Jantar Mantar: A historical gem that unravels secrets in astronomy

The Hindustani name Jantar Mantar comes from the Sanskrit words ‘Yantra Mandir’. Photo: iStock/kaetana_istock

Since the early 18th century, the Jantar Mantar of Delhi has been charming tourists from far and wide. The observatory, which also has its presence in Jaipur, Mathura, Ujjain and Varanasi though only the Delhi one remains intact, has also been a popular protest site in the national capital territory. The captivating monument was built by Sawai Jai Singh who was the ruler of Jaipur from 1703 to 1743 as well as the Governor of Agra. Interestingly, he is also credited for building the iconic Jaipur city. The Jantar Mantar area was once called Madhoganj in memory of one of his ancestors Madho Singh (1760 – 1778). The city was known as Madhoganj until New Delhi was developed in the twentieth century.

The Hindustani name Jantar Mantar comes from the Sanskrit words ‘Yantra Mandir’. Maharaja Jai Singh was a keen follower and patron of astronomy. He even managed to secure the European telescope from the Portuguese who ruled Goa at that time. 

The instruments
There are six cleverly designed instruments in the Jantar Mantar. The ‘Samrat Yantra’ which was used to determine the time by observing the shadows is the biggest. The altitude of the sun at particular times could be assumed with the help of this instrument. Meanwhile, the ‘Mishra Yantra’ close to the ‘Samrat Yantra’ was used to determine the positions of other planets. However, as Jantar Mantar isn’t mentioned in any of the documents written during Jai Singh’s time, it is also assumed that the astronomical observatory may have been built by his son Madhu Singh.

The ‘Jaiprakash Yantra’ comprises two hemispherical bowl-shaped sundials that were used to measure the position of the sun and other stars. However, some historians say that Jai Singh built only one hemisphere and the second one was built was someone else. Meanwhile, the Rama Yantra which is on the south side of the Jaiprakash Yantra consists of two spheres used for measuring the azimuth of the sun.

A global influence
Jai Singh didn’t adamantly follow any single school of astronomy. He was interested in the Indian astronomical traditions, theories from Europe as well as the astronomical knowledge from Persia. It is believed that the hemispheres or the sundials in the Samrat Yantra align with the meridians of the observatories at Greenwich in England and Zurich in Switzerland. Interestingly, these observatories too were built around the same time when Jantar Mantar was constructed in India.

Visitors note
Travellers who are interested in visiting Jantar Mantar should keep the following points in mind:
1)The visiting time is from sunrise to sunset. The observatory is open on all days.
2) Entry fee is Rs 25 for Indians and Rs 500 for foreigners.
3) There is no fee for photography while Rs 25 would be charged for videography.
4) Patel Chowk is the nearest metro station. 

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