Jantar Mantar Observatory - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Yogesh Soman   
Saturday, 25 March 2006 23:46
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Jantar Mantar Observatory
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Masonary Instruments

Listed below are the masonary instruments built by Sawai Jai Singh.

  1. Samrat Yantra
  2. Sasthamsa
  3. Daksinottara Bhitti Yantra
  4. Jaya Prakasa and Kapala A
  5. Nadivalaya
  6. Digamsa yantra
  7. Rama yantra
  8. Rasivalayas

Jai Singh's Astronomers

For his ambitious program in astronomy, Jai Singh assembled a large group of scholars with backgrounds in different traditions of astronomy. At his observatories, Hindu pundits, Muslim munajjimun (astronomers), and European Jesuits worked side by side. The Hindu pundits, his teachers, later became the mainstay of his programme, translating and copying astronomical texts, erecting observatories, and carrying out the day-to-day operations of his observatories.

The astronomical activities of Jai Singh's Hindu astronomers may be divided into four categories

  1. Erecting instruments and taking data at the observatories,
  2. Writing texts and commentaries,
  3. Translating from other languages, and
  4. Collecting or copying books for the royal library.

The Hindu pundits helped Jai Singh erect stone and masonry instruments. Their efforts in this regard are praiseworthy. The Great Samrats and other yantras of Delhi and Jaipur had a very high degree of accuracy.

They also wrote a large number of books and commentaries. However, these texts and commentaries were based mostly on the works of their predecessors. There was little original material in their works. It appears that the pundits did not wish to break away from a tradition which for all practical purposes had become stagnant. They translated a great number of texts. The credit, however, in part at least, should go to Jai Singh. He realised more than any one else that the astronomy of the country needed an infusion of fresh ideas, and that there was much to be learned from other traditions, such as from the Islamic and the European. Having reached this conclusion, he made arrangements for translating astronomical and mathematical works into Sanskrit. However, these translations turned out to be of those works which, in retrospect, had become outdated in the astronomical circles of Europe.

Delegation to Europe

Had Jai Singh remained content on this, his name would have had an assured place in the Indian history. He didn't and that is what separates a good astronomer/scientist from a visionary. Jai Singh was far ahead of his times and had realised the importance of the new ideas imerging out of the work being done in Europe. He also realised that exchange of ideas are a vital point in the development of any science and so sent a scientific fact finding mission to Europe.

The delegation, the first of its kind from the East, left Amber in 1727. The Raja saw to it that the delegation was taken good care of on its way to the seaport and wrote letters to this effect to his friends. The delegation travelled to Goa, paid a courtesy visit to the Portuguese viceroy, delivered presents to him, and then finally reached Portugal in January, 1729. It was led by Father Figureredo, the rector of the college of Agra, and it had two additional members.

The delegation stayed on in Portugal for a few months and finally returned to India with instruments, books, and astronomical tables, including the tables of de La Hire published in 1702. The delegation landed at Goa in October or November, 1730 and finally reached Jaipur in July 1731.

The delegation brought back with it European tables and instruments, but it did not bring back any information regarding the theoretical advances of astronomy in Europe. For example, it did not bring any books of Newton, Galileo, Kepler, or Copernicus. The reason is quite obvious. The relentless war waged by the Church in the aftermath of Galileo's trial had taken its toll in Catholic Europe. By the time Jai Singh's mission under Fr. Figueredo arrived in Europe, there was not a single scholar left in the Iberian Peninsula, particularly in Portugal, who could speak about Kepler or Newton. In Portugal, where King John V reigned, the Holy Office of Inquisition had cleansed the institutions of higher learning of all Copernicans decades before.

Because the mission under Fr. Figueredo never stepped outside the Catholic world, so far as neo-astronomy was concerned, it produced very little of substance. Unfortunately, the Raja seemed to have had no alternative but to rely on the Jesuits to lead his fact-finding mission to Europe because no high-born Hindu in those days would dare 'to cross the ocean' and thereby risk 'losing his caste'.

In retrospect, it appears that the Raja relied too much upon and was clearly influenced by his Jesuit assistants who erected an invisible shield between him and the so-called heretical neo-astronomy they avoided. To the end of his days, Jai Singh trusted the expertise of these faithful servants of the Church and made no attempts to consult anyone else from a country such as England or Holland, where the Copernican revolution had gained a solid footing. European involvement with the astronomical program of Jai Singh produced mixed results. On one hand, Europeans introduced Indian astronomers to improved methods of calculating astronomical problems, particularly in the use of logarithm. On the other hand, these Europeans held back from Indian astronomers the theoretical advances made by Copernicus, Gallileo, Kepler and Newton.

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 March 2006 23:46