Vastu-shastra (3): House Architecture

by D. N. Shukla | 1960 | 17,057 words | ISBN-10: 8121506115 | ISBN-13: 9788121506113

This page describes Planning of Shalas: The House Plans and Building Byelaws which is chapter 5 of the study on Vastu-Shastra (Indian architecture) third part (Civil architecture). This part deals with four divisions of the tradition of ancient Indian house-architecture: 1) residential houses, 2) royal mansions, 3) abodes of the Gods and 4) public buildings.

Chapter 5 - Planning of Śālās: The House Plans and Building Byelaws

House Plans.

House plans and building byelaws are inter-connected. House building in ancient India was never taken in a haphazard fashion. What we call the building byelaws in modern times by which the modern house plans of the individual citizens are scrutinized by the city corporations, were in ancient times a code of sanctified religious character, the violation of which was beyond contemplation. The horror of death, destruction, disease and other misfortunes was always shadowing them. This subject of building byelaws will be dealt with in the latter part of this chapter.

The subject of house-plans can not be treated in isolation from the essential qualities of a building. Character, stability and beauty are the essential qualities of a building. A house-plan must be true to its purpose. It must conform, not only to the needs for which it is being planned out, but its very appearance should indicate its purpose. A devotional building, a temple, a shrine, a mosque or a cathedral, must from its very appearance look like so. Similarly, the military, memorial, civil and domestic buildings also should give the same impression. In ancient India, as we have already seen, the buildings were mainly residential or military. The civil buildings, secretariats, banks, institutions, industrial buildings, railway stations and picture palaces, etc. and a host of others, so essential in the modern set-up were not so in ancient times when life was not so complex. Hence the function of architecture was to infuse and develop the character, appropriate to a particular building. Stability of the building must have been the prime consideration. The pride of a house lasts for generation after generation. As regards beauty, this is the soul of architecture as an art. Unless a piece of architecture pleases, it is no architecture. This pleasure may be derived as a result of size, form, colour and proportion between the various components. Proportion, what the ancients termed it, the Chandas, 444, 3) the rhythm is one of the most important attributes in architecture. This leads us to cent percent exactitude in the measurements of any construction, be it a Vedic altar, a temple edifice, an image of a god, or a residential house. Conformity to proportionate measurements was so much adhered to, in ancient India that sometimes it was over done (particularly in Iconography). To them Pramāṇa was the life-breath of an art.

The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra rightly says:—

(i) pramāṇe sthāpitā devāḥ pūjārhāśca bhavanti hi (40.13½)

(ii) hetuḥ samastavāstūnāmādhāraḥ sarvakarmaṇām |
mānonmānavibhāgādinirṇayaikanibandhanam ||
paridhyudayavistāradairghyāṇāṃ syuramī yataḥ |
jyeṣṭhamadhyādhamā bhedā yaṃ ca jñātvā na muhyati ||
idānīṃ tasya hastasya samyaṅ niścayasaṃyutam |
kathyate trividhasyāpi lakṣaṇaṃ śāstradarśitam || (9. 1-3)

It may be noted that dimensions of length, and breadth as well as the height of the Śālā-houses varied according to varied social status in Indian society of the house-owner. In the 19th Ch. the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra (cf. 15 to 25 verses) gives various alternative measurements in relation to the different structures of the different occupants having different positions in the social hierarchy. This has been the time-honoured tradition and practically all the texts on the Śilpa-Śāstra have adhered to this rule.

The Catuśśāla house of the VarṇīsBrāhmaṇas etc. should have the measurement of 32 hastas, that of the commander and the priest 64 hastas, and that of the kings however, should take 108 hastas. The text shows that like Temple Architecture, in Domestic Architecture too, the buildings of Brāhmaṇas are square or nearly square and, if rectangular, the length exceeds by l/10th only. In the buildings of Kṣatriyas the excess is l/8th; in those of Vaiśyas and Śūdras l/6th and 1/4th respectively (ibid 19. 18-19). It shows that lower the caste the further remote from the perfection of the square are the buildings which are suitable for its members.

We know that the house has two principal parts—the interior and the exterior one. All these relate to the interior. All that is not covered by the interior śālās is to be deemed as exterior Alinda etc, Śālā and Alinda are two principal components of house-architecture.

The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra (16.22) says:

śālāvyāsārdhato'lindaḥ sarveṣāmapi veśmanām ||

Gṛha-dravya-pramāṇa’ (the 28th Ch.) is rich with similar prescriptions of other parts of the subsequent chapters (Door, Pillar etc.), only a brief notice of them in the evolution of the House-Plans of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra is called for here.

Apart from the Śālā, the Alinda, the Bhadras or Mūṣas, the Door, along with its parts (the śākhās, the frames, the udumbara, the lintel) the Pillar with its minifold mouldings, the other subjects of a house plan is the determination of its Tala, the floor.

The text (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 28.16) says,

“Add four hastas in the sixteenth part of the Vistāra, the height of the Tala would be obtained from all the varieties of the houses”.

Next (ibid 17) the height of a śālā-house of a superior, middle and inferior quality is 7, 6 and 5 hastas (i.e. 10½ and 7½ ft.) respectively. Further next (ibid 18) the Vistāra of a Sālā [Śālā?] should be 17, 10 and 5 hastas (25½, 15, 7½ ft.) respectively. Again the Talanyāsa should conform to the Bahulya of the Udumbara, the lintel, and similar is guidance for the beam, the Paṭṭa, the Alinda-parigraha.

The other important parts of the house are the Niryūha (pinnacle) to be decorated with Vedikā-jāla-rūpa etc. and the Aṅgaṇa-vāpikā to be laid with cover and the channel for water in the shape of a crocodile. Again a very important subject of the house-plans is the different varieties of the rooting. Bhūta, Tilaka, Maṇḍala and Kumuda (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 28.49) are the four classes of roofs, Their mutual distinguishing criterion is the relative height—the last one being the highest.

All these relate to the external features of a house-plan. The most important inner feature of a house plan is the grouping. It should be so accomplished as to make a house a real home. It is a synthesis of a house. A verandah, a drawing room, a bedroom, a kitchen, a dining room, a store, place for worship, a bath, a staircase, a guest room, a nursery or children’s room, a latrine and a garage—all these so laid in a house-plan as ensure not only the maximum of comfort but also freedom and privacy, the key-note of any houseplanning, be it ancient or modern.

Other considerations prevailing in the mind of a house planner are the aspect of a house, i.e. the arrangement of the doors [so much emphasised in the prescription of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra (vide the next chapter, the Door)], its prospect, (cf. the character already noticed) roominess, furniture requirements, sanitation, flexibility, circulation and practical conveniences. If in a house, the dining room is not close to the kitchen, it is simply a curse both for the maids of the house and its inmates. Similarly, if the minimum accomodation of a room does not conform to its furniture requirements, it is a tragedy for all times to come.

It is said that Indian architecture is suitable only to religious buildings. This may be true to the building canons as developed in the ancient Indian Manuals, but the Śālā houses of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra are really the harbinger of the popular architecture.

With this general introduction to the House-plans, as the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra envisages, let us take some of the principal varieties of the Śālā-houses and illustrate them in sketches. But before doing so, let us first see what the standard varieties, which when transformed into brick and mortar, may serve over model houses.

The followings arc the model varieties:—

Eakśālas.

  1. Dhruva,
  2. Dhanya,
  3. Jaya,
  4. Nanda,
  5. Kānta,
  6. Manorama,
  7. Sumukha,
  8. Dhanada,
  9. Vipula,
  10. Vijaya,
  11. Ramya,
  12. Śrīdhara,
  13. Mudita,
  14. Vardhamāna and
  15. Samṛddha.

Some of these are illustrated in one of the appendices. It may be noted here that the special feature of these houses is theAlinda-yojanā which is to be done—(Savyāvarta) from the entrance of the house.

Dviśālas.

  1. Vasudhara,
  2. Siddhārthaka,
  3. Kalyāṇaka,
  4. Śāśvata,
  5. Śiva,
  6. Kāmaprada,
  7. Strīda,
  8. Śānta,
  9. Niṣkalaṅka,
  10. Dhanādhiśa and
  11. Kuberaka

N.B.—The special features of these are Mūṣās, Alindas and Prāgrīvakas

N.B.—Other varieties of the different classes of Śālā-houses like Triśālas and Catuśśālas etc. are left out to be worked out in detail in the subsequent volume of this study—“Architecture and Sculpture of the Samarāṅgaṇa”.

Their nomenclature however, may be interesting and hence some of them are laid down here:—

  1. TriśālaHiraṇyanābha.
  2. Catuśśāla—Rucaka, Vardhamāna, Nandyāvarta, etc etc.
  3. Pañcaśāla—Hemakūṭa, etc.
  4. Saṭśāla—Paṅkajāṅkura etc.
  5. Saptaśāla—Śrīpada, Śrīniketana etc.

N.B.—Hundreds of other names may be seen in the appendix.

Building Byelaws.

These building byelaws concern mostly the doors the storeys, the orientation, the proportion of measurements, layouts, the site-plans, the decorations, the auspicious dates, etc. etc. and they are scattered throughout the book. Hence they need be collected at one place to evolve a code of byelaws—a systematic presentation of the ancient canons in a modern garb.

The ancients had their own way of presenting things-every life-manifestation had a religious sanctity behind it and naturally, therefore, all these rules of living, drinking, bathing, eating, sleeping, mode of living—building houses, conducting any business, secular or religious, were formulated like religious sacraments. It was an article of faith rather than a belief which prompted them to formulate such a code of life.

Time, etc.

(1) One should start building a house only in the following months of the Hindu Calendar.

  1. Vaiśākha,
  2. Śrāvaṇa,
  3. Mārgaśīrṣa,
  4. Pauṣa,
  5. Phālguṇa.

[For details vide the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 26].

(2) One should choose only the following dates of these months.

  1. Dvitīyā,
  2. Pañcamī,
  3. Saptamī,
  4. Navamī,
  5. Ekādaśī,
  6. Trayodaśī.

N.B.—Also one should consult ones’s priest and astrologer for the other details regarding the Āya, Vyaya, Aṃśaka, Tārā, Nakṣatra, etc. etc. for the auspicious moments on a particular date (cf. the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 26).

(3) Build houses on the proper Padas:—

(i) The 40 Secular plots for the Secular buildings profession-wise (the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 38).

(ii) Caste wise Padas (the S. S????)

Sl. No. Caste Pada Dvāra
1. Brāhmaṇa Bhallāṭa, Dhanada, Caraka or Pṛthivīdhara. Mahendra
2. Kṣatriya Mahendra, Ārka, Sātya, Āryaka. Gṛhakṣata
3. Vaiśya Yāmya, Vaivasvata, Gāndharva or Gṛhakṣata. Puṣpadanta
4. Śūdra Vāruṇa, Pauṣpadanta, Maitra or Asura. Bhallāṭa


(4) Caste-wise placing of house doors and Vāstu doors in the following manner (ibid):—

  Caste Bhavanadvāra Facing Vāstudvāra Facing
1. Brāhmaṇa   to South   to East
2. Kṣatriya " to West " to South
3. Vaiśya " to North " to West
4. Śūdra " to East " to North


There are some of the illustrations of the building byelaws from the point of religious consideration. A large number of other illustrations of the character are scattered throughout the text and most of them have been taken into account in their respective chapters There is no dearth of the secular code of building byelaws, a few illustrations will serve this point.

Secular regulation.

1. The following number of storeys is prescribed castewise:—

  1. Śūdras—not more than 3 and half a storey.
  2. Vaiśyas—not more than live and half a storey.
  3. Kṣatriya—not more than six and half a storey.
  4. Brāhmaṇa—not more than seven and half a storey.

Kings of various religious merits—not more than eight and half a storey.

2. Placing of the door—Never place a door in the middle of the house (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 48-58). No two doors should be exactly opposite to each other.

3. Similarly the doors in the upper storeys must conform to the below (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 41.44).

4. Residential house must have Śālā and Alinda both (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 48.18).

5. Mouldings like Siṃhakarṇa, Kapota, etc. etc. (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 43.106) together with the paintings (see the Aprayojyas—vide Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 34),, are not to be undertaken.

6. Rules regarding frontage i.e. Marga-vedha—The Vedha on the way, cross road of any road, or any other building, door, tree, etc. etc. is to be avoided.

7. Bye-lanes should not be on both the sides.
All these and several others are scattered in the text. These few are only by way of illustration.

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