Vastu-shastra (2): Town Planning

by D. N. Shukla | 1960 | 29,408 words | ISBN-10: 8121506115 | ISBN-13: 9788121506113

This page describes Conclusion which is chapter 9 of the study on Vastu-Shastra (Indian architecture) second part (Town planning). It discusses the construction and planning of various types of villages, roads, forts and towns in ancient India. References to Vastu-shastra include the Samarangana-sutradhara.

Chapter 9 - Conclusion

This brief dissertation on the town planning art as promulgated by the ancient Acharyas and practised by the master architects—the town-planners especially as it is hinted in the succinct but brief exposition by the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra, a medieval treatise on the science of architecture, is evidence of the cultural life of the age in which these norms were propounded. A town or a city is the embodiment of the culture of the townsmen and citizens who shape it, build it and beautify it (or make it ugly as the case these days is). Hence a study of the past is an asset for the present. No doubt the present is an outcome of the past, nevertheless the spirit of the age, the influences of the times together with the political, social, religious and spiritual transformations representing the broad cultural waves fostered in a particular age, all these have their deep and abiding influence on any activity, be it an artistic activity or a literary activity. If the literature is the minor of society, the art can not remain aloof. This is a general dictum and exceptions prove the rule. Because sometimes a Vālmiki or a Vyāsa or a Tulsidas, instead of mirroring the society presents a mirror to it. The basic norms of the Art as founded by the ancient Acharyas of great renown have this characteristic. They arc never swayed by the petty urges and petty patterns of new situation affecting the society. What of the measurements, shapes, mouldings, decorations, (paintings) etc. in the art of town-planning all these indicate that a town or a city is not only a symbolic expression of the National culture, a gigantic canvas on which the community life is portrayed, but also one of the finest methods of inculcating and propagating culture. The stupendous ostentatious and ornamental buildings with their inspiring arches, ennobling domes, religiosity and spirituality, nationality all round, in the shape of pictorial representations and illustrations of the great soul-inspiring achievements of the heroes of old, the mythology, the poetry and the aesthetics all imbued with harmonising and enobling sentiments. All these have intrinsic value and we can not bid goodbye to them. It is our sublime heritage. To put it in a nut-shell the three words-—city, citizen and citizenship are a trinity round which the rising of the cities, there planning and construction and housing habitation should revolve. Therefore, any national planning-scheme sponsored by the State must have these basic considerations for a true synthesis of the cultural background on the one hand; the spirit of the age with its manifold demands on the other, together with the purpose the evolving of a beautiful, truthful and beneficial life.

With all round development in science and art, there is no dearth of the scientific and systematic canons of the town-planning in the present day world. Though, the fundamental canons of town-planning have not changed, some of the elaborations as per the characteristic requirements of the modern age—the Commerce, the Industry, and the Transport, the means of communication and the like, have revolutionised the very character of town-planning, as we had in ancient India, or for the matter of that in any ancient country of the world. The fortification so elaborately dealt with as a principal feature of the ancient and medieval town-plans has been bidden a goodbye; the temples, the dedication of the plots or wards to the different deities of the Hindu pantheon forming the very back-bone of the site-planning and the folk-planning, have become obsolete and they are only a matter of solitary ritual with no intrinsic value attached to them. In matters of town-planning in India today, the knowledge of the ancient town-planning canons must form an integral and indispensable discipline of a town-plannner. Copying the West is not only bad but injurious also. It can not give us the desired result.

In a country, like India, where the texture of living and conduct, thought and belief, food and drink, clothes and comforts, privacy and family traditions all these are vitally different from those of the West, a universal standard of the building and amenities of the accommodation thereof can not be visualised, because the climate differs, the soil conditions are divergent and the pattern of living poles apart. Hence the genius of the town-planner is tested in taking basic factors into full account, while constructing a new township in an ancient country like India.

Now before proceeding with the question how the ancient townplanning system can afford some guidance and contribute some canons in the modern town-plans of India, let me have a bird’s eye view on the modern requirements of a town.

We know that character of the modern civilization has been revolutionised on account of the scientific inventions and thereby affecting the human life in every walk of life. The Railway lines have necessitated the planning of the railway stations; the introduction of the automobiles conveyances like motor-cars, buses, trams, etc. have necessitated the planning of roads in a manner best suited to the traffic circulation and avoidance of accidents and congestion. The Industrial developments, the Inter-State and International commer-cial transportation have necessitated the establishment of factories and mills with the consequent evil of slums etc. The complex modern structures and functions of the government running into m unfold channels requiring the Secretariats, employing thousands of people to carry on the work, together with the modern institutions of Banking and Insurance as well as so many other public departments and offices and lastly (though not least in importance) the rise of educational institutions lying scattered in every part and locality and street of the town, have enormous demands for the suitable buildings and spaces. These are some of the characteristics of a modern town life. Hence in planning of a town all these manifold currents of civilization require major adaptations in the town-plans which we have evolved in the past.

Hence the modern town-planning is not so much concerned with founding new towns as with the improvement and the extension of the existing ones in order to provide, not only the symmetrical, systematic and comfortable residential houses, the wide roads for transport and traffic, the open spaces for play, recreation, fresh air and plantation, parks, gardens, orchards, etc. as well as the railway lines, pipe-lines, drainage and air landings, etc., but also to improve the living conditions of the labourers—the mass of humanity working in factories and mills, by slum-clearance and providing better houses. To cope with the increasing population it has to extend the town by creating muhallas all round the town and thus laying out a new city altogether. Many cities in India have been transformed beyond recognition in altogether new cities. The modern town-planning has also a responsibility to provide the expert guidance for the site-planning of the new public buildings like educational institutions, laboratories, banks, secretariats, market-places, the town-halls and so on and so forth.

For all this the modern town-planning canons suggest the planning of new towns and the improvement of the existing ones by what is called the zoning method. All the respective zones as per requirement of the different and divergent necessities of buildings should be separated and zoned out in separate wards in order to avoid congestion and haphazard look of the town.

Thus with all the elaborations of the manifold technique of the modern town-planning we find that it fundamentally does not differ from its ancient counter-part. Now the problem as already anticipated as to how far these ancient norms of the town-planning can be adopted by our national town-planning departments to evolve a technique of town-planning characteristic of our genius and also characteristic of our age, the culture and climatic conditions together with the complex currents of life as they exist today.

I, therefore, suggest that the beginning should be made with villages. The town-planning departments these days are more concerned with the existing cities or establishing new ones. This is not enough. Let the villages form the unit of the national planning of New India, From the point of finances, the greatest hurdle in translating any master-plan, so much talked of in the contemporary India in relation to many cities, the beginning with the villages not only obviates this difficulty but also provides a suitable channel through which the increasing population of the big cities and noted towns may pass out with case and comfort. It will, therefore, require a Town-Planning Act in which an adequate provision would have to be made for restricting the population of the town. To begin with, let no one, having no connection with the town-service, education or alike, be allowed to occupy the town proper (cf. Rule of the Matsya Purāṇa). The elite, the wealthy, the princes, the retired, all should be asked to occupy the suburbs on the out-skirts of the big cities. Thus in the evolution of the modern towns two norms emerge—planning of the suburbs, as branch-towns, the Śākhā-nagaras in the terminology of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra (cf. Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra’s Kheṭa, Kharvāṭa, Nigama), and the planning of the village as a unit of National Planning (vide Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra Chapter X. 82-?7).

Another important thing in connection with the remodelling of the existing towns is that the available accommodation in the town should be allotted not to individuals but to groups. This is what the ancient texts on town-planning mean by site-planning and folkplanning. Let the religiousity and the Varṇāśrama-dharma be not adhered to, but the fundamental background of this site-planning and the folk-planning, namely, the bousing together with a group of people belonging to a common way of life and conduct, must be there. This will not only evolve the greater brotherhood in people, but also usher a new consciousness of organisation, co-operation, association, the essentials of Democracy which has become the modern slogan as the be all and end all of life.

What about the centre and the central places? Let the townhall—the temple of modern Democracy be central scene around which all the movements of the town revolve. Let a big banyan tree or a Peepal or Neem or a shed i.e. Maṇḍapa, the Sabhā—the assembly hall, be substituted for the town-hall in the village-planning for the emergence of new towns in India. Thus two more canons emerge—the folk-planning and the planning of the centre. But the question is that the modern life with such a vast socio-economic patterns like banks, insurance offices, municipal-boards, educational institutions, police outposts, and so many other public departments and establishments, can not be well attended to and accommodated unless some bifurcation of (he entire town-plan is re-adjusted to provide the different buildings, for serving these institutions. For this, modern system of zoning should be incorporated in our town-planning canons. They must give good results. They are to some extent a modern edition of our ancient site-planning—housing a particular community or corporal ion, profession, or institution on a particular site.

A very pertinent question regarding the location of the railway stations, mills, factories, the cinema-halls and the business centres, the line of shops, stalls, the markets, etc. still remains to be solved. As regards the Railways, they form an essential constituent of any modern town for the transport, the mills and factories however, must not be distributed in every town. For the industrial centres, a separate category of town called Pattana or Puṭahedana by the ancient masters, should serve as business centres and industrial development. As regards the daily needs, the co-operatives in each and every block of a town should organise these daily necessities of life with an active co-operation from these special towns scattered on a relatively small distance in every part of the zone. This brings us to the zoning plans and regional planning—the fundamental criterion of the ancient town-planning system So much is regarding the laying out of the new townships, but the problem is not yet solved. What about the existing towns with their clumsy growth, over-population, slums, insanitation, absence of ventilation ānd congestion etc.? How to improve the town by way of extension?

In ancient times every king had his own permanent civic architect and city superintendent in his capital with many subordinates and assistants who were well versed in the art of planning and upkeep of cities. The civic architect, besides his other duties, looked after the improvement of the town according to its requirements. “Though we do not meet with any written records about the existence of an organised board like the modern Improvement Trust and the like, yet we may, without largely drawing upon imagination, fairly presume that the permanent officials of the king such as the civic architect, the city superintendent, together with their assistants constituted the proto-type and served the purpose of the modern institutions organised with cognate objects. The elaborate way in which the treatises on Indo Aryan Town-Planning allot sites and determine the areas and orientation of roads, wards, residential buildings, the royal palace, the council hall, parks and reservoirs aud secure proper lighting and ventilations by fixing the space intervening between two houses or ascertain the number of storeys and the respective heights in case of particular building and edifice, conclusively establishes that the master builder possessed and exercised substantial control over all buildingoperations in the city. So elaborate and intensive indeed was the control that even absolute private-ownership of land in the city was not allowed to some extent. There seems to have been several departments or divisions of function: one was entrusted with the construction of roads, another with tanks, gardens, artificial forests and palaces; the third with fortification and the fourth with buildings. All these departments had. also engineers, to wit, the Sthapati and others were under the charge of a minister called the Gṛhādyadhipati (literally the lord of house and the like), who held the portfolio of Superintendence and Planning of the city. Śukrācārya says (Ś. Nītisāra Chapter 11) that he must attend to palaces, moats, forts, parapets, statues, weapons, tanks, wells and reservoirs, pipes and other engineering works. Surely the foregoing arc exactly those functions with which the modern Municipalities and Improvement Trusts are concerned” (vide page 169-170, T.P. In Ancient India).

The peculiar defensive character (walls and ditches all round) of the ancient towns in India stood as a hurdle in its extension. One of the methods of meeting the over-congestion and over-crowding of the population was by expelling the low-class people out of the city. Another way as suggested before, was the Matsya Purāṇa formulae (Ch. 217): No person should be allowed to remain in the city without any necessity or purpose. The rule of the Devī Purāṇa (Gh. 72) is—

“The low-class people (Prakṛti) should be quartered outside the city.” Another method (as per the account of the Harivaṃśa (Viṣṇuparva chapter 58) is the reconstruction of the town as well as its expansion on the outskirts of the city. This leads to a very sound canon of the improvement. It is laying out the suburb—to put in the terminology of the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra—‘the Śākhānagaras (branch-towns) as already spoken of. The Śabda-Kalpadruma gives the following definition of the Śākhānagara—the subsidiary town:

“The town which is constructed in the vicinity or on the outskirts of the main city, to accommodate its overflowing population is termed branch town (Śākhānagara) from analogy with the branch of a tree.”

Instances of its expansion are not unknown in History, and we can adopt this method for the good of our land. We are doing no doubt in cities, but our bold policy should be to make villages as our śākhā-nagaras. These ultimately will result into the garden-villages or garden-cities, so much preferred in the modern world.

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