October 25, 2011

Jantar Mantar, New Delhi

Warning & Advice : Before you read any further, I would like to inform you that the monuments shown here are much more beautiful & awe-inspiring than they appear in the photographs. Be there & see for yourself...

It was a rather clear day, though slightly hot & sunny, & I believe the perfect kind of day for going out & taking photographs, which is rather opposite to the philosophy of staying indoors to avoid the Delhi summer (On a sunny day, you get beautiful well-defined shadows to photograph). So I along with two of my friends - Divya & Rashmi decided to visit the Jantar Mantar & the (not exactly) nearby Agrasen ki Baoli.

The observatory grounds

To begin with let me give you a primer as to what exactly is the Jantar Mantar –

Located around the corner from the ever so busy Connaught Place market, the Jantar Mantar is one of those places that everyone in India knows about & yet ignores. The structures inside its grounds have become symbolic as representing Delhi, along with the Lotus temple, Qutub Minar etc. Buy any book about Delhi & you will definitely notice the pictures of Jantar Mantar on the cover page along with the other famous monuments. & the structure grounds have become famous for another reason altogether. They are now used for anti-Government protests, by various groups with entirely different means & ends, more recently by the Farmer lobbies & Anti-corruption groups. The grounds are large enough to accommodate at least a thousand people (& maybe more!!), though I doubt that the people who come to protest here buy a ticket for entrance from the A.S.I. counter at the gate. Sadly, most of the tourists give this brilliant monument a miss, I don’t know what might be the reason for this, perhaps because the red sandstone-built monuments get extremely heated-up during the summer days (as we realized the hard way), & tourists already hate Delhi heat.

The Jantar Mantar was constructed by Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur in 1724 & consists of several architectural and astronomical instruments. Several rulers & monarchs have ruled India since the past millennia, some were architects, other warlords, yet others were one time slaves, Sawai Man Singh II has the distinction of being the only scientist-astrologer ruler in India. Given the task of revising the outdated calendar and astronomical tables by Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah, he set about building five such observatories in North India. Some of them still survive, prominent among them being the Jantar Mantars at Delhi & Jaipur.

As one enters the observatory grounds, one feels a strange anticipation to see such a beautiful scene unfold – large red-coloured, strange-looking structures, set amidst lush green grounds & flanked by flowering trees & bushes. The next to empty grounds have the added benefit that you don’t have to wait for the tourists to move from between you & the structure. Moving along, you notice that all the structures are set on a slightly lower ground than the rest of the area, sort of in a pit, & it is only on closing up that you do realize that the structures are much larger than you anticipated. That these mammoth buildings, built of stone & marbles, were once used by Indian Kings to predict the motions of sun, moon & planets, certainly proves beyond doubt their megalomaniac nature & the costs they incurred on each & every task they undertook.

The first structure you come across is the heart-shaped Misra Yantra, one of the most recurring symbols when photographically/artistically portraying Delhi. Several sets of stairs crisscross along the face of the structure, most prominent among them being the central one, giving the monument the resemblance of a Peepal tree leaf (Sacred fig - Ficus religiosa). This is the only structure that was not established by Man Singh II & the only structure set on level ground above all the other structures, & by climbing up the stairs to the top you can see the entire grounds spread across from you. It was used to predict when it was noon in different cities all over the world. 

Dwarfed by buildings - The Misra Yantra

Heading to the pit, you notice a very large structure resembling a right-angled triangle. This is called the Samrat Yantra (“Supreme Instrument”) & was more of a large & highly accurate sundial. The structure, 70 feet high, is now out of bounds for visitors & a large iron gate bars entry to the staircase leading to the top. But if you are athletic enough, you would be able to climb across the wall on either side of the staircase & gain yourself enough time to sprint to the top before the caretakers come shouting at you to get down immediately. I assume many people must have fallen to their deaths from here & that is why the authorities have now locked it for good. A plaque installed on the Samrat Yantra wrongly mentions the year of construction to be 1710, & several other lines of text are now crossed & scribbled over too (with paint of course). 

Dwarfing the buildings too - The Samrat Yantra

Hollowed-out hemispheres with uniquely crafted designs, large enough to accommodate several persons, are situated close to the Samrat Yantra & form an instrument called the Jai Prakash Yantra. We made a good play of running in & out of all the crevices & corners of the structure. The hemispheres have markings on their rims for measurements. 

Part of Jai Prakash Yantra

Collinear with the Samrat Yantra are two large cylindrical structures, each with a pillar in the centre & several radial lines emanating from the circumference to the pillar. Known as the Ram Yantra, the cylinders were such that three floors exist above the ground level & one below (that is, in the pit). One can climb in & out of the windows along these floors & run along the radial lines. These windows were used by the observer (called "Ram") to sit in & note the measurements marked along the edge of the window. But since it was summer noon by now, the hot structures were torturous & pain spiked up as soon as our uncovered arms or legs touched these.

Looking into the Ram Yantra - View from a window

The Jantar Mantar got the status of a national monument in 1948 & has attracted architects, historians and scientists from all over the world. But as far as I am concerned, it is a spot in Delhi where extreme fun can be had with friends as well as family, & makes for an oasis far removed from all the chaos & noise of the city despite being in the middle of it. Though most people portray it to be a dull & uninviting place with nothing except the structures to rave about, the structures themselves are so much fun, with all the stairs & nooks & crevices. One can simply play a long stretched-out game of Hide & Seek inside these grounds. The striking red colour of the buildings sparkles in the sun & contrast beautifully with the gleaming modern buildings that circle the ground. Soon running around the huge structures, climbing the huge stairs & jumping around seem the very natural thing to do. As the time passes & it becomes warm enough, sitting on the grass, under the shade of the trees soothes one's senses. Soon enough it's time to move ahead & it feels rather stupid leaving all the quiet that the place can afford you, & going back to the hustle of Connaught Place. Another time, one thinks...

Looking into Ram Yantra - View from an entrance

Location: Connaught Place
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Rajiv Chowk
How to reach: After deboarding from the Metro Station, take an auto to the monument. It will charge Rs 30-50.
Entrance fee: Indians: Rs 5; Foreigners: Rs 100
Photography Charges: Nil
Video Charges: Rs 25/hr
Relevant Links - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Agrasen ki Baoli
  2. Pixelated Memories - Connaught Place

1 comment:

  1. the pictures are amazing and the description is sharp and nice!!