The Matsya Purana (critical study)

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

This page relates ‘Fort (durga) architecture 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 2 - Fort (durga) architecture in the Matsyapurāṇa

From the early age of human civilization people started thinking about protection from any kind of danger and this kind of thought initiated the need to construct fort [i.e., durga] around the residence. The advancement in the field of weaponry, which results in the development in the enemy's side, had a considerable influence on the design and development of fortification.

The architecture of fort [i.e., durga] and fortification get importance in the pre and protohistoric periods.[1] Vedic literature has thrown light on the constructions of stone and iron forts.

The Ṛgveda has references about the forts made of:

  1. stone (aśmamayī)[2] and
  2. iron (āyasī).[3]

It also informs about the śatabhujī fort, i.e., fort with hundred walls.[4] The Yajurveda has referred to the word mahāpura which means a great fortress. The Atharvaveda too mentions about the vapra ramparts. In the Upaniṣads also references are made about pura and mahāpura.

In the excavations of Mahenjodaro, the fortified city comprising of a contingent of eleven main buildings is discovered.

These buildings are:

  1. prākāra (rampart or city wall),
  2. vapra (mud foundation),
  3. gopura or dvāra (city gate) with aṭṭālaka (towers),
  4. mahāpatha and patha (broad roads),
  5. rājaprāsāda (royal palace),
  6. devagṛha (temple),
  7. sabhāgṛha or āsthāna-maṇḍapa (audience hall),
  8. saṃghāgāra [saṅghāgāra] (guild hall),
  9. koṣṭhāgāra (granary),
  10. puṣkariṇī (great pond) and
  11. vipaṇigṛha (market).[5]

This architectural plan of the city established a norm which was later followed in a large extent during the historical periods. Apart from the Vedic texts, the Manusaṃhitā, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata and many of the Purāṇas have stated on the forts and fortification.

According to Mānasāra, the durga, i.e., fort is called as:

  1. śibira,
  2. vāhinīmukha,
  3. sthānīya,
  4. droṇaka,
  5. saṃviddha,
  6. kolaka,
  7. nigama and
  8. skaṇḍāvāra.[6]

On the architecture of fortress, the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya has carried a special treatment. It has described a number of forts to be made on certain places in different localities, viz., sthānīya in the centre of eight hundred villages, droṇamukha in the centre of four hundred villages, kārvaṭika in the centre of two hundred villages and saṅgrahaṇa in the midst of a collection of ten villages etc.[7] On the utility of forts Manu has opined that if a warrior is protected by the fort then he can fight with a hundred enemy soldiers alone.[8] The Matsyapurāṇa seems to have borrowed its material from these traditional literatures.

In the Ausanasa Dhanurveda, the basic classification of forts [i.e., durga] was given, which universally accepted in India.

These forts are:

  1. dhanvadurga (desert fort),
  2. mahīdurga (mud fort),
  3. jaladurga (water fort),
  4. vanadurga (forest fort),
  5. baladurga (fort protected by able warriors) and
  6. giridurga (mountain fort).

The Rāmāyaṇa has divided forts [i.e., durga] into four classes such as:

  1. nādeya (river fort),
  2. pārvatya (the hill fort),
  3. vanya (the forest fort) and
  4. kṛtrima (artificial fort).[9]

The Mahābhārāta has enumerated six kinds of fort [i.e., durga] viz., the:

  1. dhanvadurga,
  2. mahīdurga,
  3. giridurga,
  4. manuṣyadurga,
  5. abdurga and
  6. vanadurga.[10]

In the Mānasāra, [fort, i.e., durga] is classified in to seven categories, viz.,

  1. giridurga,
  2. vanadurga,
  3. saliladurga,
  4. paṅkadurga,
  5. rathadurga,
  6. devadurga, and
  7. miśradurga.[11]

According to Kautilya’s Arthasastra, there are four main types of forts [i.e., durga], viz.,

  1. jaladurga (water fort),
  2. giridurga (mountain fort),
  3. marudurga (desert fort) and
  4. vanadurga (forest fort).

Which are sub-divided into eight classes. Of these four types of forts, the water and mountain forts are regarded as the best.[12]

Manu has mentioned six types of forts [i.e., durga], viz.,

  1. dhanudurga,
  2. mahīdurga,
  3. abdurga,
  4. vṛkṣadurga,
  5. naradurga and
  6. giridurga.[13]

He has stated that among all the forts the giridurga may be regarded as the best for security. Agnipurāṇa has also given the same classification on forts.[14]

In the Matsyapurāṇa six types of forts [i.e., durga] are mentioned. These are:

  1. dhanurdurga,
  2. mahīdurga,
  3. naradurga,
  4. vṛkṣadurga,
  5. jaladurga and
  6. giridurga.

Among these the giridurga is regarded as the best for war.[15] Regulation for forts is also discussed very elaborately in the Matsyapurāṇa. The durga or fortress should be surrounded by moat (parikhā), ditch and ramparts (vapraṭṭālaka).[16] Similar kind of specification is made in the Mānasāra and Arthaśastra also.[17] It should have great quantity of weapons (śataghnī yantra).

The Matsyapurāṇa also gives description of the town inside a fort [i.e., durga]. The main entrance of the city should be made with decorated doors and it should be large enough so that the king could enter to the city riding on an elephant with his banner on it.53 Inside the city four rectangular roads should be laid out. Among these four roads, a temple must be constructed in front of one road and of the second road there should be the royal palace. The houses of the judicial and military should be built in front of the third road and the main entrance of the city should be in front of the fourth road.[18] The city should be rectangular, square, circular, semi circular (muktihīnam), triangular, drum shaped (yavamadhyam), crescent or diamond shaped. The town with crescent shape on riverside is regarded as the best. 55 In the Arthaśāstra also the shapes of forts are broadly discussed. According to it, the fortress may be circular, rectangular or square, surrounded with artificial canal of water.[19]

The Matsyapurāṇa has given stress on the fact that one must start a building or house in an auspicious time.[20] It is said that the construction should start in some particular month and in a particular asterism. Among the months Vaiśākha, Āṣāḍha, Śrāvaṇa, Kārtika, Mārgaśira, Māgha, Phālguna are regarded auspicious for construction as these months bless the owner with different benefits.[21] Caitra, Jyeṣṭha, Bhādra, Āśvina, Pauṣa are regarded as inauspicious for starting any building, as it results loss of various valuable things.[22] Auspicious asterisms for building constructions are Aśvinī, Rohiṇī, Mūlā, Uttarabhadrapāda, Uttarāṣāḍhā, Uttarāphalguni, Mṛgaśirā, Svātī, Hasta and Anurādhā.[23] All the days of a week except the Sunday and Tuesday are auspicious for starting construction.[24] Likewise auspicious mūhurtas, viz., śveta, maitra, mahendra, etc. are also important for safe start of a construction.[25] Therefore, in an auspicious month, on a certain auspicious day at an auspicious mūhurta and in auspicious lagna a pillar of building should be fixed. This is a rule of starting a building construction, which is observed in present time also.

The initial work in architectural planning is to survey the soil in which foundation of a building is to be constructed. This survey consists of the testing of the soil conditions, its suitability and fitness for planned construction. To test the quality of the land, vāstuparīkṣā should be done.[26] For testing the soil the Matsyapurāṇa prescribes to dig a hole in the soil. It should be of one foot and a half square. The hole should be cleaned and plastered properly with cowdung. Thereafter on an earthen pot ghee is to be placed. Then four wicks should be placed in it in four directions. If the eastern wick burns longer than the rest, it means the plot of land is good for the brāhmaṇas, if the southern, western and northern wicks burn longest, it is auspicious for kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras respectively. If the wicks burn together it is good for all castes.[27] Thereafter a small hollow is to be filled by excavated soil. If the excavated soil is greater than the hollow filled then the construction on such soil will bring prosperity. Again if the soil is insufficient to fill the hollow then the construction on such soil will bring loss. If the excavated soil is equal to the hollow then its result will be normal.[28] Again the Matsyapurāṇa has given some other directions on bhūmiparīkṣā. To test the soil many seeds should be sown. If the seeds sprout in three days then it is regarded as superior, if seeds sprouts in 5 days then it is regarded as of the middle quality and if the seeds sprout in seven days the land is of inferior quality. The white earth is suited for brāhmaṇa, while for kṣatriya the red earth is suitable. The yellow earth is suitable for vaiśya. For śūdra the suitable earth is black.[29] Soil is also examined by testing the taste of it. According to the Matsyapurāṇa, if the taste of the soil is sweet then it will be suitable for brāhmaṇas. The soil which is pungent in taste is suitable for kṣatriyas, bitter soil is suitable for vaiśyas and astringent soil is suitable for śūdras.[30]

After testing the land and performing the rituals the vāstupuruṣa maṇḍala should be drawn. Vāstupuruṣamaṇḍala have high modern value. It is similar to the modern conception of a graph which should be drawn dividing the ground plan into squares and giving name to squares.[31] These are catuḥṣaṣṭipada, ekāśītipada, and śatapada vāstu. In catuḥṣaṣṭipada the site is divided into sixty four squares.[32] In ekāśīti pada the site is divided into eighty one equal squares. One hundred equal squares in plan site are termed as śatapada. Of them the Matsyapurāṇa discussed in detail about ekāśītipada i.e., eighty one square plans.

In Vāstupuruṣamaṇḍala, forty five devas are worshipped. Out of the forty five devas thirty two devas should be worshipped outside of the squares.

Devas worshipped outside the square are:

  1. Śikhī,
  2. Parjanya,
  3. Jayanta,
  4. Indra,
  5. Sūrya,
  6. Satya,
  7. Bhṛsa,
  8. Ākāśa,
  9. Vāyu,
  10. Pūṣṇa,
  11. Vitatha,
  12. Gṛhakṣata,
  13. Yama,
  14. Gandharva,
  15. Mṛga,
  16. Bhṛngarāja,
  17. Pitṛs,
  18. Dauvārika,
  19. Sugrīva,
  20. Puṣpadanta,
  21. Jalādhipa,
  22. Asura,
  23. Śoṣa,
  24. Pāpa,
  25. Roga,
  26. Ahimukhya,
  27. Bhallāṭa,
  28. Soma,
  29. Sarpa,
  30. Aditi and
  31. Diti.[33]

Thirteen devas should be worshipped inside it.

Devas worshipped inside the square are:

  1. Aryamā,
  2. Savitā,
  3. Vivasvāna,
  4. Vivudhādhipa,
  5. Mitra,
  6. Rājayakṣmā,
  7. Pṛthviśvara,
  8. Āpa,
  9. Āpavatsa,
  10. Parjanya,
  11. Agni and
  12. Diti. [34]

A noteworthy fact to be mentioned here is that the Matsyapurāṇa has given stress on leaving some space all around the building. [35]

The Matsyapurāṇa has specified the proper placements of different buildings in a royal palace. The treasury should be constructed in the southern part of the palace and to its south the royal stable for elephant should be built. The living place of the elephants should be made facing the east or north. The armory, royal kitchen and places for other works should be made to the south-eastern direction of the king’s palace. To the left of the palace there should be the houses of the ministers, royal priests, Vedic experts and the physicians as well. The stable, cowshed and storehouse also should be at the same direction. The stable should be made facing the north or south.[36] These plans were generally followed in construction of a town in ancient India.[37] The quarters of the charioteers or elephant drivers should be near the place of these animals. The king should provide dwelling places for soldiers, artisans and astrologers (kalāmantravid). Apart from these the veterinary doctors should also be accommodated within the fortress and the brāhmaṇas and the bards should also get houses there.[38]

Further the Matsyapurāṇa has given stress on the security of the fort [i.e., durga] and suggested that armed forces should be deployed inside the fort to protect the king and the fort as well. Sufficient weapons and cannons should be there inside the fortress. Again secret doors should be made on the fort so that such secret doors could be of great support in case of any kind of danger.[39] The Matsyapurāṇa urged that a large number of people should not be allowed to enter the fortress without any need. The emperor should always remain in a well-guarded citadel protected by charms, warriors, balconies and there should be available all kinds of grains and medicines too.[40] Moreover, the Matsyapurāṇa has elaborations regarding some important items to be provided inside the forts for emergency purposes during war time when supplies from outside would be discontinued. The Matsyapurāṇa has instructed to store the items of crafts, musical instruments, herbs and medicinal plants, fodder for animals, fuel, dairy products, all kinds of oil, molasses, sugar, hides, cereals and grains for food, cloth, barley and wheat, metals, earth and cowdung, green crops, pulses, combustible materials and many other kinds of herbs and plants for emergency.[41] It is also said to keep sweetening, sour and astringent items, roots, fruits, flowers inside the fort.

Footnotes and references:


Cf., J. Marshall, Excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa, Volume I, pp. 282-89


Ṛgveda, 4.30.20, 2.35-36


Ibid., 1.38.8, 2.20.8, 4.27.1, 7.3.7, 15.4, 95. 1, 10.101


Ibid., 1.156. 8, 7.15.1


Cf., Vasudeva S. Agrawala, Matsyapurāṇa -A Study, p.298


Mānasāra, 10.40.4


Arthaśāstra, Adhyakṣaprasāra,1.3-5


Manusmṛiti, 7.74


Rāmāyaṇa, VI. 3.20, 22


Mahābhārata, 12.86


Mānasāra, 10.90-91


Arthaśāsastra, 2.3, p. 50


Manusmṛti, 7. 70


Agnipurāṇa, 222.1-6


tatra durgaṃ nṛpaḥ kuryāt ṣaṇṇāmekatamaṃ budhaḥ/ dhanurdurgaṃ mahīdurgaṃ naradurgaṃ tathaiva ca// vārkṣaṃ caivāmvudurgaṃ ca giridurgaṃ ca pārthiva/ sarveṣāmeva durgāṇāṃ giridurgaṃ praśasyate// Matsyapurāṇa, 217.6-7


durgaṃca parikhopetaṃ vaprāṭṭālakasaṃyutam/ Ibid., 217.8


Cf., Mānasāra,10.106-109; also cf., Arthaśāstra, 24, p. 5153 gopuraṃ sakapāṭañca tatra syātsumanoharam/ sapatākaṅgajārūḍhoyena rājā viśetpuram// Ibid., 217.9


Ibid., 217.10-1255 Ibid., 217.12-14


Arthaśāstra, 2.3, p.51


Matsyapurāṇa, 253.1


Ibid., 253.2-5


caitrevyādhimabāpnoti yo gṛhaṃ kārayennaraḥ/ vaiśākhe dhenuratnāni jyaiṣṭhe mṛtyum tathaiva ca/ āṣāḍhe bhṛtyaratnāni paśuvargamavāpnuyāt/ srāvaṇe bhṛtyalabhantu hāniṃ bhādrapade tathā/ patnīnāśo’śvine vindyāt kārtike dhanadhānyakam// Ibid., 253.2-5


Ibid., 253.6


Ibid., 253.7


Ibid., 253.8


Ibid., 253.11


Ibid., 253.14-16


Ibid., 253.16,17


Ibid., 253.11-16


Ibid., 253.12-13


Cf., Vasudeva S.Agrawala, Matsyapurāṇa -A Study, p.344


Matsyapurāṇa, 253.47-48




Ibid., 253.30-31


Ibid., 266


Ibid., 217.15-19


Cf., Vasudeva S.Agrawala, Matsyapurāṇa -A Study, p.299


Matsyapurāṇa, 217.23-26


Ibid., 217.28


Ibid., 217.85-87


Ibid., 217.42-84

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