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few years ago, a friend asked me to aid him in a townhouse search. I believe I’m fairly resourceful, so I hoped to quickly find him some new digs by reading real estate journals, clipping local and national newspaper articles and surfing the Web. I was sure I would be rewarded for this effort with at least a tall mocha latte, but my plans were dashed by, of all things, the sun, which would keep me from cementing my research-for-latte deal.

With a few great leads in hand, I submitted them to his glaring disapproval. I was told that my suggestions were for places without new construction, and the homes did not face the northeast, which was paramount. And so began my rather irksome introduction to Vastu.

Vastu Shastra, commonly shortented to just Vastu, is the ancient Vedic practice of town planning and architecture dating back to 6,000 BC. Its basic tenet? Use systematic building and placing methodologies to harmonize the five elements: air, water, earth, fire and space. In turn, the balance of environment and energies is supposed to improve the quality and condition of your life.

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I had heard of the home inspector, the home appraiser and the feng shui practitioner, but now I was introduced to the Vastu consultant.

Of course, my friend the Vastu practitioner did value standard statistics like price, resale value, crime rates and the like, but there would be no John Hancock on the deed without a thorough Vastu assessment. Viewed through my friend’s Vastu-trained lense, the popular real estate mantra “location, location, location” would take on new meaning.

According to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a noted Vastu practitioner, four conditions must be met for a home to be Vastu-approved: the right direction, the right placement of rooms, the right proportion and the use of natural, nontoxic elements along with the use of solar energy.

A building has the “right direction” if it faces east in order to absorb the sun’s energy while it is rising. When it comes to directions of rooms, Vastu practitioners must learn the sun’s “different qualities of energy as it moves across the sky.” The activities performed in each room should correspond with the various energies of the sun. Construction must be proportionate, and natural, non-toxic construction materials are of paramount importance.

You’ve heard of the home inspector, the home appraiser and the feng shui practitioner—now meet the Vastu consultant.

The practice of Vastu faded during the British Raj and has only now reemerged both in India and in the West because of the recent obsession with Chinese feng shui.

Though there is no hard proof, it is said that feng shui, which is 4,000 years old, is actually influenced by Vastu. Unlike Vastu, feng shui is primarily guided by placement, and the concept of direction differs (while Vastu philosophy values the northeast direction of the sun, south is considered the auspicious direction in feng shui). “Vastu is much more holistic in its approach to the environment,” says noted Vastu consultant Kathleen Cox.

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And while feng shui is certainly more common, Vastu is right on its heels. According to author Monisha Bharadwaj, author of India Style, the reemergence of Vastu in India has taken place amongst a certain class of people. “Vastu in fact is all the rage in elite circles within Indian society,” she says. Julie Pegrum, a British-born Vastu consultant based in New York, has primarily Indian American middle-class clients. And Cox, who owns Vastu Living, has worked with such high-profile clients as Christy Turlington, whose Manhattan loft she completed following Vastu guidelines. She’s currently working with top-name interior designers who have shown a keen interest in the ancient practice.

Cox is quick to note that people in the States are still unfamiliar with Vastu and often refer to it as the “Indian feng shui.” To quickly explain Vastu to Americans, she’s also used the clever tag phrase: “Yoga for the home.”

Part of Vastu’s lack of Western recognition stems from what Cox calls “the inability of India to brand itself.” But she adds that India’s heritage is so rich on so many fronts that there is a sort of general apathy about capitalizing on ancient practices.

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Nonetheless, Vastu is gaining some traction in the West. There are many consultants and architects who are interested in sustainability employing the ancient practice. In fact, many non-Indian real estate practitioners are well versed in Vastu. Atlanta real estate agent Jodi Blume-Hamby, who represented a young Indian couple who built their home based on Vastu, believes that the practice could catch on fire: “If people knew they could build, they would.” She is “anticipating a pretty good flood of interest.”

And The Wall Street Journal reports that, “in 2002, Maharishi Global Construction, an architectural and development consulting firm that specializes in Vastu, advised on the construction of $90 million of residential and commercial properties.”

In fact, in recent years, Vastu has gone virtual. Dr. Smita Jain Narang founded WebVastu, fusing the ancient practice with the modern technological practice of creating websites. She has reported that more than 500 sites redesigned by her company have shown increased traffic and business for clients.

My friend is among this latest wave of Vastu-seekers. While I didn’t get my tall mocha latte, he finally found his dream home, facing in a northeasterly direction, of course.n

Mili Narayen thinks Vastu is more of an art than a science.
Published on April 2, 2007.
Photography: Courtesy of Laurie Dickson and Paula Baker-LaPorte.

More Information

Vastu Living
Vastu Vidya
WebVastu

Comments are closed.
  1. April 18, 2007, 12:32 pm Tamil

    Dear Author,
    I am familiar with the current obsession of Vastu in certain parts of south India and the proliferation of Vastu quacks in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu by the thousands. Since I am involved in the building trade I was a first hand witness to the lunatic practice of walls,structural elements and sometimes whole buildings being demolised by people right from chief ministers to industrialists on the advise of some barely literate witch doctors.When the rest of the world including Europe and the States have been doing fine without this mumbo jumbo for the past few thousand or hundred years, why are you promoting this pseudo science in the name of Vedic Science.Vastu was invented in the days when people believed that the Earth was balanced on the back of a turtle and there were gods and goddesses living on top of the himalayas and on the moon.

  2. April 18, 2007, 12:49 pm Tamil

    And there are plenty of stories including Madame JJ of Tamil Nadu losing elections after demolishing half her home on the advice of Vastu witch doctors (who later put the blame on her horoscope). If you want to write something positive about Indian heritage,I hope you can find something else other than Vastu Voodoo.