--> Skip to main content

Samarangana Sutradhara – Hindu Text On Architecture

Samarangana Sutradhara of King Bhoja of Dhar of the 11th century CE is a standard medieval encyclopedia of ancient Hindu architecture. It is in Sanskrit. The first seven chapters contain legends and cosmogonical descriptions, and the third chapter gives a short summary of the contents of the book. Chapters 7 to 69 roughly cover various topics and sub-topics of architecture and engineering, covering the areas of religion, civil and military engineering.

Samarangana Sutradhara provides one of the most complete list and descriptions of 64 designs of Indian temples as they existed by the 11th-century. The text is significant in its discussion about Nagara, Dravida, Bhumija and other diversified styles of Hindu temples

Chapter 8 deals with testing of the plot and its soil. Other topics in the book are norms of measurements and scales (chapter 9), town planning (chapter 10), various aspects of anatomy, geometry of vastu mandala, and the presiding deities (chapter 11 – 14), the application of vastu mandala in working out the plan (chapter 15), the forest needed for procuring timber (chapter 16) and the residential houses like catuhsala (chapter 19). Chapters 20 to 25 are concerned with patterns of houses and residential components, and chapter 26 deals with the formulae of manual divisions and subtractions of length, breadth and so on.

The succeeding section detail eight types of assembly halls (chapter 27), building material (chapter 28), mechanical engineering (chapter 31), and construction of stables of elephants and horses (chapter 32 – 33); chapter 34 tells us the do’s and don’ts of engineering. Chapter 35 and chapter 36 deal with rituals. Chapters 39 and 40 deal with merits and demerits of the procedure of construction of doors and pedestals. Chapter 42 and 43 describe propitiatory rites. Chapter 44 gives the characteristics of ideal architecture, called sthapati. Chapters 49 to 69 describe mansions. Chapter 66 gives details about mandapas and pavilions, and Chapters 70 to 83 deal with iconography.

Samarangana Sutradhara is among the few important texts that have survived on the theory and practice of Hindu temple architecture in north, central and western Indian subcontinent (chapters 52–67). Its chapters also include discussions on town planning, house architecture, iconography, painting (chitra), and sculpture arts (shilpa). Some chapters include Hindu legends such as of sleeping Vishnu as it explains its ideas, as well as verses on Hindu philosophies such as Samkhya and Vedanta. It includes a discussion of vastu mandalas (chapters 11–15).

It has a chapter on the art of mechanical contrivances, the yantras (chapter 31). It also includes chapters about the decoration of palaces, which describes the construction of mechanical contrivances (automata), including mechanical bees and birds, fountains shaped like humans and animals, and male and female dolls that refilled oil lamps, danced, played instruments, and re-enacted scenes from Hindu stories.

The title Samarangana Sutradhara is a compound word that literally means "architect of human dwellings", but can also be decomposed to an alternate meaning as "stage manager for battlefields" – possibly a play of words to recognize its royal author.

Three manuscripts of Samarangana Sutradhara were discovered in early 20th century, while others were found later. They vary somewhat and all survive in an incomplete form.

The most complete version is one likely copied and recompiled in the 15th-century. This manuscript has 7,430 shlokas (verses) set in 83 adhyayas (chapters). A notable aspect of each adhyaya is that it starts with a verse composed in anustubh meter (chanda in Hindu texts) and ends with a verse in a longer meter, typically upajati or vasanta tilaka.