Many ancient traditional cultures share similar root beliefs and develop remarkably parallel practices. Practitioner of both Vaastu Shastra and Feng Shui, Kajal Sheth examines the similarities and differences between these two historic artsTraditional cultures have a keen understanding and respect for nature. They are mindful that living and working in harmony with natural forces results in a life of happiness and well-being while disregard of these causes struggle and strife.
In recent years, the Chinese system of feng shui has received world wide attention. However, China was not alone in recognising the advantage of siting buildings in harmony with the physical and metaphysical forces. This understanding has been echoed by many other cultures. Foremost among them is the Indian system of Vaastu Shastra – the science of architecture that has its roots in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures dating back to around 3,000BC.
Staphatya Veda, as Vaastu Shastra is often referred to, is the coming together of science, religion, wisdom and society for the purpose of building structures in the community. It consists of numerous manuals that lay down canons of good practice in the designing and planning of buildings, temples and cities based on observation and study of the influence of planetary, atmospheric, magnetic and gravitational forces on earth.
To express these concepts and their application, a mandala (a geometric configuration) called the Vaastu Purusha Mandala was formulated. There are many legends surrounding the origin of this mandala. According to a popular version, a formless being threatened to cause obstruction between heaven and earth. The Gods seized the being and laid it face down on the earth (vaastu, site), where it took the form of a human (purusha).
Thus, cosmic energy represented by a human form on a square site formed a mathematical diagram of power (mandala). The basic square is divided into 64 or 81 parts, each part representing the position of the sun, moon, planets and the presiding god that helped form it. The mandala is further cross-referenced with a magnetic orientation and a representative element. The Vaastu Purusha Mandala thus becomes a magical diagram symbolising the order of universe on earth. It is a cosmic plan representing time in space.
Movement Of Energy
The mandala forms the basis for the understanding of the movement and flow of energy through space. Cosmic energy is said to enter a structure through the purusha’s head in the North-east, move down its arms in the South-east and North-west, and finally gathers at its feet in the South-west. To attract vital energy inside a building, it became important to keep the East, North-east and North clear, open and unobstructed. More doors and windows are placed in these sectors and the ground level is kept lower here to allow maximum energy into the building.
Once the energy enters the building, it is important to gather it. To contain and hold the energy, the ground in the South and West is kept slightly higher. Having fewer openings, less open space and more solid walls in this area allows maximum accumulation and minimum dissipation of energy. In keeping with this model, entrances are provided in the North and East; while bedrooms are located towards the rear in the South and South-west.
Location Of Rooms
The use of the Vaastu Purusha Mandala was essential to the construction of important structures. The mandala of 81 squares is aligned with the earth’s North-South magnetic field and superimposed on a plot of land to map out the movement of the sun, the elements that each area represents and the position of the presiding deity. This chart acts as a framework for planning the siting of a building and location of rooms and activities within it.
The ancient Indians observed that the rising sun with its gentle heat and light is a source of vitality while the setting sun had far too much heat and glare. They also believed that the ultra violet rays emanating from the rising sun were very beneficial for human health. When the sun rises in the East, the area that receives the maximum amount of ultra violet rays is the North-east. Therefore, plots with extensions or projections in the North-east let more of the beneficial sun’s rays in and are considered superior in India. In the Vedic tradition, the North-east corresponds to the Element Water and therefore, placement of water, especially drinking water, in the North-east is highly recommended.
The South-east represents the Element Fire, making it a natural location for a kitchen. The gathering of energies takes place in the South-west and South, hence these became ideal locations for bedrooms. A room in the West is good for dining or study; while the North-west, representing Wind, is seen to have a transitory quality and hence is considered appropriate for a guest room or as a bedroom for a young girl waiting to be married. Presiding at the North is the God of Wealth, the favoured room to store valuable items, while the Centre of the house, which coincides with the navel of the purusha, represents the element Space and was traditionally kept open to sky in the form of a courtyard.
Bringing Order To A Site
The shastras laid down detailed procedures involving selection of site, assessing fitness of the soil, determining proper orientation, specifying ideal proportions and use of appropriate materials for construction.
One such test, to check the stability of the site, suggests digging a pit on the site at sunrise. The next morning, the pit is refilled with the dug up soil. If the pit is overflowing, the soil is said to be fit for building; if the pit is level, the site is average; and if the refilled pit shows a depression then the site is not fit for construction.
Besides providing architectural guidelines, the shastras advise rituals to cleanse, purify and consecrate the land at every phase of construction. Before commencement of construction, the land is levelled. Levelling the land symbolises bringing order to a wild, unruly world. The land is then ploughed to cleanse and purify it from its past connections. Offerings are made to appease the land. Vedic rites are performed at precise times on auspicious days during the laying of the foundation, fixing of the main door and the residents’ first entry into the house. In performing these rituals the purusha (the soul, being) of the vaastu (site) is invoked. In doing this, bare land is supposed to be converted into a living organism.
Importance is given to the shapes of land and buildings. According to the tenets of Vaastu Shastra the ideal shape for a building is square. The square represents order, symmetry and perfection. The next best is a rectangle, provided the length of the rectangle is not more than twice its width. Triangular and irregular shaped plots are not considered beneficial. This parallels feng shui. Numerous mathematical formulae exist to ensure that the land and building conform to sacred proportion and dimension.
Applying Vaastu Shastra In The West
With proper understanding, the principles of Vaastu Shastra can be applied universally. However, the study of any environmental science must bear in mind the context of its place of origin, its geographical location, climatic condition, culture and religion. For instance, according to Vaastu Shastra, South is associated with death and one must avoid facing South. To take this literally and apply it in Europe is foolish. However, if one unravels the principle behind it, one realises that in India the sun is very fiery in the South and facing this direction on a regular basis can be detrimental. But this does not hold true in the same way in Europe, where we seek the sun rather than avoid it.
Similarly apparent contradictions may surface between feng shui and Vaastu Shastra. One might argue that in the feng shui model, the ground is higher in the North and lower in the South, while in Vaastu Shastra, the ground is higher in the South and West and lower in the North and East. On closer examination, one understands that the feng shui model is based on an entrance facing South, and hence benefits from a higher back in the North. The Vaastu Shastra model is based on an entrance in the North or East and hence advises a higher back in the South and West. However, the principle of having low ground near the entrance and high ground behind is common among both systems.
Recommending an East or North entrance in India makes practical sense as it lets in the much needed cooler energy while the solid walls and high ground in the South and West offer protection against the heat and glare.
Feng shui and Vaastu Shastra share a common aim. Parallels between the two systems abound. The seeming differences are largely a result of their geographical, cultural and social background. Studying the two with a view to finding differences is not constructive. But accepting the two systems in totality, gives you an insight in the way two ancient cultures responded to their environment, and offers an added perspective in the understanding of our environment.
The increasing interest in the West in feng shui and its Indian counterpart, Vaastu Shastra, has seen a rise in the number of experts practising in the UK. Kajal Sheth, based in Bushey Heath, Herts, now travels throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and her native India advising on both these ancient arts.
‘Another suggestion is that the elements of Vaastu Shastra travelled with Buddhism from India through Tibet to China. Both arts share a common aim. Their paths may be different, but they lead to the same end – achieving balance and harmony with nature. Of the two systems, Vaastu Shastra is more rigid in its practice. Hence, sometimes calling for structural changes. ‘These can often simply be overcome. For instance, if the existing kitchen is not located in the ideal South-eastern part of the home [according to Vaastu Shastra], using another room in that area as the kitchen could be the answer. ‘Feng shui is more practical and adaptable. If ideal situations do not exist it offers creative solutions to remedy the problem. Rather than relocating a kitchen, for example, a feng shui practitioner might suggest introducing the colour green into it together with healthy plants and a decor with an upward pattern to represent, at least, the energy of the South-east.’
Her clients vary from householders to small shops, offices, shopping malls and hotels. She stresses that although simple steps can be taken to bring more balance and harmony into a building, each situation is different.
For instance, she points out that some popular feng shui manuals suggest that keeping an aquarium of exotic fish in a certain part of the home or installing them in a garden pond can be great for its feng shui.
‘In many cases that may be so, but I would check first whether the people involved liked fish and would look after them properly,’ says Kajal. ‘If they’re not keen on them and are likely to let the water in the aquarium or pond become dirty and stagnant, it could instead have a negative effect.’
Making An Analysis
She always analyses the astrology of clients prior to visiting them – that of the head of the household or business being especially important to her. This helps her to determine the kind of environment that would be most beneficial and supportive to their path in life, in particular, suggesting favourable locations, colours, shapes and forms.
As with most practitioners, among the tools of her trade is a lo p’an, the ancient Chinese compass which also gives astrological information.
‘Some clients prefer me to use traditional instruments, but I use a conventional compass too,’ she says. ‘I often use dowsing rods and a pendulum in order to check on any streams of negative energy flowing under a building. This can be especially important where bedrooms are concerned. Sleeping over such a stream can cause lethargy and even illness.
‘A heavy, load-bearing beam in the ceiling of a room or office can cause health problems too. Powerful negative energies can emanate from such beams. Regularly working, sitting or sleeping underneath one can have ill-effects, such as constant tiredness and lack of concentration.
‘Mirrors in a bedroom can lead to poor sleeping patterns. They stimulate the environment and do not promote good sleep. On the other hand, if you want to kindle passion and activity in a bedroom put up a few mirrors in the right places and see the magic!’ [But cover them up before going to sleep! Ed.]
‘Feng shui and Vaastu Shastra,’ says Kajal Sheth, ‘are all about regulating the flow of energies in a building. For example, a front door and back door in line are hardly ideal. It means that energies can flow quickly in and out again. The flow needs to be moderated and guided. Hanging a metal wind chime between them may be the simple answer.’
Adds Kajal, ‘In places where you want to relax, introduce gentle curves in the design of the furniture and decor. Sharp corners or spiky plants, especially if they are close to where you sit or sleep, interfere with your energy field and don’t allow you to feel settled.’
What would really please her would be the wide use of feng shui and Vaastu Shastra in public places, including clinics and hospitals. She is convinced that it would improve their users’ well-being and help the sick to recover more quickly. Hopefully, as interest in both arts grows, this may come about.