k a r a s s o w i t s c h . c a

The Importance of the Mānasāra

Michael Karassowitsch

The Mānasāra is the ancient Indian sub-continent's equivalent of Vitruvius’ De Architectura libri decem. While it is surprisingly similar to the Roman treatise in its structure, no link between the two has ever been found.1 The Mānasāra is a written compilation from approximately the 7th C CE of the Indian sub-continent’s oral tradition up to that time  on the entirety of architectural praxis and related  sculpture and iconry. It is directly tied to knowledge and texts of spirituality, or knowledge of essence, transcending the  technical aspects relating to forming architecture and its construction. Were the earliest evidence of the Mānasāra not 500 years younger than De Architectura libri decem, one might expect De Architectura libri decem to be a sequel. But this work, which is much more extensive, and with its ties to the vast and deep body of Vedic knowledge, has remained singularly inert in recent practice of architecture despite a great deal of effort. The importance of the Mānasāra has no meaning if it can not be realized today. This paper examines the field around the question of the importance of the Mānasāra and how that may be brought to architecture today in a useful form.

The Mānasāra is very important for its ties with the origins of India’s expression of humanity’s highest purposes in this period of humanity. We should be able to trace within the Mānasāra the essential ties of humankind to that highest purpose of engagement as enacted within the world’s environments (i.e. Nature in the context of humanity), and Nature (i.e. of Nature's widest principles and functions as they are), as well as humanity’s responsibility in being part of Nature. That original relationship, expressed as an aspiration to near a highest or most evolved condition — what is dubbed spirituality2 — must be embedded in the Mānasāra because the Mānasāra arises from within the Indian sub-continent’s primal beginnings which has knowledge of that essence as its basis.3 What that ancient knowledge of essence remembers, we must now rediscover. Primal, ‘more original’4 content within the Mānasāra, brought forward for thousands of years almost to our present, holds vital importance. This pedigree of ancient knowledge is an effective pointer, but it is not sufficient in itself to provide us with what is necessary to us now. That knowledge of essence manifested in architectural work is an opportunity, and it has potential to claim a presence in the future of architectural praxis if it can be properly taken up. The Mānasāra, brought into modern culture via P.K. Acharya’s work, is a document which brings this potential nearer.

The Contemporary Architectural Profession
It is not clear to most of us today what architecture actually brings to construction and engineering, which are so well received in their pragmatic role as it is generally understood. Architecture’s role can best be described here in terms of its social context: Whereby architectural developmental work and research often appear unrealistic from the aspect of business and finance, to others who look for deeper significance, architectural practice appears bland and timid5. This is a disjunction within the profession, where construction and building technologies consistently overrule in the culture of architectural practice. The profession is ever more a finance dominated business of erecting buildings, despite much experiment and architectural research, as well as social and political lobbying by the profession. A great increase in numbers of practicing architects has not increased architects’ influence within economic and capital growth at large6 symmetrically with the potential of building technology in terms of humanity's powerful interventions in the environment. The limitations of professional practice and its mandate are obvious, those feed back into education, weakening it and the future professionals with increasingly conservative ideas of what is possible. These are symptoms. Architects are working very hard to be relevant, and while the profession does retain importance, and architecture itself is not harmed, the cultural valuation of architecture is deteriorating.

Note: References to the translated Mānasāra itself are made inline or within the footnotes using the following format: (Volume#:page#-page#).

page  1.  2   3   4   5   6

1. P.K. Acharya provides an extensive summary of his
survey of the similarities between the two treatises, but he could find no link between the two treatises (2:134-159) . The similarities demand a reason. (2:159).
2. Spirituality is defined as the potential of each
individual which they may take up as an activity for personal evolution toward divinisation in aspiration for an ultimate condition of being. It is inclusive of all aspects of incarnate life and all that may be beyond human life. Although the purview of each person, it is not independent of the totality of humanity. Thus spirituality is 'worldly' path which exists as a potential and in principle, and the truth can be known only in each individual’s personal (intimate) experience. One must always be somewhere on the path. The realness of it is based in the individual’s conscious intent of aspiration to divinisation.
3. The Mānasāra is a compilation of technic and
architecture of tradition and knowledge that goes back before its written form. That form was mainly as we know it now by the 5th or 6th C CE. (2:lvi-lviii). Its origin is long before that.
4. To be consistent with references I use these terms 
as they are used by Heidegger (trans. Lovitt). 'Primal'
reflects what is earlier than other attributes referenced; not simply in the historical dimension of 'earlier', but of a simpler condition always inherent in each being which is not time bound and which was at one time the beginning. From The Question concerning Technology: "Therefore, in the realm of thinking, a painstaking effort to think through still more primally what was primally thought is not the absurd wish to revive what is past, but rather the sober readiness to be astounded before the coming of what is early." p. 22. All English terminology referring to Heidegger's Die Frage nach der Technik is taken from Lovitt's 1977 translation.
5. "Practicing architects regale willing listeners with
tales of woefully unprepared recent graduates whose lack of
skills and architectural common sense make them near liabilities to an office. Their complaints are interrupted by academic architects who are committed to pushing the boundaries of current thinking without bowing to what they see as the self interests of the practitioners."
Cuff D. in Architecture: The Story of Practice, p.262
6. Data for this is weak. In general, the architectural
profession has grown less involved in homes and the planning of all manner of urban or suburban space. Design, although subordinate to architecture, more and more is taken as a substitute. The involvement within each project is less comprehensive on average over time.