Pandit Gopal Sharma, a leading authority on the Hindu practice, explains why the ancient philosophy is still relevant today.
Vaastu Shastra: Making buildings compatible with their surroundings
I leave my interview with Pandit Gopal Sharma clutching a "Pyracard" and two pictures: one of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, and one of an unspecified mountain range. Apparently, if I play my cards right, these three inconspicuous-looking items could bring me untold amounts of wealth, wisdom and success.
The Pyracard is a plastic-covered talisman with nine pyramid-shaped extrusions. I'm instructed to stick a picture of myself on the back, sign it in red ink and then carry it around with me - a pretty painless way of accumulating wealth, if you ask me.
Essentially, it's the pocket-sized, dummy's guide to pyramidology, one of Sharma's countless areas of expertise. As he sees it, pyramids act as antennae extending into the universe, and can be used to attract positive energy. Sharma points to places of religious worship - the minarets of a mosque, for example - as well as the pyramids of Giza, to illustrate his point. He strongly recommends that everybody should introduce some kind of pyramid-shaped structure into their home to help them "receive positive energy from the cosmos".
I'm meeting with Sharma to learn more about the philosophy of Vaastu Shastra. Having co-founded the Institute of Vaastu and Joyful Living in New Delhi, and written 42 books on the subject, he's something of an authority on the matter.
Vaastu Shastra is the ancient Hindu practice of designing buildings that are in harmony with their natural surroundings. Its roots can be found in the Vedas, India's oldest sacred texts, and its etymology translates to mean "the science that deals with human dwellings".
There are a number of factors that can affect a person's life, Sharma suggests. One is their actions; another is the people they surround themselves with. And then there are the planets. "Look at the effect that the moon has on the sea - and 78 per cent of the human body is made up of water. And the sun? Without the sun, life is not possible. Similarly, all the other planets have an effect on us. But there is something else that affects our life: our surroundings. Vaastu Shastra is the science that tells you how to live in harmony with the various forces of nature."
Sharma, an engineering graduate, has spent the past 14 years trawling through ancient Sanskrit texts researching the principles of Vaastu Shastra. He is also an expert in feng shui and believes that the two schools perfectly complement each other.
"Feng shui is more related to the inside of a house - the colours, the furniture and so on. Vaastu has more to do with the shape and size of a building and its construction. Vaastu is of Indian origin and feng shui is more Chinese, but a wise person will use the best of various systems to get the best results."
When it comes to incorporating Vaastu elements into your home - and according to Sharma, some 90 per cent of homeowners in India do - it all starts with the selection of the right plot. Shape and size are key and the ideal plot is one where length and breadth are equal.
Symmetry is a fundamental principle of this age-old practice. Square and rectangular shapes are favoured; elliptical shapes are definitely not. "Everything must be in balance," says Sharma. "If you enter a house and see a table that's egg shaped, you will find that either the residents are not able to eat their food together or, in case they try to, there are heated arguments. That's because there is no symmetry."
Often referred to as a directional science, Vaastu is also preoccupied with orientation, from the location of a plot to the positioning of the actual building and the placement of its rooms.
"A basic principle is the south brings you expenditure, illness and disputes. So you should place high, heavy structures in the south. You shouldn't have mirrors or wall clocks on the south wall. If you have a low-level structure or a swimming pool in the south then there will be more illness, more expenditure and more disputes," Sharma warns.
It is recommended that large trees be planted to the south to help block out negative energy. The exact opposite applies for the east. "We get solar energy from the east, so you should have more open space in that direction. That means there will be more family growth and better health."
Meanwhile, the north brings positive magnetic energy, which means more money and a better career. Again, the aim is to not block that energy off with high, obstructive elements such as trees and staircases. "You can only receive something if you are open to it," says Sharma.
Positive energy can be drawn into a house with mirrors, plants and water features, which could mean a swimming pool, a decorative fountain, an aquarium or, if push comes to shove, a picture of water - hence my print of the Golden Temple, which is surrounded by the expansive Amrit Sarovar lake.
"The Golden Temple is very famous. It's the richest temple in that area. It is surrounded by water and made of gold. Just putting a picture of the temple on your north side will help your finances, while placing it in the north-east will add to your wisdom."
It is all about placing elements correctly, Sharma continues. "You have to find out what is missing in your life. For example, if somebody feels there is not adequate growth in their life, despite their best efforts, that means the east direction needs some improvement.
"If you have a water feature in the north, it will help with finances. If you have one in the east, it will help with peace. A picture of a mountain on your south wall will give you more strength and stability."
According to Vaastu Shastra, the world is made up of five basic elements - earth, water, air, fire and space - and balancing these elements creates a harmonious environment that facilitates spiritual well-being. Again, there is a directional link; the south-east represents fire, the south-west is earth, the north-west is air and the north-east is water.
"So, if one feels lethargic, the south-east corner, which is an area of fire, energy and activity, is lacking. Similarly, if one is not having good relationships in their house, it means the south-west area needs to be explored. That's the love and romance area. If there is frequent fighting in the house, it might mean you have fire and water in one line - in the kitchen, probably."
I make the mistake of suggesting that it all sounds a bit complicated. "It is not," Sharma tuts. "It is a very simple science. And what is the purpose of this science? To add health, wealth, happiness, better relationships and success to people's lives. Using this science intelligently can help in removing almost every problem in day to day life."
I'm not sure I'm convinced, but I pop my Pyracard into my handbag all the same.
Pyramids Pyramid-shaped structures in your home will help attract positive energy from the universe.
Symmetry Symmetrical shapes are auspicious; elliptical shapes are not.
High structures The south brings expenditure, illness and disputes. Block off negative energy with heavy, high structures such as stairs.
Mirrors and plants Positive energy can be drawn into a house with mirrors, plants and water features.
Water The north brings positive magnetic energy, which means more money and a better career. A water feature in the north will help with finances.
Energy If you are feeling lethargic, address the south-east corner of your home, which represents fire, energy and activity.