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Jantar Mantar: A significant monument of the history of astronomy & astronomical advancement

David Goran

Located in the modern city of New Delhi, the Jantar Mantar is one of the five observatories built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur, raised between 1724 and 1730.

This is the largest and the best preserved compared to the other four, located at Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain, and Mathura, a remarkable observatory that bears witness to the thirst for scientific knowledge in Indians from an early age.

The complex. Photo Credit

The complex. Photo Credit

 

The Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi in 1858, damaged in the fighting during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Photo Credit

The Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi in 1858, damaged in the fighting during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Photo Credit

 

Slika 1 - Misra Yantra, the most recognizable structure of Jantar mantar. It was designed as a tool to determine the shortest and longest days of the year and it could also be used to indicate the exact moment of noon in various cities and locations regardless of their distance from Delhi. Photo Credit

Misra Yantra, the most recognizable structure of Jantar Mantar. It was designed as a tool to determine the shortest and longest days of the year and it could also be used to indicate the exact moment of noon in various cities and locations regardless of their distance from Delhi. Photo Credit

The name of this noteworthy astronomical observatory, Jantar Mantar, means ‘instrument for calculation’.

The primary purpose of the observatory was to compile astronomical tables and to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon, and planets. Some of these purposes nowadays would be classified as astronomy.

Built by Sawai Jai Singh II for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Photo Credit

Built by Sawai Jai Singh II for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Photo Credit

 

Left - East tower Samrat Yantra. Photo Credit Right - Center tower Samrat Yantra. Photo Credit

Left – East tower Samrat Yantra. Photo Credit Right – Center tower Samrat Yantra. Photo Credit

 

These instruments vary in size from a few meters to 27.4 meters in height. Photo Credit

These instruments vary in size from a few meters to 27.4 meters in height. Photo Credit

Jai Singh had found the existing astronomical instruments too small to take correct measurements and, commissioned by Emperor Muhammad Shah, he built these larger and more accurate instruments. Jai Singh’s idea was to create a renaissance in practical astronomy among the Indian masses and practicing astronomers.

He decided to follow the style adopted by the renowned Arab astronomer, Prince Ulugh Beg, builder of the famous 15th-century observatory at Samarkand, Uzbekistan. All the masonry instruments were lined with marble so that the graduations on them are not worn out.

It is the best preserved of all because in 1901 Raja Ram Singh refurbished it with the help of a British engineer. Photo Credit

It is the best preserved of all because in 1901 Raja Ram Singh refurbished it with the help of a British engineer. Photo Credit

 

Interior. Photo Credit

Interior. Photo Credit

 

Ram Yantra. Photo Credit

Ram Yantra. Photo Credit

 

The Pillar and spokes inside Ram Yantra. Photo Credit

The Pillar and spokes inside Ram Yantra. Photo Credit

The various abstract structures within the Jantar Mantar are instruments that were used for keeping track of celestial bodies but it also tells a lot about the technological achievements under the Rajput kings and their endeavor to unravel the mysteries pertaining to astronomy.

It is dominated by a huge sundial known as Samrat Yantra, meant to measure the time of the day accurate to within half a second and the declination of the sun and other heavenly bodies.

It consists of 13 architectural astronomy instruments. Photo Credit

It consists of 13 architectural astronomy instruments. Photo Credit

 

Samrat Yantra. Photo Credit

Samrat Yantra. Photo Credit

 

West tower of Samrat Yantra. Photo Credit

West tower of Samrat Yantra. Photo Credit

It remained operational only for seven years and the full potential of this observatory was never realized.

The Jantar Mantars may have fallen into disuse, but they remain an integral part of India’s scientific heritage and a significant monument of the history of astronomy.