On Solid Ground

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 Before undertaking construction of temples, elaborate soil testing and treatments are undertaken to fortify the ground. Vastu Shastra mentions in detail about the tests that should be conducted
-Dr Ujwala Chakradeo
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They are testing the soil before undertaking any construction work to have a stable and sturdy construction, which would last for ages without being affected by normal weathering and peculiar conditions such as natural disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, etc. The details of how the land should be technically tested and how the foundation should be laid are given in different treatises of Vaastu Shastra. From very simple to most complicated tests are mentioned in these treatises. Following are some examples.
A small pit needs to be dug on the site where the soil has to be tested.
  • Soil removed from the pit is again filled in the pit after a few days. The test results depend on two possibilities: a) soil being more than the pit’s volume, b) volume of the pit is more, and even after consuming the entire soil, the pit is not filled.
  • The pit is filled up with the water and is kept overnight. The amount of water remaining the next day decides the quality of the soil.
  • Oil lamps are kept in the pit, and the length of time it is lit within specific conditions also helps determine the worth of the soil.
  • Taste, smell, and texture of the soil also help define the soil’s value.
  • Different types of seeds are sown in the soil, and the period of germination of the specific seed determines the soil’s quality.
The scriptures also tell us how to rectify faults of the soil, if detected in the tests. The details and planning of these tests were very accurate. Beautiful temples standing tall on the shoulders of Mother India for thousands of years are the testimony of the appropriateness of these tests.
The land, the soil on which the construction was to be carried out was first worshipped because we are hurting the Mother Earth by hitting her with a spade. ‘Bhumipujan’ is performed to seek the apology of the Mother Earth. The ‘sky’ that was open till now and the open ‘space’ made up of panchamahabhutas will now henceforth be enclosed in the four walls of the building. These tests and rituals also ensure that space’s properties and quality remain intact even after construction.
(The columnist is Principal of SMM College of Architecture, Nagpur and specialises in Bharatiya Architectural Heritage)