Like a surrealist’s children’s playground, Jantar Mantar was built next door to the remarkable royal Palace of the Winds as an astronomical observatory. Built around 1730 by the Maharajah of the famed Pink City, Jaipur, it was among the most accurate and detailed observatory for its time in the world. The star-inspired maharajah built five such observatories across India, four of which still exist today.
To the untrained eye, the structures look like creative and appealing oversized playground rides to climb and jump upon. With some description, they detail a fascination with accurate celestial measurements for the sun and moon, detailing the seasons, tracking the orbits of major stars, zodiac constellations and planets, predicting eclipses and measuring time itself. Importantly for the spiritual Indians, the observatory was utilised to satisfy an obsession with detailed horoscopes to ensure the best possible circumstances for weddings, major festivals, meetings and most aspects of life.
The giant among the 30 or so structures is the 27 metre high Samrat Jantar (see background of second photo from the top)with its small covered deck for making relevant announcements. It is the world’s largest sundial. The time remains extraordinarily accurate to this day with the cast shadow moving around one millimetre every second or one metre in just over quarter of an hour. You can literally see time move. The guide explains that it is angled at 27 degrees which corresponds to the latitude that Jaipur sits above the equator.
Other equally strange structures include one with two large red disks also used to measure time and a strange structure like a cake with every second slice missing. It is able to measure the angle of the sun to assist with detailing the seasons.
Jantar Mantar is a fascinating work integrating science, astronomy, religion and art. Particularly on a sunny day, wandering and climbing these strange stone travel wonders provides an interesting insight into the 18th century balance of science and spirituality.
Jantar Mantar has been added to the UNESCO WOrld Heritage List in 2010.