Look, if you’re a maharaja and there’s no threat of imminent attack from desert raiders on elephants, you better find some way to use your time. Rather than sit around all day eating grapes and drinking chai, in 1721 Sawai Jai Singh decided to bring science to Rajasthan (now part of India) through the construction of Jantar Mantar, an observatory in Jaipur which also happens to be a pretty awesome name for a 70s prog-rock band.
Astrology is very important to Indian culture, with superstitions about everything from the time you’re born to the best day of the month to start a business. Visiting Jantar Mantar brought this to life. The work conducted here was some of the most advanced astronomy since the great ancient Greek and Roman thinkers and Jai Singh devoted considerable resources to accurate measurement of the sun, moon, and stars, in a time when most of his subjects led very simple existences.
Pretty much a playground for astronomy nerds, the observatory contains about a dozen giant measurement devices, one of which displays the accurate time down to two second intervals using only stone and the sun!
As you can see, the devices at Jantar Mantar aren’t just functional, they’re beautiful. Carved marble abounds, and huge gentle curves hug you from every direction. Jaipur is heavy on history, but even if you’re sick of palaces, temples, and forts (as we very much were) you can’t skip this unique and fascinating example of primitive science.