MAYAMATA : An Indian Treatise on Housing Architecture and Iconography

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Item Code: IDH063
Author: Bruno Dagens
Publisher: New Age Books
Language: English
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 9788178224978
Pages: 309
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5"
Weight 520 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

The MAYAMATA is a Vastusastra, that is to say a 'treatise on dwelling' and, as such, it deals with all the facets of gods' and men's dwellings, from the choice of a site to the iconography of temple walls. It contains numerous and precise descriptions of villages and towns as well as of temples, houses, mansions and palaces. It gives indications for the selection of a proper orientation, of right dimensions and of appropriate building materials. It intends to be a manual for the architect and a guide-book for the layman. Well-thought-of by the traditional architects (sthapati-s) of South India, this treatise is of interest at a time when technical traditions, in all fields are being scrutinized for their possible modern application.

The MAYAMATA has so far been translated into Tamil and into French. The present English version is based upon the Edition, with French translation, previously published by Dr. B. Dagens in the Publication Series of the French Institute of Indology (Pondicherry).

About the Author

Dr. Bruno DAGENS (b. 1935) is a member of the Ecole Francaise d' Extreme-Orient (French School for Far Eastern Studies). He has done archaeological researches in Afghanistan and in Cambodia and taught Sanskrit at the University of Louvain (Belgium). Since 1977 he has been working at the Institut Francais d' Indologie at Pondicherry.

Besides articles and contributions on archaeology and on iconography of monuments in Afghanistan and in Cambodia, he has published critical editions and French translations of the Mayamata and of the Saivagamaparibhasamanjari (a compendium of Saiva doctrine and rituals) and a study on architecture in Saivagama-s. His most recent book is a two volume survey of the monuments of the submerged area of Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh) .


The MAYAMATA and the MANASARA are the two best known amongst Sanskrit treatises of South India on architecture and iconography. However, unlike the MANASARA an English ver- sion of which by P. K. Acharya was published in 1933, the MAYAMATA has not so far been translated into English. The pre- sent book is based upon our edition, with French translation, in the Publication Series of the Institut Francais d’Indologie. The Sanskrit text has been omitted so that the book may be of a reasonable size; by the same token we have been able to dis- pense with most of die footnotes which accompanied the French translation due to the recent publication by the Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Scientific Research, of our book: Architec- ture in the Ajitagama and the Rauravagama (New Delhi 1984); the assumption is that the two books will be used together. The glossary is presented in an abridged form; most of the drawings have been retained and some more added but it should be noted that they are meant to be no more than tentative sketches. Lastly, the interpretation of the text has been revised and we are grateful once more to our friend Mary Premila Boseman for her help in the establishing of the English text.


The body of Sanskrit literature dealing with architecture and iconography is voluminous but it is scattered and has been insufficiently surveyed; it is matched by a vernacular litera- ture which is even more scattered and even less known It comprises, first of all, independent works which can be classi- fied under the general heading of "technical treatises" (Sil- pasastra) or under the more precise one of "treatises on dwel- ling" (vastusastra) or "treatises on dwellings" (vastusastra). The use of one or other of these designations in a colophon does not however make for any reliable indication as to the contents of the work or its originality; thus, the Manasara and the Maya- mata whose contents are identical, are designated as a uastu- sastra and as a uastusdstra, respectively. The scope of these works, and that of the domain they cover, varies considerably and that goes for the comprehensive treatises as much as for those which confine themselves to limited subjects, such as icono- graphy of Saivite deities or astrological points bearing upon the founding and the construction of a house. There are few specialized works of importance in this category even so, archi- tecture and iconography being more often dealt with in various works, whether more or less ambitious encyclopaedias or treatises which concentrate upon areas where architecture and iconography are involved. The great purana are to be found in this category, along with encyclopaedias of royal inspira- tion such as the Manasollasa or the Samaranganasutradhara and the Saivite and Vaisnavite agama of various persuasions, as well as the Grhyasutra and the Arthasastra. These types of works are just those in which the material is most abundant but most scattered and it should be added that a number of small inde- pendant treatises are nothing more than extracts from much larger works and, as well, that it is hard to be sure whether the Purvakdmikagama has borrowed from the Mayamata the very great number of passages common to both texts or whether the reverse is the case. That the dispersion is also historical and geographical only complicates the problem still further, and the architecture and iconography, as they appear in a given work, are but the reflection of what was in existence during the time of its drafting in the region where that was done; significant in relation to the described forms, this factor is also apparent in the technical vocabulary which is always more or less marked by regional usage, as well as by borrowings from the verna- cular. Then, there is the sectarian bias, whether stressed or not and very apparent in the iconography and also, even if to a lesser degree, in complex architectural forms, if not in their elements envisaged separately. The pretension to universality of many of these texts does nothing to conceal this phenomenon and, whether the regional and sectarian features are more or less emphasized, they are still, usually, obvious. It must also be added that the Indian or, more precisely, the Hindu koine, is so much the fruit of such a mixture of regional and unitarian trends that each author, or school, may legitimately imagine that its day-to-day reality is nothing but an accurate reflection of the whole Indian world.

In that very extensive and widely disseminated range of works, the Mayamata occupies a fairly well defined place. 1t is a general treatise, a uastusastra, written in Sanskrit but origi- nating from Dravidian India, most probably from the Tamil area; it is part of the Saivite agamic literature without the connection being underlined by any pronounced sectarianism and its drafting must have been done during the Cola period, at the time when the architecture it describes had reached the peak of its maturity. Comprising about 3300 verses and divided into 36 chapters, it is identified as a vastusastra, that is, as a treatise on dwelling, for it defines the vastu as "anywhere where immortals or mortals live" (2.1). This definition is followed by specifications which show that the concept of housing is very wide and is divided into four categories: the Earth (considered as original dwelling), buildings vehicles and seats (which last three are nothing but 'vastu' deriving from the first 'vastu', the Earth). Once iconography has been added to this list we have a panorama, brief but inclusive, of the content of the work. Leaving aside here the details of this content which we will analyse further on, we note that the Mayamata is arranged in three large sections: the first (Chap. 1-10) deals with dwelling sites, the first vastu, the second section with buildings (Chap. 11-30) and the third (Chap. 31-36), with the last two vastu, vehicles and seats, and with iconography (Linga, images and their pedestals). In these different sections are found entire chapters or significant passages consecrated to particular topics in the sphere of technique or that of the ritual which sets the pace for the construction: system of measurements and quality of the architects (Chap. 5), orientation and laying-out (Chap. 6-7), offerings to the gods of the site (Chap. 8), foundation deposit (Chap. 12), joinery (Chap. 17), rites for the end of the construction of a temple and for the first en try into a house (Chap. 18 and 28) and renovation work and associated rites (Chap. 35).

The work as a whole is coherent in spite of various interpola- tions which are sometimes, but not always, indicated by changes in the metres. These appear quite frequently in chap- ters describing temples where they often give information on details of decorative motifs which were evidently mentioned, though not described, in the original text; in the same way the description of a pavilion of the siddha type (25.39sq) is inter- rupted by fourteen verses given over to ritual firepits (kunda); this interpolation would seem to have been entailed by the mention of the fact that the siddha pavilion may serve "for all rituals". These interpolations do not seem to give rise to any great internal discrepancy; it is only to be noted that the mention, in a general chapter on temples, of thirteen, fourteen, and sixteen storeyed temples (11.19) seems to be the result of an updating of the text which never otherwise describes temples with more than twelve storeys (cf.22.66sq) .

I. The technical literature and the Mayamata i
II. The Earth and the sites viii
III. Edifices xiv
IV. Vehicles, seats and iconography xxxii
V. Theory and practice xxxviii
Summary 1
Dwelling sites 3
Examination of the site 5
Taking possession of the sete 7
System of measurements 9
Orientation 11
Diagrams 15
Offerings 23
Villages and other settlements 25
Towns 38
The number of storeys and the dimensions 47
The foundation deposit 50
The socle 60
The base 63
Dimensions of pillars and choice of materials 70
Entablature 81
Joinery 89
Upper levels of elevation and the consecration ceremony 97
One storeyed temples 118
Two storeyed temples 123
Three storeyed temples 128
Temples with four or more storeys 138
Enclosures and attendants' shrines 149
Gateways 162
Pavilions and halls 176
Houses 204
Features of houses for the four classes 236
First entry into a house 253
Royal palaces 259
Doors 284
Vehicles 296
Beds and seats 303
The Linga 307
Pedestals 325
Renovation works 335
Iconography 342
Where and when a well is to be established 375

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