11.15 hrs – The place started to get crowded as more and more tourists are venturing out to have a look at the City Palace. I headed towards yet another important structure in the heart of the city which is in contrast with the intricate carvings and the ornate pols or gates of the City Palace – The Jantar Mantar. The entry ticket costs Rs. 50/- for Indians! Grabbing my ticket, I walked towards this most impressive and fascinating astrological marvel, which is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of medieval India. In 2010, Jantar Mantar has been granted the UNESCO World Heritage Site Status.
Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II who is fond of astronomy and used to study works of celebrated astronomers all over the world constructed a range of astronomical observatories throughout North India in between 1724 and 1730, called the ‘Jantar Mantars’. Out of the five Jantar Mantars in Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura (which no longer exists), the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is the largest one. In fact, it is said that some of the instruments here in Jaipur are constructed by him and he constructed it so near to the City Palace so that he can make all the observations by his own!
The term ‘Jantar Mantar’ is derived from the Sanskrit terms ‘Yantra’ and ‘Mantra’ meaning ‘instruments’ and ‘formula’ respectively. I hired a guide here who knows a lot about the instruments present here. Jantar Mantar is a collection of 19 fixed architectural astronomical instruments that offer precise measurements of time, the azimuth, declination of the sun and the positions of constellations, along with several other astronomical phenomena.
I came across the Nadivalaya (the equatorial instrument), the Krantivritta (the ecliptic circle instrument) used to measure the longitude and latitudes of the celestial bodies, the Laghu Samrat Yantra (Small sundial), Shastana Yantra (sextant instrument) with which the variation in the sun’s diameter can be accurately measured and many more. But the centre of attraction here is the Vrihat Samrat Yantra (the ‘Supreme Instrument’ or Large Sundial), which is 90 ft high and measures time to an accuracy of two seconds is the world’s largest sundial.
My guide explained me about each and every instrument with perfect examples and I was awestruct when he explained me about calculating the time on Laghu Samrat Yantra and asked me to check the time he told on my watch and to my sheer surprise, it’s accurate! So far, I found Jantar Mantar as the most significant, comprehensive, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories. And people who are interested in astronomy, here is your best bet if you want a scientific holiday 😉