Vastu: A place for everything and everything in its place

Sleep pointing south, read facing east, stay south of water ... the ancient practice of vastu is India's answer to feng shui. Its foremost practitioner is Mr Reddy, so revered that even the prime minister asks his advice. Peter Popham reports from Delhi

Going by his own apartment, Mr MVR Reddy is not the most obvious person to approach for advice on interior design. The flat he shares with his wife in a tower block in east Delhi has sulphur-yellow walls bare of any picture or ornament, a nondescript suite, a table, a day bed, a few books dumped in a corner. There is a strip light on the wall. The Reddys might have moved in yesterday.

But none of this matters: the essentials are right. Mr Reddy's favoured seat, on the sofa, faces east: the optimal direction for concentrating. The couple's bed is arranged so that their heads point south: both sleep soundly and awake refreshed. The kitchen, however, was a problem. Originally it was in the north-eastern corner of the flat, what is called the "God corner". To cook at this spot, or to put the lavatory there, or the matrimonial bed, is to ask for trouble. So although the cupboards and work surfaces remain where they were installed, Mr Reddy has shifted the stove to a spare room in the south-west. And now all goes well.

Mr Reddy, who must be 6ft 3in, a burly, gravel-voiced bear of a man, is a practitioner of "vastu". Vastu is to India, broadly speaking, what feng shui is to China: it is the ancient code of beliefs, rules and practices that for many centuries, even millennia, has governed the way that Indians build. In a pre-scientific world, it was a means of regulating architecture and town planning. Rooted in ancient texts handed down through generations of engineers and builders, it prescribes a proper place and direction for everything. "For everything," Mr Reddy intones impressively, "there is a place."

Major roads must run due north and south and east and west. (The only piece of equipment a vastu practitioner needs is a compass.) Water - pond, river, lake - should be located in the north. It is best if any mountains are in the south. The house itself and its ground should be a square or a rectangle. If possible the house's central space should be a courtyard, open to the sky - and so on. The ancient prescriptions apply equally to the problems of entire countries and to the organisation of a tiny apartment.

Just as much as ayurvedic medicine or the holy text Bhagavad Gita, Vastu is a product of India's native Hindu genius. But although, as Mr Reddy remarks, India's Hindus and Muslims are constantly ulta pulta (literally "upside down") in relation to each other, the one community doing practically everything in a completely different way to the other, vastu is one thing that brings them together.

Roads in Muslim-built cities of ancient India such as Hyderabad, Mr Reddy's home town, run north and south and east and west. Whole cities were laid out in accordance with vastu's precepts. "In the old days," Mr Reddy remarks, "when India was governed by kings, they used to follow the rules of vastu because they were interested in the welfare of their people." India's most famous building, the Taj Mahal, is a splendid embodiment of vastu: a perfect square, aligned to the compass points, with a river in the north that flows east, a high entrance to the south, a lower one to the north, all structures symmetrical.

For all its venerable age, vastu occupies an odd sort of intellectual no-man's-land in modern-day India. Mr Reddy calls it a "science", but it cannot be studied as such at India's universities; nor, according to Mr Reddy, is there real agreement on what the science would consist of even if it were. But neither is it fully part of the traditional religious scene - its practitioners do not wear orange robes or smear their brows with tilak and holy ash.

Jugal Kishor, another prominent Delhi-based practitioner who writes a weekly vastu column in the Times of India, became an expert through his studies in ancient Indian history and architecture. Mr Reddy, on the other hand, claims to have blundered into the profession by accident. "I am the most failed man on earth!" he declares dramatically. He has a law degree but has never practised. He was (and would like one to believe that he still is) a modernist and rationalist. "I was an ardent critic of the science," he says. "I used to say, if good food is coming out of the kitchen, why bother about going through this door or that door? But then a friend said, `If you want to criticise a subject you must know it profoundly. You are making unwise comment.' I took up his challenge.

"At that time I was unhappy. I had to face a lot of problems for which I was not responsible. So, as I was an only son with land and property of my own, I rectified it according to the rules of vastu: removing septic tanks which were not in the proper place, changing the location of the kitchen, moving some entrances."

The beneficial effects of this, he insists, were both rapid and permanent. "Before, I was very intolerant and impatient. Once the changes were made, I had mental peace."

"I also was not believing it," adds his wife. "But after the rectification, I found some improvements in our life - for example, financial growth." "House and spouse," says Mr Reddy. "These things only bring mental peace."

They were so impressed by the change in their lives that Mr Reddy immersed himself in the subject for the next five years: not following a master (there are none), nor even steeping himself in the books ("All the books contradict one another"), but learning by trial and error.

I pressed Mr Reddy to explain in a nutshell the scientific basis of this "science". He would not be drawn. In a recent book called The Secret World of Vaasthu (sic), Gouru Tirupati Reddy, no relation, waffles portentously about how "billions of years ago the atmosphere comprising dust particles began to converge into a globe due to the reciprocal gravitational pull among the particles," and so on. But MVR Reddy does not attempt to pull the wool over my eyes with such stuff. All he will say is, "It is a science. So scholars should get together to find the scientific basis of it."

Perhaps, I suggested, it works like a placebo. "A placebo can give a brief improvement," he sniffs, "but the effect of vastu is permanent. I have been practising now for 25 years, and I could fool one or two people but not hundreds. People come to me by word of mouth - if one person in a family uses me, soon I am working for all the other members of the family, too." His work involves advice on the construction or rectification of everything from flats to factories - "But if a businessman comes to me and says he has a problem in his office," says Reddy, "first I ask to see his house."

As India grows more affluent, more and more people in the middle classes are building themselves large houses. This trend, apparently, has had two results. "Previously," says Mr Reddy, "people thought, if we have money we will have everything. Now some people have more money than they ever dreamed, but no mental peace." These are the people who stream through his door.

Second, some of the grand houses constructed with this new money break all tenets of vastu. Mr Kishor has recently been advising the owners of a palatial new house in one of Delhi's best "colonies", who found the house to be practically uninhabitable, with bitter disputes breaking out between members of the family. Mr Kishor pronounced that the problem was the house's most imposing feature, a huge central staircase. He advised that it should be destroyed and replaced by staircases in different parts. "If something is wrong in the centre," he says, "it is the death of the house." His recommendations are now being implemented - at mind-boggling expense.

Mr Reddy's most eminent client is the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, whom he has advised both when he was leader of the opposition and since he became PM. But there, he confesses, he has failed. "I recently visited 7 Race Course Road [the PM's official residence], and it is the worst possible house," he says gloomily. "Everything is very, very bad - the kitchen is in the north-east, the entrances are wrong. I gave Mr Vajpayee advice, but I was told they cannot make the changes for security reasons. But India's last two prime ministers had very short terms in office. And if the vastu there is not rectified, no prime minister will last more than a year and a half. In that house, heroes are becoming zeroes."

Vastu, if you choose to believe Mr Reddy, accounts for everything. India itself is unhappily placed, having sea to the south and the Himalayas in the north, comparing badly with Switzerland, for example, whose vastu is perfect, which accounts for its prosperity and peace. "India's position is a problem," Mr Reddy says. "At times it grows and at times it falls. Uncertainty is there."

But there is a simple vastu solution even to this gigantic problem of a whole nation, though one which Mr Reddy hesitates to propose - "they would stone me to death!" It is the mountains in the far north which are the headache. The answer? "Let Pakistan have Kashmir and all will be well. Up to Jammu - the foothills below Kashmir - we are all right".

Arts and Entertainment
Masterchef cooks Tony Rodd (left), Emma Spitzer (second left) and
Simon Wood (right) posing with judges Gregg Wallace (centre) and John Torode (second right), as the three will be seen cooking their hearts out in the hopes of winning the show.
TVReview: Tired Geography teacher John Torode and shaved Scotch egg Gregg Wallace crown the champion
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week
Life and Style
The Grand Palais in Paris will be transformed into a 4,000-seat cinema, with 44 double beds at the front
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

    Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

    Day In a Page

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road