Monday, June 15, 2009

India's Magic Observatory

India’s Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, the astronomical observatory will soon be a World Heritage Site. This recognition assumes greater importance as the year 2009 is being declared as the “International Year of Astronomy”.

This facility in Jaipur in the State of Rajasthan in India is the biggest of the five built by Sawai Jai Singh II, the erstwhile ruler of Jaipur. It is an astonishing collection of architectural astronomical instruments. This observatory has 14 major geometric devices for measurement of time, prediction of eclipses, tracking stars and other celestial parameters, and all of them are fixed tools. The largest of them, the Samrat Jantar is 90 feet tall at an angle of 27 degrees. Its shadow tells the time of the day with an accuracy of two seconds. A small cupola on its top is used to predict eclipses and monsoons. Its Giant Sun dial is the largest in the world, 27 meters tall with its shadow moving visibly at 1 mm per second, which is a profound experience for the people. This is already a national monument since 1948 now heading for world recognition.

The other four Jantar Mantar structures are located in the west central India, one each at Delhi, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura all constructed during the period 1724-1730 AD and all of them were made in masonry.

The Delhi Jantar Mantar, also a great masterpiece of Indian architecture was used to observe the Sun, moon and the other planets, but after its erection in 1724, it functioned only for seven years. While the huge sundial with its 27m-high arm at an angle of 27 degrees tracked the Sun, the remaining structures here tracked the various starts and planets. One structure here called the Mishra Yantra determined the longest and shortest days in the year. Interestingly, in December, one pillar overshadowsd the other and in June, no shadows are cast at all. This is the best preserved among all the five ones. The Ujjain and Varanasi observatories are in a state of neglect and decay. is a project initiated by Cornell University Professor of Arts, Barry Perlus. For more information, please contact him at
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