Sunday, November 25, 2012

There's a Giant on My House! A Jersey Girl's introduction to Sri Lankan Feng Shui

My friend, Vasthu Purusha
"The bedroom has too many doors," said the architect.

I looked at the plan again-- french doors out to the verandah, door to the bathroom, door to the living room and closet door if that even counts.  All the doors seemed, to me, pretty justifiable so I asked Madu to clarify.

"It's against our culture to have so many doors," says Madu.

The New Jersey in me rolled her eyes, but it was clear there was more to this than one guy's door hangup.  A little internet digging led me to a world that I never knew existed-- the world of Vaasthu Shastra.  Every time we fired changes to our plan to the architect, he fired back with little bitty changes of his own design, I never understood why.  Now it was becoming clear-- he was taking our Western plan and trying to adhere to the principles of Vaasthu Shastra, or as the cynic in me calls it, Sri Lankan feng shui.

Vaasthu has roots in ancient Indian architecture and its set of rules that take into account the sun's effects, the earth's magnetic, energy and cosmic fields (please don't ask me to define a cosmic field) and elements of nature.  The five elements of nature (water, earth, sky, air, fire) have to align with the cardinal directions (north, east, south, west, northwest, southeast, northeast, southwest) or the occupants of the house will have bad luck.

So, please let me introduce you to the friendly giant sitting on our house plan, Vasthu Purusha.  He's the living energy of the earth symbolized as a human being.  Sorry, he's upside down because he's got to face the entrance which is northeast.  The position of his body indicate where certain parts of the house belong.  The pooja, or place for prayer is at his head.  Generally speaking, the septic tank should be in the direction of his genitals and his heart should be open, clear of obstructions.

I found lots of ancient Indian Vasthu house designs, the one below is my favorite.  I can just imagine Scrooge McDuck taking a swan dive into the treasure room.

The position of the parts of the house roughly follow the sun-- northeast corner-- the pooja, or prayer room.  The prayers happen just before sunrise, when the sun is in the northeast. As the family wakes up and sun moves East, it's time to bathe-- hence the bathroom.  The sun is setting in the West as the family is having dinner in the Dining Area.  The the ‘prana’ or life-giving energy, is symbolically believed to enter from the North-East, early in the morning and move around to the East, South-East, North-West, West and finally exit through the South-West at night when everyone falls asleep.

Not sure where we're going to find the cheerful housewife, maybe I'll put something on Craig's List

How does our plan stack up to Vasthu?  Pretty well, considering.  The Lord of Fire presides over the southeast (kitchen), our entrance and pooja spot is in the northeast, septic tank is to the west-ish, Serenity calm and peace bedroom (or conjugated living, depending who you ask) is in the Northwest.

I call this an accidentally alignment because we actually followed many of the rules of placement of rooms for minimum energy use in a tropical climate.  We'll have "emergency air conditioning" in the bedroom for the hot season but the rest of the house will be naturally ventilated with the assistance of ceiling fans and possible a solar powered attic exhaust fan. The principles related to keeping a house cool in tropical sun are at the roots of Vaasthu-- not surprising when you think about how hot a house with no electricity in ancient India could get.

Next up: Traditional building in Sri Lanka: Where does the green come in?

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