Jantar Mantar – The Ancient Astronomical Observatories of India

February 11, 2020

The Jantar Mantar refers to a group of five astronomical observatories built in India during the 18th century. The largest and best-known of these observatories is located in Jaipur, a city founded by and named after Jai Singh II. This ruler was extremely interested in astronomy and therefore had an observatory built in the city he founded.

The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is such an amazing feat of human ingenuity that it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Each Jantar Mantar contains various astronomical instruments , one of the most notable being the sundial. In fact, the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur boasts having the largest stone sundial in the world.

Origin of the Jantar Mantar

The word ‘Jantar Mantar’ is derived from a combination of two Sanskrit words, ‘yantra’ and ‘mantra’, the former meaning ‘instruments’, while the latter means ‘to calculate’. Therefore, the Jantar Mantar quite literally means ‘instruments to calculate’.

Indeed, the instruments built at these observatories were meant to perform various types of astronomical calculations. While the sundial is the instrument most are familiar with, there were also other more complex instruments. Some of these instruments will be discussed later on.

As already mentioned, there were five Jantar Mantar built around India. Apart from Jaipur, smaller observatories were built in Delhi (specifically in the area that later became New Delhi ), Ujjain, Varanasi, and Mathura. The earliest of these five Jantar Mantar was the one in Delhi, which was constructed in 1724, and the other four in the years that followed. The four subsequent Jantar Mantar were built in order to reaffirm the astronomical readings that were being recorded in Delhi.

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