Ignore Vastu at your peril
It may contribute to poor governance
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.