The Jantar Mantar - Raja Jai Singh II's Observatories

Governor of Agra and Sambhar provinces and founder of Jaipur, Raja Jai Singh II was obsessed by scientific disciplines such as astronomy, mathematics, science and town planning. He lived from 1699 to 1743.

Using Hindu, Muslim and European systems of observation he began establishing astronomical observatories in the early 1700's, inventing brass instruments for calculating astronomical values, later replacing them with permanent structures of brick, lime and clay.

Note: The first Observatory in Varanasi, was completed in 1710, the one in Delhi in 1724, and the one in Jaipur, 1730.

The Instruments

The Equinoctial dial Instrument-

The central and largest structure found at these observatories, it consists of a huge triangle positioned in a north-south direction. This triangle's hypotenuse, known as the "Gnomon", is at an angle equivalent to the latitude of the location of the observatory. The structure is flanked by two quadrants, each of a 50-foot radius. They are graduated in degrees, minutes and seconds.

With the equinoctial dial, the Local Time, Meridian Pass Time, duration of day and night, Location of the Pole Star, and declination of the sun can be calculated.

It is important to consider that in the India of the 17th and 18th Centuries, Astronomy and Astrology were essential to each other and treated with equal legitimacy. Therefore it is not surprising that many of these instruments provide special functions to those of a particular sign and/or calculate conditions of the Zodiac.

Other Instruments-

At each site there are many structures and instruments besides the Equinoctial dial and reflect the curiosity and playful experimentation of Jai Singh, so that I will not describe them in detail. Rather, I will reflect on my own fascination and photographic approach.

The Photographs

In February 2002, I was in Varanasi exploring it's many temples and timeless devotions. There I came upon the Shrine of Ramashvara at the Man Mandir Ghat and the palace built above it. It was on the roof of that palace that I found the first of Raja Singh's observatories.

I was immediately struck by the ways one can experience it... first as the group of scientific instruments it is, then as an historical bench-mark and monument to Jai Singh II's accomplishments, and finally as a wonderful sculpture park to be enjoyed for it's undulating forms and manipulations of light.  Indeed, as one climbs through and moves around these structures, positive and negative spaces interact and change in much the same way as do contemporary sculpture. (I think of Anthony Caro.)

Jai Singh II's Observatories

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