Jaipur is blessed with a lot of pretty architecture. It houses a huge city palace, an architectural marvel called ‘The Palace of Winds” and as many as 3 towering forts around the outskirts of the city. Despite all of these majestic sites, one of the most fascinating monuments in Jaipur is the Jantar Mantar.
The Jantar Mantar is an observatory that is not exclusive to Jaipur. Delhi, Ujjain Mathura and Varanasi also have a Jantar Mantar. The one in Mathura was left destroyed after the uprising of 1857. Simply put, a Jantar Mantar is an open air observatory that is made up of various architectural astronomical instruments. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is the most extensive of all the five observatories. It has 19 astronomical instruments and has the world’s largest stone sundial. Moreover, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What is the Jantar Mantar?
While the literal translation is the instruments and formulas. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, instructed the building of open air observatories to study the movements of the sun and celestial bodies. Royal astrologers, astronomers and time keepers used these instruments to draw up lunar charts, astronomical calendars and even draw up time. The science behind these was so advanced that the precision with which astronomers could draw up accurate observations is unbelievable.
The 5 Jantar Mantars were all built between 1724 and 1740, as he felt the observatories could help royal astrologers in giving him accurate advice. The king also felt it could help him navigate a difficult political period. His successors continued to rely on the Jantar Mantar for astrological consultation in decision making. In 1835, under Maharaja Ram Singh, some advances were made to the Jantar Mantar’s instruments. For a large part of the 19th century, Jantar Mantar and its precise instruments lay neglected, This was until they were restored and revived under Sawai Madho Singh II. Since then, the Jantar Mantar can still be relied upon for accurate astronomical observations and even to predict the time of the day. If that’s not cool then what is?
How does the Jantar Mantar work?
To understand how the Jantar Mantar Jaipur works, it is important to understand the instruments that are placed in Jantar Mantar. While there are 19 astronomical instruments in total, there are a few major sets of instruments that work like clockwork to churn out accurate results.
The Solar Clock or The Samrat Yantra – While Jantar Mantar Jaipur has the largest stone sundial in the world, it also has a smaller Samrat Yantra. They are called Vrihat and Laghu Samrat Yantra respectively. We strongly recommend getting a guide for the entire experience to help you understand the workings of the solar clocks and other instruments. The scales on the smaller solar clock or the Samrat Yantra are accurate within a 20 second window. On the other hand, Vrihat Samrat Yantra is extremely accurate and has a difference of just two seconds.
Royal Astronomers in the 17th century, would climb up the Vrihat Samrat Yantra, to make predictions about the monsoons. Access to the stairs of the Samrat Yantra is restricted for visitors. The Laghu Samrat Yantra, however, is good enough to conform the workings of the solar clocks. It is truly an inspiring engineering marvel from the 17th century that is relevant to this day.
The Jai Prakash Yantra – This structure is used to predict the zodiac month, according to the solar calendar. The structure is set in a depressed hemisphere, with a bunch of lines that represent various latitudes and longitudes of the earth, and various zodiac signs placed. It also has a thin metal sheet placed on top of these signs. The sun’s position casts a shadow on this instrument, to tell us which zodiac month we are in, with maximum possible accuracy.
The Rashivalyas Yantra – This is also a set of twelve instruments placed at a certain angle. It is meant to indicate the sun sign at that point in time, from the rays of the sun. This would be of great help to the royal astrologers. After knowing the zodiac month, they would visit the zodiac instrument for that specific month, and study the sun’s rays on the instrument. The study was done to make their observations about the angles of the zodiac constellations of stars and chart out a horoscope.
The Yantra Raj – Based on the zodiac constellations derived from The Rashivalyas Yantra, a telescope would be inserted through these spherical metal discs. It’s purpose was to observe the night sky and the alignment of stars and planets. This observation would help in charting out a lunar calendar and horoscope.
The Narivalaya Yantra – This is probably the simplest instrument in the entire complex. It is a regular clock, with the first dial facing south, to tell the time from 21st of September to 21st of March. The other dial facing north, would tell the time for the remainder of the year.
Then there’s other instruments like Raj Yantra, which are used annually, to calculate the Hindu Calendar for the rest of the year. There’s also Ram Yantra, which is an instrument used to predict the sun’s height by measuring the altitude of the sun’s rays.
The Jantar Mantar Jaipur is full of more such cool astronomical delights, that are likely to leave you spell bound. Perhaps, the most fascinating part about this amazing monument is not how accurate it is, but the sheer thought and precision with which it was designed. The fact that it remains relevant and produces accurate results to this day is mind boggling. This is one of the sites where we strongly recommend hiring the services of a guide, as you don’t only understand the workings of each instrument, but also the reason behind their inception.
Jantar Mantar should definitely be a monument that you not only visit during your time in Jaipur, but give it enough time to truly understand the beautiful spectacle.