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Jantar Mantar

- ‘ladders to the stars’

By Mukesh Khosla

Stargazing is perhaps the oldest of human activities. The fascination with the sky has been a universal passion. Ancient civilisations observed the skies - and learned, over time, when to sow and harvest their crops – a practice still observed in many societies. Ancient astronomical evidence has been found in locations in South America, throughout Europe, Australia and many other sites. The Greeks named most of the stars, constellations, and planets (after their Gods). The word planet comes from the ancient Greek for "wanderer" because early astronomers saw them moving in a sky that was otherwise full of stationary stars. The Thirteen Towers near the Chankillo complex in Peru are considered to have been a solar observatory built in the 4th century BC – perhaps the first of its kind.


During the ancient and medieval times there were many in India who developed a fascination for astronomy and there are ample references to stars and planets in Indian myths and legends.

The man who gave a scientific base to these beliefs was Sawai Jai Singh-ll the Maharaja of Jaipur who built five grand observatories called Jantar Mantar (a corrupted version of Yantra Mantra---Yantra for instrument and Mantra for formula), located at Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura. All were built between 1724 and 1730 A.D. The observatories, in the words of historian V. Balaswaroop are, "monuments that irradiate a dark period of Indian history."


Jai Singh – the Genius Mathematician


Jai Singh’s five observatories or Jantar Mantar


Read the entire story in the July - September 2008  print edition of

The South Asian Life & Times

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