Ancient Town Planning

From time immemorial Vastu principles (Vedic Methods) have been applied in design and development of villages, towns and cities. The science of town planning during Vedic period was given paramount importance to an extent that Indo-Aryans perfectly shaped the human settlements into various categories depending upon the characteristics of the population. In the context of ancient Indian cities, the capital city was given due significance in defending it using all kinds of protectional avenues based on scientific and Vastu imparted innovations.

Ancient cities were usually located on the banks of rivers, especially Ganges and their tributaries, essentially for ritualistic and sanitary purposes, including communications with other cities using water. This concept in fact helped to foster and encourage commerce which ultimately favored establishment of townships. Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, which are the only two’ out-standing cities belonging to Indus Valley Civilization have resemblance to the planning concepts, of both the ancient and modern towns and cities of India.

In building towns and cities, the architect had to decide first, which Vastu-purusha-mandala holds appropriation depending upon the size of the town. Thus, fixation of the peripheral limits of a town used to be determined by configuring the alignment patterns of main streets which resembled the arms of the cosmic cross, attributed to avenues planted with shady trees. Thus, the longest arm used to be aligned East and West and named after Mahakala or Vamana. In fact there used to be ring roads planned surrounding the whole city or town and called as Mangalavithi. Thus, the whole Vastu-purusha-mandala used to be fragmented into 81, 64, 49 pads or landed parcels and pushed into different zones. The innermost square or pada was called Brahma and the next called after Daivika or the belt of gods, next to this is called Manusya or the belt of humans and the fourth ring was called Paisaca or the belt of demons.

Different zones or squares used to be occupied by different classes of human being. But the central square which was called Brahmasthana was always occupied either by a temple or a palace. While planning of roads in the course of conceiving the design for a town or a city, the roads running in the Eastern axis ensured towards purification of the street by Sun rays from morning till evening and the North-South road profiles provided a perfect circulation of the air and benefit of cool breeze.


The Indo-Aryan town planning principles are almost a blueprint copy of the concepts used in the village planning, especially the central cross roads, Mangalavithi or Pradaksinapatha. The ground was fragmented in the same style as that in the village planning techniques and the identifications of Varnas (Social order or caste: Brahamana, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Sudra) depended upon the position of square or pada in the chess board patterns of roads, house plots, and temple placements. Sometimes the amalgamated spatial patterns were followed which depended upon the urban planning contexts and, therefore, were free from a monotonous look.

Town Planning Concept

The shape of towns and cities and their geographical locations were classified and determined as per Vastu principles. Accordingly, there were twenty types of towns and cities, starting from Padma category to Girinagar type. The word ‘Pura’ and ‘Nagara’ actually belong to Vedic Vastu periods. The most important shape used in the initial concept of towns and cities, as per the Samarangana Suthradhara, is towards square shape.

A city should be located in the central part of a country so as to facilitate trade and commerce. The site selected for the purpose of this city should be quite large in area, and on the banks of a river, or by the side of an artificial or natural lake, which never goes dry.

Vastu Shastra recommends five shapes of a town; 1. Chandura; square 2. Agatara; rectangle 3. Vritta; circle 4. Kritta Vritta; elliptical 5. Gola Vritta; full circle.

Silpasasthras refers to four distinct categories of habitation settlements within the forts and fortified cities

  1. Janabhavanas: houses for common mass.
  2. Rajbhavanas: palaces and gorgeous mansions for ruling class.
  3. Devabhavanas: religious shrines.
  4. The public buildings such as public rest house, public gardens, public libraries, public tents, reservoirs, and wells

There should be a wall around the town, which should be six dandas (180cms approx.) high and twelve dandas wide. Beyond this wall there should be three moats of 14 feet, 12 feet and 10 feet wide to be constructed four arm-lengths apart. The depth should be three-fourth of width. Three-east west and three North – south roads, should divide the town. The main roads should be eight dandas wide and other roads four dandas wide.

While site planning a city or a town, Vastu pertaining to placement of different building enclosures used to be observed very strictly. For example, the palace was to be placed exactly in the centre of the town by occupying one -ninth of the area of the whole of the fort. The palace faced exactly East with lands reserved for teachers and priests in the North-East direction. The royal kitchen including elephant stables and store houses used to be placed in the South-East. On the external sides, merchants trading in liquid, grains, and artists used to stay. The main treasury, accounts offices, etc., used to be placed in the South-East. The store houses containing forest products and the arsenal used to be placed in the South-West. In the South, commercial buildings and merchants houses used to be placed, including those of army generals. Stables for asses, horses etc. used to be placed in the South-West. In the North-West, the chariots and conveying vehicles used to be placed. In the West textile based materials, bamboo mats, armors and weapons used to be kept. In the North-West shops and hospitals and stables of cows were placed. To the exact North of the palace, the temple used to be decided upon. Residence for Brahmins used to be found within the precincts of this area. In addition, landscaping and garden planning was also placed. Especially huge trees always dominated the centre of the town or a city. This tree was the Bodhi tree under which village communities used to meet. In fact, the city architect was assisted by a landscape architect (Aramakral Imavanakarinah) in planning a city. There should be one well for every group of ten houses

Roads: Grid –iron pattern: main streets; Primary, Secondary & Tertiary street layout; Street with green plant borders; Pedestrian footpath between street & green belt; Junction of main axis: Brahmastana

The streets that run round the layout can have buildings on one side. These buildings can relate to schools, colleges, public libraries and buildings, offices, guest houses etc. The smaller streets can have residential buildings on both sides. Each segment or block can have houses that are uniform in height and appearance. People of similar professions, age groups, health can be housed in the same quarters.

Manasara speaks of the street that is on the border of the street (Mangalaveedhi) and the street that surrounds the Brahmasthana (Brahmaveedhi).

There are eight different types of towns and villages according to the shapes:

  • Streets are straight and cross each other at right angles at the centre
  • Has 4 gates on four sides
  • Rectangular / square
  • Width of the street varies from one ‐ Five danda
  • 2 transverse street at the extremities
  • Have single row of houses
  • The village offices located in the east.
  • The female deity/ chamadevata ‐ located outside the village and the Male deities in the northern portion
  • This type of town plan is applicable to larger villages and towns, which have to be constructed on a square sites.
  • According to this plan, the whole town should be fully occupied by houses of various descriptions and inhabited by all classes of people.
  • The temple dominates the village
  • Commonly used for the construction of towns and not for villages.
  • It is generally adopted for the sites either circular or square in shape
  • 3000 – 4000 houses
  • The streets run parallel to the central adjoining streets with the temple of the presiding deity in the center of the town.
  • “Nandyavarta” is the name of a flower, the form of which is followed.
  • This type of plan was practiced for building of the towns with fortress all round.
  • The pattern of the plan resembles the petals of lotus radiating outwards from the center.
  • The city used to be practically an island surrounded by water, having no scope for expansion
  • Contemplates some diagonal streets dividing the site into rectangular plots.
  • The site need not be marked out into a square or rectangle and it may be of any shape.
  • A rampart wall surrounds the town, with a moat at its foot filled with water.
  • 2 main streets cross each other at the center, running S to N and W to E.
  • The site may be either square or rectangular but not triangular or circular.
  • The sites are set apart for the poor, the middle class, the rich and the very rich, the sizes of the sites increasing according to the capacity of each to purchase or build upon.
  • The main roads are much wider compared to those of other patterns.
  • The town may or may not be surrounded by a fort.
  • Suitable for the place where the site of the town is in the form of a bow or semi‐circular or parabolic and mostly applied for towns located on the seashore or riverbanks.
  • The main streets of the town run from N to S or E to W and the cross streets run at right‐angles to them, dividing the whole area into blocks.
  • The presiding deity, commonly a female deity, is installed in the temple build in any convenient place
  • Applicable to all towns starting from the largest town to the smallest village.
  • The site may be either square or rectangular having four faces.
  • The town is laid out east to west lengthwise, with four main streets.
  • The temple of the presiding deity will be always at the center

Written by buildmarvel

Hi... I am an Architect from Lucknow,India and I have only one dream to build a landmark building will recognised by my name......

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