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August 2009
Vaastu in Palaces
Veena Malik
 
Most of Rajasthan's palaces, forts, forest lodges and temples are made according to the tenets of vaastu.
 
Non believers may dub it as Hindu mumbo-jumbo but an increasing number of people are falling for the charms of vaastu shaastra — the metaphysical design philosophy of India. There are innumerable books and countless websites promoting this ancient science of architecture based on the five natural elements — earth, sky, water, fire and wind – and its presiding Hindu deity.

In fact, in Rajasthan, it has impacted architecture for centuries and most of the Rajput and Mughal Kings had their palaces designed by the principles of vaastu. In cities like Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur, even the temples, gardens, lakes and roads were laid out according to vaastu.
Interestingly, in ancient times, vaastu shaastra was the sole preserve of kings and queens, and could be applied only to palaces and other royal buildings. The common people were prohibited from making their houses in spiritual symmetry. It was a closely guarded secret, and anyone who dared to defy the law would have to pay with his or her life.

Vaastu For Kings and Commoners

But times changed and vaastu became a universal science that was accessible both to kings and commoners. However, back in those days it was usually the royalty that had the wealth and the spaces to erect mansions and palaces in accordance with the celestial principles of architecture.

Rajasthan is replete with examples of palaces, hunting lodges and forts made according to these ancient principles. Jaipur is a shining example of how vaastu was applied to various royal buildings by the city's founder Sawai Jai Singh II —after whom the city is named. He had the entire city designed in rectangular blocks with the directions of each street and market going east to west and north to south, according to precept of the Hindu architectural treatise.

Jantar Mantar

Between 1724 and 1730 A.D. the Maharaja also built five grand observatories called Jantar Mantar (a corrupted version of Yantra Mantra-- Yantra for instrument and Mantra for formula), located at Jaipur, Delhi, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura. The king personally saw to it that all of these were built according to the exact code of the vaastu shaastra.

Interestingly, in ancient times, vaastu shaastra was the sole preserve of kings and queens, and could be applied only to palaces and other royal buildings

Jai Singh was a genius mathematician and a keen scholar of astronomy and vaastu. He had the manuscripts of the Turkish astronomer, Ulugh Beg's Zij Ulugh Begi, Greek Ptolemy's Almagest and several other works translated into Sanskrit and read them with great precision. But it was vaastu that fascinated him the most and while planning any fort or palace, he would make sure it was constructed strictly according to vaastu. Which is why Jaipur is the only city in the world which is laid out in accordance with the science of vaastu.

The other shining example of vaastu is the imposing fort in Rohetgarh (which is now converted into a resort), the place that inspired authors like William Dalrymple and Bruce Chatwin to write their India-based masterpieces, The Songlines and The City of Djinns, respectively. The 375-year-old majestic fort with its 35 restored guest rooms, have been all re-designed according to vaastu to create positive vibes and bring to life the era of the maharajas.

Special Architects

Just 20 kilometres from Rohetgarh is Sardar Samand Lake Palace, Jodhpur's erstwhile royal family's hunting lodge built with the vaastu principles by special architects. This 19-room palace on top of a hill surrounded by the lake is famous among avid birdwatchers. Visitors who want to enjoy their peace, stay in this isolated yet fascinating palace whose walls have brightly coloured miniature paintings, brilliant murals and traditional motifs.

Close by in Pali, in the Aravalli region, there is the Deogarh Mahal Rajsamand Palace, an ancestral fort of the feudal lords in the state of Mewar. It is an imposing palace that stands atop a hill. Here too, the rooms are decorated with vaastu in mind. In fact, even its swimming pool is made according to vaastu! With its domes, turrets and huge gateways it is a throwback on the state's royal past. It has an island fort called Seengh Sagar for those who want an exclusive stay.

Common Tenets

But these are not the only forts and palaces made according to vaastu. Whether it is the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur or the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur or even the City Palace in Udaipur, the principles of vaastu are more or less common. According to experts, the doors and windows are rectangular in shape as irregular shapes are considered inauspicious in vaastu.

Interestingly, a number of palaces do not use white marble flooring despite marble being abundantly mined and available in Rajasthan. That is because white marble is considered a holy stone and according to vaastu, it should not be walked upon! Many palaces use it only as a flooring of the temple of the palace.

A number of palaces do not use white marble flooring despite marble being abundantly mined and available in Rajasthan. That is because white marble is considered a holy stone and according to vaastu

North or East

Facing Most palaces in Rajasthan face either the north or the east which denotes prosperity and new conquests in vaastu parlance. Palaces facing the south or the west were not considered auspicious and were associated with defeat in war and poverty among the populace. Kings and princes are known to have changed the entire layout of the surroundings to have the palace face the right direction.

According to vaastu principles, all palaces must have open-to-sky areas for peace and health of the royal family. Thus, one will find in most of the palaces in Rajasthan a central space which is left open. This is made use of for any religious purpose like performing a yajna (fire worship) or chanting of hymns by priests.

Devalaya Vaastu

Most of the important temples built by the kings were in accordance with the devalaya vaastu which not just stipulates the direction of the temple and the colours of its walls but also on how to place the idols of Gods and Goddesses and the seating of the worshippers.

Whether it is temples or palaces, public places or artificial lakes, vaastu has impacted their design a great deal in Rajasthan. Successive kings have had an abiding faith in this Hindu science of architecture that promotes health, prosperity and positive energy, based on the deities presiding each direction.

Vaastu does not just reflect the past of Rajasthan palaces and forts — many of which are now converted into hotels and resorts - but the present as well, as they have become destinations where the past and the future merge. Here the tenets of vaastu give a new spin to modern gymnasiums, sauna and steam rooms, state-of-the-art swimming pools, croquet lawns and massage treatments.

    
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