Patrick McFadzean

The Vastupurushamandala, with human figure superimposed
The Institute of Experimental Geomancy
93 Castle Street

© Copyright Patrick McFadzean 1998.

The front cover shows a diagram of the Vastupurushamandala, with human figure superimposed.


The following essay is extracted from Patrick McFadzean's book on Indian Geomantic traditions - Vastu Vidya.

Patrick McFadzean's Vastu Vidya is believed to be the first European book on the subject, and is available in the hand-bound hardback edition from the Institute of Experimental Geomancy (ISBN 0 9534163 0 5).

This essay on the Vastupurushamandala explains how the mandala appeared as a widespread and popular architectural groundplan among a number of sects, and is concerned with aligning the directional orientation of a temple, home or village within an astrological context. Patrick McFadzean explores how, in this way, the Vastupurushamandala transcends its role as groundplan, becoming a spatial and temporal symbol of micro/macrocosmic harmony.

During the preparation for this pamphlet and the Vastu Vidya book Patrick and I discussed possible correspondences between Vastu Vidya and Chinese Feng Shui. The case of the Vastupurusha mandala clearly illustrates how these correspondences operate. Although the directional and astrological orientation of buildings are important aspects of both Vastu Vidya and Feng Shui, the meanings and attributions to the directions are often wildly different between the two disciplines.

To some extent this pamphlet offers a way into the Indian traditions for those readers already familiar with some principles of Feng Shui.

Jean Dark.

The Vastupurushamandala

The Vastupurushamandala


The knowledge of the Vastupurushamandala is the basis of all Hindu architecture, sacred or domestic, according to most sects. This is true of the Saivas, Vaisnavas, Sauras and Ganapatyas. The Shaktas are an exception. According to the Silpasarini, the temples of the Shaktas which are not square use the Yoginiyantra instead. The Silpaprakasa does not even mention the Vastupurushamandala. Most sects do use the Vastupurushamandala however, and they regard it as the basis of all Hindu architecture.

Although it is called a mandala, the Vastupurushamandala is actually a square divided into smaller squares. The Indians also draw the ecliptic in the form of a square. The square form horoscope, with twelve smaller squares for the signs of the zodiac arranged around the central four square area is known by the name Rasi cakra. Cakra of course means wheel. So the vastupurushamandala, like the horoscope is another way of regarding the circle and shows the intersection of where the sky and earth meet at the horizon at the equinox points, and the zenith and nadir.

The most common forms of this mandala are of a square divided into 64 or 81 smaller squares. All the cyclical numbers of Indian cosmology are based on the procession of the equinoxes and are an exact fraction of 2590 which is 64 x 81 x 5. Five is the number of samvatsara - a cycle of five lunar-solar years.

Vastu (from the root vas - to exist) literally means a dwelling place, a building. It is the building site defined by the periphery of the mandala. In a wider sense it is the whole of manifested existence and the building plan, as a mandala, is co-extensive with the cosmos.

Purusha means 'person' literally and refers to Universal Man. He is the unconditioned and universal self, the anthropomorphic form of the spiritual immanent within existence. Purusha is represented as a sacrificial victim face down in the mandala. He is the primary unity, fragmented and become multiple. The separate parts of manifestation are the fractions of his dismembered body. Purusha is the body of god incarnated in the ground of existence, divided within the myriad forms. He is also that fragmented body simultaneously sacrificed for the restoration of unity.

The Vastupurushamandala is in some ways a development of the four pointed or cornered earth mandala having astronomical reference points. The mandala of 81 squares has 32 squares around the border representing the four cardinal points and the lunar constellations. It is the representation of all cyclical time, lunar and solar. Brahma is the god of the centre. Together with the 32 deities of the border these 33 gods refer to the Adhisamvatsara, the great year, made up of 33 eclipses. Twelve more deities in the middle are the Adityas who represent the positions of the Sun in the ecliptic. The union of the Sun and Moon on the New Moon is the cause of creation (rtu) of every lifeform. On the New Moon the Moon enters the Sun according to the Jaimineya Upanishad Brahmana and the Vastu is the place where this happens as long as existence (vastu) continues. Space and time are woven together in the mandala. The Vastupurushamandala is part of a basically astrological science; the time for setting up the building, the situation and the direction it is to face are determined by this mystic diagram.

The position and orientation of a building are determined by a method analogous to the method by which the position of the luminaries or planets are found in the Naksatras. To find the place of the Sun, Moon or a planet in the naksatras the method (as given in the Suryaprajnapti) is to divide the longitude of the heavenly body by 800. As a naksatra consists of 800' the longitude (expressed in minutes) divided by 800 yields a quotient which is the number of the naksatras the planet has completely passed through, and the remainder shows its position within the naksatra it occupies.

Similarly, to see where the building is in the cosmos, where it is to face in other words, the procedure is to divide the measure of the building by 8. The remainder shows which of the 8 directions it has. This direction is its yoni, or the birthplace in the cosmos and has its vastupurusha. According to Utpala, commenting on the Brhat Samhita, the correspondences are as shown in the table following. If the remainder is 1, the yoni is Dhvaja and the building should face east, if 2 the yoni is Dhvanksa and the building should face south east, if 3 the yoni is Simha and so on. If there is no remainder it would face north east, but that would be an evil direction for it to face . The building should not face any of the corners of the square - north east, south east, south west, north west. Remainders of 0, 2, 4 and 6 are to be avoided. It is an uneven remainder which is desired therefore. The actual method for finding the remainder, which is given differently in various texts, is described in the section on the Ayadivarga.

The eight Vastupurushas
R Directions 8 Vastupurushas Planets Naksatras
0 NE Rikta
Aslesa (9)
1 East Dhvaja Moon
Krttika (3)
2 SE Dhvanksa
North node
Bharani (2)
3 South Simha Mars
Magha (10)
4 SW Sva
Dhanistha (23)
5 West Vrsabha Jupiter
Rohini (4)
6 NW Vanara
(11 - 12)
7 North Bhadra
Sravana (22)

R = Remainder

The yoni formula ensures the fitness of the building in the order of things and secures the well being of the builder and the his surroundings. The drawing of the square plan of the Vastumandala is the first skill the architect must master. The actual drawing of the diagram on the ground which the temple was to occupy appears to have been the rule at the height of temple building about 1000 CE. This mandala was not incidental to Indian architecture. It was the first thing they learned.

Hamlets and villages, towns and citadels are laid out by the Vastupurushamandala and the temples of a village have their place positioned in relation to it. Their position on the mandala actually varies from text to text as the following table shows. Words within brackets are the plots of the deities of the Vastupurusamandala.

The Position of the Temple in Villages, etc.
Direction Vaikhanas-agama Isanasiva-Paddhati Kamikagama Samaragana Sutradhara
NE Siva (Isana) facing E Siva (Isana) vastu|camundi (Aditi) Ganesa (Jayanta) Agni, Nagara, Dravida. Mahesvara, Sri, Vahni, (Agni)
E Surya (Aditya) Facing W. Visnu Surya, Gauri, Sri, Visnu, Ksetrapala Dravida, Vesara. Surya, Visnu, Indra, Dharma
SE Ganesa (Bhrsa) Visnu, (Bbrsa), Kali, Agni Visnu, Vesara. Sanatkumara, Savitri, Marats, Maruta
S Vindhyavasini (Yama) Guha, Yama, Matrs. Visnu, Brahma, Vesara, Dravida Ganesa, Matrs, Bhutas, Yama
SW Sanmukha (Sugriva) Ganesa, (Nirrti) Buddha (Sugriva) Jina, (Bhrnga) Soma, Vesara Bhadrakali, Pitarah, Caitya
W Visnu (Varuna) (Asana and sthanaka images) facing E Viisnu, Dravida, Vesara. Visnu, Dravida, Vesara Oceans, rivers Visvakarman, Prajapti, Varuna
NW   Jyestha (Vayu) Candi (mukhya) Soma, Sasta, Nagara, Vesara Serpents, Saturn, Katyani
N   Candi, Mahakali, (Nisakara), Matrs, Durga, Ksetrapala. Soma, Viighnesa, Vesara Visakha, Skandha, Soma, Kuvera
Centre Visnu Brahma    
Directions Intermediate        
8 Directions Matras (all around) Visnu Lokapalas Parvati, Ksetrapalas, Sarvadesika  
Outside Visnu; but not in the North; Pancaviras      
Direction Manasara Nandyavarta Dandaka Svastika Tantra-samuccaya
NE Siva, Laksmi, (Aditi) Nrsimha Siva, (parjanya,Udita) Camanda (outside the settlement) facing N Siva
E Siva, Visnu   Surya (Adita) Visnu (Indra) Siva (Isa, Jayanta, Parjanya) Visnu
S Vamana   Visnu (Vivasvan)  
SW Subrahmanya (Dauvarika), Buddha, Jina   Subrahmanya (Sugriva); Jina (Nirrti) Bharga (Bhrngaraja, Gandharva) Ganesa (Nirrti)
W Vasudeva, Siva, Nrsimha, Durga, Adivisnu Visnu (varuna or Mitra) Visnu, (Mitra, Varuna) Visnu
NW     Buddha, (Vayu) Durga (Vayu)
N Kesava, Narayana, Sarasvati, (Mukhya, Bhallata)   Kali (outside) Skandha
Centre       All the Gods
Directions Intermediate Siva   Siva (in inner rim)  
8 Directions Visnu, Ganesa   Ganesa, Durga  
Outside Visnu Visnu, Siva Bhairava  

Words within brackets are the plots of the deities of the Vastupurusamandala.

With regard to the orientation of the temple, three principles were combined. First the orientation itself - the temple should face the rising Sun in the east. Second, the temple should face the centre of the town or village. Third, the deity in a peaceful (santa) aspect should be located in, and facing towards the place where people live, and wrathful (urga) aspect should be situated outside and facing away from where people live. Most temples face east, west is next best, even south is permissible but they definitely should not face the north.

Where it is impossible, for some reason, for the temple to face the town, this is remedied by painting an exact likeness of the sacred image in the Garbhagrha upon the wall of the temple facing the desired way towards the village.

The temples and images to be turned away include Narasimha and Rudra. Siva should be turned away except when situated in the east or west. The proper place for Siva temples is in forests and mountains according to one text.

The direction of a temple is according to this triple orientation - towards the Sun, towards the centre, towards man. The majority of the preserved temples do face the east, but it is not necessary that they physically must. The other directions can be described as being east. To the tantrics any direction may represent east. This is in accordance with the Chandogya Upanishad, which has some obscure symbolism about Sunrise in the east, south, west and north relative to ones spiritual evolution.

Recommended Reading List and Bibliography

A Charya, Prasanna Kumar - A Dictionary of Hindu Architecture - Treating of Sanskrit architectural views with illustrative quotations from Silpa-sastra, general literature and architectural records. (O.U.P 1927)

A Charya, Prasanna Kumar - Indian architecture according to the Manasara-Silpasastra.

Bonar, Alice and Sarma, Sadosiva Rath - Silpa Prakasa - medieval Orissan Sanskrit text on temple architecture by Ramacandra Kaulacava. (Leiden 1966)

Khanna, Madhu - Yantra - The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity. (London 1979)

Kramish, Stella - The Hindu Temple, Vols 1 & 2. (Calcutta 1948)

Pillai, Govinda Krishna - The Way of the Silpis - or Hindu Approaches to Art and Science. (Allahbad 1948)

Snodgrass, Adrian - The Symbolism of The Stupa. (New York 1988)

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