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Friday, December 2, 2011

Jantar Mantar

If Raja Jai Singh wasn't known for anything else but this, his position in history would still be assured.

Jantar Mantar is one large courtyard observatory. Each of the sundials, star charts and individual zodiac signs are still accurate. On the one hand, this may not initially be surprising; after all, in little under 300 years, how much could the earth's precession have changed or shifted or how much could the planet's orbit in relation to the sun and the rest of the solar system have changed? Only an idiot would belabor that point and these would be the wrong questions to ask.

More to the point is the amount of calculation, engineering, and construction went into this to account for size and relation/position of each of the components to the solar transits. Additionally, each of these sundials and other elements are quite beautiful in their own rights, just as sculptures.

The term, "jantar mantar" indicates "calculation" (jantar = instrument ; mantar = formula); checking my time against the sundials, I was struck by their accuracy...I might have been twenty seconds ahead. Knowing me, I really don't think the sun in relation to the earth was twenty seconds slow....

More seriously, it's important to understand that these were not the works of a hobbyist or dilettante. In addition to time-keeping, these monumental works were used for astrological forecasting and for religious purposes, as well.

Raja Jai Singh wasn't merely an enthusiast; he was a solid astronomer, mathematician, statesman and more. Additionally, the Jaipur Jantar Mantar is one of five he had built. Others are at New Delhi, Varanasi, Mathura, and Ujjain. The significance of the observatory goes deeper than just prognostication or measurement as the entire complex is founded on jyotish principles related to the Vedas (corresponding particularly to the architectural rules of the Shilpa Shastra). Thus, it's a visual corollary to an entire system of cosmic and terrestial relationships, down to and including the human. In this way, there is a similarity to the Mayan complexes such as Copan, where studying the stars and planet isn't just academic but subsumes and is integral to, physical health and spiritual well-being.
The smaller of the two Giant Sundials

Narivalaya Yantra, detail

Narivalaya Yantra, one of the hemispherical sundials that tracks the sun's transit (I think this one is the southern hemisphere)
The Samrat Yantra, the Giant Sundial, the largest sundial on record.

The Rasilavaya Yantras, comprising the signs of the Zodiac, designed to directly measure the latitude and longitude of a celestial object at the moment that the sign to which it refers crosses the meridian.

Maquette for the Samrat Yantra.

The Kapala Yantra


Please do refer to the following for more information:

This is a valuable PDF for download:
UNESCO's page for Jantar Mantar:

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