A deeper look into the ancient ‘science’ of construction
93% of home buyers in metro cities of India seek Vastu-compliant home. In an attempt to make their students ‘well-rounded Architects’, IIT-Kharagpur have included ‘Vastu Science’ in the curriculum of their Architecture students.
Is this just a culture-wide superstition or a long-lost science that still applies?
Among Architecture circles, there has not been a more heated debate than the relevance (or irrelevance) of Vastu Shastra to the building designs of today. On one side, there are renowned Architects like Charles Correa and Geoffrey Bawa who have famously used Vastu Shastra in a number of their public projects. On the contrary are most contemporary Architects who, in a reaction to the Vastu-dosh fear-mongering by local pundits, vehemently deny the validity of Vastu altogether — and love to whine about their ‘believer’ client ruining their design for ‘Vastu-compliance’.
There is no easy answer to this. Vastu has been a part of the culture of Indian subcontinent for over 8000 years, however, a lot of what is sold as Vastu Shastra today seems biased towards making profits and propagating an ideology, instead of solving problems.
The essence of good residence can be distilled to this: Given that the structure is durable and functional, houses that are conducive of its residents’ physical and psychological well-being are preferable to houses that aren’t.
But, how do we ensure that?
A house, in essence, is an envelope to save its residents from extremes of nature and keep them safe and comfortable.
Technically speaking, Earth is a magnetic, solar-powered natural satellite which human beings have inhabited along with 8.7 million other species.
The Sun is the primary power source of nearly all activities on Earth. An efficient building harnesses the Sun as much as it can. A good planning is one that finds a balance between human activities and the sun periods.
It is wise to have the least used spaces in the most heated (directly exposed to sunlight) areas and the most used spaces in less heated, more comfortable zones of the house.
Psychological impacts of your home
Since home is the place where a person is most open and vulnerable, every design choice is likely to have a distinct psychological impact on one’s subconscious. The components of one’s visual field, therefore, should be carefully curated to encourage prosperity and happiness.
While some symbols like Phoenix symbolizing fame & reputation may seem far-fetched, Jung’s Psychology of the collective unconscious reveals that there are common symbols shared by all human beings.
There’s a reason why the image of a snake or a spider triggers fear even in children, even when they have had no prior contact
Considering that, putting up image of a mountain in an office seems, instead of a superstition, a psychologically-aware choice.
Cranking doors must be fixed, for the same reason that graffiti should be removed from public places. This subtle but consistent presence of lack of order and negligence may inadvertently creep into other aspects of living.
Different emotions are conducive of different kinds of work. Thus, an image of a pair of swans may be appropriate for a bedroom but clearly not a good backdrop for a business meeting. The key to designing a ‘positive’ place is this: ensure that the interior space evokes the same emotions that are required of the activities within the space.
Popular myths about Vastu Shastra
Vastu Shastra is a rule book, and it must be followed as is.
Vastu Shastra was originally intended as guidelines for people who built their homes themselves / with the help of their community. There are no ‘strict’ rules in Vastu Shastra that must be followed like a commandment.
Vastu Shastra is against Rationality
- Most of it, developed as a result of climate and social sciences and is provable by research and experimentation;
- Some of it is superstition and fear mongering, a tool for pundits for shameless exploitation of the vulnerable; and
- Some of it is beyond rational thought: neither provable / nor dis-provable with current scientific methods. Some applications are known to have considerable subjective benefits but no objectively assessable benefits.
Vastu Shastra is the same everywhere
Vastu is region-specific, that is, there is a different Vastu for every place. What works in India will not work for someone in Australia or Brazil. What works in Karnataka will not work in Rajasthan and vice versa.
Vastu Shastra is just about Building design
There exist many Vastu-Shastras concerning the art of building houses, temples, towns and cities. Vastu Shastra includes the art of building houses, temples, towns and cities.
Vastu Shastra is some mystical science understandable by a rare few and they are the highest authority
Most of those who claim to be experts of this knowledge today target vulnerable, fear-driven middle aged businessman and joint families – people who are afraid to lose money or relationships. Vastu Shastra guidelines were developed for the common man – with no prior knowledge of designing / planning – and should be considered no more than guiding principles.
Vastu Shastra is the solution to all your life problems.
No, not even close. The benefits are often akin to being cured by a placebo medicine. If you really believe in it, you might enjoy the psychological benefits of having a ‘vastu-compliant’ home; but if it is not grounded in climate science, don’t expect much else.
Most of what is practiced as Vastu Shastra are outdated theories, originally developed as general guidelines for the people when there were very few Architects. These principles were developed to ensure that, regardless of a person’s social standing, a minimum level of design sense is followed. There is ample natural light and cross-ventilation and careful consideration of psychological impact of the symbols in one’s homes.
However, many of the vastu principles in practice today carry an underlying assumption of plenty of land and generous space between constructed buildings. Vastu Shastra also does not consider technological advancements like layered glass panels, computational methods for energy and light modelling, artificial air purifiers, etc.
While Vastu Shastra has a good foundation in nature’s laws, a lot of it has been misconstrued in an act of blind faith and propagating a dogma. There are still not enough Architects for everyone, and there is a need for common design principles to be available to everyone seeking to build their home.
Modern times require a new Vastu Shastra, one based on the principles of climate science and psychology; concerned with the well-being of those who inhabit it as well as the Earth as a whole.
Himanshu Kalra is an Architect / Writer on the mission to understanding the interplay between individuals and their physical, societal environments. His latest obsessions are perceptual and environmental psychology, systems thinking, cultural evolution and Zen.