Space science from ancient times in India

Jantar Mantar talks about a group of five astronomical observatories built in India in the 18th century. The largest and best k

Space science from ancient times in India

Jantar Mantar talks about a group of five astronomical observatories built in India in the 18th century. The largest and best known of these observatories is located in the city of Jaipur, named after Jai Singh II. This monarch was very interested in astronomy, and therefore an observatory was founded in the city he founded.

Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is an incredible success of human creativity, which was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. In fact, Jantar Mantar in Jaipur has the largest stone sundial in the world.

The Origin of Jantar Mushroom
The word ‘Jantar Mantar’ means the two Sanskrit words’ yantra ‘and’ mantra ‘, the old’ instrument ‘, the second is calcula’. Therefore, Jantar Mushroom literally means ‘tools to calculate’.

Jantar Mantar in Delhi

Jantar Mantar in Delhi

Indeed, the vehicles built in these observatories are intended to perform various astronomical calculations. Although the sundial is the most known instrument, there were other more complex instruments. Some of these tools will be discussed later.

As mentioned earlier, five Jantar Mushrooms were built around India. Smaller observatories were built in Delhi (especially in the area with New Delhi) outside Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi and Mathura. The oldest of these five Jantar Mushrooms was built in 1724 in Delhi, and the other four were in later years. The next four Jantar Mantar were built to reaffirm astronomical readings recorded in Delhi.

Jantar Mantar in Delhi

Jantar Mantar in Delhi

A striking aspect of these observatories is that each Jantar Mantar is unique, although some vehicles such as sundials are located in different observatories. None of the five Jantar Mushrooms are the same in size, layout and style. Today, all Jantar Mushrooms still exist, except those in Mathura, and can be visited by the public.

The observatory in Mathura was destroyed, incidentally, just before 1857 and by the fortress that housed it. Jantar Mantar was built on a flat surface, without trees, so that no shade would prevent the use of instruments. However, the situation has changed today.

For example, in Jantar Mantar in Delhi, accurate readings are no longer possible because of the tall buildings around the observatory. However, some tools are still used to estimate air and crop yields.

Founder of Jai Singh Jantar Mantar
The construction of Jantar Mantar was made possible thanks to Jai Singh II (also known as the Kingdom of Jaipur or the Jaipur State), the Hindu Rajput ruler of the Amber Kingdom, an extraordinary person. Jai Singh was born in Amber in Rajasthan province in 1688 today. In 1699, Jai Singh’s father Bishan Singh died and his 11-year-old son was replaced.

When Jai Singh succeeded his father, the Amber Kingdom was a room of the Babylonian Empire, at that time the dominant force in the Indian subcontinent. Since 1658, the Mughal Empire was ruled by Aurangzeb, who was considered the last great ruler of the empire, although he was notorious for his political and religious intolerance.

Aurangzeb followed an expansionist policy and reached the greatest dimension of the Mughal Empire during his reign. Jai Singh’s predecessors preferred to deal with Fathers through diplomacy rather than arms force, since their kingdom was not far from the power centers of the Mughal Empire, Delhi and Agra.

Therefore, when Jai Singh became the new ruler of Amber, he continued to serve as the vassals of the Mughal. Still, he was a cunning ruler and managed to win in favor of Aurangzeb. Shortly after his rise, Jai Singh was ordered by Aurangzeb to serve his military campaign against the Marathas in Deccan.

After capturing Vishalgarh fort from Marathas, Jai Singh won the title of ‘Sawai’. The title was officially recognized by an imperial edict, and in memory of this recognition, Jai Singh launched the flight with two flags, one full and one-fourth the size. This app was inherited by the successors of Jai Singh with the title ‘Sawai’.

According to another story, it was the intelligence of Jai Singh, who won her the title of ‘Sawai’. In this tale, Jai Singh was called by his master for being against the agreement not to fight against Marathas. When King arrived at Aurangzeb’s court, the emperor asked them to explain their actions, greeted him with a greet.

Jai Singh built the Jantar Mantar – his greeting of the emperor earned him the title of ‘Sawai’. (Raghu-holkar / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Jai Singh built the Jantar Mantar – his greeting of the emperor earned him the title of ‘Sawai’. (Raghu-holkar)

Jai Singh, who was 15 at the time, said that because Aurangzeb stretched out his hand, it meant that the emperor would protect himself and his kingdom. Aurangzeb was pleased with this answer and gave Jai Singh the title of ‘Sawai’.

After Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, the Mughal Empire went through a period of political instability, despite being an emperor Bahadur Shah on the throne. While Aurangzeb’s intolerant policies resulted in various rebellions in the empire, palace intrigues and political conspiracies were common in the Mughal court. For example, in 1719 there were four successive emperors on the Peacock Throne.

That year, when Mohammed Shah became an emperor in late September, he saw some sense of stability that returned to the empire. Compared to the last few Mughal emperors, Mohammed Shah had a long reign as he ruled the empire until 1748.

Also, when Mohammed Shah came to power, Jai Singh became a favorite of the emperor, just like Aurangzeb’s time. For example, thanks to the incitement of Jai Singh, Mohammed Shah removed the Jaziya tax imposed on the Hindu issues of the empire.

Jai Singh was not only a talented ruler, but also expressed great interest in various fields of science, especially astronomy. Jai Singh, who caught the attention of Muhammed Shah, there were some astronomical inconsistencies that could have an impact on the timing of both Hindu and Muslim holy events. In addition, the king expressed his desire to correct these mistakes.


The biggest sundial in the world

The biggest sundial in the world

Jantar Mantar’s instruments were to correct astronomical inconsistencies and their impact on the timing of holy events. (Russ Bowling / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mohammed Shah, a cultured man and a great patron of art, supported Jai Singh’s efforts. For this reason, Jai Singh, who received the support of the emperor, built the first Jantar Mushroom in Delhi in 1724. In 1728, another observatory construction began in Jaipur, the new capital that Jai Singh founded in the previous year.

Jantar Mantar’s Instruments
This Jantar Mushroom in Jaipur is built on a plot just outside the City Palace and is located within the walls of the original city. This is the largest of the five observatories built by Jai Singh and is one of the most well-known and most visited Jantar Mushrooms, as it is located in an important tourist area.


More importantly, Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is the most complete and attentive of Jai Singh’s observatories, as it has the largest number and variety of instruments. Some of the tools that can be added are specific to this observatory. In total, Jantar Mantar in Jaipur accommodates 22 astronomical instruments, 16 of which are stone tools, while the other six are made of metal.

One of the most impressive astronomical tools in this observatory is Samrat Yantra, sometimes called the ‘Supreme Instrument’. This is an echinocratic sundial and slightly different in design from other sundials used in previous centuries. However, Jai Singh’s sundial precisely exceeds these other sundials and can measure time with an accuracy of two seconds.

To achieve this level of precision, the size of the tool had to be very large. Therefore, the sundial in Jaipur’s Jantar Mushroom, standing at a height of 27 meters, is the largest in the world.

Where is the world's largest sundial?

Where is the world’s largest sundial?

Although the sundial is one of the simpler instruments in Jantar Mantar, Jai Singh had more complex pieces for observatories. One of the most complex of these is Jai Prakash Yantra (this means ‘Light of the Jai Instrument’). The explanation of how the device works is as follows:

“The Jai Prakash is a bowl shaped instrument, built partly above and partly below ground level, …. The interior surface is divided into segments, and recessed steps between the segments provide access for the observers. A taut cross-wire, suspended at the level of the rim, holds a metal plate with circular opening directly over the center of the bowl. This plate serves as a sighting device for night observations, and casts an easily identifiable shadow on the interior surface of the bowl for solar observation. The surfaces of the Jai Prakash are engraved with markings corresponding to an inverted view of both the azimuth-altitude, or horizon, and equatorial coordinate systems used to describe the position of celestial objects.”


Another instrument found in Jantar Mantar is Rama Yantra and says, “It consists of a pair of cylindrical structures open to the sky, each with a column or pole in the center. Post / post and walls have the same height, which is equal to the radius of the structure. The floor and inner surface of the walls are written with scales showing the height and azimuth angles ”.

Astronomical instrument at Jantar Mantar observatory – the Rama Yantra.

Astronomical instrument at Jantar Mantar observatory – the Rama Yantra.

This astronomical instrument is used to “observe the position of any celestial object by aligning an object in the sky with both the top of the central pillar, and the point on the floor or wall that completes the alignment”. It has been claimed that the Rama Yantra, along with the Jai Prakash and the Samrat Yantra were devised by Jai Singh himself, and that to some extent, their design ought to be attributed to the king’s personal ingenuity.

Decline of the Jantar Mantar
When Jai Singh died in 1743, his kingdom began to enter a period of decline, as his sons fought each other for the throne. At the same time, the Mughal Empire was weakening and was in fact breaking up. As a result, northern India became vulnerable and various powers seized the opportunity to attack the region.

Delhi was especially targeted, due to the riches it contained. For instance, the city was sacked by the Iranian ruler, Nader Shah, when he invaded northern India in 1739. In 1748, after the death of Muhammad Shah, the Marathas overran almost all of northern India. The Jantar Mantar at Delhi fell victim to these invaders.

Jantar Mantar astronomy instrument, New Delhi, India.

Jantar Mantar astronomy instrument, New Delhi, India.

The natural environment is also responsible for harming Jantar Mantar too much. Due to the outdoor conditions in a tropical region, Jantar Mantar needed frequent maintenance and restorations.

However, as a result of the political turmoil in the region, there were more pressing issues with which Jai Singh’s successors would participate. As a result, the care of the observatories was neglected and only left to worsen.

In the 19th century, even Jantar Mantar in Jaipur was temporarily abandoned. Fortunately, instruments were rebuilt for this Jantar Mushroom, and in later years efforts were made to protect the site.

Taken from the observation platform at the top of the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, India. (Knowledge Seeker

Taken from the observation platform at the top of the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, India. (Knowledge Seeker

Today, this Jantar Mushroom acts as a tourist attraction and is also used as a public park and open-air museum. However, instrument degradation remains a problem even today. In addition to weathering and wear of materials, vandalism is a threat to the field.

The biggest problem in 2010 was reported to be the loss of fine, calibrated marks on wearing instruments. These astronomical tools show Jai Singh’s creativity and achievements in astronomy. Therefore, to protect these extraordinary instruments for future generations, their deterioration needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

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