The principles of Vastu as
a traditional architectural belief system from
an environmental perspective


H. Fazeli & A. Goodarzi
The shortage of technological discoveries in traditional architecture – which has
now made it possible to warm and cool any area regardless of considering the
proper direction or geometrical shape – used to lead the habitants to make use of
natural phenomena to provide physical and emotional comfort. Therefore,
traditional architecture is always accompanied with a set of rules and principles
that are to some extent based on environmental criteria as well as the dominant
belief system of the specific culture; these two variables seem to be inter-related
and in some situations dominating one another. Although assigning auspicious
directions, auspicious geometrical patterns in the plan configuration, the concept
of concentric zones, elongation of the whole complex and the façade
considerations seem to be religious in basis or due to cultural values, still a great
amount of such principles in traditional architectural guidelines are derived from
the environment; thus a number of common characteristics of vernacular
architecture, such as the presence of vegetation in the buildings’ site, the use of
local materials that create a micro-climate adaptable with human comfort and
structural forms associated with the climatic positions, which can also be applied
to other cultures with the same climate, are present as parts of all traditional
Vastu as one of the most ancient architectural belief systems, similar to other
traditional architectural sciences such as Feng Shui, also deals with the principles
designed to make the most use of the environment and more specifically climate
as one of its dominant factors. Based on the knowledge of the Sun Rays, the
Earth’s Magnetic Poles and the Geopathic Zones, many rules have been
legislated in ancient Indian architecture dealing with environmental criteria that
are now considered superstitions; however, applying them may be useful in
designing buildings in complete harmony with the surrounding nature.
Keywords: principles of Vastu Shastra, the sun rays, magnetic zones, Geopathic
Zones, concentric squares, the surrounding environment.
1 Introduction
Based on the chronic approach to the history of architecture, the patterns of
primitive constructions were the inspiration of the natural forms and features.
Therefore the surrounding environment has always imposed certain shapes and
geometries to architectural constructions from the ancient times until the modern
era. In contrast to such an approach, the followers of the cultural approach
believe that the forms and patterns of traditional dwellings were the consequence
of religious beliefs and the faith on sacred realms. However the architectural
efforts of traditional societies are in fact the result of considering many factors,
including both environment and religion, often called by the French word, ‘genre
de vie’ signifying all the matters of shelter, material, technology, site, defence,
economy and religion.
Basically environment as the first manifestations of shelter has always played
a significant role in the process of man’s evolution. Technology of construction
as well as the geometrical patterns and sacred symbols are all derived from
nature and its dominant laws. The laws of nature are basically beyond the
physical tangible forces that used to constitute the principles of classical physics
and contain all the intangible energy fields emitted from the earth as well as the
other heavenly bodies, such as the Sun and the moon. The principles of ancient
sciences of architecture including Vastu Shastra and Feng Shui denote the great
knowledge of ancient civilizations over the universe, its orders and its analogy to
the human body, which seems to be the sum experiences of traditional societies
over generations. Therefore, along with the cultural considerations, a great
number of principles in ancient architectural design were a response to the
surrounding environment.
2 Two distinctive aspects of traditional architecture
Basically there are two different aspects of architecture as high and low. First
concerns the cosmic rules to define proportion, geometry and ritual acts as
representation of the universal principles in domestic art. Association of earth to
vault of the sky, vertical axis and the symbolic forms of space are all
manifestations of the high aspect. The latter on the other hand deals with the
climatic issues, the use of materials, technologies and construction methods.
While the cosmic aspect is achieved by the prolonged esoteric studies, the low
scheme depends on the sum experience of generations [1]. In fact, traditional
architecture is shaped in connection with culture while culture is largely
dependent on the environmental context as well as cultural beliefs; along with
the importance of the belief in supernatural powers and interpretations of the
cosmos in forming the traditional architecture of every nation, the physical
conditions and economical criteria as well as its relations to the land and the
structural crisis which the dwellings are based on are also fundamental. In this
way culture will shape due to four variables of space, time, meaning and
communication as means to define the cultural activities and the ways of
performing them not only in space but also in time. Based on these four
variables, the same set of space organizations and architectural configurations
may be found in different cultures with different climatic criteria. Thus
comparing traditional domestic architecture in various cultures, one must
consider the system of activities take place in dwellings rather than focusing on
the individuals [2]. Based on this theory, despite having different environmental
background, the traditional buildings of different cultures may still share some
similar concepts.
Concerning the low aspect, a number of common characteristics of vernacular
architecture can be the presence of environmental context in which they are
raised, the use of local materials which creates a micro-climate adaptable with
human comfort and structural forms associated with the climatic positions which
can also be applied to other cultures with the same climate. Furthermore, the
economical status of each culture and its habitants used to suggest the size of the
house, its properties and decorations. In fact traditional architecture was
completely dependent on the social and economical situations in the low aspect,
and was basically developed to provide some specific requirements within each
cultural environment [3].
However, no environmental factor is more important in the development of
human life and culture, than climate. “The practical limits of human existence
are largely defined by physical and psychological tolerance to extremes of heat
or cold, while the effects of climate upon the distribution of vegetation have
direct bearings on life support.” [3 p. 125].
It seems that combining the climatic factors with the dominant beliefs of each
community which defines its culture, may provide the characteristics of its
traditional built space. Therefore the face of the buildings rarely changes through
the time unless the dominant culture changes in a profound level either
environmental or ideological [4]. In fact the environmental criteria in proposing
certain shapes and configurations to architectural efforts of traditional societies is
completely inter-related to the cultural beliefs and is proper to think that nature is
the context from which all the sacred forms and symbols have been derived and
transferred to next generations through a set of rules and principles of
architectural design. The existance of such knowldege in the sacred scriptures of
India and more specifically the Vedas reveals the importance of environmental
considerations of dwelling construction for the ancient civilizations which
beyond symbolical interpretation, need a scientific observation.
3 Vastu Shastra as a traditional architectural science
Ancient sciences of architecture are basically a combination of rules and rituals
being applied by the master builders or the local craftsmen. Although these rules
were applied in almost every traditional culture which is also evident in their
ritual behaviour and folklore literature, there are few written architectural
guidelines remained today which Vastu Shastra is one of them [3]. The main
concept of Vastu Shastra knowledge of architecture was to guide people to create
spaces which harmonize with nature and with the universal forces. The use of
Vastu which is rooted in Hinduism philosophy dates back to the Vedic period
appeared between 4000 and 2000 B.C. A section of Yajur Veda called
‘Sthapatha Vidya’ which means the art of building, mainly deals with the
principles of architecture and housing. In fact there are nearly 32 books written
on the subject of Vastu from 3000 B.C. to 600 A.D. by various authors in
Sanskrit language dealing with the construction methods, special placements of
the house features and the rituals to be done in each stage [5, 6].
Vastu in its general sense means the place where living beings dwell while in
Rig Veda it has been applied for home. Originally Vastu is derived from the
Sanskrit word, ‘vas’, meaning to reside [7]. However, in ‘Samarangana
Sutradhara’ the origin of Vastu is defined as ‘Vasu’ or ‘the earth’ so that the
mother earth and all the creations above it are called Vastu. Literally Vastu is
applied to both the site of the building, and the building itself. Hence selection of
the site, architecture, landscape and the science of the structures as well as
astrology are all components of Vastu science [8].
Vastu as a traditional guide to architecture aims to design buildings in
harmony with the natural laws of the universe. “As Einstein Proved, everything
in existence, sentient and non-sentient, is a field of energy. In this case ‘Vastu’ is
referred to pure subtle energy that underlies everything while ‘Vaastu’ is the
manifestation or expression of that energy as matter” [9 p. 141]. In fact, Vastu is
a science of working with energy fields which used to guide the architects to
design buildings in a way that their underlying energy fields are beneficially
manipulated due to proportion and direction. Thus Vastu views the dwelling
places as living entities that nourish our lives, rather than a ‘machine for living.’
In this science, home is a symbol of physical body which is interrelated with the
universal energy field and at the same time a microcosm of its existence [10].
According to Rig Veda, architecture of the ancient times was closely
associated with religion, and building a structure was recognized as a religious
act. Basically it was not religious in origin but since Vastu similar to Yoga and
Ayurveda, denotes the connection between the laws and processes that governs
the world of nature and the laws which govern the human body, it has been
perceived as religious for the ancient societies. Therefore its principles should
not be interpreted as mythic superstitions, rather based on laws of nature and the
surrounding environment [11].
4 The environmental principles of Vastu Shastra
The environment as the first manifestations of shelter has been the subject of
many rules and principles of Vastu science of architecture. Its presence in the
spatial configurations of the plan, its geometry and directions, besides the
arrangements of water pools and vegetation around the building construction is
highly evident through Vastu guidelines.
The first geometrical pattern applied as the floor plan is usually a mandala
from which the rest of the concepts and patterns will be originated. The symbolic
patterns and geometries of mandalas are environmental in origin and picture the
natural phenomena and their influence in built space [12].
From the environmental features which suggest the shape and spatial
arrangements of the patterns in the mandala, the Sun Rays, the Magnetic Poles,
the Geopathic Zones and the Concentric Zones are the most significant of all
which together has dictated certain principles of architectural construction.
For example the concept of the eight directions of Vastu Shastra science and
their associated deities, from which the four cardinal directions are the most
important, is in fact based on the climatic features of each direction. The Vastu
Scientists has perceived the effects of each direction in the human system over
centuries and found out that proper orientation with the cardinal directions aligns
the built space with the energy grid of the earth and brings harmonious benefits.
It also allows the house to absorb energies emitted from the sun, moon, stars and
the earth itself properly. Further they have observed that energy is poured forth
from the centre and the outer space to the inside through the directional lines
which are called ‘Yonis’ or ‘life lines’ in Vastu. That’s why in Vastu the
building should be built in alignment with the four cardinal directions [10].
In fact the categorization of each direction as either auspicious or destructive
in Vastu is based on the following concepts:
4.1 The principles of sun-rays
Sun rises from the east, passes through the south and sets in the west. However
due to the 23.5˚ inclination of the earth from its vertical axis, the east is not the
first direction that receives the sun rays; it is northeast. The same application can
be applied to the cardinal west. Hence if we draw an imaginary line from
northeast to southwest, the southern half will be the light zone with positive
energy while the northern half is the dark zone with negative energy. In this case
the southeast which is in the middle of the light zone will have the natural light
throughout the day and is recommended for the kitchen [8].
Sun ray consists of visible white light together with invisible infrared and
ultraviolet rays. Approximately from 6 am the effect of infrared rays starts which
is beneficial to the human health and has purifying effects. Hence water present
at east, north or northeast becomes bacteriologically safe without deterioration of
the ingredients. From 11 am to 3 pm the effect of ultraviolet rays will be very
high which is harmful for the body. From 3 pm until the sunset the effect of
infrared rays in heat quality will increase [13]. That’s why in Vastu guidelines it
is advisable to located the water pool in north, northeast or east directions as an
auspicious for placing the entrance door and openings while the southwest is
often suggested to be kept heavy and closed [14].
Morning rays of the sun are naturally cool. Gradually the rays become hotter.
Sun is in its hottest mood during the afternoon hours while passing through the
southwest. By drawing an imaginary line from northwest to southeast, the hot
and cold zones can be pointed. Thus the sector points are the best places for
activities requiring balanced heat. Northeast in the middle of the cold zone is
appropriate for the praying or studying while the southwest as the hottest and
most destructive corner should be kept closed. In ancient times southwest was
reserved as armoury to keep weapons [8].
Based on the position of the Sun in the sky during the day time, the coolest
location in the house is north direction. Hence the rooms with higher priority and
importance are placed in the north direction. Cow shed and paddy storage is
placed in the northwest while the treasuries are kept in the north location.
Library also can be a proper function for the north direction. Daily Meditations
or prayer activities are done in the northeast portion, as it is the coolest corner.
East offers the morning sun which is pleasant. In modern Vastu, bathroom is
placed in this direction and near the entrance hall. However in ancient times
bathroom was not even included in the house planning. As southeast provides
enough light throughout the day which has a sanitary effect, kitchen is the most
proper function to be placed in this corner.
The light and heat of the sun in the southern portion is excessive and
destructive, thus bedrooms should be placed in this direction. While bedrooms
are mostly used during the night the harmful rays flowing from this direction will
not disturb the habitats. This portion should be kept high, dark and closed [12].
Western portion of the house also receives the negative sunrays in a lesser
degree during the day. Thus it is a better place for dining room, while only a few
hours in a day will be set for dining activities.
Table 1: Spatial organization of dwelling areas based on the position of the
East Southeast South South west West North
North Northeast Centre
Kitchen Bedroom Master
Bedroom or
Cattle Treasury
In this way every function in the dwelling area used to have a suggested
spatial organization in the Vastu Purusha mandala which was decided through
having the knowledge of the Sun Rays and their influences on the human health.
4.2 The principles of magnetic poles
“When a magnetic needle is suspended freely, free from any outer influence, it
ends rest along north-south direction of the earth’s magnetic field,” which proves
the existence of magnetic energy field of the earth.” [8 p. 27].
Basically the earth is composed of a metallic inner core in the same size as the
Moon. The temperature of this metallic core is equal to the temperature of the
Sun’s surface and this heat in fact causes churning in the liquid outer core of the
Earth. Based on the magnetic dynamo theory, the rotation of the Earth which
transforms into a whirlpool of liquid, swirling around the Earth’s axis, converts
the planet into a geo-dynamo. Such materials that are capable of conducting
electricity are called metallic that have some free to move electrical charge. One
of the elements in this liquid layer is compressed hydrogen which is in a state
where some of its electrons are squeezed out of the atoms and are free to move
around. This moving charge will generate a magnetic field and the faster the
planet rotates, the stronger the produced magnetic field. Therefore the planet
earth has a strong magnetic field due its fast spinning rate and material
composition of its liquid core which is more iron and nickel [15].
In fact earth has two magnetic poles which based on the compass seem to be
steady; whereas in reality they are constantly moving. Ephemeral undulations,
known as micro-pulsations, ripple about the ionosphere and produce magnetic
disturbances capable of reaching the ground level which are common and at the
same time hard to detect. The Earth’s magnetic field which is also called the
Earth’s aura in fact protects the life of its occupants from the radiations of the
Sun by deflecting the solar flares.
The north magnetic pole is near the south geographical direction while the
south magnetic pole is near the north geographical direction. The force lines of
this magnetic field travel from the north magnetic pole to the south magnetic
pole. Scientifically this will provide the north geographical direction with
antibiotic properties which can control infection. Thus north direction is served
as the purifying direction while the south direction, has energy giving properties
which can be manifested as warmth. Therefore, while the northern half of the
plot is full of positive magnetic rays, the southern part will be empty or depleted.
The manifestation of such phenomenon used to decide the auspiciousness of the
directions and their appropriate function in Vastu Shastra guidelines [8].
In fact, cosmic energy is abundantly received in the northeast direction and
directed towards the southwest. Therefore the cosmic energy will become
weaker while flowing towards southwest. Northeast will be the positive terminal
and southwest as the negative one. Hence the shape of the building is crucial in
the energy flow pattern [9].
Based on Vastu guidelines, the northeast section of any property should be
built lighter and in a lower level compared to the southwest section to receive the
beneficial effects of magnetism in its highest level and to facilitate the smooth
flow of mahnetic waves without any hindrance. Furthermore it is believed in
Vastu that the slope of the plot should face north or east which again is designed
to make use of such natural forces. However lack of enough knowledge in
studying Vastu guidelines has ended in treating the concepts of auspiciousness as
merely superstitious or religious beliefs.
In fact the Earth behaves similar to a living organism and seems to have the
intelligent of its own. Based on biological discoveries, the oxygen level of the
planet has virtually remained unchaged through the centuries and the tilting of
the Earth through the northeast direction has helped it to receive the maximum
amount of beneficial cosmic energies. Aligning any built structure to the axis of
the Earth will generate similar effects; therefore the northeastern half of the plot
will be full of fresh beneficial cosmic radiations while the southwestern section
will be empty [8].
4.3 The principles of Geopathic Zones
Geo biology is a branch of modern science deals with the various energy fields.
It often falls under the category of pseudoscience and operates through
geometrical patterns which are the subjects of sacred geometry. The cosmic
energies are emitted from heavenly bodies such as the Sun and the Moon;
whereas, these radiations are called ‘telluric radiations’ and are originated from
the Earth. The energy grid of the planet earth can be perceived as a web that
links the Earth altogether and is influenced by many variables such as electricity,
magnetism, heat, sound, light, colour and matter.
The Earth’s energy grid works through specific geometrical patterns which
follow certain symmetries. The grids meet at many intersecting points creating a
matrix which is very similar to acupuncture points of the human energy body. It
is believed that the platonic solids including cube, tetrahedron, octahedron,
dodecahedron and icosahedrons are the evolved geometrical patterns derived
from the study of the Earth’s geometrical grids [16].
Doctor Manfred Curry first hypothesized the existence of a grid network of
energetic pathways flowing from northeast to southwest and from southeast to
northwest at a distance of 3 m to 3.5 m. This Bio Electro Magnetic (BEM) grid is
sometimes called the first global diagonals which is helpful to the growth of
cells. The crossing points of these lines have double positive or negative effects
that can be harmful for the balance of the body. Dr Curry later linked these
points with diseases and found out that sleeping on negatively charged points
will cause inflammatory diseases while sleeping on positively charged points
will cause cancer; thus, to remain healthy one should sleep within the grids.
Later, Dr. Hartmann discovered another pathway of energy flowing from
north to south and east to west. These lines are called Hartmann lines with the
spacing of 2 to 2.5 m that are essential for the formation of bones in the human
body. Hartmann grid is basically the BEM grid in the cardinal directions. The
Hartmann grid has been known in Chinese geomancy as Yin and Yang; while the
Yin or north-south lines generates a cold energy field which acts slowly and is
associated with cramps, humidity and all forms of rheumatism, the Yang or east west lines produces a hot energy field that acts rapidly and is associated with fire

and all inflammatory diseases. These lines are also dangerous for the human
health. By compiling the two grids in Vastu Shastra system, the square of neutral
habitation zone will be produced [8].
In fact the researches has proved that, ancient civilizations were aware of such
planetary grids and used to consider these energy fields during construction. For
example, in the Himalayas the houses of Buddhist monks are oriented due to the
BEM grids to be placed in the neutral zone.
Besides Curry and Hartmann lines, geopathic stress can also cause imbalance
of energy field. Buildings with ill energy effects are called ‘sick building
syndrome’ today. Day describes ‘sick building syndrome’ as a common disease
due to the improper use of materials and designing methods in today architecture
which can be reduced by reapplying the principles of vernacular houses. Sick
building syndrome which is now so common and well recognized, continues to
be developed in high rise buildings, “over-glazed and under-day lit” places
which extremely use the synthetic materials causing the electromagnetic
confusion. Their detachment from nature has made these buildings energy
dependent and unhealthy. Thus the awareness of how buildings can attach to
nature and remain in harmony with it seems to be substantial for human health as
well as the energy reduction. This syndrome in general includes “headaches,
irritability, hyperkinesias, learning disability, fatigue, dermatitis, asthma,
rhinitis, flu mimic conditions, and irritations of the bronchia, mucous
membranes, throat and eyes which are all easily mistaken for normal ill-health.”
[1 p. 309].
In fact negative energy exists as a cloud which can move into the building;
“stress clouds are examples of the negatively charged locked energy fields.” [8 p.
37]. Basically and due to the science of subtle energy, negative and positive
energies flow like water. They can be created due to various reasons such as
death of a person, and can flow or trapped according to the structural forms and
figures. “Some of the symptoms of such negative cloud formations are
palpitation or increase in the pulse rate, home ants and termites, beehives,
dampness, coldness or hotness of a specific floor area, cats frequenting the
house, uncommon accidents in the rooms or dogs barking at night while looking
at south or southwest without any visible reason. These stress clouds affect one’s
Bio Electro Magnetic level, which has a great influence on his aura or energy
body.” [8 p. 38].
The rules and principles of Vastu applied while in the construction of any
property proves the existance of such knowledge in traditional societies which
might not be completely discovered by scientists yet.
4.4 The principles of concentric zones
While square is known as a proper shape for building, pattern of concentric
squares in Vastu Purusha mandala is an archetypal pattern which establishes a
potent, energetic and healthy effect based on the ancient teachings. This pattern
which is found in many cultures such as Egypt, America, Europe and Asia and in
works of many famous architects and artists is fundamentally composed of
concentric squares which infinitely recede to the unseen centre of the universe
from which all the creation emerge. Pagodas and Step Pyramids are the examples
of this pattern in architecture [10].
In Indian traditional geomancy, one is the symbol of the creator or God, the
infinite reality or the absolute unity which is shown by point in geometrical
expression. Bindu in the centre of the Vastu Purusha mandala which indicates
the navel is the manifestation of this sacred concept. Two, apart from its
quantitative application, is the symbol of duality in creation which is represented
by yin-yang symbol in Chinese Feng Shui. Duality of Shiva and Shakti or the
male and female forces is symbolized by line in geometrical realm and is known
as the source of creation of the physical world. Three on the other hand is
symbolized by triangle and is called the mother which signifies the process of
creation from the two abstract geometrical shapes to the triangle which is a
complete geometrical pattern. While three is the connecting link between the
sacred realm and the built form, four is the symbol of created objects and
represents ‘the first born thing’ [17]. Therefore square or rectangle were always
used in designing the plan of every dwelling to represent the world of
materialization or the realm of mundane which man is living on while the ceiling
was considered the realm of the divine which man should ascent to [8]. The same
concept is also indicated by Lao Tzu as the concept of creation which should
also occur while constructing a new dwelling since it is the inferior example of
the world’s creation. “The Tao gives birth to one. One gives birth to two. Two
Apart from the symbolic significance, based on the studies of Kumar, square
is the best geometrical shape in economical and structural considerations
followed by rectangle since it requires the lesser amount of construction
materials on its periphery while providing the broader inner area compared to
other geometrical figures. In structural terms, “square- and rectangular-shaped
buildings can transfer the load safely even where the bearing capacity of soil is
low, while other irregular shapes provide large contact areas more than they
critically required.” [8 p. 41]. The symmetrical shape of rectangular figures also
creates a predictable behaviour in terms of structural calculations and
constructional methods which involve tortional behaviour problems and stress
concentrations. Therefore symmetrical structures can perform better under the
earthquake or wind forces.
Above all, based on the Vedic teachings, the geometry of square is in
complete harmony with human proportions as illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci
since human can fit harmoniously inside both square and circle [19].
In fact the ‘concentric squares’ is another symbolic diagram which was
applied by Vastu Shastra specialists from ancient times in constructing their
dwellings. In this diagram four belts of energy field can be recognized; the centre
part is the Brahma Pada which is a highly charged zone called the ‘hot zone.’
Around the centre is the ‘luminous space’ or Deivika Pada while the third belt is
called Manusha Pada or ‘conscious space’. The outermost area is the ‘gross
material space’ or Paisachika Pada. The two innermost areas are the zones which
should be open or constructed with minimum walls or heavy items while the two
gives birth to three. Three gives birth to all things.” [18 pp. 10, 11].
outer belts are the place of human habitation and physical structure. The reason
is that the energy of the two inner zones is substantially subtle for the human
body [10]. However Ashvini Kumar believes that the most inner area together
with the most outer area is not suitable for human living. Comparing the Vastu
Purusha mandala with the human body, these two areas symbolize the nose and
skin from which the body can breathe. Thus these two areas should be open and
filled with windows to serve the similar function.
The idea is to treat the plan the same way as the human body. While the
central parts and organs are delicate and sensitive the minimum pressure should
be applied to them [8]. This idea can be seen in the development of the courtyard
houses of Japan, china and Iran. The idea of concentric zones later in 1920 was
suggested by American geographer E.W. Burgess as the proper plan for
developing the cities [20].
5 Conclusion
In fact there are many principles in the Vastu Shastra science of architecture that
are basically designed regarding the environmental features which through the
lack of knowledge have considered symbolic or ritualistic by the later
generations. However the observation of natural phenomena by the ancient
philosophers leading to the discovery of laws of nature and their impact on
human health is the root cause of the application of the principles of Vastu and
its similar systems of beliefs in other cultures as the sum knowledge, experienced
by many generations.
Since it is highly believed that the architectural forms have been proposed by
the environment and as a response to its orders, which share similar patterns in
regions with similar climatic configurations, the rules and principles of Vastu
Shastra can be discovered and applied not merely as a superstitious symbolic
guideline, rather as a proper example of using the architectural forms in the
context of the environment. Although the technological advancements of today
make it possible to warm and cool any area regardless of its climate, the proper
use of architectural forms and patterns may lead to sustainable design which
decreases the rate of energy consumption as well as making a proper micro
climate compatible with human needs which can also stand in complete harmony
with the surrounding environment.

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