Vastu-shastra (4): Palace Architecture

by D. N. Shukla | 1960 | 13,158 words | ISBN-10: 8121506115 | ISBN-13: 9788121506113

This page describes Palace-Architecture which is chapter 1 of the study on Vastu-Shastra (Indian architecture) fourth part (Palace architecture). This part deals with (1) the construction of Royal establishments, (2) Accessory Buildings, (3) Palace pleasure-devices such as yantras (mechanical devices), etc. and (4) Other public buildings.

Chapter 1 - Palace-Architecture


The opening sentence of the fifteenth chapter—‘Rājaniveśa’, says, “that the planning of the Rājaveśma was a component part of the planning of a town”. Any town plan in ancient or medieval India must bestow sufficient attention to the Rājaveśma—the residential quarters of the kings and their kinsmen together with all the establishments of a king those days. This is what the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra says at the very outset (cf. 15.1-8). It says that after the town has been planned on the famous site-plan of sixty-four squares; all the roads both highways, and the central ones together with the adjoining Mahārathyās, Uparathyās and their auxiliary ones, the streets, lanes and bye-lanes have also been planned out, the fortification in all its ramifications and component parts of the surrounding ditches, ramparts and walls and the Aṭṭālakas thereupon has also been completed; the raised platforms, the Catvaras are also architecturally built and finished, the temples and shrines—the places of worship are allotted to the different deities allocated both in the interior of the town and in its exterior; then a piece of land selected at the western side of the centre, in orientation of the North, on the pada presided over by Mitra, a square, even and auspicious (i.e. conforming to the minutest details of the Śāstra) and bestower of fame, grandeur and victory, the palace of the king should be built”.

Every building activity has got two main functions to be attended to, namely the engineering of the building—surveying the site, testing the soil and selecting one to be planned out, and the operating upon it in accordance with the plan set out in the sketches. Naturally, therefore, an important building work like that of a palace of a king has to be attended to, properly. The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra therefore, has devoted two chapters to this important piece of architecture of the Rājaveśma. The master architect first has to attend to its planning—the laying out of the different parts of the palace on different sites. This it has done in Chapter 15.

The site on which the palace should be erected is already pointed out. The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra makes a limited classification of Palaces only into three, namely, Jyeṣṭha, the superior type, Madhya, the intermediate type and Kaniṣṭha the inferior type, and they are to be located in the respective town types (cf. Ch. XV). In Mānasāra, palaces are divided into nine classes with regard to their size, according as they may belong to a king of any of the nine-classes—Cakravartin, Mahārāja, Mahendra etc. etc. Next, the site-plan, i. e. Paramaśāyika of 81 squares, to be employed in the planning of a palace and the classification of three types are indicated. The Samarāṅgaṇa bestows its attention upon its defence and good look—the fortifications of the palace and its beautification. Though situated in the interior of the town, the Rāja-niveśa must have a surrounding moat and a rampart to ward off the insecurity of the palace. This fortification also consisted of so many architectural designs as Aṅgabhrama, Niryūha and strong towers and turrets, the crowning parts of the parapets—the surrounding walls and they are so laid as to make the whole structure beautiful.

After fortification, the question of the planning of the gates and doors is attended to. As many as three classes of doors are prescribed. It may be remarked here that the Indian technique of placing the doors is intimately related to the traditional site-planning. Hence sometimes a confusion is created as to whether a particular door is to be put in a particular direction or otherwise, because the Vāstudvāra and Bhavanadvāra are two different things. The text recommends the Vāstudvāra in the north-side of Rāja-mārga while the Bhavanadvāra of the palace towards the East. Naturally, therefore, the frontal gate—the main gate must be placed in the East. The main gate is technically called the Gopuradvāra and to be laid on the Pada presided over by Bhallāṭa. The magnificence of these Gopuras is our architectural heritage.

Another variety of doors to be placed in a palace may be termed as the cardinal doors being placed on the respective four cardinal points (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 15. 11 (2nd line) to 13) i.e. Mahendra on Mahidhara; Puṣpa-danta on Vaivasvata; Gṛhakṣata on Aryamā and so on. The text is emphatic for laying out Gopuras on all principal directions perhaps to add to the grandeur of the Palace, The third variety of doors is technically known as Pakṣadvāras, the side doors, necessitated on odd hours when the main gates are colosed [closed?].

The fortified and well defended palace with its gates and Gopuras together with Pakṣadvāras and Bhramas, the enclosing cloisters has emerged in its full glory facing towards the East. Its varieties however, though enumerated to be as many as four, have not been explained. Perhaps these names were so common that the author did not deem it necessary to point out their relative distinctions.

They are as follows:—

  1. Śrīvṛkṣa,
  2. Pṛthivījaya,
  3. Sarvatobhadra,
  4. Muktakoṇa.

These palaces should have a good number of śālās—courts scattered all round to serve the purpose of the kingdom and house-hold establishments. The attached chart (appended in the end) will show at a glance the list of the following vast establishment of a princely palace in those glorious days located in the different Padas presided over by the different Pada-devatās.

Names of establishments,

  1. Residence—the Gṛha,
  2. Seat of Justice—Dharmādhikaraṇa,
  3. Store House—Koṣṭhāgāra,
  4. Pavilions of birds and animals,
  5. Kitchen—Mahānasa,
  6. The pavilion of the public audience, i.e. Āsthāna-maṇḍapa or Sabhājanāśraya,
  7. Dinning hall—Bhojanasthāna,
  8. Vādya-śālā (Hall of the Instrumental Music),
  9. The Bards,
  10. The Arsenal—Carmāyudhas,
  11. The fashioning of the golden and silver ornaments,
  12. The secret store-house—the Gupti,
  13. Dance & dramaPrekṣā & Saṅgīta,
  14. The sheds for the chariots & the elephants,
  15. The Vāpī,
  16. The Interior chamber Antaḥ-pura—the Harem well fortified,
    [Note—Its Gopura, the main gate should face towards the North and the palaces of the queens should face towards the West,]
  17. Pleasure and swinging and play pavilions—Krīḍā-dola-ālayas,
  18. Chambers of the Princesses—Kumārī-bhavanas,
  19. The alternative chambers of the queens,
    [N.B.—The secondary inner chamber however, is to be located on Indra,]
  20. The lying-in-chamber—Ariṣṭāgṛha,
  21. The Aśoka Orchard,
  22. The Batha—Snāna-gṛha,
  23. The shower Dhārāgṛha,
  24. The Creeper pavilions—Latā-gṛhas,
  25. Wooden hills—Dārugiri—the Vāpīs and the well-laid flower lines—Puṣpa-vīthīs, and the flower pavilions—Puṣpa-veśma, together with the machine room—Yantra-karmānta,
  26. Water sheds (both for drinking and other uses)—Pānagṛha,
  27. Another store house,
  28. The factory of armaments—Āyudha-Mandira,
  29. The third variety of the store-house,
  30. The chamber for the wooden mortar (Ulūkhala) and flourmill (Śilāyantra),
  31. Timber work—Dārukarmānta,
  32. The gymnasium and the theatre and the picture palace—Vyāyāma-Nāṭya-Citra-gṛhas,
  33. Medical stores,
  34. Stables for elephants,
  35. Cow-sheds and the milk reservoir—Kṣīra-gṛha,
  36. The priest,
  37. Coronation pavilion and the one for alms, study and Śāntika also,
  38. The places where Gāmara and Chatra are kept together with the Council House,
  39. The stable for the horsesMandurā,
  40. The living chambers of the princes—The Rājaputra-veśma,
  41. The Study chambers of the princes—Vidyādhigama-śālā,
  42. The queen mother,
  43. Pavilions for palanquine and the bed chamber and the drawing room—Śibikā-Śayyā-Āsana-gṛha,
  44. Pleasure ponds and lotus lakes,
  45. Palaces of uncle and maternal uncle,
  46. Palaces of the Sārnantas,
  47. Devakula, the royal Chapel,
  48. The Astronomer’s place and also that of an Astrologer,
  49. The Residence of the Commander-in-Chief,
  50. The Assembly Hall—the Sabhā,

In this big list, it is difficult to draw a line of demarcation between domestic establishments and those related to administration. In those times, the palaces for all practical purposes served as seats of government.

It may be remarked here that such a vast establishment of a palace is no where to be found in any extant Śilpa work. The author Bhoja, being a king, it was but natural that he should present a grand picture of palace-architecture. In the Mānasāra, the list of Palace-establishment does not go beyond 42 (H. A. L A. p 124) while here it is about 50. It may be remarked here that the Palace Architecture, like the Temple Architecture has got an unbroken tradition behind it.

Dr V. S. Agarwala, (vide his Harṣacarita-Eka-Sāṃskṛtika Adhyayana, Appendix 1) maintains that the planning of the Royal palaces has had a code of stereotyped canons, meticulously adhered to, right from the age of the Epics (vide the palaces of King Daśaratha and Prince Rāma as described in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa) down to the palaces of Moghal Emperors like Akabar arid Shahjahan (see Fort at Delhi). It is in relation to Bāṇabhaṭṭa’s descriptions of the royal palace of Emperor Harṣa that the learned Doctor has propounded a learned thesis with a full-fledged background of the palace-architecture in ancient India kept in tact in early and later medieval periods of Indian History.

A special notice of the Royal palace is its distribution in several courts. These courts ranged from three to seven. Harṣa’s palace had three. Kādambarī’s Tārāpīḍa had seven courts (kakṣyās) in his palace, while Daśaratha five and Rāma only three.

Now the question is: how many courts can we adduce from the Samarāṅgaṇa’s treatment of the Royal palace—Rāja-Niveśa (cf. the Ch. 15). The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra, does not distribute the vast Royal establishment into courts as Mānasāra does into Antaḥ-śālā and Vahiś-śala. It allocates the different places of the big royal paraphernalia—the residential palaces, pleasure-gardens and ponds etc., as well as the administrative set-ups to the different plots (and they were as many as eighty one, cf. the Paramaśāyika plan) presided over by the different deities. Now as there is no explicit mention of the courts in the treatment of Samarāṅgaṇa’s palace architecture, the whole thing remains only a conjectural analysis. As per the diagramtic representation appended in the end as many as five principal courts—two in the exterior and two in the interior parts together with the central one reserved for the inauspicious and unhappy establishments (Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 15. 47-8) on the Pada of Brahmā, are a certainty. Again, what arc courts? The different śālā-spans may be taken to be courts and the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra does make a hint at this (cf. 15 18 i.e., ‘Śālā-parikramopetam’ which may be interpreted as with courts all-round.

After this plan of the palace in its minutest of requirements, we are better fitted to go to the next chapter on the subject in which the varieties of palaces have been dealt with. It may be pointed out here that Palace Architecture and Temple Architecture, for all practical purposes, are the same except that in a temple so many pavilions and so much of fortifications are not needed; otherwise the broad outlines are identical.

The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra itself compares a palace to the scat of gods—the temple in the following beautiful verse:

iti kathitadigādibhedayogaiḥ surabhavanāni bhavanti yasya rājñaḥ |
aviratamuditoditapratāpaḥ svabhujajitāṃ sa ciraṃ praśāsti pṛthvīm || Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra Ch. 51.

“This Rājaveśma, akin to the abode of the gods, if built in accordance with the injunction of the Śāstra by the king, he becomes Competent to sway his suzerainty on the whole earth whose girdle is the seven oceans, after he has overcome his enemies by dint of his prowess”.

We are familiar with Amarakośa’s diction—“prāsādo devabhūbhujām”—“this statement echoes the structural correspondence between temple and palace and reflects character common to both. The splendour and grandeur of each makes it a thing of beauty and of marvel. Upon places of highest eminence rises the Prāsāda (temple or palace) in monumental calm and dignity. The subtleties of its measurements, the relative proportions of its parts and graciousness of its ornaments are of most delicate description. It is the supreme expression of the noblest efforts and the best skill of artists. It exhibits the care by which the great builders obtain fine harmonies and please the minds of men. In the world of men, King is looked upon as the central figure and in ancient India, was supposed to represent in his person the various divine elements. By virtue of such a position, he commands dignitaries and attendants and receives from his people, willing tributes. With the aid of accumulated wealth and the best skill available in the land, is constructed his palace- Round the hall of the King are constructed accessory structures to meet the demand of royalty”—Mallaya.

The palaces as treated in the 30th Chapter of the text are examples of an ornamental style, probably the Lāṭa style, the most Characteristic features of this style being exuberance of ornamentation and decorative motifs as well as the abundant application of pillars. On styles I shall dwell at length in Part V—the Temple Architecture. For the present, it suffices here to say that out of the fifteen types of palaces as described in the 30th Chapter entitled Rājagṛha, (tabulated ahead) the first ten varieties are residential houses, while the last five are pleasure palaces (the former are called Nivāsa-bhavanāni and the latter, the Vilāsa-bhavanāni (vide Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra 30th 120-21).

It may be noted that the Rājaveśma of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra unlike that of Mānasāra does not admit of any classification in kind but degree only. The standard of measurement varies with its three varieties of the superior, intermediate and inferior quality. The first one of the one hundred eight hastas, the second of ninety hastas and the inferior one of seventy hastas, are deemed as fit—a lower measurement than this is prohibited.

The appended chart will show at a glance the typical architectural elements of these fifteen royal palaces as treated in the second chapter on Royal houses in the text (cf. XXX).

A little more on the ornamental architecture of these palaces is worth saying here. In the end of this chapter the author, while dwelling at length upon the architectural characteristics of the ornamental super-structure of these palaces, has referred to seven kinds of Lumās (or Lūpās—cf. Mānasāra and other Southern texts) Lumā is a decorative flower-like motif forming an essential composition of the Vitāna the canopy.

Ramraz defines Lūpā as:

“A sloping and projecting member of the entablature etc., representing a continued pent roof. It is made below the cupola and its ends are placed as it were suspended from the architraves and reaching the stalk of the lotus below”.

These Lumās, according to the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra, are seven in number—

  1. Tumbinī,
  2. Lambinī,
  3. Helā,
  4. Śānta,
  5. Manoramā,
  6. Kolā and
  7. Ādhmātā;

In Aparājitapṛcchā however, their number is nine—add to the first five (which are common to both) of the Samarāṅgaṇa—

  1. Gāndhārī,
  2. Hastijihvā,
  3. Nāgāṅgā and
  4. Bhramarāvalī (the last being one of the names of 25 Vitānas in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra).

Lumās or Lūpās are indissolubly connected with Vitāna (Canopy) owing to their forming an essential component. It is to the Lumās that the Vitānas owe their charm and grace. The very name Vitāna is suggestive of the fact that the vault of the Vitāna assumes forms of flowers of various kinds. According to observation of P. A. Mankad (vide introduction to Aparājitapṛcchā—pp. CXXXV) Domes and vaults (the characteristics of the Moghul Architecture in the later medieval period) did exist in India in multifarious forms long before the advent of the Mohamedan rulers. “How far the Indian constructive and decorative characteristics were contributory to the development of the Saracenic domes etc,, of the Moghul period and whether the Indian influence came to be exhorted in the formation of the substratum and super-structure of these forms will remain a moot question till whole literature on the Indian type of Vitāna is available”

Now without entering into the further details of the architecture of these Palaces (reserved for part V), it is necessary to introduce the main elements of this class of Palace architecture. It is a composite architecture in which house-architecture and temple architecture together with Hall architecture (vide ‘Sabhā’, the Council Hall) have all played their part. The most predominant of a Śālā-house, as we shall presently see, is the abundant application of the corridors (Alindas) and porticos (Bhadrās) together with the Central halls—the śālās. This characteristic has been fully preserved here. The tabulation (appended) of these palaces with their main characteristics of Alindas and Bhadrās may be compared. We have indicated the unbroken tradition of the courts in a palace.

These Alindas, numbering as many as four in practically all the types of the palaces treated by the S.S, presuppose an open courtyard (vide Commentary on Bṛhatsaṃhitā:—

alindaśabdena śālābhittervahye yā gamanikā jālakāvṛtāṅgaṇasammukhā.........” | [?]

By the word ‘Alinda’ is understood the lattice-covered path beyond the wall of a hall and facing (or in front of) the courtyard. This architectural planning of the houses like Sarvatobhadra, Nandyāvarta, Vardhamāna, Svastika and Rucaka, the śālā houses, as described in the ancient sources like Kāmikāgama, Agnipurāṇa (vide Enc. H. Arch, p. 47-8) corroborate this essential constituent of Alinda. The Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra too follows this ancient tradition in its treatment of the Palace architecture (Ch 30). Again the chief characteristic of the Hall architecture—the abundant employment of Pillars is fully assimilated here (vide Tabulation in the appendix). The super-structure of storeys with manifold mouldings and so many other decorative elements, the chief characteristic of temple architecture, is fully displayed here in the sublime architecture of the palace. It is a controversial point whether temples owe their super-structure to the lofty palaces or vice-versa. Scholars like Bhattacharya (vide C. I, A.) maintain the former position. In my opinion, however, the case is otherwise. I have throughout maintained that it is the religious architecture that originated and developed first on the sacred soil of India. Hence it is beyond comprehension to admit that the Temple architecture instead of becoming the model, should be a copy. In very ancient times, the residential quarters of a king were for all practical purposes, the citadel. The court, the treasury, the soldiers’ barracks, the council house, and the ministers’ houses were grouped round the royal castle and formed a part and parcel of it. Later on, though many a new establishment was added to it, it did not undergo any substantial modification (vide Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra Ch. 15). Hence my contention is: Later development of palace architecture resembling a lofty super-structure with storeys, pinnacles and other ornamental mouldings and decorative elements of a Prāsāda were copied from it.

Stone architecture, originally a taboo for residential houses of men—the Secular architecture, also gradually was relaxed. The kings must have taken the first advantage from this relaxation and made their houses in imitation of the Mandira, the stone structure

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