Updated: Dec 6, 2020
India has to her credit many detailed texts on architecture dating back a millennia. Mayamata and Manasara are two noteworthy works that discuss engineering and architecture. A reader is in awe and reverence when he understands the level of detailing that can be documented at such early periods of time. Apart from being mere works on architecture these texts also serve as a window to understand some of the social spheres of yesteryear polity.
The text Manasara is assigned the period of the imperial Guptas (around 4th – 5th Century CE). It is attributed to a sage called ‘Manasara’. The text opens with a mythological origin before starting to address the architectural aspects.
It addresses various aspects of architecture such as, measurement, building of courts, houses, construction of buildings with up-to twelve floors etc. It also deals with the making of thrones, swings, windows, doors and crowns.
The chapter on crowns is very intriguing, as are various other chapters. It not only deals in detail about the art of crown making, but categorises the various types of crowns based on the status of the royal people, social occasions to be worn etc. Interestingly, it also gives a description of how royal coronations happened at that point in history.
To understand the varieties and the details given, let us read about a small part of a crown - the jewel band at the base of the crown.
It is said that the band should be adorned with gems and it gives an array of options of designs to choose from;
A ploughshare design is called ‘phAlapatta’, Detailed designs of leaves is called ‘patra pattA’ (literally, a leaf diadem), If studded with nine precious gems, the band is called a ‘ratna-pattA’, If decorated with floral patterns it is known as the ‘pushpa pattA’ etc.
Manasara gives a detailed account of the intricacies involved in decorations surrounding the band also. The band is to be divided equally into four, of which one part is to be studded with jewels. Below the said jewel, a crescent moon is to be placed. Garlands (of pearls) are to be suspended from this part onto the lowest quarter.
It also talks about the ceremonious crowning of the King. It is said that the king must be seated on the north of the hall and that various incantations must be chanted before him.
The king is asked to wear fine silk cloth with a goose motif on it and is asked to smear sandal, musk and saffron over his body. The king must be seated on a throne made with lion handles (a Simhasana), under a depiction of an ornamental tree (The kalpa tree, believed to grant wishes). The crown must be placed on him while the queen is seated beside him, after which collerium must be applied to his eyes. People are asked to wave lights to the royal couple.
The king, after the ritual crowning is asked to alight an elephant to do a ritual tour of the main streets of the city, while being whisked by ladies and seated under an umbrella which is decorated with creepers and mirrors. The procession must contain music and dance.
Manasara also describes a peculiar ritual where, after the king completes the tour of the streets and enters the palace again, he is to be blindfolded and various objects signifying both good and bad omens are to be scattered before him. He is to touch any one object, which will then be interpreted by the astrologers and remedial measures suggested accordingly.
It is said that if the king touched gold or iron the people will prosper and that it would be unfortunate if he touches anything that symbolizes bad omen.
An ordinary reader is overwhelmed with detail while going through a text like Manasara. Without an academic interest the natural reaction would be to stop reading. However, the beauty lies in the details that have been documented over 1500 years ago, by Indians who felt that it is not only essential to merely practice such detailed craftsmanship, but codify it and produce literary works for the future to benefit.
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