara school of Indian Architecture and accordingly this canon has found an important place in the Canons of architectures as expounded by the two principal texts of Nāgara Vāstu-vidyā, the Samarāṅgaṇa-Sūtradhāra and the Aparājitapṛcchā.

Chandas as described in the Vāstuśāstra are sixfold—

  1. Meru,
  2. Khaṇḍameru,
  3. Patākā,
  4. Sūcī,
  5. Uddiṣṭa and
  6. Naṣṭa (—Vide V.L.).

Chanda of Vāstu means disposition of a structure or view of a structure as presented in its contour against the sky. In one word it is perspective view. In this respect Rhetoric, Music and Architecture stand upon a common platform, as they have each six primary Chandas as unitary basis. These 6 primary chandas give rise, in the first instance, to as may as 35 secondary Chandas just as six Rāgas of Music produce thirty six Rāginis by a process of combination of one with the other. Mankad (who has very ably worked out this canon in a critical and comparative manner—vide his Introduction to the Aparājita-pṛcchā) accordingly says: out of these 36 secondary ones, there arise tertiary, quarternary etc. Chandas and their number reaches eventually to a figure with 6 dots or even more; and naturally so, as structures ministering to the needs of occupants of different grades in society, from Śūdra, Vaiśya etc. to kings and even gods and goddesses assume a variety of forms, and so do their contours present a corresponding variety of views. This will account for a large number of Chandas as described above.

This was our ancient tradition. Even today any building and every building structure does not present an identical view. Contours of structure assume multifarious forms as structures vary to suit the different classes of buildings and to satisfy different functions. Let us now take these six chandas one by one:


Chandas, we have seen are sixfold heading Meru. What is Meru? It has the form of the earth; it is in likeness of the Meru Mountain and has its shape like a ‘śarāva’.

Mankad interprets “Such a view is presented by a mountain,—a Central pinnacle rising considerably above the ground surface, and having sides sloping step by step in easy gradations all round, till eventually it reaches the general ground surface.

I am irresistably prompted to quote the description of Boro Budour [Borobudur] in Java, which unknowingly defines the view as Merucchanda.

“From the square basic platform to the topmost of the circular platforms, is but 118 ft. in perpendicular height while the perimetere of the whole pyramid standing on that lowest platform is 2080 ft, so that the entire complexity of galleries with the bewildering wealth of ornamtation [ornamentation?] makes a much flattened half globe whose contour against the sky is a perfect curve in fact, one writer has unpoetically said that the work has been carried out so skilfully that from far away the structure looks not unlike a highly ornate dish-over.”

The A. P. (Vide Vāstulakṣaṇas) enumerates about eighteen forms along with their illustrations of component parts of a structure tabulated by Mankad (ibid) some of which may be tabulated as here under:

1. “māḍa, mauḍa, śuddha, śekhara, siṃhaka”—6 Chandas of royal mansion;

2. “tṛṇa, paṭṭa, vājin, ṣūrṇa [pūrṇa?], khaṇḍa”—6 Chandas of ordinary residential quarters;

3. One, three, five, seven and nine śākhā’s of door-ways.

4. “latina, nāgara, bhauma, drāviḍa, virāṭaka, sāndhāra, vimāna”—Prāsādas.

5. “padma, nābhi, sabhāmārga, mandāra, bhinna, miśraka”—6 kinds of Vitānas.

(see 13 more—vide A.P. introduction).


The Meruchanda as we have seen, presents a view which a mountain does, it has a central vertical rise with surface gradually sloping downwards as one recedes from the central axis and reaching eventually the ground surface. When, however, the outward peripheral circular ends do not form a complete circle but are only a part of it, the view is called a Khaṇḍa-meru when a portion of the Meru has been cut off vertically, leaving the exposed surface a precipitous cliff. (Vide, illustration [?. d.] a vertical plan cuts off the meru [a. b.] into two parts [a] and [b]—see Appendix in the end).


This is a view assumed by a flagstaff with the flag unfurled. The best illustration of this Chanda is supplied by the throne pillar in the Hall of private audience at Fatehpur Sikri. The exterior of this building gives an idea that is a double storeyed building while in fact it is a single storeyed one. There is one single apartment inside.

Dr, Vincent A. Smith graphically describes it as under—

“A massive octagonal column elaborately curved rises from the centre of the tesselated pavement, as high as the sills of the upper windows. It is surmounted by an enormous circular capital composed of three tiers of radiating brackets, each tier projecting above and in front of that below. The top of the pillar 10 ft. long radiates to the corners of the building where the quadrant shaped ends of the beams are received on corbelling, similar in structure to the brackets of the capital. The summit of pillar and the galleries radiating from it were guarded by parapets of pierced stone lattice work about 15 inches high.”


Though music, rhetoric and architecture are represented as having a common platform in the six primary Chandas viz. Meru, Khaṇḍa-Meru, Patākā, Sūci [Sūcī?], Uddiṣṭa and Naṣṭa, it is apparent that the number of Chandas really speaking, reduces to four only, as Uddiṣṭa and Naṣṭa are not independent Chandas at all. In a Prastāra of 4 Gūrus [Gurus?], only 16 rūpas are formed and similarly in a Prastara of 8 gurus, 256 rūpas are derived. These rūpas may in either case, assume a view which may be either a Meru, Khaṇḍa-meru, Patākā or Sūcī. If Meru, it is like a mountain; of Khaṇḍa-Meru, only a section of it. If Patākā, it is like a banner and if Sūci, it has the appearance of needle. But Uddiṣṭa and Naṣṭa have no perspective view of their own. They are not things like Meru etc. and hence they cannot be termed as Chandas. Structure of various kinds which have their contours against the sky in some shape or another determine these Chandas. Uddiṣṭa and Naṣṭa are the indicators of methods or contrivances, by means of which, the number and details of a rūpa in a Prastāra of various gurus are arrived at. Given a certain Prastāra say 1111, then Uddiṣṭa enables one to find out that it is the 16th rūpa in a Prastāra of 4 gurus. If. howeveṛ, the question is reversed i.e. “what are the details for the 16th rūpa in a Prastāra of 4 gurus, it is Naṣṭa that supplies the method and says that the 16th rūpa is 1111.

Only these four chandas as Independent and Primary chandas.

The Uddiṣṭa and Naṣṭa chandas are not independent ones. Mankad therefore rightly observes:


The method of finding the number of a rūpa in a Prastāra is as follows:—Take any rūpa, and put over each sign from the left to right 20, 21, 22, 23, 24,......... to 2n where n represents the number of gurus minus 1. Then sum up the numerals over (1) laghu. and add 1 to it: This will be the required number.

Illustration—Take one rūpa SSSS 11 in a Prastāra of 6 gurus for example. Now SSSS 11 put 20 = 1, 21 = 2, 22 = 4, 23 = 8, 24 = 16 an 25 = 32 over these signs. we have S1 S2 S4 S8 116 132; add together the numerals on laghu i.e., 16 + 32—48 and add 1 and we get 49. ... SSSS 11 represents the 49th rūpa in a Prastāra of 6 gurus.


What is the 49th rūpa in a Prastāra of 6 gurus. A Prastāra of 6 gurus will have evidently 6 signs (guru and laghu).

Put as under

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

59 is odd... for (1) put S.

As 49 cannot be exactly divided by 2, add 1 to it and the divide it by 2.

If the quotient is odd, put S; if even, put 1. Now 49 + 1 = 50. 50/2 = 25; 25 is odd... for (2) put S.

Similarly 25 being odd, cannot be exactly divided by 2,... repeat the above process and we have 2 5+ 1 = 26 and 26/2 == 13.

This 13 is odd... for (3) put S.

Similarly 13 + 1 = 1 and 14/2 = 7... for (4) put S.

Proceeding in the same way 7 + 1=8 and 8/2 = 4, put 1 for (5) and as 4 is still divisible by 2,... 4/2 = 2. This being an even number put for (6) 1 and get the details SSSS.

 S    S   S    S   1   1
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

For the Uddiṣṭa and Naṣṭa Mankad’s working has been reproduced.

N.B. (i) This Prastāra-Technique would be more elaborated in its proper place—the Gṛha-Saṃyojana (Vide Pt. III House-architecture).

N.B. (ii) Mankad has entered into a lengthy discusion on the so-called Bathos of Dravidian temples (cf. Mr. Ananthalwair Indian Architecture Book II Chap. III) which as matter of fact resolve into Chandas of Nāgara canons of Indian architecture. Dravidian bathos in the language of Chanda ultimately resolves itself into one phase of Khaṇḍameru. As it is, it is nothing more nor less than two Khaṇḍa merus placed with their bases in such a way that their vertical sides are away from each other as abc giving rise to the outline ACB in the direction E and W, and similarly of two more Khaṇḍa-merus placed in the same position and in the direction S and N, thus eventually giving rise to a hollow through or valley formed by four Khaṇḍamerus in four cardinal directions arranged in the particular manner described above. If these Chandas with all their concommitants [concomitants?] are once appreciated in all their bearings, the Egyptian temple wherein there is no Vimāna or turrett [turret?] of any description, over the sanctum, but there are at the outer entrance, two pylons, the prototypes of Dravidian Gopuras, and wherein the section decreases and becomes simpler and more modest, as one approaches the holiest spot in the temple, will at once be realized as an example of Khaṇḍameru, one of the six main perspective-views. The temple of Tanjore which the author of Indian Architecture considers as a solitary instance of exception to his Dravidian idea of bathos, if viewed in light of Chandas of the Nāgara school will cease to be an exception but will be a pure and simple illustration of Merucchanda. Similarly we can say for the Java and Cambodian schools.

Thus closes an introduction to these Five Canons of Hindu Science of Architecture which the present writer considers as more fundamental than others.

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