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Leave Vastu Shastra Alone. Pick a Bone Where it Matters.

Founder and CEO, Transfin.
Apr 26, 2017 4:30 AM 4 min read
Editorial

I graduated as an architect from IIT-Kharagpur in 2009.

 

However, supporting our rich tradition of pursuing a career “tangential” to what we were taught, I eventually went to a business school. That anomaly aside, my formative years still compel me to take note of any news associated with my alma mater, mundane or otherwise.

 

And IITs have been in the news frequently. Seasonal changes to its entrance examination, fee hikes, an unreal rise in student intake backed by a maniac pace in setting up new institutes, to name a few.

 

Besides the occasional exchange amongst batchmates and seniors reminiscing the good old days, these alterations hardly take much of my attention.

 

Personal views aside, the lives of universities will surpass those of individuals and such volatility, often driven by political change, perhaps warrants a concluding judgement only in due course.

 

These recurring adaptations, however, make me wonder whether IITs have become proxy labs to conduct experiments on India’s education system – thus partly explaining the inordinate attention and review from the public. Perhaps it is the (relatively) generous government support, a well-connected and successful alumni base, and most curiously, but probably true a grave dearth of good quality centres of higher learning, that grants this overbearing level of intervention as well as scrutiny.

 

The latest rant on how “education is ruined” because Vastu Shastra will be introduced in my erstwhile department’s curriculum is a perfect example.

 

The twitterati went into hyperbole right after. Is this idea worth dismissing simply because anything remotely cultural or theological has no place in our heartland of technology?

 

A preliminary exploration can grant the much-needed perspective. Vastu Shastra (translated as science of architecture) is essentially a Vedic-origin framework to determine correct “setting” of structures and features, where the objective is to optimise maximum benefits of the five elements of nature, earth’s magnetic field and the rotational influence of the sun, moon and other planets surrounding the earth.

 

Its basic principles include the doctrine of orientation, site planning, principles of proportionate measurement of buildings, the six canons of Vedic architecture, and building aesthetics.

 

Vastu has numerous parallels with Feng Shui – the ancient Chinese art of placement and urban orientation. Like Feng Shui, critics consider it a pseudoscience and source of superstition, while proponents argue that most of it is about design guidelines for bringing harmony to residents with respect to space, sunlight, flow and function.

 

Vastu contributes to an alternative paradigm of lifestyle solutions, giving company to other illustrious members such as ayurveda, homeopathy, astrology, chiropractic, acupuncture etc.

 

In the contemporary scheme of things, its utility or scientific validity is questionable. Its basis is more steeped in history, culture, and religion — something always more difficult to explain or quantify.

 

But many concepts prevalent in architecture mirror these subjective attributes. Balance and symmetry of plans are influenced by the so-called “Islamic” style/philosophy.

 

Central courtyards in traditional houses have a part functional and part cultural origin. Even the culturally agnostic British couldn’t help, but include a concoction of diverse influences in Lutyens’ Delhi — from the Buddhist stupa to decorative brackets inspired by ancient Hindu temples.

 

The philosophy behind any building design or planning exercise doesn’t need to have cold logic backing it. Le Corbusier compared Chandigarh’s master plan to a biological entity, the head being the capital, the city centre as the heart and so on.

 

Similarly, Vastu can only serve as an additional lever or framework in the designer’s hands. More practically, is Vastu something a typical Indian client thinks about when approaching an architect?

 

Yes, 93 per cent of home buyers in India seek Vastu-compliant homes, based on a survey conducted by real-estate platform Housing.com in December 2015, with 4 out of 5 prospective home buyers inquiring the Vastu assessment of a property, before physically viewing it.

 

The adherence is higher among persons who lead more risk-prone lives such as businessmen.

 

This topicality is reinforced by the rising demand for Vastu consultants who are being hired on anything — from residential to commercial to town planning projects.

 

Thus, from a purely practical standpoint, what is so outrageous about its principles being taught to students?

 

They will anyway have to pick them up on the field when they meet a “believer” client, which they will.

 

Being the occupational hazard that it is, it is probably better to have a professional trained in this body of knowledge, rather than someone with no formal background and a half-baked conception.

 

In the United States, Feng Shui training programmes with certification is available in various design schools, reflecting this approach.

 

Perhaps the formalisation in IIT Kharagpur can be the first step in this direction. The outrage regarding education should expand beyond these trivialities.

 

We have very basic issues of quality and scale. The low quality of faculty, wage stagnation, lack of original research, lack of sufficient seats, poor infrastructure, fake degrees, low government funding and practically everything in the primary and secondary education system, from non-harmonised curriculum to the shortage of clean washrooms.

 

The IIT system is not immune from at least a few of these frailties, in addition to rising alienation and stress amongst the student community, as hinted by recent and very tragic cases of student suicides.

 

If we as a country really want to leverage our much-cherished demographic dividend, we should point the hashtags in the right direction. Let the master bedroom be aligned to the south-west corner.

 

As published in DailyO