Ancient Architectural Science is Coming to a Renowned Indian Engineering School

Principles of alignment with the sun and magnetic fields in vastu shastra stretch back 8,000 years

The City Palace of Jaipur was designed with vastu shastra ideals
The City Palace of Jaipur was designed with vastu shastra ideals Piviso via Flickr

One of India's most renowned engineering institutions is incorporating the study of 8,000-year-old architectural knowledge into its course offerings.

In August, Vastu shashtra, an ancient system of architecture and design, will be taught to undergraduate architecture students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Kharagpur, reports Jhimli Mukherjee Pandeyl for The Times of India.

"Times are changing and across the globe there is renewed interest in ancient Indian knowledge," Joy Sen, head of the Ranbir and Chitra Gupta School of Infrastructure Design and Management at IIT-Kharagpur, tells Pandeyl. "So, it is natural that we will tweak our syllabus to include Vastu in architecture and infrastructure classes."

Vastu shashtra has its roots in the Rigveda, the oldest of the sacred books of Hinduism. The system describes how placement of houses, doors, the arrangement of rooms and gardens and even the siting of towns can be optimized when considering the influence of the sun, magnetic fields, gravitational forces and other phenomena. Vastu shastra is believed to have been developed between 6,000 and 3,000 BC, Parveen Chopra writes for Yoga Journal.

The system's influences are visible for many ancient temples and cities. The northern city of Jaipur, the first planned city of India, and its many forts, palaces and temples, was designed by architect Vidyadhar Bhattacharya with the principles of vastu shastra. The streets align east to west and north to south and the City Palace at the center of the city has a sequence of gardens, courtyards and gates are placed just so.

Current focuses on green technology, sustainable architecture and affordable environmentally friendly materials are all well within the purview of this system of ancient knowledge, Sen tells Manu Balachandran, reporting for Quartz. "Vastu as a science for uses the interrelation between ecology, passive energy and living beings."

While the phrase "vastu shastra" translates literally as "science of architecture," some may not be pleased that the a preeminent engineering institution is instructing students in a system of thought that can be considered a pseudoscience. The benefits of aligning the home with natural phenomena has many connections to spiritual practices.

Yet there has been a resurgence in interest in this ancient system. Some Indian-American homebuyers are quite keen to purchase property facing in the right direction, reports Vanessa Parks for The Boston Globe.

"In some sense, it was always part of our life — simple things like you go to someone’s home and they’ll tell you to sleep with your head on this side of the bed because it’s considered to be the right side for vastu," Ashish Cowlagi, who remodeled his home in Shrewsbury with vastu shastra principles, tells Parks.

Some of the principles also align with sound practices. Letting natural light into the workplace can help office workers sleep better, a study suggests. Other vastu shastra practices include techniques to test the soil integrity and drainage at a new house site, writes Muktirajsinhji Chauhan at Archaeology Online.

Now, the legitimacy lent by the rigor of the same engineering school that produced Google CEO Sundar Pichai, just might boost the popularity of vastu shastra even further.

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