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Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
Posted By Sarin on Jul 13, 2013     RSS Feeds     Latest Hinduism news
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Some people, who have less historical knowledge, think of India as an economically backward country that has just started to apprehend complex scientific and astronomical concepts. Very easily, Goras(Outsiders) tries to misjudge India by looking at its present economic status instead of understanding the rich scientific knowledge of ancient India. In reality, India was the backbone of the world civilization and led to the discovery of most modern scientific formulas and astronomical theories. In this article, we will go through one of such advanced knowledge on astronomy that led to the construction of the finest astronomical observatory of all times.

Jantar Mantar-One of the first largest astronomical observatory
Built in the early seventeenth century, ‘Jantar Mantar’ is one of its distinct types of observatory found across the whole world. ‘Jantar mantar’ is misnomer of ‘Yantra Mantra’ where Yantra means device or ‘instrument’ and mantra means ‘formula’. Jantar mantar is also said to be derived from term “Yantra mandir”, meaning “temple of instruments”. Jantar mantar was constructed to predict astronomical and climatic events at a time when modern precise scientific instruments were nowhere at sight.
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments

Story behind construction of Jantar Mantar
Construction of Jantar mantar was initiated by MahaRaja Jai singh, king of amer. Exact Story behind the construction of jantar mantar is as follows:
Aurangzeb rule in India challenged by marathas
In the 1680’s, Aurangzeb was the mughal ruler who ruled most of India. He managed to extend his kingdom till Tibet in the north to deccan in the south. However, Aurangzeb faced stiff opposition from the great Marathas. Marathas, under the leadership of Shivaji, disregarded all foreign invaders and seized every opportunity to grab mughal kingdoms.  
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
Young shivaji Challenging Aurangzeb
  
Till he was alive, Aurangzeb defended his kingdom from the Marathas, but after his death, north India suffered from great unrest and turmoil that ultimately led to decline of Mughal Empire.  

Muhammad shah, new king of Mughal Empire after Aurangzeb death
After Aurangzeb death, Muhammad Shah ruled Mughal Empire for 30 years. During his reign, he was frequently attacked by Persian king ‘Nadir Shah’, Afghan King ‘Ahmad Shah’ and Maratha king ‘Shivaji’. To defend his kingdoms from so many attacks, he formed alliance with Jai singh(praised by Aurangzeb at young age of 7). Muhammad shah chose Jai singh as his ally because Jai singh was well known for his political influence, wit and intelligence. Also, he had alliance with other rajput states and was backed by all other rajput kings. Recognizing Jai singh talent and influence, Muhammad shah declared him the governor of many mughal states like agra and malwa.  

Fight between Hindu and muslim astrologers
Once, Emperor Muhammad shah wanted to choose an auspicious date to start a long expedition. However, Hindu and Muslim astrologers had heated arguments over some planetary positions and astronomical events that would have influenced life on earth. Seeing this, jai Singh proposed to rectify inaccuracy in astrological tables, used by imams and pundits, by creating a huge astronomical observatory in his kingdom. He also thought that this would bring unity among the Indian masses and Muslims/Hindu astronomers.

Muhammad shah accepted jai singh proposal of building an observatory
Knowing that jai singh is a great scholar, mathematician and astronomer, who is also aware of Arabic-Persian-Greek astronomy, Muhammad shah immediately accepted his proposal. Jai singh combined traditional Indian astronomical concepts with western astronomical concepts and constructed a huge observatory in Jaipur.  
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
Jantar mantar of Jaipur

Religious reasons behind creating an observatory?
Astronomy in olden days was linked to religious rituals and notions. Astronomical events were associated with gods and people believed these astronomical events were the sign of some incoming good or bad events from the gods. Moreover, since events in India like marriages, horoscopes, religious ceremonies etc were highly influenced by various planetary positions, he thought of creating an observatory to rectify all defects in existing astronomy calendars.  

Political reason behind creating an observatory?
Since Jai singh has traced his family lineage back to sun god, learning astronomy aroused strong determination and passion in him. He belonged to kacchwaha rajputs who believe themselves to be the descendant of kush(Son of legendary lord rama) and hence, the descendants of sun dynasty(Suryawanshi).  
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
Kush with mother sita and brother Luv

Some critics argue that to strengthen and expand his territory, Jai singh promoted himself to be the descendant of sun dynasty.  

How this observatory was built?
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These instruments closely matched the astronomical concepts of ancient Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, and China. Due to limitations imposed by brass made instruments like unstable axes, small size etc, jai singh followed the style of 15th-century observatory at Samarkand, designed by arab astronomer 'Ulugh beg'. These instruments were totally made of marbles and stone with an engraved astronomical scale. Totally, 19 astronomical instruments were constructed of stones and plaster with few made completely with bronze. Most prominent of these instruments are Jai prakash yantra, Ram yantra, agra yantra, misras yantra and samrat yantra.  
  
Jai singh documented correction of astrological tables
After the completion of his observatory, he corrected the astrological tables and documented those corrections in a book ‘Zij Muhammad shahi’, named after emperor muhamad shah. This book has an accurate description of 1018 stars and also the discovery of value of obliquity as 230  28’.  

Jai singh constructed four more observatories
After the success in Jaipur, he created four more observatories in Delhi, Mathura, Ujjain and Varanasi respectively.
  
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
Jantar mantar Of Delhi
In Delhi, this observatory is very close to parliament street near Connaught place (15 mins walk from Rajiv chowk metro station). Jantar Mantar of Delhi was the logo of the 1982 Asian Games and is often shown in catalogues, travels books, brochures, postage stamps etc.  
Observatory in Mathura is demolished whereas observatory in Ujjain and Varanasi are in very bad state. Instruments in Delhi and Jaipur were fairly large compared to instruments in other observatories.
  
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments  <
  

Features and limitation of observatory
Accurate Prediction of astronomical events is highly determined by the exact placement of the instrument and accurate calibration of instrument. For these reasons, jai singh built all his instruments large in size because larger the size, more accurate the measurements would be. Because of the careful construction and sheer size of instruments, these instruments offered remarkable accuracy in those times. These instruments helped the astronomers in naked eye observation of astronomical events in the sky. One of the remarkable features of these instruments is dozens of accurately designed angular structures that target a specific constellation in the sky. However there were some limitations like unable to move the instruments (because of large size) due to which continuous observation of moving heavenly bodies, visible to the naked eye, could not be done. Also, once constructed, it was very difficult to correct or improve the defects found in construction. These were the practical reasons why such instruments were not constructed and were soon overtaken by smaller glass instruments like telescopes of the modern era.  

Instruments designs based on Hindu philosophy

These instruments were based primarily on Hindu astronomy though they were also influenced by Persian and Greek astronomy. Significance of mandalas is clearly illustrated in the name of these instruments, all ending with ‘yantra’. Orientation of Stone blocks is very similar to bricks used in ancient vedic altar.

Jai singh Created india first planned city
Jai singh is also credited for creating India first planned city ‘Jaipur’, also known as pink city. To solve the crisis of limited resources in his kingdom of amer, jai Singh initiated the construction of this new city. Grid layout and wide streets of Jaipur was the part of master architectural plan of jai singh. Architectural masterpiece like hawa mahal(Palace on winds) or jalal mahal are some of the remarkable buildings constructed by him.  
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
Hawa Mahal

Jai Singh Divine relationship with gods?

Some critics argue that to strengthen and expand his territory, Jai singh promoted himself to be the descendant of sun dynasty.
Out of several architectural designs, he adopted the design that was according to sacred Vastu shastra(science of construction). This design was based on divine models of Lord Vishwakarma, Celestial architect of gods. By molding the ancient traditional cultural belief in his construction, he tried to portray himself to be the divine benevolent ruler. Perhaps, it can be concluded that his construction of massive instruments was intended to declare his divine relationship with earthly gods, aimed at strengthening his kingdom without resorting to warfare and bloodshed. It is also said that he had a chariot similar to chariot of Indra. Additionally, he would perform vedic rituals like Ashwamedha yagya, to exemplify his greatness and unchallenged power.  

Muhammad Shah Overthrows Jai singh
Emperor Muhammad Shah did not like jai singh extensive capital expenditure on constructing architectural masterpiece and buildings involving millions of manpower. Though Muhammad shah was dependant on jai singh, he broke the alliance following the protest from ministers that claimed construction of magnificent monuments as the symbol of mughal supremacy and Jai Singh was exhibiting his dominance and supremacy over mughals by his massive construction projects. Emperor Shah felt so disgusted that he banned jai singh from entering his court and kingdoms. Subsequently, jai Singh resigned from his governor post at Malwa and agra, thus paving the way to the great Peshwa.

Jantar mantar-A different kind of observatory
Jantar mantar is a different kind of laboratory that was mostly based on ancient Vedic astronomy, making no use of magnifying glasses and telescopes. Instead, this observatory was made of elaborate objects adding its beauty and exceptional accuracy in calculating precise positions of the stars. Till the end of eighteenth century, this observatory was used continuously to predict weather forecast, daily horoscopes and various astronomical events. Today, this observatory has lost its glamour because of the adjacent tall residential and commerical buildings that obstructs the process of accurate measurements.  
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
High towers around jantar mantar
  
Today, jantar mantar has just become a tourist place where young dynamic India comes to witness the rich glorious past of ancient India.  

Present use of jantar mantar
This site attracts more than 1 million visitors annually. Instruments at these sites is said to have remarkable accuracy with 10% error margin.  Site staff, traditional astrologers and caretakers often performs astronomical observations at this site to forecast climatic conditions, monsoon rains, time measurement, movement of sun and moon, tracking stars, predicting eclipses, predict celestial altitudes and related ephemerides, duration of seasons, natural calamities like flood and earthquakes etc though their predictions are often questionable.  This site offers a unique place for learning astronomy to all Vedic and modern astronomers/astrologers. This site is also visited by civil engineers and historians to learn about the architectural designs and geometrical structures followed in ancient india.  Jantar Mantar was included in the national monument list in 1948.  
  
Restoration efforts of jantar mantar
After the high court ruling of preserving ancient remains of jantar mantar, ASI speeded the restoration of instruments by roping in four renowned astronomers. Many restoration and repair works were done in British rule and post British rule, with the recent one done at 2006.  
Jantar Mantar-Temple of instruments
Restoration done in 2006

Sufficient Care was taken to ensure that none of the functional capabilities of this observatory are affected by the restoration process. However, current measurement is not as accurate as the original one due to replacement of plaster by marble, adding of new staircases, use of modern materials, coating of walls, tourist scribbling, water penetrations in the inner walls, pollution etc.

Conclusion
Jai singh immense contribution in building the architectural buildings and observatory gives him the title of builder cum astronomer king. Jai Singh II was the powerful of all kings in his era, unmatched in astronomy, political warfare, science and governance. Sadly, his visions and efforts in astronomy were never taken forwards by any of the rulers of modern times. Three of such jantar mantar is demolished or is in a very bad state and only two are remaining now. Hope, the modern generation takes extreme pride and pleasure in protecting the ancient cultural heritage and archeological sites of India.

In next article, we will how these instruments accurately calculated all astronomical events and planetary positions.


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