Vastu-shastra (4): Palace Architecture

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

This page describes Conclusion (the science of machines in India) which is chapter 3g 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 3g - Conclusion (the science of machines in India)

Now the question, which naturally arises regarding this portion of the work—the Yantra chapter of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra is: Do we find any connecting link between this work and others works of this type which have treated this theme of machines? No other Śilpa work so far discovered, contains any chapter on the Yantras, though in the broadest sense, as seen before, (vide the Scope of the Vāstuśāstra) the Indian Vāstu-śāstra must include Yantras also in its scope. The paucity of the material however, stands in the way of arriving at any definite conclusions.

By the time of the eleventh century, the time of Bhoja, the science of machines in India was in a very degenerated condition. Whatever Yantric knowledge was there, it was handed down in a distorted and uncultivated state. Scienctific knowledge was never a matter of popular use. It never affected the life of the people as a whole. Only the kings could use the aeroplanes. These aeroplanes were conveyances either fit for celestial beings or kings and sovereigns like Rama Chandra. Puṣpaka-vimāna could be used only by a Rama and and not by an ordinary citizen of Ayodhyā. Naturally therefore, mechanical craftsmanship, if there was any in this period of medieval India, was more or less a thing of court-life—a paraphernalia of enjoyment to the kings and queens and the courtiers. Hence all the varieties of the yantras which have been described here are fit to be the ornaments of the then court life or a thing of exhibition only in fairs and other such places where the masses used to assemble. Even today in fairs in India some such things of indigenous Character but reminiscent of the past are exhibited in such gatherings, and money is got owing to the sale of tickets, etc.

I have already hinted at a very significant point in relation to the mysterious art of construction of these yantras, not to be unfolded and if it is unfolded, it does not bear fruits. Again I have also pointed out the decadance of the art as reflected in the exposition of the yantras in this book. The author of this work points out at a number of places that this mysterious lore, as it were, has been revived by his own imagination and intellect. He does refer to the ancient masters (31.6) of the art. He also speaks of those as having been seen and described on first hand knowledge of them.

He however, offers an excuse of not unfolding the secret of the construction of these yantras simply for the reason that they are likely to lose their merit. The usual equipment of any art, the knowledge of the practical experience, etc. must be there, and no one can deny their importance, but it is simply ridiculous to say that if the secret of art is unfolded, it loses its merit.

I may however, conclude with Dr. V. Raghavan (vide Yantras or Mechanical Contrivances in Ancient India p. 31):

“The tradition pertaining to this lore was, however, neglected and lost. The vogue that these mechanical contrivances had over a sufficiently long period was indeed enough to foster the development and spread of mechanical technology on a national scale; but it was just like the civilization of this country not to have taken to it on such a scale. The reason is not far to seek: the religious and spiritual preoccupation was such that machines, which in other countries ushered in a civilisation that increasingly became materialistic in outlook were useful in this country only to reinforce the idea of God and Spirit.

If material yantras did not take root or multiply, spiritual yantras, which took one to still higher regions, developed and multiplied on a vast scale. And even writers who actually dealt with the yantras, like Somadeva and Bhoja, saw in the machine operated by an agent an appropriate analogy for the mundane body and senses presided over by the Soul, and for the wonderful mechanism of the universe, with its constituent elements and planetary systems, requiring a divine master to keep it in constant revolution.

jaḍānāṃ spandane hetuṃ teṣāṃ cetanamekakam |
indriyāṇāmivāmānamadhiṣṭhātṛtayā sthitam ||
bhrāmyaddineśaśaśimaṇḍalacakraśatsametajjagattritayayantramalakṣyamadhyam |
bhūtāni bījamakhilānyapi saṃprakalpya yaḥ santataṃ bhramayati smarajitsavo'vyāt ||

And, as early as the Gītā, the machine became an apt simile for man being but a tool in the hands of the Almighty that sits in man’s heart and by His mystic power makes man not only move but also delude himself into the notion of his being a free or competent agent:

īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāṃ hṛddeśe’rjuna tiṣṭhati |
bhrāmayansarvabhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā ||

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