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Vastu in Agama

Agamas, like the Puranas, deal with Vastu (Hindu architectural subjects). Their contributions to the Shilpa Shastra are extensive and valuable. Some of them deal with very technical matters. Some Agamas to all intents and purposes are but architectural treatises.

Agamas in Hinduism are texts of rituals and rites regarding the worship of gods. Agamas include mantra, tantra and yantra. These are treatises that explain the external worship of God in the form of a vigraha or murti in the temple.

The dhruva bera (immovable image) in the temple becomes the locus of the vibrant presence of the divinity, due to the perfect and precise way in which the sculptor has carved the image, and the power of the mantras and rituals prescribed in Agamas for installing the same.

Kamika Agama devotes sixty chapters out of a total of seventy five to architecture and sculpture, and its treatment of the subjects can hardly be surpassed by that of an avowedly architectural treatise. Just like in Shilpa Shastra, it begins systematically with the preliminary matters, such as testing and the preparation of soil, selection of sites, scheme of measurement and finding out the cardinal points by means of gnomons for the orientation of buildings, and the site plans.

Proper buildings are described under twenty types, just as in Matsya and Bhavishya Puranas, as well as in Brihat Samhita. But unlike the Puranas, in Kamika Agama, there is a discussion on architectural matters under some very technical classifications, such as the Nagara, Dravida and Vesara styles, masculine, feminine and neuter types, pure, mixed and intermingled, depending respectively on a single material, mixture of two materials, and the amalgamation of many materials, sanchita, asanchita, and apasanchita, otherwise known as sthanaka, asana and sayana, which in case of temples, depend on the erect, sitting and reclining postures of the vigraha or murtis.

Other very technical matters referred to are the Ayadi formulas, so very important in selecting the right proportions.

Karanagama too devotes much space to architecture and sculpture under the heading of ‘Vastu.’ There are 37 chapters in this agama, which deal with those subjects exhaustively. It makes a distinct addition to Agamas contribution to Shilpa Shastras. It contributes two valuable chapters dealing with the details of the nine and ten tala measures. This is also a technical treatise concerning sculpture. The Agama has close similarities with Manasara.

Suprabhadagama has devoted not more than 15 chapters to architecture and sculpture. Its unique nature consists in the fact that it has quite successfully summarized all the important matters in a comparatively small space and has explicitly and precisely explained all the aspects.

Vaikhanasa Agama has two chapters on sculpture one of which deals with the general description of images and the other with the dasa (ten) tala measures.

Amsumadbhedagama has a single chapter on the ten tala measures. Instances like those given above can be obtained from the rest of the Agamas also.

From reading various Agamas it is clear that vastu was a favorite subject for the authors of the Agamas.

Between the 6th and 12th centuries CE, several Agama texts were compiled as part of Vigraha or Murti aradhana (worship of images in temples). All of them give details of construction of temples and ancillary structures.