Jantar Mantar observatory

Jantar Mantar is the name of a series of astronomical observatories built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II during the early 18th century in five cities, which included: Jaipur, Mathura, New Delhi, Ujjain and Varanasi. The most spectacular and largest of them is the Jaipur Jantar Mantar. It’s also the only one to have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It’s the best preserved of the four (the one in Mathura no longer exists), in part due to the extensive efforts of a British officer and an amateur astronomer Major Arthur Garrett. Currently the Archaeological Survey of India oversees the preservation of these magnificent instruments. The Jantar Mantars in New Delhi and Jaipur are a major tourist attraction.

"Jantar Mantar Jaipur"
Jantar Mantar in Jaipur

History of Jantar Mantar

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II ruled the powerful state of Jaipur from 1699 to 1743. He took a keen interest in astronomy and had read the works of major Greek (including Aristotle and Ptolemy) and Persian astronomers. He was acquainted with Indian, Persian, Arabic and Greek calendars and he was aware of their imperfections. So he decided to built several observatories to redo the calculations and make necessary adjustments to improve them. Based in part on the design of other astronomical observatories in Central Asia, the first Jantar Mantar was erected in New Delhi in 1724. It was earlier believed that the observatory was built in 1710. But the discovery of book titled Atharus-Sanadid by Sayyid Ahamd Khan definitively put the year of construction in 1724. The work on the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur commenced some three to four years later and the remaining three were ready for the use of astronomers by 1734.

"Jantar Mantar Delhi"
Jantar Mantar in Delhi

Construction of Jantar Mantar

The Delhi observatory consists of four gigantic instruments to measure the movement of heavens. The instruments are: Samrat Yantra, Jayaprakash Yantra, Ram Yantra and the Mishra Yantra.

Samrat Yantra

Essentially a sun-dial, this is biggest of the four. It was used to measure coordinates of astronomical objects. It’s 70 feet in height and its base spans 114 feet. The structure is 10 feet thick at the base. Its 128 feet long hypotenuse is parallel to the earth’s rotational axis. It was so accurate that it could tell time with a maximum error of only two seconds.

Jayaprakash Yantra

The function of this yantra (contraption, equipment) was to measure star positions relative to each other.

Ram Yantra

This was constructed inside the Jayaprakas Yantra and was used as a place to make observations using the Jayaprakash Yantra.

Mishra Yantra

This piece of equipment was used to find out the time of the day in different cities of the world. In the vast Mughal empire stretching through several time zones, it was an essential to always know what time it was in a distant city.

Jantar Mantars in the 21st century

The observatories are no longer used for making any astronomical observations. They are mainly a popular tourist destination. Although students of Vedic Astronomy or history can still be spotted trying to figure out how to use them. The Archaeological Survey of India oversees them.

"Jantar Mantar Observatory in Jaipur"
Jantar Mantar Observatory in Jaipur. Source: Flick, mckaysavage's photostream

"Jantar Mantar at Jaipur"
Jantar Mantar at Jaipur. Source: Flickr mckaysavage's photostream


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