Kashyapa Shilpa-shastra (study)

by K. Vidyuta | 2019 | 33,520 words

This page relates ‘Vastushastra texts’ of the study on the Kashyapa Shilpa-shastra (in English) with special reference to the characteristics of Prakara (temple-components), Mandapa (pavilions) and Gopura (gate-house). The Silpa-Sastras refers to the ancient Indian science of arts and crafts, such as sculpture, architecture and iconography. This study demonstrates the correlatation between ancient Indian monuments (such as temples and sculptures) and the variety of Sanskrit scriptures dealing with their construction.

2 (b). Vāstuśāstra texts

The Vāstuśāstra texts are exclusive treatises on architecture. The authors of these treatises seemed to have belonged to two different schools of architecture viz., the northern or Viśvakarmā school and the southern or Maya school.

Among the various treatises from both the schools, the prominent texts are: Southern School–Mānasāra, Mayamata and Śilparatna; Northern School–Viśvakarma Vāstuśāstra, Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra and Aparājita-pṛcchā. The present text under study, the Kāśyapa Śilpaśātra, belongs to the southern school of architecture.

(a) Mānasāra:

Mānasāra “the fountain head of all the architectural lore” is considered to have been written before the Bṛhatsaṃhitā (7th Cent. A.D.) and the Matsya Purāṇa. As the title of the text suggests its uniqueness is the standardization of the measurements.

Among the seventy chapters of the text, the first fifty deal with architecture and the rest with sculpture. While explaining the origin of Vāstuśāstra, the text traces the lineage of the master-architects thus (II. 3-6):

viśvakarmā caturvarṇaṃ(rvaktrā) jāti(to) brahmādivarṇa(vaktra)vat |
pūrvoktavarṇaṃ(pūrvavaktrādīni) catvāri nāmaṃ(māni) vakṣye pṛthak pṛthak ||

pūrvānane viśvakarmā jāyate dakṣiṇe mayaḥ |
uttarasya mukhe tvaṣṭā paścime tu manuḥ smṛtaḥ ||

The author says that Viśvakarman (the architect of the universe) is born with four faces like Brahmā. From each of those faces originated in order, the heavenly Viśvakarmā from the eastern face, Maya from the south, Tvaṣṭā from the northern face and Manu from the western one.

From these master-architects were born (respectively) the four terrestrial artisans viz., the Sthapati (master builder), the Sūtragrāhin (draftsman), the Vardhakī (designer) and the Takṣaka (carpenter). The Sthapati is the highest in rank and is superior to the other three.

The Sūtragrāhin is the guru of Vardhakī and Takṣaka; while Vardhakī is the instructor of Takṣaka (II. 11-12ab):

sthapatistu svaturyebhyastribhyo gururiti smṛtaḥ |
sūtragrāhī gururdvābhyāṃ turyebhyo'dya iti smṛtaḥ ||
takṣakasya gurunārma(mnā) vardhakī(kiri)ti prakīrtitaḥ |

Further the text discusses the selection of site, soil testing, planning and designing of buildings, the mathematical calculations involved in it and so on. The canons of village-planning, town-planning and planning of forts are also dealt with in the text. Constructions of mansions, temples, houses, palaces etc., are also specified here.

(b) Mayamata:

This treatise which is ascribed to Mayamuni is an authoritative and comprehensive treatise on architecture. In the opinion of Dr. P. K. Acharya[1], the contents of the Mānasāra and the Mayamata are identical in all contents and purposes. But, according to Dr. T. Bhattacharya[2], the original Mayamata must be a very old treatise and the present treatise may be a later compilation by Ganmācārya.

Mayamata is said to represent that period of Indian history when construction of the prāsādas along with their elaborate architecture and the installation of images with religious fervour were in vogue. This text with just thirty-four chapters discusses the same topics as the Mānasāra, like the process of bhūparīkṣā, town-planning, temple-architecture, house-architecture, palace-architecture etc. Moreover, this is the only south Indian text that mentions the āmalaka shaped śikhara (XVIII.16), which is a Nāgara style of architecture.

(c) Śilparatna:

Śilparatna of Śrīkumāra exhibits a lot of influence of the text Mayamata. Even so, its main source lies in the Āgamas. Though this text follows in the lines of Mayamata, the author records his reverence to Viśvakarmā first and then only lists Maya.

This treatise expounds the construction of the temples. The Nāgara and the Drāviḍa styles of temples discussed here implies that the Śilparatna is comparatively a modern treatise.

(d) Viśvakarma Vāstuśāstra [vāstuśāstram]:

Viśvakarmā's work on Vāstuśāstra, is a record of oral traditions and transmissions of the science of architecture which go back to an undefined past. The text proper deals with the examination of different kinds of lands, town-planning, measurements pertaining to civil architecture, construction of other buildings, designing of doors, toraṇas, structuring adhiṣṭhāna, gopuras, other miscellaneous structures, pillar designing, temple architecture and so on.

Dr. D. N. Shukla[3] appreciates this treatise for its language and for the in-depth dealing of the theory and practice of architecture while keeping the ritual matters to the bare minimum. This, he adds,is a very unique feature of a Śilpaśāstra text.

(e) Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra:

This monumental treatise has been penned by king Bhoja of Dhārā (11th Cent. A.D.). His work containing 83 chapters deals with town-planning, house-architecture, construction of machines (i.e.) yantra-ghaṭaṇa and articles of household furniture (in the first 48 chapters) and expounds on temple architecture–its origin and development, their manifold classifications, lay-outs, measurements, superstructure and the decorative motifs of the central shrine, the accessory buildings like maṇḍapas, the pavilions, etc (in the latter 20 chapters). Thus the major part of the treatise is devoted to architecture.

The Śilpa concept is also elucidated by him in the remaining 14 chapters and they dwell at length on iconography, both pictorial and sculptural. This treatise too is categorised as a modern work when compared to the others.

(f) Aparājitapṛcchā:

The title of this text literally means “Questionnaire framed by Aparājita” and is authored by Śrī Bhuvanadevācārya. (12th -13th Cent. A.D). This is another work on Indian architecture, sculpture and painting. It is also unique as it deals with new topics like Prosody, Astrology, Music, etc. Aparājita, said to be the youngest among the four mānasa (mind born) sons of Viśvakarmā questions his father about the various concepts of Vāstu and Śilpa. This work is also called Sūtra-santāna-guṇa-kīrti-prakāśa. P. A. Mankad[4] has edited this text with a detailed introduction. He says that though there is a hint that this Bhuvanadeva is probably Viśvakarmā[5] himself, it cannot be ascertained so, with given information. Though ascribed to Viśvakarmā, this text can be dated as certainly earlier to the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra.

In the opening verse of the 35th chapter, Viśvakarmā indicates the modern method of land-survey and gives a satellite view for foundation of a big metropolis or large industrial town, through the following verse:

puṣpakaṃ tu samāruhya merumāśritya dakṣiṇam |
vilokitā bhūtadhātrī samudrāntā ca medinī ||

Not containing itself to architectural and sculptural matters the text also describes astronomical-astrological and mathematical problems related to the determination of auspicious dates, āyādivicāra, highlighting Rekhā-architecture and ending with some information on music and dancing.

(g) Kāśyapa Śilpaśātra:

The text though popularly known by this name is also known as Aṃśumadbhedāgama or Kāśyapiya or Aṃśumadkāśyapa[6]. Three chapters of this text dealing with the Prākāra, Maṇḍapa and Gopura of the temples, have been taken up for the present study. The scope and purpose of the present study has been given at the end of this chapter.

Footnotes and references:


Architecture of Mānasāra, tr. from original Sanskrit by P. K. Acharya, Oxford University Press, Allahabad, 1933, p. 89


The Canons of Indian Art or A Study of Vāstuvidyā, by T. Bhattacharyya, Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta, 1963, p. 146.


Vāstu-Śāstra, Vol. I, Hindu Science of Architecture (with special reference to Bhoja's Samarāṅgaṇa-Sūtradhāra, by D.N. Shukla, Bhāratīya Vāstu-Śāstra Series, Vol. VIII, Chandigarh, 1961, p. 97.


Aparājitapṛccha of Bhuvanadeva, ed. with an Introduction by P. A. Mankad, Gaekwad's Oriental Institute, Baroda, 1950, p. lxxxix.


It is interesting to note that Sāyana in his prelude to the commentary on Ṛgveda, X. 81, mentions Viśvakarmā as bhuvanaputra.


The New Catalogus Catalogorum, Vol. I. p. 1, 147.

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