SPEAKER: Jai Singh was 11 years old when he ascended the Throne of Amber, hill town in the state of Rajasthan, India. The political situation was one of uncertainty, and Jai Singh was involved in one conflict or another much of the time. Nevertheless, through his defted leadership, he was able to develop successful political relationships with the Mughal rulers in Delhi, with his neighboring Rajputs, and later with the Persian emperor Nadir Shah, who invaded India in 1739.
Jai Singh managed to enlarge the lands under the control of the House of Amber and in the 1736 held a great deal of authority throughout the whole empire.
During quieter times, the young ruler continued his studies of mathematics and astronomy-- subjects that had been an interest since childhood. Early in his career, while on a campaign in the south, he met a young scholar named Jagannatha Samrat, who was well-versed in astronomy and mathematics. This contact was influential, and Jagannatha Jai Singh principal astronomer, staying in his service to the end of the maharaja's life.
With the wealth and resources at his disposal as a powerful leader, Jai Singh began an ambitious program to revive astronomy in his native country.
Beginning with the design and construction of metal instruments, he developed and implemented designs for observatories in Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi, and Mathura. He compiled an excellent library and assembled a core of royal astronomers of different scientific backgrounds.
During the first years of his rule, Jai Singh developed the old family's seat at Amber into a magnificent, mogul-style compound. But the topographic limitations of the location and uncertain water supplies led him to found a new town on the nearby plains. This town was founded in 1728 and given the name Jaipur, meaning the town of victory. Jai Singh designed the city on a rectangular plan and incorporated notable practical improvements, such as underground water supplies and sewer systems.
The Delhi Observatory was the first to be built, sometime between 1721 and 1724. And in securing permission for its construction, Jai Singh appealed to the emperor, Muhammad Shah, on the grounds of the scientific importance to the empire. The first astronomical tables produced there were named the Zij Muhammad Shahi in honor of the reigning emperor.
In his prologue to the tables, Jai Singh writes about the founding of the observatories. Writing in the third person, he says, quote, he built here several instruments for an observatory as they had been built in Samarkand. In so doing, it became clear to him that the brass instruments did not come up to his standards of accuracy. This was due to their small size, the lack of any division into minutes, the wear and tear on their axes, the inaccuracy of the centers of the circles, and finally the poor construction of all the planes, which were always unstable. He could see that precisely for these reasons, the readings of the ancients-- Hipparchus and Ptolemy, for example-- were shown to be inaccurate.
Therefore, in [? Darokhalifet ?] Shahjahanabad-- which we now know is Delhi-- which is at the center of the empire and the kingdom, he built instruments which he had invented himself, such as the Jai prakash yantra, the rama yantra, and the Samrat yantra, whose radius amounts to 18 cubits and in which one minute of an arc corresponds to the size of 1 and 1/2 barleycorns. Is
These instruments are made of stone and limestone of excellent durability, designed according to the rules of geometry and suited to the geographical latitude of the place and its meridian. In this way, inaccuracies of measurement were avoided, and the correct way to build an observatory discovered.
The building of the Delhi Observatory was followed in 1728 by construction of the observatory in Jaipur. Located across the street from the royal palace, the Jaipur Observatory is the most complete and has examples of all of the instruments which were designed and built by Jai Singh himself.
Recent interpretations of these sites suggest that they may served multiple purposes in Jai Singh overall scheme. For in spite of their monumental size, they did not improve the accuracy of astronomical observation to a proportionate degree. And at the time they were being built, European observatories, of which Jai Singh was probably aware, were achieving more precise observations through the use of telescopes and alidades.
Scholars have suggested that these massive and expensive constructions served a monumental and symbolic function in Jai Singh's effort to maintain authority in the region. Regardless of the causes and scientific significance, the jantar mantars are unique among architectural monuments and have captured the attention of people around the world.
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Visit the 18th century astronomical observatories built by Maharajah Jai Singh II in Jaipur and Delhi, India.
This video is part 2 of 6 in the Jantar Mantar: The Astronomical Observatories of Jai Singh II series.