It is unthinkable today to study the architecture and planning of India without considering the relevance of vastu shastra. This vast body of Sanskrit texts describe with precision how a wide variety of objects should be constructed. Because studies and translations of vastu shastra have sought to define them as treatises on architecture and planning, art historical studies pay closest attention to those passages pertaining to those two topics. Application of their complicated formulae to studies of Indian architecture and planning have become popular lines of research. In post-independence India, it has even become fashionable for practising architects to apply the planning principles found in vastu shastra to contemporary architecture. 14
Rules for the planning, proportioning and construction of buildings form only part of several themes in vastu shastra. The best-known, and possibly most complete of all vastu shastra, is the Manasara. About half of its seventy chapters are about the planning of sites and the construction of buildings, while the other half deal with a wide variety of other topics. Everything from the construction of furniture, jewellery and chariots to the coronation ceremonies of kings is described. Because these later chapters are not about architecture and planning, they are generally glossed over by art historians.
To view the Manasara exclusively as a treatise on architecture is to omit half its contents. A more cohesive interpretation of the Manasara is that it describes man-made things, and how they designate the position of those people who have access to them. By describing the material circumstances of different members of society, these texts show how human possessions denote social status. I have chosen to name the social hierarchy of objects described in the Manasara as 'material hierarchy'. This interpretation is not intended to replace or belittle the prevailing interpretation of vastu shastra as treatises on architecture and planning. My intention is rather to show how the contents of one particular text, the Manasara, have only been partially studied by art historians. When it is viewed as a whole, the result-