A week after the spring sunset, on a clear, warm afternoon, I walked through the frenzy of Johri Bazaar, Jaipur’s main market, with coral walls, delicate Laddu carvings and Mughal arches.
It may have been a bad time to look around in the desert capital of Rajasthan, but it was perfect for measuring time with the shadows cast by the sun.
I was on my way to Jantar Mantar, India’s mysterious gateway to the stars.
At first glance, this open-air complex – with its strange triangular walls and stairs – seems to be ubiquitous: it is not as elaborate as the surrounding city palace or as intricate as the revered Govind Dev Ji Temple and the nearby Hawa Mahal.
From my childhood in Jaipur, I was puzzled by the collection of 20 science sculptures called ‘Machines’, 300 years old – which measure the positions of the stars and planets and tell the time accurately -. Huge versions of the beautiful tools I had in my school geometry tool.
But many years later, as a professional architect, I was able to better understand its application.
They are unique architectural solutions for understanding the dynamics of astronomyAs well as important tools for traditional Hindu astrologers to create birth charts and predict good dates.
Cities with stars
In 1727, when Sawai Jai Singh, the king of the region, imagined Jaipur as his capital and the first planned city of the country, he wanted to design it according to the principles of Vastu Shastra based on nature, astronomy and astrology. For architecture and location.
He realized that he would need precise and accessible tools to properly connect Jaipur with the stars, to assist in astrological practices, and to predict important weather events for crops.
However, after sending research teams to Central Asia and Europe to collect data based on the knowledge of Islamic and European scientists, Sawai Jai SinghFound discrepancies between the readings of the brass instruments commonly used at the time.
To improve accuracy, he increased the size of the tools, stabilized them by reducing moving parts, and made them from local marble and stone so that they were not resistant to abrasion and weather.
He used the findings to set up five open-air monitoring centers in the Indian cities of Jaipur, Delhi, Ujjain, Varanasi and Mathura.
Four survived: One was demolished in Mathura.
But the building in Jaipur was completed in 1734, the largest and most complete.
Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is one of the best preserved laboratories in India, but, as the UNESCO inscription explains, it reflects architecture, astronomy and cosmology, as well as learning and innovation. Traditions of Western, Middle Eastern, Asian and African cultures.
In Sanskrit, ‘Jantar’ means tools and ‘Mandar’ means calculator Every machine on campus has a mathematical purpose: Solar clocks to indicate some local time and the position of the sun in the hemisphere; Others measure the movements of stars and planets, detect signs of the zodiac and guide predictions.
Most important of all is a massive equilateral sundial called the Samrat Machine, a 27-meter-high triangular wall with two thin semicircular slopes like wings from its sides.
Standing below it, my guide pointed to the shadow in a curve, which moves exactly 1 millimeter every second. Indicates local time with an accuracy of two seconds.
Another machine, Jai Prakash, measures the path of the sun through the signs of the Indian Vedic zodiac to determine the horoscope.
Its bowl-shaped structure, which sits on the ground, It’s like a reverse map of the skyAnd a small metal plate suspended on a crossbar shows the shadow to indicate the position of the selected star or planet.
Neha Sharma, who holds a PhD in Astrology (Vedic Astrology) from the University of Rajasthan, said, “I used these tools frequently in my two-year postgraduate program.
“Learning to read and calculate with these tools is a mandatory part of the curriculum for anyone wishing to pursue a career in astrology.”
More than an interest
Until the famous Indian astronomer Nandiwada Ratnasree, most people in the modern scientific world viewed the Jantar Mantar observatories as a place of interest. Argued that the structures were more appropriate.
As the director of the Nehru Planetarium in Delhi (from 1999 until his death in 2021), he encouraged students to gain practical experience in level astronomy at various Jantar Mantras and for their academic and international recognition.
“Nandiwada Ratnasree Jantar Mantar was brought to the attention of the Science Fraternity,” said Rima Hooja, archaeologist and consulting director at the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in the City Palace.
“He was instrumental in making Jantar Mantar Jaipur a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
Jantar Mantar continues to be famous not only for its architectural sophistication but also for its traditional style.
“On the surface, Jantar Mantar does not look like interior architecture,” says Kavita Jain, a security architect.
“But when you look at it meticulously, the tall sundial stabilizes itself by creating bow-shaped voids.
Today, students, scientists and tourists from many disciplines and cultures around the world understand this. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is more than just a historical monument.
Located in the center of a prosperous ancient city of castles and palaces, its monolithic structures continue to reflect the universe and create a lasting tradition. (YO)
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