The Matsya Purana (critical study)

by Kushal Kalita | 2018 | 74,766 words | ISBN-13: 9788171103058

This page relates ‘Architecture (vastu) in the Matsyapurana’ of the English study on the Matsya-purana: a Sanskrit text preserving ancient Indian traditions and legends written in over 14,000 metrical verses. In this study, the background and content of the Matsyapurana is outlined against the cultural history of ancient India in terms of religion, politics, geography and architectural aspects. It shows how the encyclopedic character causes the text to deal with almost all the aspects of human civilization.

Part 1c - Architecture (vāstu) in the Matsyapurāṇa

The Matsyapurāṇa has eight chapters dealing with architecture [i.e., vāstu] and sculpture, viz., 252nd,, 253rd, 254th, 255th, 256th, 257th, 269th and 270th chapters. The vast treatment of architecture in the Matsyapurāṇa proves that it belongs to an age of great advancement in the realm of art and sculpture with noteworthy aspects. It has discussed about the source of Vāstuvidyā. In the chapter 252 of this Purāṇa, it is mentioned that Viṣṇu in his incarnation of fish, i.e., in matsya avatāra imparted the knowledge of architecture to Manu, who then taught it to Suta and Suta thereafter conveyed it to the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya.[1] It deals with the subjects like principle of architecture, selection of site and planning, making of divine images, building of temples and palaces etc.

The Matsyapurāṇa has mentioned about the eighteen preceptors of architecture. They are:

  1. Bhṛgu,
  2. Atri,
  3. Vaśiṣṭha,
  4. Viśvakarmā,
  5. Maya,
  6. Nārada,
  7. Nagnajit,
  8. Viśālākṣa
  9. Purandara,
  10. Brahmā,
  11. Kārtika,
  12. Nandīśvara,
  13. Śaunaka,
  14. Garga,
  15. Vāsudeva,
  16. Aniruddha,
  17. Śukra
  18. and Vṛhaspati.[2]

Among these preceptors some are mythical and some are historical. According to Manebendu Banerjee, it is specified that some of these names are mythological, though it may be possible that some of them were historical personages and reputed authors of the science of architecture or sculpture.[3] The Bṛhatsaṃhitā has references about Garga, Maya, Viśvakarmā, Vaśiṣṭha, Nagnajit and Bharadvāja.

It is stated that [the following four heavenly architects have originated from the four faces of Brahmā], viz.,

  1. Viśvakarmā,
  2. Maya,
  3. Tvaṣṭṛ and
  4. Manu.

The sons of these four [are called respectively]:

  1. Sthapati,
  2. Sūtragrāhin,
  3. Vardhaki and
  4. Takṣaka.[4]

In the Mānasāra the names of 32 authorities are found, viz.,

  1. Viśvakarmā,
  2. Viśveṣa,
  3. Viśvasāra,
  4. Prabodhaka,
  5. Vṛta,
  6. Maya,
  7. Tvaṣṭṛ,
  8. Manu,
  9. Nala,
  10. Mānavid,
  11. Mānakalpa,
  12. Mānasāra,
  13. Mānabodha,
  14. Prastara,
  15. Viśvabodha,
  16. Naya,
  17. Ādisāra,
  18. Viśāla,
  19. Viśvakāsyapa,
  20. Vāstubodha,
  21. Mahātantra,
  22. Vāstuvidyāpati,
  23. Parāśarīyaka,
  24. Kalāyupa,
  25. Caitya,
  26. Citraka,
  27. Avarya,
  28. Sādhakasārasaṃhitā,
  29. Bhānu,
  30. Indra,
  31. Lokajila and
  32. Saura.[5]

The Mānasāra and the Matsyapurāṇa have five common authorities, viz., Bṛhaspati, Indra, Viśālākṣa, Maya and Manu. In the Mahābhārata, Maya of demon dynasty is described as an expert architect. He has designed the rājasabhā of Indrapraṣtha for Yudhiṣṭhira.[6] The Bṛhatsaṃhitā and the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa have mentioned about Bharadvāja and Mārkaṇḍeya respectively as the authors of Vāstuśāstra. So, it can be said that there might be some experts on architecture who composed such books and the Matsyapurāṇa might have assembled all the data found in those books.

Although vāstu or architecture is regarded as worldly science, yet Hindu people worship Vāstudeva, the presiding deity of vāstu before any new construction. Vāstudeva is the deity of whatever we build on the earth. Regarding Vāstudeva, the Matsyapurāṇa have given a clear description, according to which, Lord Śiva once fought a war with demon Andhaka and killed him. During the war perspiration trickled down from the forehead of Śiva. From this perspiration an attendant was born who had a dreadful appearance. The attendant swallowed the blood of Andhaka scattered in the ground. Thereafter he started practicing penance for pleasing Lord Śiva in order to swallow down the three regions. Being pleased Śiva granted the boon to him. That attendant then covered the three regions of heaven, earth and atmosphere with his body and fell down on earth. But the gods along with demons, rākṣasas, Brahmā and Śiva captured him from all sides. He remained there where he was imprisoned. Afterwards he came to be known as Vāstudeva as the gods resided there.[7] It is prescribed in the Matsyapurāṇa that the construction of building should be started only after eulogizing the Vāstudeva. According to Bṛhatsaṃhitā, Vāstupuruṣa has his head towards the north-east facing the earth.[8]

The Matsyapurāṇa has widely discussed about the construction of various types of dwelling houses for kings, princes, commanders-in-chief, ministers, tributary princes, artists, chamberlains, courtesans, messengers, astrologers, preceptors, physician as also houses for four castes etc. It is said in the Matsyapurāṇa that a wise king should live in a place surrounded by fort along with his family, with all the people from whom he can get help and also with his countrymen, with all the amenities necessary for living a good and secured life.[9] Moreover, it has given proper measurement for constructing room, wall, window, door, threshold, pillar, hall etc. It has categorically pointed out the fruit of constructing all these parts of a house in respective direction and in proper measurement. It has also mentioned about the position of doors, trees, empty space etc. and their good or evil results. In one word it can be said that the Matsyapurāṇa has given every minute details regarding the construction of a dwelling house from testing the soil to entering the newly constructed house, from the measurement of house to the planting of trees in the surroundings. It has dealt with each and every aspect related to the construction of a house in extensive way. Moreover, this Purāṇa has carried a long discussion on the construction of a temple also. It has given the same importance to temple construction too. Like a dwelling house, all the necessary steps are instructed to be followed in the construction of a temple and proper placement of deity with all the other necessary aspects related to it.

The Matsyapurāṇa is, therefore, a great source of knowledge on the architecture [i.e., vāstu] of fort as well as temple. Hence, architecture of fort and architecture of temple are discussed in the following lines.

Footnotes and references:


Matsyapurāṇa, 252.1


bhṛguratrirbaśiṣṭhaśca viśvakarmā mayastathā// brahmakumāro nandiśaḥ śaunako garga eva ca/ vāsudevoˊniruddhaśca tathā śukrabṛhaspati// Matsyapurāṇa, 252.2-3


Cf. Manabendu Banerjee, ‘Matsya Purāṇa Chapters on Indian Architecture and Sculpture,’ Purāṇa, Vol.XXI, No.1, p. 64


pūrvānane viśvakarmā jāyate dakshiṇe mayaḥ/ uttarasya mukhe tvaṣṭā paścime tu manuḥ smṛtaḥ// viśvakarmākhya-nāmno'sya putraḥ sthapatir ucyate / mayasya tanayaḥ sūtragrāhīti parikīrttītaḥ// tvaṣṭur devarṣeḥ putraḥ varddhakir iti prakathyate/ manoḥ putras takṣakaḥ syāt sthapatyādi-catuṣṭayam// Mānasāra, II. 11- 12, 17-20


P. K. Acharya, Art and Science of Architecture, Dr. Bhandarkar Volume, p.242


Mahābhārata, I.221.36


Matsyapurāṇa, 252.12-14


Bṛhatsaṃhitā, 53.51


Cf., Matsyapurāṇa, 217.4-6

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