Vastu Shastra Explained
Most people are going to build a house only once in their lifetime. So, it is best that it is done right the first time. Even if you don't believe in Vastu, you might still want to follow its recommendations just for peace of mind. To me, Vaastu seems to be a collection of time-tested architectural best practices that are part of our rich heritage.
In this article, I provide all necessary information that would enable you to develop your initial house plan as per Vastu Shastra.
Vastu Shastra is an ancient Indian treatise on building construction. It is referred in many puranas and other ancient texts. You will find an abridged form of Vastu Shastra in the 252nd chapter of Matsya Purana (the history of Lord Vishnu's first avatar).
Vastu Shastra Recommendations
From the afore-mentioned Matsya Purana chapter, we can learn the main Vastu Shastra recommendations. It is brief enough and complete enough for ordinary people to make their own house plans.
- History of Vaastu Purusha: A deva vastu (life organism) was created from the sweat of Lord Shiva during a fight with an asura (demon). This vastu became so powerful and hungry that he threatened to consume all three worlds. So, the lords, rishis and even demons came together along with Lord Brahma to pin him down on the earth. As a compromise, gods allowed him to be worshipped as "Vaastu Purusha" by those who create houses, temples and other buildings. Thus, the vastu became a Vaastu Devata or Vastu Purusha.
- The layout of the house plan needs to divided into 81 squares. Thirty two
devatas (Baahya Devatas) are in the outer row of this "Vastu Mandala"
are: Shikhi (Ishan), Parjanya, Jayant, Indra, Surya, Satya, Brusha, Antakisha,
Vayu (Agni), Pusha, Vitatha, Brihatsakshatha,
Yama, Gandharva, Bhringraaja, Mriga, Pitrugana, Daivarika, Sugreeva,
Pushpadanta, Jalaadhusha, Asura, Sesha, Paapa, Roga, Ahi, Mukhya,
Bhallata, Soma, Sarpa, Aditi and Diti. At the centre is Lord Brahma.
(The location of these devatas is used to determine the ideal location
for the rooms in your house plan.)
Vastu mandala divides the house plan into 81 squares or rectangles.
- Main entrance can be in any of the four sides. Main entrance HAS to be in the
right side of the wall. Contrary to popular misconception, south-side
entrance from the Yama position is not considered bad, as it is one of the
cardinal directions. However, Matsya Purana considers East-side entrance as best.
Main door should be bigger than others.
Main door/entrance Wall Facing Position Devata East 6, 7 Indra, Jayant North 6, 7 Bhallat, Sowmya West 5, 6 Varuna, Pushpa South 5, 7 Yama, Vitatha
- The following rooms are recommended in these corners and sides:
Location of Rooms Direction Room Lord North East Pooja Room & "Shantigriha" Shiva North Water storage South East Kitchen Agni North East Valuables and grain storage Vayavya South West Storing materials and tools
for house maintainenance
- Trees that can be planted around the house are: Vata vriksha (Aal/Aalamaram/Banyan/Ficus Benghalensis) in the East, Udumbara (Aththi/Gular/Indian Fig Tree/Ficus racemosa) in the South, Pippala (Aryaal/Arasamaram/Peepal/Ficus religiosa) in the West and Plaksha tree in the North. (The identity of the Plaksha tree is not clear. Personally, I would not recommend any of the fig species on small plots, as they are epicytes.) Thorny and milk-yielding (Ksheera Vrikshas) trees are advised against. Other recommended trees (for Lakshmi/providence) are: Pumnaga (Nagachembakam/Iravam/Nagakesara/Ironwood/Indian Rose Chestnut/Mesua ferrea), Ashoka (Saraca asoca), Shami (Vanni/Prosopis cineraria), Tilaka (Arni/Agnimantha/Clerodendrum phlomidis), Champa (Shenbagam/senbagam/Plumeria), Dadimi (Maadulampazham/Pomegranate), Peepali (Pippali/Thippiliver/Indian Long Pepper/Piper longum), Draksha (grapes), Arjuna (Neer maruthu/Marutham pattai/Terminalia arjuna), Jambeera (lemon), Puga (betel nut), Panasa (jackfruit), Ketaki (Kaitha/Kaithai/fragrant screw pine/Pandanus odorifer) (advised against Lord Shiva), Malati (Aganosma heynei), Kamala? Chameli?, Mallika (jasmine), Coconut, Kela (banana), Kadali? and Patala?.
Other Vaasthu Shastra Considerations
Apart from Matsya Purana, commentaries by Vaastu experts today refer to other ancient works such as Thachchu Shastram, Maya Mata, Brihat Samhita, Manasara and Manayadi Shastram.
Tamil manuscripts are supposed to prescribe the best lengths (in feet) for room sides as 6, 8, 10, 11, 17, 20+. I am not sure if an exact translation of the current international standard for a feet was made to the measurement referred by the Tamil texts. Most plan documents use hastas or cubits. A cubit refers to the forearm length, from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow. A cubit is equal to 18 inches or 72 centimeters or 12 angulas.
The "pancha maha bhutas" (Vayu, Jal, Prithvi, Agni, Akash) are divided along the main directions. As the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, the location of various rooms are in relation to Sun rays falling on the house. For example, the kitchen can be in the South East or the North East, as they are ruled by Agni (Fire) and Vayu (Air). In general, rooms for important activities such as study or cooking are recommened in the East. Rooms for rest and storage are in the West.
IMPORTANT: The cardinal directions should be determined using a magnetic compass. Because of the Earth's tilt, the the direction of the Sun rise/set should not be used to determine the directions.
|Vayu - Air
|Jal - Water
|Aakash - Space
|Prithvi - Earth
|Agni - Fire
The centre of the house (ruled by Brahma) is left empty.
Modern Vastu Interpretations
Vastu Shastra is a science. It cannot be followed like an orthodox fundamentalist pursues a holy book. It needs to be adapted to the time that people live in. You can seek to meet the broad recommendations - 100% Vastu compliance should not be your goal.
Today, water sources need not be separate from fire places as wood or coal is not the main kitchen fuel. Although karyalaya (workplace), bathroom, and toilets are recommended outside the house, it may not be possible in urban places where space is limited. So, what was earlier recommended for a study room can now be used for a workplace. Kubera position is now recommended for main entrance, workplace and safe location for money and jewellery.
Personally, I am against having dogs, cats and birds in apartments. These animals should be able to roam free. Locking them up in cages or putting them on a leash is cruelty, based on selfishness. Of course, when you have a backyard or live on a farm, animals such as cattle or chicken have to be in an enclosure for their own safety.
In the Vastu Mandala, the corners are occupied by four adjacent squares forming a larger square. These corners are considerd "strength area" and are not recommended for the location of doors or windows.
On a land plot, all corners, except the South West, should be left empty or uncovered. Timber and/or left-over construction material is recommended to be placed in the South West corner, as it the position of the Nairuthi demon. In all rooms, it is also the location of almirah and material stores (except food, water and wealth stores). "Heavy" structures such as staircases are recommended in the South West side. With staircases, the requirement is that the person should be able to descend facing East or North. The slope of the floors and the alignment of outgoing water pipes should be towards East or North.
Each corner of a house is made of four adjacent squares in the Vastu mandala. If toilets have to be within the house, they are are now recommended in the position below and right of the North West corner, closer to the outer walls with maximum supply of air and sunlight. Although two other locations in the East are permitted by Vastu experts, I don't recommend them. Toilets need to be as far away as from the pooja room, kitchen, hall or the main living area. I would also recommend placing the bathroom totally separate from the toilet. The commode should be placed so that the person will not be facing East or South. Vastu experts today recommend the septic tank (sewage percolation tank) in the North or the East. I would add that that it be as far away from the well, preferably in a place where it would get sunlight all throughout the day to aid in its function as a mini-sewage treatment plant. Shadows of the house, trees, or other structures falling on the tank would limit evaporation and microbial activity necessary to treat the sewage. The tank should also be accessible from the roadway so that it can be completely emptied once in a few years. (Otherwise, built-up chlorides and other salts start to leach into the ground water and make it hard.)
Sometimes, different Vastu authors prescribe exactly opposite recommendations. In South India, the practice among some communities is to place doors facing each other. Some Vastu authors say it should not be - so as to preserve the "energy" within the house. The nadumuttam in nalukettu houses are usually depressed. However, Vastu authors say Brahmasthal should be at higher than other places. Namboothiris, the latter-day Brahmans of Kerala, say they follow Vastu but the building plans of old Namboothiri manas do not appear to be so.
Apart from Vaasthu, there are other things that matter for the life of the property and for the dwellers' peace and prosperity:
- Belief and worship of Gods and Godesses.
- Dharma (your deeds and charity).
- Living modestly and avoiding ostentatiousness - do not evoke spite or jealousy in others.
- Use natural building and painting materials - and avoid modern paints and emulsions.
- Water is the ultimate solvent. Given enough time, it will destroy everything in its path. Water sources such as taps, sinks and washbasins should not be placed near doors or windows. It will weaken these structures. Pipes should be used in terrace roofs and sunshades to evacuate water as water. Even walls need to be protected from water. The house should be regularly whitewashed and cracks should not be left unattended. Before rains, all pathways for evacuating water should be cleared of obstructions such as dried leaves and twigs.
- Ensure that plumbing lines short and simple. All nodes in a plumbing line should be easily accessible, maintainable and repairable. For example, a valve near tap will make it easy replace the tap without emptying the pipe and the tank..
- Do not create any area that limits cleaning/maintenance activities or becomes a haven for pests.
- Acquire enough tools so that ANYONE including children, elderly and womenfolk can do most repair/maintenance jobs. Leave complicated and dangerous works to experts.
- Pursue healthy living choices - exercise; regular, fresh and home-cooked meals; avoiding processed food and artificial ingredients/additives; using metal/ceramic containers, instead of plastic; natural clothing suitable for local climate, traditional cosmetics and cures; resorting to allopathic medical interventions only as a last resort, after exhausting all other options; avoiding/mitigating pollution.
- Limit the amount of furniture and other articles in the house. Excess furniture creates the illusion of the crampedness. Limiting them creates the illusion of spaciousness.
- Careful planning, regular maintenance, plain common sense and presence of mind is recommended for all.
I think the above information is enough for you to create your house plan. When the plan is ready, take it to a good Vastu consultant and civil engineer for their revisions.
In the article "Traditional, Kerala-style, Vastu-compliant house plans", I have provided different house plans for layouts facing road in the four directions plus a nallu-kattu house (four-sided Kerala mana-style house) with a nadumuttam (central courtyard). In plots that are placed diagonal to the main directions, the rooms would merely change their order along the sides so as to maintain their alignment with devataas in the Vastu Mandala.