Jantar Mantar, Jaipur – The Scientific Marvel of an Era Gone By

The PinkCity, Jaipur, has to its credit innumerable monuments that can put the best of the modern architects to shame. Perhaps the most fascinating of the structures in this beautiful city is the 18th Century observatory, Jantar Mantar. Until the beautiful Amber Fort was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Jantar Mantar was the only one recognized by the world body. It’s no surprise that this mix of great architecture and scientific prowess is a major attraction. The structure inspires a sense of appreciation for the people who built these instruments and the amount of astronomical knowledge that they possessed.

Entry of Jantar Mantar in the UNESCO World Heritage Site List

The 2010 meeting of World Heritage Committee in Brasilia recognized two astronomical heritage structures and they were accepted into the UNESCO World Heritage site list.

The first was, of course, Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, which also boasts the distinction of being the biggest astronomical observatory in India. The Heritage list describes Jantar Mantar as, “An expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Moghul period.” Jantar Mantar promises to be an amazement that you’ve never experienced before.

The second astronomical heritage site that made to the list was China’s Dengfeng Observatory, which was built in the 13th Century. It is described in the list as “Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in The Centre of Heaven and Earth”.

Historical Sites The Ancient Observatories of India

It was Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh’s (also known as Jai Singh II) penchant for astronomical science that gave birth to numerous observatories throughout major ancient cities of India, although none match the size, accuracy and complexity of Jantar Mantar. Nevertheless, open air solar observatories were also created in Delhi, Varanasi, Ujjain, and Mathura.

Jantar Mantar, to this date, remains the most well-preserved observatory from 18th Century. The great king Jai Sigh was heavily influenced by the Islamic thought of astronomy and even studied under the great astronomers of the time including Hindu and European ones. He was even influenced by Greek Ptolemy, Turkish Ulugh Beg and Portuguese La Hire. Although the early observatories found in Persia and Greece have a resemblance to Jai Singh’s creation, there are stark contrasts too, primarily because he had taken the best from all the schools of thoughts and created something that was unique and more complex. Some of the instruments found in Jantar Mantar are completely unique, which makes the whole thing even more enticing.

The thought behind Jantar Mantar in Jaipur

What Raja Jai Singh established was nothing short of a scientific program. He endeavored to revive the ancient Islamic zīj table. He used it to mark the precise hours in Jaipur and also to create a perfect calendar. From the Ptolemaic tables, he ventured into applying cosmological vision to perfection. The instruments were created purely on facts and predictions of astronomy.

There was a social reason behind the creation of Jantar Mantar, the foremost of which was prediction of monsoon. It must be understood that India has historically depended on monsoon for agriculture. The findings were also used in the creation of almanacs. In a way, Raja Jai Singh, through his efforts, brought about an amalgamation of Hindu, Persian and Islamic knowledge for social good. The intent behind the creation of Jantar Mantar was a mix of religious beliefs, interest in science, social control, and the intrigue of cosmology, and had a significant place in the culture of Rajasthan, which continues to date.

Jantar Mantar – An Insight into the Name and the Instruments

The name Jantar Mantar is a derivation from the Sanskrit words Yantra and Mantra, meaning instruments and formulae. The entire observatory is comprised of 14 geometric devices, which function such as:

  • Measuring time
  • Predicting eclipses
  • Tracking star locations during the earths orbit
  • Ascertaining planetary positions
  • Gauging celestial altitude
  • Each of these instruments is fixed and is designed to perform a specific astronomical task. While most of these have been constructed using locally available stones with markings in marble, some are made of bronze. One needs to understand that these instruments came into existence much before the telescope was invented; hence, the devices have been designed for observation through naked eye. Each of these Yantras is massive in size and inspires awe.

    The many sundials and mapping systems that predict planetary movements are essential for creation of accurate almanacs, which are important in Hindu traditions. It is according to the planetary positions that Hindus decide on auspicious dates for marriages and religious rituals. Based on the time of birth, these instruments would aid in creating accurate horoscopes for the subjects of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh.

    The Most Prominent of the Yantras

    The largest of all the devices is the Samrat Yantra (device of the emperor), which stands 27 meters tall. It’s a huge sundial with a stationary arm. The shadow of this arm is what indicates the time. Behold this – the 18th century clock is accurate to 2 seconds! You can witness this humongous Yantra doing its job. Simply watch the shadow that moves 1 millimeter every second or 6 centimeters every minute. Watching this ancient Yantra in action is quite an experience that fills your heart with amazement and admiration.

    Jai Prakash is a complex structure comprised of two hemispherical bowls that form a sundial. They recreate inverse images of the skies above allowing the observer to move within and take astronomical readings. The structure is a massive improvement over its predecessors found in European churches that date back to the Middle Ages and the Nanking Observatory of China. It is primarily based on the concepts by Berosus who was a Greco-Babylonian astronomer. Jai Prakash is a massive improvement over all its counterparts and is rich in its detail and versatility.

    Mishra Yantra (Mixed Device) is a world clock that accurately predicts noontime of cities the world over. The device also has the distinction of being the only one that was not commissioned by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh.

    Rasivalaya is a conglomerate of 12 fixed-arm sundials that measure the ecliptic coordinates of celestial bodies. Each of the sundials is representative of the 12 zodiac constellations and becomes active only when they straddle the meridian.

    There is more for you to discover out there when you visit Jantar Mantar in the beautiful PinkCity, Jaipur. While Jantar Mantar is one of the many attractions in the royal city, it is certainly among the most prominent.