This paper is an attempt to reconsider our current understanding of the role accorded to the mandala within traditional Indian architecture. It is generally held that the mandala-in particular the Vāstupuruṣamaṇḍala, the mandala associated with vāstu (inhabited or built site)-has played a determining role in the genesis of architectural form in India. Within more popular, and less circumspect, writings, this influence is held to be directly formal; the Vāstupuruṣamaṇḍala is traditionally drawn within a square grid, and any sign of an orthogonal planning or a grid-like layout is taken to be a sign that the form in question was based upon the mandala. In investigating the foundations of such a belief, this paper reviews two bodies of literature. The first is modern art-historical scholarship, an examination of which shows that the idea of a morphogenetic mandala emerged only recently, and that it was not so much culled from the traditional writing as constructed afresh by art historians such as Kramrisch. The other body of literature examined is that of the traditional writings on architecture, many of which are cited as key sources of evidence for this idea. Here it is argued that there is almost no direct evidence for the use of mandalas in laying out complexes or designing buildings, and that such ideas of the use of mandalas rest on several assumptions that must themselves be questioned.
Research Article| March 01 2000
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Sonit Bafna; On the Idea of the Mandala as a Governing Device in Indian Architectural Tradition. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 1 March 2000; 59 (1): 26–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/991561
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