Feng Shui has been extensively explored these last few years and its secrets laid open to the West. But Vaastu Shastra, a 5,000-year-old Indian architectural and design philosophy, has only recently come into the media spotlight. Contained within around 16 Sanskrit texts from the Vedanta, Vaastu Shastra is a method of healing and improving the lives of people in relation to their living space.
Vastu (note the spelling) is the name given to dynamic energy (or prana) within living things, including buildings and structures, and Vaastu is the plane or support upon which Vastu resides. This can get very confusing, as it means that the Earth is both Vaastu and Vastu, meaning it is considered in India as a support and both alive and responsive. Think of your house: are there corners that feel sick or depressed to you? Are there parts that are cheery no matter how horrible the weather outside? Being sensitive to these kind of atmosphere changes is a way of understanding your house, and Vaastu Shastra is a way of learning what to do if you sense a problem.
Unlike Feng Shui, Vaastu has a religious aspect in that much of the reasoning behind placements and architectural “prescriptions” is based within Hindu iconography. The heavens are represented on the Earth plane very precisely, with different directions being ruled by different gods or aspects of godhead. For example, a person who is unwell may benefit from an entrance placed in the North, which is the direction of healing as it is ruled by Soma, Lord of the Herbs.
This ancient belief of “as above, so below” is utilized in Vaastu through a mandala. A mandala is a diagram which Vaastu practitioners consult to find the best way to design a building.
There are many different mandalas, and they are the result of mathematical formulations based on many different spiritual and practical calculations. These can range from the astrological numbers of occupants (worked out through the mathematical value of a person’s name with reference to their birth chart) to the values of mystical numbers that are simply known to be good or bad. The calculations are undertaken by a Vaastu practitioner to discover the best way to map out and design a house or office for its particular occupants.
Kajal Sheth, a UK-based Vaastu practitioner, explains it thus: “The mandala is a grid, a model, and in that model certain numbers or certain gods are placed in a particular position. For example, the Lord of Fire is placed in the southeast. There are different factors involved in it, but the most important thing is the compass directions.”
The principles behind the philosophy are linked to the five elements present in all nature: earth, air, water, fire, and ether (or space). It is the balance of those elements in the home that leads to peace and prosperity. The five senses of the human body are also linked to those elements; earth to smell, air to touch, water to taste, fire to sight, and ether to hearing. Neatly, each of the five elements also corresponds to a direction, enabling the correct placement of rooms and furniture. However, Sheth herself is very reluctant to lay down general rules with regard to either Feng Shui or Vaastu (both of which she is well versed in):
“I don’t want to create panic. If there is an element to the house that isn’t the most ideal but you can’t change it, then I won’t point it out. Why cause doubt, fear, and panic? You should only point out problems where there is a way of remedying them. What the scriptures say applies to the ideal model house that faces north or east, but obviously not every house will face in those directions. modern-day practitioners have to check factors and change the mandala accordingly. Some practitioners translate the scriptures as if it was a fixed thing, and they follow the letter not the spirit of the philosophy. That isn’t helpful.” Many case studies have shown that there are benefits to bringing an experienced practitioner into your home to advise you. See below for a case study that Sheth was involved in resolving.
Kajal Sheth was called in to help with a case in which the husband (who worked from home) found that, since moving into the house four years ago, his business was declining. The couple was also experiencing problems in their relationship.
“The husband felt insecure; the root of the problem was not in the relationship or the business, but somewhere else. He didn’t feel secure, his business was declining, and this had led to a lack of self-esteem,” Sheth explained.
Sheth set about assessing the property and she stressed that the outside of the property is of equal, if not greater, importance to the inside. The couple’s house was on a crescent-shaped road, and the house was placed right in the middle of the U-bend of the crescent. “Shape-wise," explained Sheth, “this was the weakest part of the road. If you think of your arm, the forearm or upper arm is relatively strong but the elbow is at the point of the weakest link. However, this was not something I could change so I had to find a way to strengthen the elbow through other things.”
Another problem Sheth immediately noticed was that the back garden of the property had no fence, either at the back or on the left hand side. Wire mesh was all that was separating the property from the house behind it. This meant that energy was not being collected. The couple followed Sheth’s advice and remedied this immediately by putting up a fence at the back and to the left. With the right already fenced up, this property was then neatly enclosed to create a “receptacle” for energy.
Further outside adjustments were required in the driveway, where cars were parked in such a way that they were blocking the front door.
“This stops the house from breathing in energy,” Sheth said.
This bad “Vaastu-ing” was compounded by the inside of the house where the flow of energy was also restricted. Many of the doors in the house were difficult to open due to furniture being too close to the door or doors not being hung correctly. This was especially the case in the man’s home office, which Sheth recognized as causing problems in obtaining business.
“In houses, doors are hung to offer privacy to the people inside, and you have to go around the door to get in. What is correct for the home is not [necessarily correct] for the office. In offices you have to maximize the energy coming in, and so the doors had to be hinged the right way to allow that in the office part of the house. We rearranged the furniture to be away from the doors.”
Color also had a part to play in the Vaastu revamp of the man’s home office. There was an excess of brown in the office, which Sheth explained is the color of the earth, and so, while appropriate in some places, is too settling a color for a dynamic office in which you want to do wheeling and dealing. Sheth painted the office ivory and lightened it up, while keeping the furniture brown to ensure a stable, protected environment.
“There is no good or bad color; it is only if colors are used in excess that there are negative connotations,” explained Sheth.
Mirrors however can cause greater problems if used in the wrong way or cut too small.
“Behind their bed was a large section of mirrored tiles, which, on my prompting, they wallpapered over. You shouldn’t have too many mirrors in the bedroom, and definitely not tiles. Mirrors are active by nature. When you sleep, you draw the curtains, shut the door and curl up to make the space smaller; mirrors expand space and make it larger. Too much space and it is not easy to sleep. With mirrored tiles your image is fragmented. You should not see yourself fragmented, but whole.”
Sheth did not just apply general rules of Vaastu to the couple’s home; she also looked at their birthcharts to work out their “personal direction." Personal directions are worked out according to astrology, and are looked at in conjunction with general rules and directions.
One last measure that Sheth took in the man’s home office was to rearrange the furniture to have a solid wall behind his desk instead of a window so that he felt supported. So what was the end result of all these changes?
“Within two to three months, the husband felt more confident, optimistic, and strong," Sheth said. "As he is now coming from a position of strength, he made good decisions and negotiated better, and so his business improved. As his insecurities went away, the relationship also improved.”
The case study above shows that, as with most things, energy plays a crucial part in achieving a happy home. Sheth explains Vaastu thus: “When their property is properly aligned, people enjoy good lives. I call it going with the flow. If you want to swim in the sea, it is best to go with the tide because you are supported. Swim against the tide, and you will be struggling. Similarly, when their property is correctly aligned within its environment, people are supported.”
The answer seems to be to make friends with your home, and your house could very well love you back in the shape of prosperity, health, and happiness.
SOME TIPS TO HELP VAASTU YOUR HOME
- The front door and the land at the front of your house should ideally be a little lower to usher energy into your home.
- In exactly the same way as with Feng Shui, you should have the back of the house higher to collect energy in the home. If your back garden doesn’t naturally have height, a fence or planting tall trees will help. This stops energy coming into your home and going straight back out again.
- Doors to rooms should not be blocked by heavy furniture. If you must have furniture near a door, make it light and low.
- Diagonally opposite corners are good places for heavier furniture as these are energy collection points.
- If you have a very large bedroom, consider investing in a four poster bed and canopy, as this mimics the smaller, comfy space most of us desire when we sleep.
- Antique doors can be placed as ornamental objects within the house, but should not be used as the entrance door. The energy patterns of the old door would disturb the psyche of the occupants of a different time and context.
- Having a garden is important as an energy source for the house, as it is the building’s connection with nature. In modern apartments you can have a terrace with potted plants or a window box.
- The southeast is thought to be the most auspicious location for the kitchen. This is the direction of Agni, the deity of fire.