Quality of housing is a measure of development of early civilizations. Sanskrit literature has several references to planning and construction of buildings – residential, royal, military and religious. The Atharvaveda, in the ‘Shala-nimrana-sukta’ and the ‘Shala-sukta’, contains several hymns on permanent constructions. That is how far we go back in terms of house construction.

In this segment, some examples are given on the different stages of construction, from testing the soil to erecting pillars.

Building Construction – Soil Testing

Purvarn bhumirn parikseta pascat vastu

prakalpayet II

Translated as – First test the earth (site); after that plan the construction.

Valmikena samayukta

bhumirasthiganaistu ya II

Randhranvita ca bhurvarjya gatighesca

samanvita II

Translated as – Land with anthills, skeletons, full of pits and craters should be avoided.

Varnagandharasakaradisabdas parsanairapi I

Pariksyaiva yathayogyam grhniyad dravyamuttamam II

Translated as – After examining the color, smell, taste, shape, sound and touch (of the soil) buy the best material as found suitable.

Yavattatra jalarn drstarn khanettavattu

bhutale II

Translated as – Till water is seen there, (one) should dig the ground.

Ratnirnatramadhe garte pariksya khatapurane II

Adhike sriyamapnoti nyune hanirn same

samam II

Translated as – It (soil) should be tested by digging a pit of 1 arm length and refilling it (with the same soil). If (soil is) more, one will beget prosperity; if short, one will beget loss; if equal, it is normal.

Source

Matsya-purana, Adhyayah 253, Slokah 11 (Puranic period)

Vastu-shastra, Slokah 5 Visvakarrna (6th century AD)

Bhrgu-samhita, Adhyayah 4 (Post-vedic period)

Kasyapa-silpah, Adhyayah 4 (Post-vedic period)

Notes

If some soil is left after filling the pit (in digging of which the soil was found), it shows the scope for compaction of the sand and such a soil is considered desirable. This testing procedure mentioned in the 5th Century BCE text is in vogue to this day.

Building Construction – Making of Bricks

(Istakasangrahanam)

Usaram pandurarn krsnacikkanarn

tarnrapullakarn II

Mrdascatasrastasveva grhniyat

tamrapullakam I

(The making of bricks)

Translated as – Salty, off-white, black and smooth, red and granulated, these are the four kinds of clay.

Asarkarasmarnulasthilostarn satanuvalukam II

Ekavamam sukhasparsamistarn lostestakadisu I

Translated as – Clay suitable for making bricks and tiles must be free from gravel, pebbles, roots and bones and must be soft to touch.

Mrtkhandarn purayedagre janudaghne jale tatah u

Alodya mardayet padbhyarn catvarirnsat punah

punah I

Translated as – Then fill the clods of clay in knee-deep water; then having mixed, pound with the feet forty times repeatedly.

Ksiradrumakadarnbamrabhayaksa –

tvagjalairapi II

Triphalambubhirasiktva

mardayenmasamatrakam

Translated as – After soaking in the sap of fig, kadamba, mango, abhaya and aksha and also in the water of myrobalan for three months, pound (the clay)

Catupaftcaalatabhirmatraistaddhidvigul)ayatai:lll

Vyasardhardhatribhagaikatlvra madhye parespare I

Istaka bahusah sosyah samadagdhah

punasca tah II

Translated as – 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.

Ekadvitricaturmasarnatityaiva vicaksanah I

Jale praksipya yatnena jaladuddhrtya tat punah II

Translated as – 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).

Source

Maya-mata, Kalamula-sastram, Slokah 114-120 Kapila-vatsyayanah (6th Century AD)

Building Construction – Mortar

Paficamsarn masayusarn syannavastarnsarn

gudarn dadhi II

Ajyam dvyarnsam tu saptarnsarn kslram

carma sadarnsakam I

Translated as – There should be 5 parts extract of beans, nine and eight parts molasses* and curd* (respectively). Clarified butter (ghee) 2 parts, 7 parts milk, hide (extract) 6 parts.

*Molasses – A thick treacle that drains from sugar

*Curd – Milk thickened or coagulated by acid

Traiphalarh dasabhagarn syannalikerarn

yugarnsakam II

Ksaudramekarnsakam tryarnsarn

kadallphalamisyate I

Translated as – There should be 10 parts of myrobalan*. Coconut two parts, honey one part. Three parts plantain are desired.

*Myrobalan – The astringent fruit of certain Indian mountain species of Terminalia (combretaceae): a variety of Plum

Labdhe curne dasarnse tu yufijItavyarh subandhanam II

Sarvesamadhikarn sastarn gudarn ca dadhi dugdhakam I

Translated as – In the powder (thus) obtained, 1/10th lime should be added. Larger quantity than others of molasses, curd and milk is best.

Curnadvyarnsam karalarn

madhughrtakadallnalikeram ca masarn

Suktestoyarn ca dugdharh dadhigudasahitarn

traiphalarh tat krarnena I

Translated as – 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.

Labdhe curne satarnsesmsakamidamadhuna

canuvrddhirn prakuryadetad bandharh

drsatsadrsamiti kathitarh

tantravidbhirrnunindraih II

Translated as – 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.

Source

Maya-mata, Kala-mulasastram, Kapila-vatsyayanah (6th Century AD)

Building Construction – Assembling Pillars

Starnbhasandhayah

Mesayuddharn trikhandam ca saubhadram

cardhapanikam I

Mahavrttarn ca paficaite stambhanam

sandhayah smrtah II

Assembly of Pillars: It is said that there are five types of assemblies suitable for pillars; these are Mesayuddha, Trikhanda, Saubhadra, Ardhapani and Mahavrtta.

Svavyasakarnamadhyardhadvigunam va

tadayatam I

Tryarnsaikam madhyarnasikham

mesayuddharn prakIrtitam II

When there is a central tenon* (with a width) a third (that of the pillar) and a length twice or two and half time its width, this is Mesayuddha (mortise* and tenon) assembly.

*Tenon – The projection at the end of a piece of wood etc.

*Mortise – A hole to receive a tenon.

Svastyakararn trikhandarn syat satriciili

trikhandakarn I

Parsve catuhsikhopetam saubhadramiti

sarnjfiitam II

Translated as – In the Trikhanda assembly, there are three mortises and three tenons arranged as a Swastika, The assembly called Saubhadra comprises four peripheral tenons.

Ardham chitva tu mule Sgre

canyonyabhinivesanat I

Ardhapaniriti prokto grhitaghanamanatah

Translated as – 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).

Ardhavrttasikharn madhye

tanmahavrttarnucyate I

Vrttakrtisu padesu prayunjita vicaksanah II

Translated as – 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.

Stambhanam starnbhadairghyardhadadhah

sandhanamacaret I

Stambhamadhyordhvasandhisced

vipadamaspadam sad a II

Kumbhamandyadisarnyuktam sandhanam

sam pad am padam I

Salankare silastarnbhe yathayogam

tathacaret II

Translated as – 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.

Sthitasya padapasyangapravrttivasato viduh

Urdhvamulamadhascagram

sarvasampadvinasanam II

Translated as – 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.

Source

Maya-mata, Kalamulasastrarn Slokah 29-37, Kapila-vatsyayanah (6th Century AD)

Interesting Text Excerpts

  1. The area covered by the Harappan culture therefore extended from some 950 miles from north to south, and the pattern of its civilization was so uniform that even the bricks were usually of the same size and shape from one end of it to the other.
  • The Wonder that was India, A.L. Basham, page 14.
  1. Most interesting are their dimensions; while found in 15 different sizes, their length, width and thickness are always in the ratio of 4:2:1
  • Lost Discoveries, Dick Teresi, page 60.
  1. The altars were built of bricks. It is no great surprise, that the Vedic Indians built bricks which could last not years but thousands of years.

The ruins of Harappa contributed to a hundred mile railway line between Multan and Lahore in the nineteenth century. The British dug up Harappa for its bricks, which they used as ballast on the rail bed. The bricks speak a story greater than ballast. The Harappans learned to exploit the annual flooding of their farmland to grow crops without need for plowing, fertilization, or irrigation. To do so they had to control the flooding with flood walls, so they developed kiln fired bricks, less permeable to rain and floodwater than mud bricks. Harappan bricks contain no straw or binding material and are still in usable shape after five thousand years.

  • Lost Discoveries by Dick Teresi, Page 60.
  1. The hall forming part of the Thiruveezhimizhalai temple in Tamilnadu has an arch of approximately 50 feet width. This arch is a standing (pun intended) witness to the construction capability of our ancestors.

In Kodangai in Tamilnadu in South India, there is a temple for the god named Aavudayar. In that temple, you can see a rock ground finely like a sheet of paper. This temple is another evidence of not only the skills but also the tools that people had years ago in temple construction.

  • Deivatthin Kural (Tamil), Volume 1, p. 458 of His Holiness Shri. Chandrashekharendra Saraswati Swami of Kanchi, Tamilnadu, India,
References

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