In 1719, there is a story about the Rajput Maharaja Jai Singh II ’s visit at the court of the Mughal Emperor Muhammed Shah. As was common practice, there was a debate on – the topic of the day was how to make accurate calculations to figure out an auspicious date for the emperor to start a journey. Many ideas were bandied about, but Jai Singh came up with the most brilliant one which he executed when he returned to his kingdom – the Jantar Mantar.
The word jantar mantar comes from yantra meaning instrument and mantrana meaning to calculate. The Maharaja, a maths fiend, loved calculations of all sorts and so built 5 Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, Ujjain, Mathura, Varanasi, and the biggest, in Jaipur.
The Jaipur observatory is a collection of 19 massive architectural astronomical instruments. The biggest device is the Vrihat Samrat Yantra, the ‘king of instruments’. It is the largest sundial in the world! Standing proudly at 90 feet tall and is made of local marble and stone. It can tell the time literally down to the last second – it’s within two-second accuracy of the local time. It is so big that if you stand and stare, it’s shadow will move a mesmerizing 6 cm per minute. There is a small cupola on top of the sundial was used according to announce eclipses and for predicting the weather.
Some of the other instruments are the Dakshin Bhitti Yantra that measures distances of celestial bodies. Alternatively, the Rashi Valaya Yantra a collection of 12 dials that can be used to measure the positions of the 12 constellations.
The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is a UNESCO World Heritage site and protected under as a National Monument of Rajasthan.
Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant . She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.