Ancient Indian astronomy... Jantar Mantar

| June 27, 2014

Carol Davies-Webb travelled on a Cox & Kings holiday to India. On her last day in New Delhi, she discovered what is known as the Jantar Mantar…


We had not expected to visit India this year, but an advert for Cox & Kings’ Deccan Odyssey train journey from Mumbai to New Delhi changed all that.

On the last day of our trip to India we were in New Delhi.  I already had my curiosity whetted by looking on the internet for interesting sites to visit in the short time we had. Very close to our hotel was the Jantar Mantar (Jantar – instruments, mantar – formulae/calculation), an observatory constructed in 1724 by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur. He built five of these impressive structures in total – the others being in Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi and Mathura.

Jaya Prakasa Yantra in the foreground, with the two Rama Yantra in the background.

He had found the existing astronomical instruments too small to take correct measurements, and so he built these larger and more accurate instruments. Unfortunately they can no longer be used because of modern buildings in the locality, but are nonetheless fascinating.

As there was a public holiday when we visited, there were many Indian families visiting too. We were delighted to be approached by two different families who wished to be photographed with us and the teenage daughters were keen to practice their English and even in one case we were asked to give career advice. We came away desperate to find out how the instruments work.

Further information:

These structures are located on Parliament Street, Connaught Place in New Delhi.

Left to right: Samrat Yantra and Misra Yantra

The largest structure is the Samrat Yantra (meaning ‘Prince of Dials’), a 21-metre-high sundial which had the ability to tell time within an accuracy of two seconds.

The Misra Yantra is a curved structure, with detailed measurements etched into the edges of the curves. This instrument was used to predict the longest and shortest days of the year, and was also able to indicate midday in cities all over India.

Meanwhile, the Jaya Prakasa Yantra consists of two hollowed hemispheres positioned next to each other. Each have crosswires stretched over the bowl from the rim, and were designed to reflect every point of the sky above.

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