Ig­nore Vastu at your peril

It may con­trib­ute to poor gover­nance

Post - - Opinion - YOGIN DE­VAN Yogin De­van is a me­dia con­sul­tant and so­cial com­men­ta­tor. Share your com­ments with him at yo­gind@meropa.co.za

THE white Cape Dutch­style par­lia­men­tary build­ings in Cape Town and the Her­bert Baker- de­signed sand­stone Union Build­ings in Pre­to­ria have never housed trou­ble-free gov­ern­ments in South Africa.

Be­fore 1994, the gov­ern­ment – hated by the masses – was no­to­ri­ous for its racist leg­is­la­tion, which turned the coun­try into a po­lit­i­cal pole­cat in the eyes of the global com­mu­nity.

More than two decades af­ter the first demo­cratic elec­tions, the na­tional gov­ern­ment is em­broiled in state cap­ture, cor­rup­tion, non-de­liv­ery of ser­vices and po­lit­i­cal in-fight­ing.

The pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tures and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties which oc­cupy var­i­ous build­ings fare no bet­ter – fraud, cor­rup­tion and pa­tron­age pol­i­tics have re­sulted in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­ef­fi­cient ser­vices from a shrink­ing pool of cap­i­tal.

Con­se­quently, the poor in South Africa have lit­tle chance of im­prov­ing their lives.

Could the ab­sence of Vastu – the an­cient dis­ci­pline of lo­cat­ing and con­struct­ing build­ings – be con­tribut­ing to poor gover­nance?

Vastu is a tra­di­tional In­dian sys­tem of ar­chi­tec­ture which per­tains to the phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tual or­der of the built en­vi­ron­ment, in con­so­nance or har­mony with the cos­mic en­er­gies. It is a study of plan­e­tary in­flu­ences on build­ings and the peo­ple who live in them, and aims at pro­vid­ing guide­lines for proper con­struc­tion.

It is be­lieved that for peace, hap­pi­ness, health and wealth, one should abide by the guide­lines of Vastu while build­ing a dwelling. It tells us how to avoid dis­eases, de­pres­sion and dis­as­ters by liv­ing in struc­tures which al­low the pres­ence of a pos­i­tive cos­mic field. Vastu gives guid­ance on the lo­ca­tion of en­trances, cook­ing ar­eas and wa­ter points.

While there are those who ig­nore Vastu as su­per­sti­tion or pop­py­cock, there is grow­ing in­ter­est in the US, UK, Ger­many and Aus­tralia from peo­ple look­ing for har­mony and peace of mind. There is a greater aware­ness of how our phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment af­fects the qual­ity of our life.

For homes al­ready built, there are sim­ple cor­rec­tions that can be made to en­sure con­form­ity with Vastu and im­prove­ment in hap­pi­ness.

For new of­fices and homes, a Vastu con­sul­tant can be en­gaged to ap­ply the prin­ci­ples of en­vi­ron­men­tal psy­chol­ogy to help de­crease neg­a­tive in­flu­ences while at­tract­ing aus­pi­cious en­er­gies to help main­tain and in­crease good health, pros­per­ity, and wis­dom.

Dur­ban ar­chi­tect Shandir Ram­bu­ran says his com­pany has been us­ing the prin­ci­ples of Vastu in their ex­e­cu­tion of ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign for many years.

“A holis­tic ap­proach needs to be adopted if we are to live in har­mony with the uni­verse. We build our homes, of­fices and tem­ples on Mother Earth, thereby de­priv­ing her of the sun’s en­ergy and cre­at­ing an im­bal­ance.

“In our de­signs, we em­ploy the prin­ci­ples of Vastu in or­der to re­gain this cos­mic har­mony, which em­pow­ers the oc­cu­pants of build­ings with hap­pi­ness, peace and pros­per­ity.”

Jo­han­nes­burg-based Van­ishree Pavadai has deep roots in cul­ture – she has ded­i­cated two decades to the per­fec­tion of the Bharatha Nathyam art form and im­bibes it in yoga, car­natic mu­sic, med­i­ta­tion and the study of In­dian phi­los­o­phy and scrip­tures.

Her pro­cliv­ity to­wards the Vedic sci­ences and in­tu­itive na­ture has made her a sin­cere prac­ti­tioner of Vastu and she has been con­ferred with the ti­tle Vastu Acharya (au­thor­ity) in New Delhi, In­dia.

She has an im­pres­sive list of clients who sing her praises for lay­ing out build­ing plans us­ing Vastu. Floun­der­ing mar­riages on the brink of di­vorce have re­port­edly got back on track; fail­ing busi­nesses have re­turned to prof­itabil­ity; and health is­sues have van­ished.

“By ap­ply­ing Vastu prin­ci­ples to liv­ing and work­ing struc­tures, we re­con­nect our­selves with nat­u­ral en­er­gies. We de­crease neg­a­tive in­flu­ences and we at­tract aus­pi­cious en­er­gies to help main­tain and in­crease good health, pros­per­ity and wis­dom,” she said.

Who knows, if only Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma had ap­plied Vastu when his Nkandla home­stead was be­ing con­structed, per­haps he would not have got him­self en­meshed in all the con­tro­versy around the in­flated cost of the project. Per­haps the “fire pool”, cat­tle kraal and chicken run were all po­si­tioned wrongly.

And if only Vastu had been har­nessed when Dur­ban’s Moses Mab­hida Sta­dium was be­ing built, the iconic struc­ture might not be the white elephant it is to­day.

Like many of In­dia’s an­cient sci­ence and knowl­edge, Vastu also got ne­glected and re­ceived less at­ten­tion over the cen­turies. Hence to­day’s mil­len­ni­als who wor­ship western con­cepts have very lim­ited or no knowl­edge of Vastu, and find it dif­fi­cult to ap­pre­ci­ate and use its ben­e­fits when buy­ing or con­struct­ing homes, of­fices and shops.

My 50-some­thing-year-old house has an ugly, grow­ing crack that has been filled and stitched more times than I care to re­mem­ber. The foun­da­tion in one cor­ner has even been un­der­pinned as it was sus­pected of sub­sid­ing.

How­ever, noth­ing seems to have been a per­ma­nent fix. Mean­while, I am con­tent with blam­ing the crack on Vastu. Why else should an east-fac­ing wall in an oth­er­wise well-built house de­velop a nasty crack? The Hindu turns to­wards the east and wor­ships the sun as the en­ergy force of all liv­ing things.

No God-fear­ing Hindu will build a house with­out per­form­ing a pooja (prayer) at the time the foun­da­tions are be­ing laid.

A small piece of gold, usu­ally in the form of a coin or small piece of un­used jew­ellery, is buried in an eastern cor­ner for hap­pi­ness, pros­per­ity and long life.

The orig­i­nal owner of my pre­vi­ous house, be­ing a de­vout Hindu, had con­ducted a foun­da­tion-lay­ing prayer cer­e­mony when that small home was be­ing built.

When I made ad­di­tions to that house, I dis­cov­ered that gold was buried in the foun­da­tion trenches be­fore they were filled with con­crete.

The day I moved out of that house, I re­mem­ber walk­ing around it sadly and re­al­is­ing how solid the build­ing was – not even a hair­line plas­ter crack was to be seen.

The Afrikaner who pre­vi­ously owned my present house knew a lot about In­di­ans and their tra­di­tions and cul­ture. In fact, be­ing a his­to­rian and univer­sity aca­demic, he wrote a cof­fee-ta­ble tome on the life be­tween 1860 and 1917 of the in­den­tured In­di­ans. But what did he care about Vastu when he built the house?

It didn’t mat­ter to him that the Vastu Shilpa Shas­tras con­sist of tex­tual data, oral knowl­edge, build­ing prac­tices, com­mu­nity net­works, knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of such sub­sidiary fields as the fine arts (mu­sic, dance, poetry, the­atre) lan­guage and gram­mar, phi­los­o­phy, re­li­gions and ri­tu­als.

In an­cient In­dia, the de­signer of a dwelling was able to bring in a knowl­edge of build­ing ma­te­rial, an ef­fec­tive ap­pli­ca­tion of lo­cal skills and tal­ents, adap­ta­tion of craft and art in var­i­ous con­texts, ex­pres­sion of ac­cepted sym­bol­ism and the­o­log­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the divine quest of hu­man be­ings and, fi­nally, the cru­cial as­pects of cli­matic and cul­tural ap­pro­pri­ate­ness.

If you seek peace, hap­pi­ness and longevity un­der a sturdy roof, the gold – and the good thoughts – that you bury in the foun­da­tion of your house be­come the an­chor for your well-be­ing.

I re­mem­ber my fa­ther re­count­ing that when he built the fam­ily home nearly seven decades ago, the kitchen was so tiny you couldn’t swing a fry­ing pan in it. The ex­pla­na­tion he gave was that Vastu was ap­plied to the plans and there would al­ways be food in the house. And sure enough, this was true.

When the Hare Kr­ishna Move­ment’s Tem­ple of Un­der­stand­ing was be­ing built in Chatsworth, the Western de­sign­ers re­lied heav­ily on an­cient Vedic ar­chi­tec­tural texts. They be­lieved this would en­sure the cor­rect vi­bra­tions were set off to move the hu­man spirit to a higher plane.

Given the ruc­tions in­volv­ing man­age­ment at so many lo­cal tem­ples to­day, it would ap­pear that even places of wor­ship are not be­ing built or ren­o­vated in ac­cor­dance with Vastu prin­ci­ples.

To­day’s ar­chi­tects work alone and cater for a face­less peo­ple. Locked up in their stu­dios, they can de­vise plans for a weird or so-called mod­ernistic struc­ture with lit­tle aes­thetic ap­peal.

The tra­di­tional model was quite dif­fer­ent. Teams of peo­ple were in­volved in dif­fer­ent stages of the de­sign and were col­lec­tively re­spon­si­ble for the fi­nal form, be it the great tem­ples of Than­javur or Madu­rai, the paint­ings of the Ajanta caves or the Taj Ma­hal at Agra.

The qual­ity of the ma­te­rial, the prepa­ra­tion, the fin­ish, the per­fec­tion of chisel work, the in­ter­de­pen­dence of ac­tiv­ity, the ded­i­ca­tion to per­fec­tion and ex­cel­lence, the choos­ing of the right time to build and to oc­cupy, the preser­va­tion of nat­u­ral habi­tats – all were group, or col­lec­tive, ac­tiv­i­ties.

A few years ago, I re­mem­ber watch­ing with awe the restora­tion ac­tiv­i­ties be­ing car­ried out to one of the old palaces in Jaipur.

Hun­dreds of men and women were con­sol­i­dat­ing the bro­ken floor­ing in many of the halls which were 1 300 years old. To give the same qual­ity of fin­ish which would last yet another 1 000 or so years, they were us­ing the same mix­ture, and fol­low­ing the same age-old pro­ce­dure.

For this, the work­force had no fancy Bosch or Black & Decker gad­getry, but sim­ple wooden tools with which they com­pacted one area of a room for more than one week, work­ing the usual eight to 10 hours a day. Each one of them was joy­ously do­ing the task, singing and rhyth­mi­cally wield­ing an im­ple­ment.

I think the time has come for so­ci­ety to take the re­spon­si­bil­ity of keep­ing alive some in­te­gral as­pects of our tra­di­tion, not al­low­ing vested in­ter­ests to hi­jack it in the name of progress.

For­get 1 000 years. Can mod­ern ma­te­ri­als and build­ing meth­ods be trusted to last even 100 years?

To me it’s clear. Ig­nore Vastu and you can end up with cracks in the wall – and maybe even the mar­riage and bank bal­ance.

Teams of peo­ple were in­volved in cre­at­ing the Taj Ma­hal in Agra with ded­i­ca­tion to per­fec­tion and ex­cel­lence.

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