Patterns of Rituals in the Construction of Traditional Architecture (part three)

Some rituals awaken imaginations; some involve emotions while others motivate logical interpretations. Easily stimulate our senses and captivate our minds, rituals often refer to the repetition of an action with mythical or cultural significance. While rituals psychologically provoke the participants emotions, ritual ceremonies are often bind with some automatic or mindless responses of the participants. The important issue about ritual is that primitive man found it to have a significant influence in his life, thus continued to apply it not only in religious ceremonies but also in every part of everyday life. Although nowadays rituals stand as superstitious cultural acts, they basically have had significant functions, especially dealing with creating a suitable environment for living using the invisible forces of nature.

Therefore, in order to be able to use the patterns of rituals in architecture of the day for the same purpose, there is a need to study them from a rational and practical point of view, with special consideration to the hidden laws of nature and the world of subtle energies.

Concluded from the investigations of Paul Oliver and many other scholars, rituals associated with architecture can be categorized into six stages of location finding and purification, laying the foundation stone, ridge-beam setting, main door orientation, building rituals and purification of the house before settling in. All of these rituals had to be carefully performed in an auspicious time, calculated by an astrologer or a priest. This in fact was connecting the idea of auspicious place with the auspicious time to bring luck and prosperity for the owners.

Location Finding and Purification

Selection of the right site for building is both physically and psychologically significant. The site had to be naturally rich, having enough water resources, and situated far from places with dirty energy fields such as graveyards or battlefields. The reason behind such selection from the environmental point of view was to choose a site with a proper soil combination that was stable in cases of earthquakes and with plenty of natural resources, which could be used by the inhabitants. From energetic point of view, sites with history of war, death, etc. have a lot of negative thought forms and emotions that can affect the well being of the inhabitants especially emotionally and mentally.

Finding a proper location was in fact considered a magical activity and dwelling in a certain plot, involved a careful selection of places on earth where man entrust himself. Furthermore there had to be a proper connection and harmony between the artificial man-made buildings and the mother earth.

Therefore, the owner was ought to find two to four potential sites after visiting them for several times in which “he feels good.” He also had to visit the selected sites at night in order to examine the air currents. In this case feeling heat was considered as a bad sign revealing the existence of spirits while coldness was associated with health. He then under the guidance of a spirit man or a priest would choose one of the selected sites to start his housing construction.

After the selection of the right site, many rituals were involved in purifying the selected plot and taking the possession of the site. These rituals of purification were applied to ensure that the supernatural forces of nature are working in favor of man and his family and the evil forces are exorcised. To eliminate the evil spirits from the profane selected site in order to make it a sacred property, many sacrifices were offered to these forces, whose peace was disturbed, as a compensation for leaving the place. Some other rituals were also involved which mostly symbolize the procreation of the house, like burying a certain amulet under the ground of every corner of the selected plot.

Although sacrifice offering rituals are believed to be a compensation for evil spirits for leaving the site, according to Grand Master Choa Kok Sui, the sacrificed object were offered to absorb the dirty energies of the plot. Thus this sacrificed object could not be used or eaten by other people and were subject to destruction because it had a great amount of dirty and polluted energy inside which could harm people’s health. That is why in purifying rituals and sacrifice acts the object has to completely be demolished in the way that it cannot be used.

Beside sacrifice offerings, there are other forms of rituals held to cleanse the selected site from the evil spirits that include chanting holy verses and mantras such as “OM Namah Shivaya OM,” that calls upon Lord Shiva, the destroyer and restorer, for help to clean the site or invocation.

In Negeri Sembilan after the selection of the proper site, a ceremony is held in order to remove the earth spirit and purify the plot and later call the friendly spirits to enter the site. In this ritual, first “pawang” is called to the building site who makes a “tepung tawar” which is a mixture of sepuleh leaf, sedingin leaf, tias leaf and the seruas leaf, used in Malay magic. He sprinkles this mixture on the site while chanting the following invocation:

“Hei, Raja Guru, Maharaja Guru!
You are the son of Batara Guru,
I know your origin, from lightning,
I know your origin, from the drop of dew,
I know your origin, from the dawn.
Hei, earth spirit!
Retreat to the deep, to the silent forest.
Between me and you, a break given by Adam.”


When the spirit earth is removed, he calls the holy spirits to further purify the plot while chanting the following verses:

“Greetings to the seven friends!
The first Si Kopat, the second Si Kapit, the third Awat, the forth Mawat, the fifth Dah, the six Deh, the seventh Du,
The seven of you come with me.
I am Si Putar ‘Alam, I am Si Lindong ‘Alam, I am Si Gentar ‘Alam.
With the grace of Ibrahim,
With the grace of Dato’ Sri Tunggang awak,
With the grace of Dato’ Kamalu-al-Hakim,
You cannot, I can in this case.
Disappear to the deep lake, to the unbroken branch!
To the bird that did not fly, to the calm water!
These are your abode.
Do not come forward!
You are a traitor to me,
You are a traitor to Allah,
You are a traitor to Muhammad!
Hu Allah!”


Generally speaking, Location Finding and Purification is one of the most important stages of house building in vernacular architecture that should be done first in order to be able to continue the construction process.

The main reason behind such ritual is to find a site with expected resources and environmental value, which is emotionally, mentally and spiritually clean from all sorts of negative thought forms, emotions and negative spirits and elementals and to further cleanse it energetically to bring peace, harmony and luck.

Laying the Foundation Stone

Laying the foundation stone of the house is equal to giving birth to the house as a body. Hence this ritual is supposed to be done at a potentially beneficial place which is ought to be the center of the house.

In Vastu Purusha mandala, the center point is considered as the place of Brahma which is the most high. Thus center should always kept open or with minimum loads in order to receive the blessings of God Brahma the most. In Hindu tradition all of the rituals and worshiping activities in the construction process starts from the center.

As this step is considered as the birth of the house and is a crucial moment of construction, the ritual acts should be carefully done in an auspicious moment that is at a certain time of a certain day in a certain month.

‘The corresponding rituals can be performed by Brahmin or Lama priests with flower offerings, by masons or carpenters with sacrifices of a chicken or a lamb, or by the youngest son of the building’s owner who beats the stone with a hammer in a certain way, and therefore polarizes the stone with positive pole uppermost, whereby interference through subterranean water-steams, ley-lines and so on are screened.’ FrickIn

this ritual performance, the age of the performers, the verses that are read by them, the arrangement of the objects and the orientations are important and carefully followed.

The same ritual is also done when building a new church, mosque or any other place of worship. Thus before laying the foundation of house, as the dwelling place of man, and place of worship, as the manifestation of God’s dwelling, some holy verses are recited to dedicate the place for the purpose.

As normally all the religious and spiritual activities start with an invocation to ask for God and higher beings’ help, guidance and protection, the construction of a new building also used to be started with an invocation in the shape of Laying the Foundation Stone ritual to ensure a safe and successful construction.

Ridge-beam Setting

In traditional domestic architecture, central pillar, which the ridge-beam is associated with, is very significant and is considered as the rituals of initiation of the house. This ridge-beam setting would later form the main part of the house if done without any disruption.

In Aceh region of Sumatra, two pillars, which are connected by a horizontal beam to each other, are raised while reciting verses of Quran. In this ritual ceremony, if the construction takes place without a hitch, the house building can be continued. Later these two pillars and the horizontal beam will form the main room of the house. Throughout Southeast Asia, after accomplishing the beam work and before roofing starts, a bunch of flowers will be fixed at one end of the ridge. Between the pillars, pieces of red cloths are often tied which in Java includes three colors of red, white and black.

Several offerings such as coconuts, bananas and plants are tied to the king-post as a feast to the good spirits of the house. Besides, a ritual meal is held for the house owner and the craftsmen under the supervision of a priest, chanting mantas like OM or Allah. They also consecrate the unfinished house building by lighting incense or burning petals on a small charcoal stove which in Persian culture is called “espand.”

The same set of rituals has also been taken place in European ridge-beam setting in which wine had to be sprinkled on the completed work and followed by a drinking bout.

The ritual of Ridge-beam Setting might have been performed due to the inability of the traditional architects and craftsmen to build a structure that is strong enough to stand stable especially in cases of strong winds and earthquakes. Therefore a ritual was performed to ask the guidance and help of the Nature Spirits for a safe and strong construction and a favorable weather and stability.

Main Door Orientation

Besides the importance of the central ridge-beam, the orientation of main entrance has been the subject of many Vastu Shastra and Feng Shui books, which suggests the auspicious and inauspicious directions. Facing the correct direction has always been considered an important issue in architecture and especially in the house building process. While facing a certain direction would bring prosperity, joy and blessings to the owner, facing the wrong one would create misery and pain.

Thus, even in placing the ridge-beam and pillars, a certain direction had to be faced. This direction varies according to the owner’s nature and the function of the house, however southwest is always considered inauspicious in Southeast Asia and India.

Furthermore, the main doorway, considered as a void in the exterior wall through which people enter the house or the world of the owner, was also significant and accompanied with several considerations. One of the most important issues in placing the main doorway is its orientation toward the eight directions. In primitive times, it was believed that every direction provides a certain quality of energy for the inhabitants and therefore it was associated with a certain deity. For example in Indian mythology, north was considered as the source of prosperity energy and auspicious to place the main door towards. Its associated deity is Kuber, the god of wealth.

Another important issue in doorway placement is connected with the defensive issues. It was often placed in the way that prevents the outside people to have a clear view of the interior space. In traditional Persian houses the existence of a place called “hashti” after the entrance door was to serve this purpose. In Japanese traditional houses people even have to perform a ritual before entering one’s sacred place or house. This ritual involves circulating around a center where certain sacred scripts have been written on its floor. Thus the guest will be first purified to have the permission to enter the house.

‘In Malaysian Peninsula, doorways can still be seen set into the facade of the houses of the wealthy Baba Nyonya merchants, with the first floor jetted above, into which a peep-hole was set through which to observe and even to assault those below.’ McDermott

The main entrance door may also carry a symbolic concept that is not immediately apparent. Among the Tetum of Timor the main front door is considered as the “eye,” which may be used only by the adult boys while the rear door is called “house vagina” and is used by women. This concept is common among many cultures in which the gender symbolism is applied including the traditional houses of Persia.

If fact the rituals of Main Door Orientation is connected with the idea of main doorway as the entrance gate of energies into the house. Therefore the traditional man used to place it in such a way that it brings positives forces and energies rather than energies of misery and pain.

Dealing with the science of subtle energies, from each direction certain type of energy is emanated, which also has certain color and quality. Therefore it is highly important to place the doorway facing the right direction. Furthermore, the shape and appearance of the doorway also affects how energy enters the house though which. Thus Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra teachings always emphasize on keeping the doorway clean and nice-looking.

Building Rituals

Basically for primitive man rituals are one of the main parts of the building process. Thus each stage of construction starts with a ritual ceremony in which the architects, craftsmen and the householders should participate. These rituals are mainly applied as a reminder of divine aspect of man and the importance of maintaining harmony with nature. Thus rituals indirectly ensure an orderly persuasion toward traditional norms of building construction. For example, in peasant communities building construction was considered a violence in which man interferes with the disciplined orders of nature and may corrupt the harmony of things. Thus he had to perform rituals to pray for forgiveness to the natural elements injured or destructed in the process of building and to ask protective forces to guard his man-made creation.

As these rituals provide a sense of commitment, purity and humility towards the goal of building that is creating a sacred place to dwell, they serve an important part in the process of construction and ought to be followed strictly. Interestingly in almost every culture the presence of a spirit man or a priest for guiding the rules and rituals in every stage of the construction process has also been an important issue.

Another reason for doing ritual acts especially before starting each stage of construction might be that primitive man was not advanced in technological construction methods. Thus during construction there would always be a risk of failure. So if each stage would be finished accurately he used to show his gratitude to God and Nature Spirits by performing rituals. Even some of the rituals have been methods of measuring physical consistency of soil, materials or structural methods. For example rituals of digging a pit in the ground done by the Indians and the Tibetans was a way to calculate soil’s load bearing capacity.

Building rituals starts from the first stages of laying the foundation and cutting the trees to provide construction materials to the last stages of building the roof and setting the ornaments.

Purification Rituals

Traditionally nobody would be eager to dwell in a building until it got ritually purified, even though the body of the dwelling place was accomplished and the initiation rites had been done properly. It was believed by the primitive man that evil forces might have been residing in a house during the building process and they might harm the first inhabitant and brings him misfortune. Thus the house had to be made sacred from the profane world before living. To combat the evil forces and eliminate them from the place, a set of rites was performed. The rituals often involved offering a cat or a black hen to the demons or negative forces in order to leave the place.

Beside these ritual ceremonies, the house had to be cleansed and consecrated by the use of incense or other elements to wash the dirty energy off the new house. For instance in Aceh region of Sumatra, the house is cleansed from the evil spirits by the use of a brushwood broom, which is dripped into the bowl of water. The walls and pillars are sprayed to eliminate the negative energies residing in them.

Generally the house has to be purified from the negative forces and be filled with prosperity and holy spirits. This act is done by the use of sacrifice offerings, consecrating or acts of eliminating the evil spirits. This ritual act in Europe often consists of a feast among friends and neighbors in which the fireplace or hearth is to be consecrated with the sacrifice of an animal, usually a chicken, in front of the fire; since the fireplace is the symbol of family life and specifically the symbol of prosperity in life, that the sacrifice acts would protect it from evil forces.

The purification rituals basically deal with energetically purification of the house from negative thought forms, emotions and spirits using different methods.

Patterns of Ritual Acts


As a conclusion ritual behavior has always been an important part of traditional architecture that had to be carefully followed in every stage of construction. Furthermore, the rise of many forms, patterns and symbolic expressions of architectural spaces have been the results of practicing such acts throughout history.

In fact, rituals were established in primitive societies due to the belief in super natural powers and God as a supreme force which is animated in every being including nature which should also be present in man-made structures. Therefore architectural efforts of primitive man were consequences of considering both physical and spiritual worlds in which the cultural beliefs and values are apparent.

Maintaining harmony with nature in every construction and making use of purification and sacrifice offering rites to remove the unwanted destructive energies from the built space, constitute a great portion of ritual behaviors that have contributed to the o the creation of places that are considered nurturing and soul-nourishing by the scholars of the day.

Disregarding the cultural beliefs and means of maintaining harmony with natural forces besides the technological improvements of today, is the main reason behind the creation of spaces which disturb human health physically, psychological and spiritually.

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