Modernist Architecture: Jantar Mantar

The astronomical observatories of Jantar Mantar are minimalist scientific instruments built with concrete and masonry in vivid colors.  Built between 1724 and 1730, they have inspired modernist painters and architects of early twentieth century, and are precursor to modernist architecture.

A Solar Observatory in  Marble

A Solar Observatory in  Marble 2

Modernist Architecture of Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar in the western state of Rajasthan in India is a marvelous example of giant Sun dials and astronomical observation instruments to understand the movement of Sun and other planets.  As technological devices, these structures have set a standard for the construction of buildings where the form is determined by the function or purpose and is devoid of any ornamentation or added architectural features.  In fact, that was the modernist doctrine made popular by the modernist painters and architects of early twentieth century.  Jantar Mantar was ahead of the modern movement by several centuries.  It was built between 1724 and 1730 by Maharajah Sawaii Jai Singh II of Jaipur and remains as a shining example of Cosmic Architecture influenced by the forces of nature. 

Smaller observatories

Smaller observatories 3

Astronomical Observatories of Jantar Mantar

Maharajah Jai Singh built astronomical observatories across five locations in India, in order to understand the accuracy of planetary movement and to explore variations in readings at different locations.  These locations include Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi and Mathura.  Interestingly, all locations have historical, political and religious significance as well.  Four of these observatories still exist today except for the observatories in Mathura.  The best preserved Jantar Mantar observatories are those in Jaipur, which are also on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Light and shadows on observatories

Light and shadows on observatories 4

Panoramic Views of Jantar Mantar

Here is a wonderful site that gives a 360-degree tour of astronomical observatories of Jaipur.  According to Barry Perlus the author of a very informative book on Jantar Mantar called Celestial Mirror, “When Jai Singh designed the observatories, one of his foremost objectives was to create astronomical instruments that would be more accurate and permanent than the brass instruments in use at the time. His solution was to make them large, really large, and to make them of stone and masonry.” 

Cosmic Forces and Human Existence

This belief in the influence of cosmic forces of nature on our existence can be seen through many traditions, arts, music, sculpture, dance and architecture in India.  For example, there are many Sun temples in India which provide beautiful settings to celebrate and worship the presence of Sun and its energy in our life. 

Another example is the festival of Makar Sankranti, which is celebrated in much of India in early January.  Makar Sankranti signifies the movement of Sun into the Zodiac of Capricorn.  It coincides with the end of winter and the onset of spring.  It is a celebration of the change of seasons, from harsher winter months to the pleasant spring weather.  The festival also honors Surya – the Sun God, whose grace and energy has enabled life and our existence on earth. Most importantly, it is the time of peace, when families bury their grievances and decide to begin a new life together.  It is a day of hope, peace, celebration and positivity. 

Jantar Mantar’s astronomical observatories are minimalist scientific instruments built with concrete and masonry in vivid colors. 

Another observatory

Another observatory 5

Jantar Mantar and L’Esprit Nouveau

Jantar Mantar’s scientific instruments built between 1724 and 1730, heralded new spirit in architecture.  They were the earliest examples of modernist architecture and should be recognized for their contribution to what Le Corbusier called, “L’Esprit Nouveau”. 

One thought on “Modernist Architecture: Jantar Mantar

  1. Pingback: Mimamsa Diary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *