The Jantar Mantar & The Algomantra

Jantar Mantar
/Sumrat Yantra, Jantar Mantar – Jaipur, India

I’d be surprised if Giorgio de Chirico , and the other Metaphysical landscapers had not seen or been influenced by the huge celestial instruments of the surreal Jantar Mantar. This stone observatory was built by the astronomer-king, Jai Singh II at his then new capital of Jaipur, in Rajastan between 1727 & 1733. The collection of monolithic instruments sets up a tantalising metaphysical landscape as If you were to walk straight into one of De Chirco‘s mytho-mathamatical dreamscapes. Arcs of stone, twisting facades and giant gnomons create light-play and shadow formations – asking the observer to find interesting perspectives of geometric absolutism.

Of course each ‘sculpture’ has a specific purpose aside from the muse of abstracted geometry, each Yantra (Instrument) is devised to provide specific celestial readings, from the calculation of Hindu lunar calendar to defining the positions of stars and even predicting the intensity of monsoons. A total of 18 instruments utilise the sun so that shadows are output as variables on curves and linear marked surfaces with measurement scales. The Sumrat Yantra is considered to be the largest sundial in the world with is 90ft high gnomon centrepiece. Jai Singh, who devised many of the objects himself, believed that the greater the size the more perfect the accuracy of these objects.

de chirico
Place Metaphysique Italienne, – Giorgio de Chirico

Jai Singh was a scholar with a life long interest in mathematics and astronomy and it appears he was conversant with contemporary European astronomy through his contacts with the Portuguese in Goa. Aside from Jaipur he built observatories in Delhi, Ujjain, Mathura and Benares.

This Maharaja appears to be one of the more interesting and stranger ruler figures in history; his helio-centric observatory is a palace to the sun and way of proving his devotions and connection to the heavens, and ultimately his power. In many respects there seems to be certain similarities to another Sun worshipping ruler, the heretical Egyptian pharaoh, Ahkenaten.

While in Jaipur I met up with Jantar Mantar obsessive, algorithmic psychogeographer and Vedic Crystalpunk, Rohit Gupta, who showed me the wonderful Cosmic Architecture of India by Andreas Vowahsen. It turns out that Ro wears many hats – check out his psychogegraphic Cellphabet project, as well as the wonderfully sequential and schematic ‘Doppler Effect’ comic he produced with Gabriel Greenberg.

Algomantra, as a trigger phrase, makes me think of the Indian grammarian, Pingala, who discovered the sequence attributed to Fibonacci in the grammar of ancient Sanskrit mantras. Pingala called the sequence Matrameru, which translates poetically into The Mountain of Cadence. Its not so surprising that this recursive sequence of numbers provides the pattern of petal arrangement in plants known as phyllotaxis aside from the patterns of syntax in mantras – nature is data after all!

Ro nicely pointed out, ‘data’ also means God in certain Indian dialects.

There have been quite a few papers written about the Jantar Mantar worth checking out, heres links to a couple:

Jantar Mantar: Architecture, Astronomy, and Solar Kingship in Princely India – MacDougall, Bonnie 1996

Architecture in the Service of Science – Barry Perlus

Barry Perlus’s site also contains some VR Models of the observatory.

2 Responses to “The Jantar Mantar & The Algomantra”

  1. 1/f)) writes:

    Paul, thanks for your kind mention!

    I want to make one addendum to this particular statement: “Jai Singh, who devised many of the objects himself, believed that the greater the size the more perfect the accuracy of these objects.”

    There is a physical limit to this – the fact that the sun is not a point source of light, but a disc. My intuition is that (and this would be worth verifying mathematically) – beyond the accuracy of 2 seconds provided by the Samrat Yantra, the refractive effects of the atmosphere on the shadow of the solar disc’s edge, and the greater distance between the gnomon’s tip and the dial would have the following effects –

    1) The sharpness of the shadow on the dial would be lesser, and cause more blur.

    2) The speed of the shadow (solar time) would increase too, making accurate observation that much more tricky for the unaided human eye.

  2. paul writes:

    Thanks for these comments Ro, yes i seem to remember discussing the size of the penumbra of the shadow with you i.e. the blurryness making the readings more difficult.

    Didn’t you show me an image from ‘Cosmic Architecture’ ? hmmm my relocation is also a little blurry. Thanks for the Rum ;)

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