Some norms adopted in the Shipla shastra
I. Determination of cardinal points (Dik nirnaya)
In Sanskrit, the root, ma, stands for that which gives existence to a thing, gives it a reality in our world; and demonstrates the relation between things. The term matir, for mother is derived from that root ma.There is a close relation in the Indian thought, between measurement (maa_na) and creation.Measurement separates and differentiates the elements of the world and provides them an identity or a recognizable standard form. Perhaps the first act of measurement in our universe was the breaking of the barrier between time and timelessness; and, it surely saved our existence from perpetual chaos.
Maana not merely measures the elements of space and time, but also governs the standard of ones conduct in life.
It is said that the ritual of measurement performed at the commencement of the temple building or of a Vedic altar is a re-enactment of creation of the world. The importance accorded to precise orientation and precise measurements in the construction of the temple reveals the symbolism involved in the act. The Sanskrit term, vimana, referred to the temple signifies a ‘well-measured’ or “well-proportioned” structure. The standard texts on temple architecture carry extensive discussions on the systems of proportional measurements and the techniques employed for determining true cardinal points.
The ancient text Shathapatha Brahmana repeatedly refers to the term prachee meaning the correct East-West line. Ascertaining the exact cardinal points and drawing the East-West line (prachee) was one of the primary concerns of the ancients. It was considered essential to align any auspicious structure say, yupa, the sacrificial altar; a mantapa, the pavilion; or a temple, along the prachee.
prācī hi devānāṃ digatho udañcamudīcī hi manuṣyāṇāṃ / dik amaṅgulibhireva yoyupyeranna kāṣṭhairdārubhirvā itaraṃ śavaṃ vyṛṣanti / nettathā karavāma yathetaraṃ śavamiti tasmādaṅgulibhireva yoyupyeranna/ kāṣṭhairyadā hotā sūktavākamāha – Sa.pa, Br. 1.8.3.
The Sulaba Sutras of Bhodayana and Kathyayana too describe methods to determine true cardinal points.
The Yajna altar of the Vedic times, which was reconstructed each year around the time of vernal equinox, carried a rich symbolism. The altar built of five layers, represented the five seasons, five elements and five directions. The altar was surrounded by a wall of 360 bricks representing 360 days of the year. The fired bricks symbolized the elements of fire, earth, and water. The akasha provided space and air by breathing upon the bricks of the altar and bringing them to life.
The Shilpa Shastra texts, such as Kashyapa Shilpa sutra; Vastu Vidya; Vishwakarma Vastu Shastra; Shilpa Rathnam; Ishana Shiva Guru Doctrine and Manasara etc too discuss elaborately the instruments and the methods employed to determine true directions.
The instrument that the texts talk about in this regard is the Sanku Yantra or the gnomon. The gnomon is probably mankind’s oldest astronomical device. The Sanku in its simplest form is a piece of sharp edged, smooth surfaced pole made of wood or other material, firmly erected perpendicular to a leveled ground rendered “as smooth as a mirror“, The method uses the movement of the Sun and the shadows it casts . And, it is often described as the Indian Circle Method.
The Sanku (gnomon) or its variations were used by all ancient civilizations for determining the east-west direction and also for knowing time. The Indian astronomers also used it for the determination of the solstices, the equinoxes and the geographical latitudes. For instance, Brahmagupta described a conical gnomon, the staff (yasti) of which represented the radius of the celestial sphere and was used for determination of the position of heavenly bodies, and also for terrestrial surveying. The Sawai Jai Singh’s Observatories at Ujjain includes a Sanku Yantra. (Please check:
For the limited purpose of our discussion, let us confine to the Sanku discussed in the texts of Shilpa Shastras and its use for determining the cardinal points. Each text of the Shilpa Shastra recommends its own set of specifications for the height and girth of the gnomon; the material or the wood to be used for making the gnomon; the mode of embedding the gnomon into the earth; the type of ropes and the pegs to be used; and the measurements to be taken etc. Some of the salient recommendations of only four of Shilpa texts are briefly tabulated under.
Before drawing the plans and designs for a temple, the orientation of the site has to be established properly. The best way to go about it is to commence the exercise at a time when the sun is in the northern part of the sky, and on a day when there are no sunspots disfiguring its visible surface.
Before erecting the Sanku pole, it is essential that the ground is rendered absolutely clean, smooth and flat. The Mayamata and Manasara describe what is called as “water method” to ensure an even and a flat surfaced ground. The selected ground, in a square shape, is leveled and enclosed by a frame of bricks; and is filled with water. Then, with the aid of a measuring rod the height of water at different points are checked to ensure that the water column is of same height throughout. After it is dried out the uneven surfaces, wrinkles and blotches are corrected and evened out by suitably increasing/decreasing the level at selected points.
The Vastu Vidya Shilpa text suggests an improvement over the above method. After the leveling by water-method has been carried out, it recommends the use of a device called avanatha constructed out of three wodden strips of equal length (25 inches each).An equilateral triangle constructed out of the three wodden strips is placed at different points on the prepared ground. If the pendulum (plumb line) suspended from the apex of the triangle stayserect at all test-points; it means that the pegs stand at equal height. If not, suitale corrections have to be carried out, until it is required. Finally, after the ground has been dried, cleaned and fine-leveled, it again is checked by the avanatha.
The Sanku has to be erected in the mid region of the prepared ground. The ritual of erecting the Sanku is called Sanku_sthapana. The sanku is made of either ivory or the seasoned kadira (hard) wood which does not bend in the heat of the sun. Its surface should be smooth, perfectly circular and without irregularities; and pointed at one end.
The total length of the sanku would normally be 18 inches; of which six inches would be under the ground level. The effective height of sanku, above ground, would normally be 12 inches. The Manasara text however recommends 24 inches as the best (uttama) and 18 inches as next-best (madhyama) height of the Sanku. The girth of the Sanku at its bottom should range between two inches to six inches. Its top-end should be pointed; but it should not be too thin; else it might be difficult to mark its shadow on the ground, especially during the evenings. The diameters at the top and bottom should be proportionate to their length.
The Sanku should be fixed firmly and it should stand perpendicular to the ground. With the base of the Sanku as the centre, a circle should be described around the sanku, having a radius equal to twice the height of the Sanku. It is argued that the radius of that circle should not be too long; nor should it be too short. In either case of extreme, it would be difficult to obtain correct readings, especially during the evenings. Most texts recommend that the radius should be twice the height of the Sanku.
[There is some confusion here. Some texts say the diameter (vyasa) should be twice the height of the Sanku. While some other texts say that the radius (trigya) should be twice the height of the Sanku. But all texts say that the radius should not be less than the height of the Sanku. I have, in the interest of uniformity, adopted here the radius as equal to twice the height of the Sanku.]
The Shilpa texts such as Shilpa Dipika, Raja_vallabha and Kunda _siddhi recommend a unique method to ensure that the Sanku is standing perpendicular to the ground. They suggest that in case the height of the Sanku is 12 inches, a circle should be described with the base of Sanku as the centre and with a radius of 16 inches. This in effect forms a right angled triangle , with the radius as the base of the triangle (16 inches), the Sanku as its height (12 inches); and the string(rajju) connecting the top of the Sanku to the point of intersection of the base of the triangle with the circle forming the hypotenuse. If the sanku stands absolutely perpendicular then the string (hypotenuse) should measure exactly 20 inches. This exercise was based on the theory of Brahmagupta (6thcentury AD) otherwise known as the Pythagorean Theorem.
Now, having completed the preliminary work — of leveling and smoothening the ground; erecting the sanku ; and drawing a circle , round its base, with a radius equal to twice its height — you proceed with the task of determining the cardinal points with the help of gnomon. It is recommended that the first reading is taken at sunrise during a month when the solar path is towards the north (uttarayana) during a bright fortnight when sunrise is clear, when there are no spots in the solar disc and when the sun is in the asterism of the appropriate fortnight.
As the sun rises in the morning, you keep observing the sanku’s shadow. When the shadow of the top of the Sanku just falls on the circle, mark the point. By evening, when the shadow of the sanku gets longer, you again mark the point where the shadow intersects the circle.Connect the two points with a straight line. This line points directly East-West. This East-West line is called prachee. A line perpendicular to the E-W line is the north-south direction.
In this method, as the sun rises in the east, the shadow points west. Then, as the day advances, the shadow first swings to the north and then to the east, as the sun travels to west.The problem with this method is that the shadows are shorter in the summer than in the winter, because the earth is tilted toward the sun in summer and away from the sun in the winter. Another issue is that the sun moves most rapidly at the equinoxes. And, therefore the points marked on the circle indicate only approximately correct directions.
An improvement over this method is the drawing of circles with these East and West points as centres. The radius of the circles is the distance between those East and West points. The intersection of these circles creates a fish shaped figure. A line drawn between the points where the two circles intersect indicate the geographic North-South.
In Uttarayana Punyakala or Makara Sankranti, Sun in his entourage, after touching the southernmost tip of his path (23.5 degrees or Circle of Tropic of Capricorn – Makara Sankranti Vritta), he reverses his movement from travelling in southern direction and from that day onwards he starts travelling in the Northern direction for next six months, from Makara up to Mithuna signs, till he reaches northernmost tip of his path (23.5 degrees or Circle of Tropic of Cancer – Karkataka Sankranti Vritta). From that point, which termed as Dakshinayana Punya Kala, again he starts travelling in Southern direction, again for another six months, from Kataka up to Dhanu signs, till he reaches the circle of tropic of Capricorn. Utarayana can also be explained as the progress of the Sun to the north of equator – The Summer solstice. Dakshinayana is the progress of Sun to the south of the equator – The winter half of the year.
In a period of six months as the sun moves from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer his position shifts by 47 degrees. That is, the sun’s position shifts by about 8 degrees in each month. Accordingly, the sun shadow on the ground too shifts gradually during this period. Theoretically, the Indian circle method leads to the error up to 8′ in the time near spring and autumn equinox (March and September). If the East-West line (prachee) has to be fixed accurately, the readings taken earlier need to be fine-tuned. The Shiva Guru Doctrine suggests the following method in this regard.
The shadow points of the Sanku intersecting the circle drawn around it should be marked everyday both in the morning. Over a period of time these markings form a curvaceous line or an arc. Further, when the shadow of the Sanku is within the circle, three points have to be marked three circles should be drawn with these three points as the centre. The points of intersections of these circles should be marked. Let us name these points as A-a; and B-b. When the lines joining A-a and B-b are joined and extended backwards they converge in the point N, as shown in the following diagram. A line drawn at 90 degrees to the line indicating North would be the East-West line.
As the sun rises and sets at shifting points on the horizon, the vertical gnomon casts its shadow in different directions on different days of the year, while the length of shadow also varies from day to day through the year.
The shadow of the sun will on any given day of the year follow a curved path from west towards east. From spring equinox to autumn equinox the path will curve towards south. From autumn equinox to spring equinox (yellow area above) the curving is northerly.
The amount by which the sun changes its declination during the day decreases as the sun moves away from equinox, and on the days of solstice the change is zero.
Shilpa Shastras caution that the points marked out on the ground based on the shadows cast by the sanku do not therefore indicate the true cardinal points. The readings need to be suitably corrected depending on the movement of the sun.
The texts suggest that the East- West line should be established with adjustments- by reduction- of the following numbers of digits for each ten day period of each month. There, again, is no uniformity in this regard. The corrections suggested by each text are different. Please see the following table for the month -wise corrections suggested by two major texts.
After carrying out the corrections, you plot the readings and draw the lines and arcs. The final drawing will look as under.
The East-West line is named Brahma Sutra; The North-South line is named Yama Sutra; and, the Diagonal lines are named Karna Rekhas. The entire exercise is called Dik parchheda or Prachee sadhana, which is achieving the true cardinal points.
Guided by the stars
The practice of determining the directions, based on the position of stars is rather ancient. TheKathyayaneeya sulba sutra mentions that the true East can be determined with reference to the position of the pairs of stars: Chiita and Swathi;Shravana and Prathi shravana;Krutthika and Prathi krutthika; and Pushya and Punarvasu , when they are 86 inches above the horizon. The text however does not detail the method to be employed. There is no description, either, of Prathi Shravana and Prathi Krutthika stars.
The Shilpa texts –Kathyayaneeya sulba sutra, Raja Vallabha and Shilpa deepika– mention that the line connecting the polar star (dhruva) and the two stars of the Ursa Major (Saptha Rishi mandala) , when extended would point to North.
A few points need to be mentioned by way of clarification.
The exercises described were undertaken to find the geographic North Pole which is the pole about which the Earth seems to spin. They were not talking about the Magnetic North Pole.
The Magnetic North Pole is currently wandering at a few kilometers per year through the far north of Canada, while the Geographic North Pole is in the Arctic..
The methods which we discussed so far were being followed by the Shiplis until about the 17thcentury .Thereafter, with the introduction of magnetic compasses, the ancient methods were given up. Now everyone goes by the compass to ascertain the directions. Yet, many feel that determining the geographic north, as the ancient did, is a superior method.
Incidentally, the diagram, based on the Sanku method, for positioning the yupa, the sacrificial altar, looked as shown below.
II. Four Types of Architects
The ancients mention four types of architects – the Sthapati, Sutragrahin, Vardhaki and Takshaka.
The Sthapati is the chief architect or master builderempowered to plan, design and direct the construction from the beginning to the end. He is well-qualified in Shastras and the Vedas. He is pictured as a cultured, decent man free from vices. He has the ability to direct his team.
The Sutragrahin is the supervisor and is said to be normally the Sthapati’s son or disciple. He is also well-qualified in the Vedas and Sastras. He is an expert draftsman or Rekhagna, who directs the rest of the work force. His job is to see that all building parts are aligned correctly. He should be able to give instructions to the other craftsmen.
The Vardhaki is the painter and has made a special study of it. He is also well-versed in the Vedas. Vardhaki joins together the building elements shaped by Taksaka.
Taksaka is the craftsman who cuts and shapes the building elements. The Takshaka is also the master carpenter who is responsible for all the intricate wood work including doors, windows, pillars etc.
These four classes are considered the representations of Viswakarma, Maya, Manu and Twasta, the sons of Brahma, the creator.
Acharya is the learned preceptor who gives the yajamana (one who sponsors the temple project) the necessary advice and guidance in selecting the proper site, the sthapati and other silpins. The sthapati, yajamana and the ahcarya form the trinity of vastusthapana (construction); they are compared to Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra .
III .Building Materials used in temple architecture
The building materials that are prominently used in temple construction are the stone, the bricks and the wood (apart from earth which we discussed separately in the earlier part of this series). The Shilpa texts describe in detail the nature of these materials and the criteria for their selection, for various purposes. Let us take a quick look at these three materials.
The stones are the major ingredients in temple construction. One cannot think of a temple constructed without using stones. It is therefore natural that the Shilpa texts discuss the stones quite elaborately.
The following, in brief, is the summarized observations and recommendations of some shilpa texts.
The stones collected from open source such as mountain or hill are stronger and more durable as compared to those dug out of earth. Similarly, the stones or boulders dug out from the coastal areas are considered weak, as they could be eroded by the chemicals and the salt content of the sea. They are not considered fit to bear heavy loads. The reason for preferring the stones from hills or mountains could be that they are well seasoned by constant exposure to the vagaries of weather; and are unaffected by salts and other chemicals.
Stone should be free from lines, patches, blotches, blots and cracks or other faults. The white lines or patches in a black or other coloured stone are acceptable. But, black lines or black patches in white or other coloured stones are not acceptable at all. The explanation given is, the white lines, the patches of quartz, strengthen the rock structure; while black lines of baser materials weaken the stones. The traces of chlorite or olivine cause green or black patches and weaken the stones; therefore, such stones are not recommended for temple construction. The Vishnu Darmottara Purana talks in great detail about the faults in the rocks and the methods to test the rocks.
Stones such as marble, steatite, khondalite, sandstone, basalt etc are not fit for carving a diety. They are not recommended in load bearing areas, either. They could be used in other areas, if needed.
As regards their colour, the stones are of four basic colours: white, red, yellow and black. Some of them could be tainted with traces of other colours. Stones of white colour are regarded the best for temple construction. The next in the order of preference are the red, yellow and black coloured stones. . It is preferable to use uniformly the stones of the same colour.
The Kashyapa Shilpa mentions seven categories of white stones: white as milk, as the conch, as jasmine, as moon, as pearl, as alum and as the kundapushpa (a variety of jasmine).The white stones with traces of blue or slight brown or bee-like black lines are considered good for temple construction.
The red coloured stones are of five types: Red as red hibiscus flower (japa kusuma), as kinsuka(bright red), as the indragopa insect, as parijatha flower, as the blood of a rabbit, and as pomegranate flower.
The yellow colour of the stones is of two types: yellow as the Banduka flower, and as koranti flower.
The black of the stones comes in ten colours: black as the pupil of the eye, as mascara, blue lotus, as bee, as the neck of peacock, as kapila cow, as urd gram etc.
The stones are also classified according to their “age”-: child (baala), youthful (taruna) and the old (vriddha).
If a stone when tapped gives out a faint sound or the sound is as that of mud, or of half burnt brick; such stones are classified as baala– the child; to mean raw or immature. The baala stones are not fit for making idols or for bearing loads.
If a stone when struck produces the sound resembling the ring of a bell and if such sound resonates for quite a while, such a stone is classified as taruna youthful. Such stone should have a cold touch and a soft feel. If the stones emanate fragrance it is much better. The taruna– the youthful – stones are fit for carving images and for crucial areas of temple.
An old, the vriddha, stone does not give out any sound and has a dry appearance.It gives the touch and feel of a frog or a fish. It might have many holes or might be in a state of decay. Such old and spent stones are not fit for making images or for load bearing areas.
Stones are also classified according to their “gender”. Those stones which give bronze sound at the hammer weight are called “male’. Those which give brass sound are called “female’. And, those that do not produce any sound are called genderless (neuter).
A hollow stone may be taken as pregnant and hence should be discarded. When smeared with a paste, overnight, it changes its colour. Shilpa Ratna describes dozens of such pates. Some stones are said to carry poisonous effects. These stones too should be tested by application a paste; and should not be used.
It is suggested that male stones are used for carving male deities; female stones are used for carving female deities; and the neuter stones are used for other constructions. Further it is said, the male stones could also be used for construction of sikhara (tower) and stone walls; the female stone could be used for structures above foundations; and the neuter stones could be used for foundations.
Male stones are big, round or polygonal, are of a singular shape and uniform colour; they are weighty and give out sparks when hammered. When dug out, its apex will be towards north. If the apex is inclined towards north or west facing, the rock is considered inauspicious. Highly compact rocks like dolerites, bronzites, proxenites and peridoties as well as lamprophyres are regarded male rocks.
A female rock is of medium weight , square or octagonal, thick at root and thin near the apex, cold to touch, soft to feel and on being struck gives out sonorous notes like that of a mridanga (drum).
A neuter gender stone is one that doesn’t give any sound on being struck and narrow towards its bottom and triangular on its upper side ; and such stones may be used only for the foundation.
seventh century temple at Aihole, Karnataka
[ About Chisels and carving – Khanitra-pancakam srestharn -excerpts from Pride of India: A Glimpse Into India’s Scientific Heritage
Five types of chisels are good. The different varieties are lanji (biting), langali (plough like), grdhradanti (like vulture teeth), sucimukha (needle tipped) and vajra (diamond like). All are made up of steel and each one of two types is narrow and broad.
Men beat the chisel on the long mallet, with the short mallet people use for breaking stone. All instruments are sharpened, dipped in cow’s urine and then smeared with ingida (asafetida) oil and whetted in leather.
Bhedastu lafiji, Iangali, grdhradantI, suclmukha, vajra iti, sarve ayasa dvividha bhavanti ksinah prasastasca, musaladharubhe musaladandena khanitrarh ghatayanti prayojayanti silabhedane tat I Sarvastrani tiksnani, gavarnbuputitani I Tatah ingidalepitani carrnasanitani ca I
Sculptors apply a softening mixture. Shell-solvent, Kustharasa, sea salt and the powder of the bark of the ukatsa tree are thus the four fluids for the softening of stones. With this plan, after immersing the chisel for 10 days, sculptors use the chisel in sacrificial rites and also dig with ease.
Silpakarah pralepayanti dravakarasam II Sankhadravakustharasa -saindhavakharpara- ukatsavalkalacurnena sahitarh siladravanartha- mevam rasacatustayarn anena mantrena dasaharnardanante vaitane khanitrarh prayojayanti khananarnacaranti bhadrena sthapakah II]
[ The following are some prescriptions on preparation and mixing of the mortar
There should be 5 parts extract of beans, nine and eight parts molasses (thick treacle that drains from sugar ) and curd or coagulated by acid (respectively). Clarified butter (ghee) 2 parts, 7 parts milk, hide (extract) 6 parts.
Pancamsarn masayusarn syannavastarnsarn gudarn dadhi II Ajyam dvyarnsam tu saptarnsarn kslram carma sadarnsakam
There should be 10 parts of myrobalan*. Coconut two parts, honey one part. Three parts plantain are desired.
Traiphalarh dasabhagarn syannalikerarn yugarnsakam II Ksaudrame karnsakam tryarnsarn kadallphalamisyate
In the powder (thus) obtained, 1/10th lime should be added. Larger quantity than others of molasses, curd and milk is best
Labdhe curne dasarnse tu yufijItavyarh subandhanam II Sarvesamadhikarn sastarn gudarn ca dadhi dugdhakam I
In two parts of lime, (add) karaka, honey, clarified butter, plantain, coconut and bean. When dry (add) water, milk, curd, myrobalan along with molasses gradually.
Curna dvyarnsam karalarn madhu ghrta kadall narikeram ca masarn Suktestoyarn ca dugdharh dadhigudasahitarn traiphalarh tat krarnena I
Now in the powder (thus) obtained, grow one in hundred parts. It (the compound) is said by leading thinkers who know the technology as rocklike.
Labdhe curne satarnsesmsakamidamadhuna canuvrddhirn prakuryadetad bandharh drsatsadrsamiti kathitarh tantravidbhirrnunindraih II]
Coming back to the issue of acoustics in the stones, the Shilpis displayed a remarkable skill and ingenuity in crafting “musical “pillars, which when struck at right points produce sonorous octaves. One can see such pillars in the Vijaya Vittala temple at Hampi; Meenakshi temple at Madurai; and at Sundarehwara temple at Trichendur. There might be such “musical” in other temples too. Usually such pillars are of granite and charnockites; and of different girths and volumes to produce the right octaves.
[ As regards the assembling Pillars Starnbha-sandhayah ,following are a few excerpts from Pride of India: A Glimpse Into India’s Scientific Heritage
Assembly of Pillars: It is said that there are five types of assemblies suitable for pillars; these are Mesayuddha, Trikhanda, Saubhadra, Ardhapani and Mahavrtta.
Mesayuddharn trikhandam ca saubhadram cardhapanikam I Mahavrttarn ca paficaite stambhanam sandhayah smrtah II
When there is a central tenon* (projection at the end of a piece of wood etc., with a width) a third (that of the pillar) and a length twice or two and half time its width, this is Mesayuddha (mortise – A hole to receive a tenon ,and tenon) assembly
Svavyasakarnamadhyardhadvigunam va tadayatam I Tryarnsaikam madhyarnasikham mesayuddharn prakIrtitam II)
In the Trikhanda assembly, there are three mortises and three tenons arranged as a Swastika, The assembly called Saubhadra comprises four peripheral tenons.
Svastyakararn trikhandarn syat satriciili trikhandakarn I Parsve catuhsikhopetam saubhadramiti sarnjfiitam II
An assembly is called Ardhapani (scarf joint) when half the lower and half the upper pieces are cut to size according to the thickness chosen (for the pillar)
Ardham chitva tu mule Sgre canyonyabhinivesanat I Ardhapaniriti prokto grhitaghanamanatah
When there is a semicircular section tenon at the centre, the assembly is called Mahavrtta, the well advised man employs this for circular section pillars
Ardhavrttasikharn madhye tanmahavrttarnucyate I Vrttakrtisu padesu prayunjita vicaksanah II
The assembling of (the different parts of) a pillar should be done below the middle and any assembling done above will be a source of accident; (however) the assembly which brings together the bell-capital and the abacus gives the certainty of success. When a stone pillar, with its decoration, (is to be assembled) this should be done according to the specific case.
Stambhanam starnbhadairghyardhadadhah sandhanamacaret I Stambhamadhyordhvasandhisced vipadamaspadam sad a II Kumbhamandyadisarnyuktam sandhanam sam pad am padam I Salankare silastarnbhe yathayogam tathacaret II
It should be known that the assembling of the vertical pieces is done according to the disposition of the different parts of the tree; if the bottom is above and the top is below, all chance of success is lost
Sthitasya padapasyangapravrttivasato viduh / Urdhvamulamadhascagram sarvasampadvinasanam II ]
Bricks have been in use for thousands of years in construction of yupa the sacrificial altars and Chaithyas the early temples of the Vedic ages. Shathapatha Brahmana as also Shilpa Rathna describes the methods for moulding and burning the bricks. The Sulba sutras and Manasara detail the dimensions of the bricks of various sizes in relation to the sacrificial altars constructed for various purposes. The remnants of the Indus valley civilization too amply demonstrate the extensive use of bricks in construction of buildings and other structures.
During the later ages, the bricks were used in the temple structures mainly for erecting Gopuras the temple towers and Vimanas the domes over the sanctum.
As per the descriptions given in Manasara the bricks were made in various sizes; the size of the bricks varying from 7 inches to 26 or even to 31 inches in length. The length of the bricks were 1 ¼, 1 ½, 1 ¾ or 2 times the width .The height of the brick was ½ its width or equal to the width. Thus, bricks of different sizes, shapes, and types were made. The composition, shape and baking of a brick depended upon the use to which it was put.
Interestingly, the bricks with straight and linier edges were called male bricks; while those with a broad front side and a narrower back side or those of curved shape were called female bricks. The bricks in concave shape were called neuter bricks. The male bricks could be used in the construction of the prasada, the sanctum. The female bricks were used for the sanctum of female deities. The neuter bricks were generally not used in temple construction; but were used for lining the walls of the well.
According to Shukla Yajurveda Samhita, bricks were made from thoroughly mixed and pulverized earth and other ingredients. The earth was strengthened by mixing goat hair, fine sand, iron flake or filings and powdered stone. Earth was also mixed with ‘raal oil’, etc. and thoroughly beaten and blended in order to increase the strength of the material by enhancing the cohesion of the earth particles. Triphala concoction is said to render the earth, white ants (termite) and microbe proof.
[ Maya-mata and other Shilpa–texts give details about brick-making (Istaka-sangrahanam). Following are a few excerpts from Pride of India: A Glimpse Into India’s Scientific Heritage
Salty, off-white, black and smooth, red and granulated, these are the four kinds of clay
Usaram pandurarn krsnacikkanarn tarnrapullakarn II Mrdascatasrastasveva grhniyat tamrapullakam I
Clay suitable for making bricks and tiles must be free from gravel, pebbles, roots and bones and must be soft to touch.
Asarkarasmarnulasthilostarn satanuvalukam II Ekavamam sukhasparsamistarn lostestakadisu I
Then fill the clods of clay in knee-deep water; then having mixed, pound with the feet forty times repeatedly
Mrt-khandarn purayedagre janudaghne jale tatah u Alodya mardayet padbhyarn catvarirnsat punah punah
After soaking the clay in the sap of fig, kadamba, mango, abhaya and aksha and also in the water of myrobalan for three months, pound it
Ksiradrumakadarnbamrabhayaksa – tvagjalairapi II Triphalambubhirasiktva mardayenmasamatrakam
These (bricks) are in four, five, six and eight unit (widths) and twice that in length. Their depth in the middle and in the two ends (is) one fourth or one-third the width. Again these bricks should normally be dried and baked.
Catus-pancas adast abhi rmatrai staddhidvigul)ayatai:lll Vyasardhardhatribhagaikatlvra madhye parespare I Istaka bahusah sosyah samadagdhah punasca tah II
According to the experts, only after one, two, three or four months, again throwing (the baked bricks) in water, and extracting (them) from the water with effort, (will put the brick to use)
Eka –dvi- tri-catur-masarnatitya -iva vicaksanah I Jale praksipya yatnena jala duddhrtya tat punah II) ]
Brick lying was done with the aid of molds; and, the bricks were burnt in enclosed kilns. The works like Shilpa Ratna and Vastuvidya explain that the brick moulds were baked for 24 hours in a fire of firewood.
Bricks black in color or half baked or broken or defective otherwise were rejected. The bricks should be well burnt and be of uniform color.
According to Shulba Sutra, bricks measuring 22.8 X 11.4X 5.7 cms were used in construction of walls. The Bodhayana Sulaba sutra specifies the arrangement of bricks, while constructing a wall. The brick should be directed in a dextral and laevo order. The brick ends should not be piled one over the other. The joints of the brick in each third row of brick may fall over the brick of the first row; this is the ‘Malla Lila’ style of fixing the brick, based on the arrangement of the joints of the brick.
The bricks having a smooth surface are not to be set one above the other, but are to be fixed in straight line and the wall should be of an equal thickness all over. The corners of the walls should be on the ratio of 5: 3: 4 and at right angle to each other. According to the Sumrangana Sutradhara, the square of the diagonal of the wall should be equal to the sum total of the square of the width of the wall.
It is said that the altar constructed for major sacrifices, bricks of about 200 types were used, depending upon the size and shape of the altar.
[For the details of the different types of altars and their measurements; the type and the number of bricks needed for each type of altar and their arrangement : please check here for section 5.2.1 and onward of the excellent research paper produced by Dr. Sreelatha.]
Wood has limited use in traditional temple structure of medieval times. Its application is mainly for carving doors, erecting Dwajasthamba the flag posts and for other utilities such as platforms, stands etc. But, in rare cases (as in Sri Jagannath temple at Puri or at Sri Marikamba temple in Sirsi) the principal idol dhruva bhera is made of wood. The most extensive use of the wood is of course in the construction of the Ratha the temple chariot. In rare cases as in Puri a new chariot is created each year.
Shatapatha Brahmana a Vedic text of about 1500 BC or earlier makes repeated references to wood and its applications. During its time the temples and the images were mostly made of wood (kasta shilpa). The text mentions a certain Takshaka as a highly skilled artist who carved wood. It names a number of trees the wood from which was used for various purposes. For instance Shaala (teak) and Kadira a type of hard wood was used for carving images, pillars, gnomon (sanku) and other durables. Certain other trees are also mentioned as being suitable for pillaras, posts etc: Khadi, Shaal, Stambak, Shinshipa, Aajkarni, Kshirani, Dhanvan, Pishit, Dhanwalan, Pindi, Simpa, Rahjadan, and Tinduka.
Trees such as Nibaka (Neem), Panasa (jackfruit), Asana, Sirish, Kaal, Timish, Likuch, Panas, Saptaparni, wood are said to be best for roofing work.
Coconut, Kramuk, Bamboo, Kitki, Oudumbara (silk cotton etc. wood is suited for hut constructions, ribs and rafters etc.
However use of certain trees considered holy or godlike was not recommended in temple construction. The trees such as Ashwattha (Peepal), Vata, Nagrodha (banyan), Chandana (sandalwood), Kadamba, Badari, Shami, Bilva, Parijatha, kinsuka, and Bakula, were some such sacred and godlike trees.
Chandana, Kadira, Saptaparni, Satwak, etc. were used for engraving and carving artwork.
The southern text Shilpa Rathnam states that the wood from the following is not suited for temple construction.;
Trees from a place of public resort, trees from a village or from the precincts of a temple, trees that have been burnt, trees in which are birds’ nests, trees growing on anthills, trees in which are honeycombs, trees fruiting out of season, trees supporting creepers, trees in which maggots dwell, trees growing close to tanks or wells, trees planted in the earth but reared by constant watering, trees broken by elephants, trees blown down by the wind, trees in burning-grounds, in forsaken places, or in places which had been paraclieris, withered trees, trees in which snakes live, trees in places where there are hobgoblins, devils, or corpses, trees that have fallen down of themselves, – these are all bad trees and to be avoided.
The lifetime of a tree was regarded as 103 years. The trees under the age of 16 were Baala – child trees; and those above 50 years of age were Vriddha– trees in their old age. The trees between the age of 16 and 50 years were regarded most suitable for construction of temple and homes.
Tall trees of uniform girth without knot and holes, in their youth, grown on dense hilly regions are most suited for construction of pillars. The trees that are white under the bark are in the best category; followed by those having red, yellow and dark interiors; in that order. The juicy or milky trees are preferable.
The trees that are round from the root to its apex, give a gentle fragrance, are deep rooted, are solid and temperate may be taken as masculine trees, yielding male wood.
The feminine trees have slender roots and are thick at apical part, but a much thicker middle part with no fragrance or odor in the wood.
The wood should be straight and without any knot, crevice or cavity. The structure built by joining such male and female wood last for centuries
Slender and long in the middle of the trunk and having a thick head, is a genderless tree. While the male trees serve for pillars; female trees for wall-plates, beams, and capitals; the hermaphrodite trees serve for cross-joists, joists, and rafters.
Agastya Samhita has described the wood that is to be used in a chariot, boat or an aircraft. A youthful and healthy tree should be cut and its bark removed, thereafter, it should be cut in squares after which are to be transported to the workshop where these pieces should be stored upon spread out sand in an orderly manner for 3 to 8 months for seasoning. The root and apex sides must be marked because in pillars the root side is to be kept down and apex part up.
As far as possible, only one type of wood may be used for one particular construction. The use of more than tree types of wood in a construction is not recommended.
It is said the ISI standard A-883-1957 regarding a wooden items is based on the specification s mentioned in the ancient Indian Texts
Precautions in the selection of the building materials:
No used building material should be used.
Stolen and renovated material should never be purchased.
Materials confiscated by the King should not be used.
The wood culled from the trees cut down in a cremation ground; temple, ashram or shrine should not be utilized.
Ayadi _shadvarga is a matrix of architecture and astrological calculations. According to Samarangana Sutradhara Ayaadi-shadvarga is a set of six criteria: Aaya, Vyaya, Amsha, Nakshatra, Yoni and Vara-tithi, which are applied to certain dimensions of the building and its astrological associations. The purpose of the exercise is to ascertain the longevity of the house as also the suitability to its owner. These norms are applied to temples too.
The term Aaya could be taken to mean increase or plus or profit; Vyaya – decrease or minus or loss; Nakshatra,- star of the day; Yoni – source or the orientation of the building; Vara- day of the week; and Tithi – the day in lunar calendar for construction of building and performing invocation of Vastu Purusha..
The area of the structure is divided by certain factors assigned to each element of the Aayadi Shadvarga; and the suitability or longevity of the building is ascertained from the reminder so obtained.
For instance, if the plinth area of the house is divided by 8; and the remainder is either 1 or3 or 5, then these are called Garuda garbha, Simha garbha and Rishabha garbha, which are auspicious. Hence the plinth area of the building should be manipulated or altered to arrive at an auspicious reminder.
The rule is also applied to ascertain the longevity of the building. According to this method the total area should be divided by 100 and if the reminder is more than 45, it is good and if it is more than 60 it is very good. For instance, if the length of the house 11 meters, and the width 5 meters, then its area is 11 X 5 = 55 sq.mts. Multiply the area by 27 (Nakshatra factor) , 55 X 27 = 1485. Divide the product 1485 by 100. The remainder is 85,-which indicates the projected longevity of the house. Since the reminder is more than 60, .it is a very healthy result.
There is another method for arriving at the Aayadi value. The result is categorized in to eight types of Aayas. According to this method, the area (length X breadth) is multiplied by 9; and divided by 8. The reminders 1 to 8 are interpreted as good or bad, as indicated in the following table.
|Good. Brings wealth|
|Not good. ill heath of the head of the family and spouse.|
|Very Good. Victory over enemies; health ,wealth and prosperity.|
|Bad. Ill health and bad omens.|
|Good. wealth and fortune.|
|Very bad. Head of family will turn a vagabond; premature death in family.|
|Good. Life of head of family and members brightens; improvement in heath and wealth.|
|Very bad. Sorrow to family; and no peace.|
[For more on Ayadi calculations; pleaase check
“When there is more merit than demerit, there is no defect in it; but if the demerit is more than the merit, it would be all defective.”
Vastu Darsha by Dr. G Gnanananda.
Orienting From the Centre by Michael S. Schneider
Cosmogony and the Elements… by John McKim Malville