A Glimpse of Minimalist Architecture: Jantar Mantar

Modernist architecture of Jantar Mantar, India.

The astronomical observatories of Jantar Mantar are minimalist scientific instruments built with concrete and masonry in vivid colors.  Built between 1724 and 1730, they inspired modernist painters and architects of early twentieth century. They offered a glimpse of minimalist architecture much before its time.

A Solar Observatory in  Marble
A Solar Observatory in  Marble 2

A Glimpse of Minimalist Architecture

Jantar Mantar in the western state of Rajasthan in India is a marvelous example of astronomical observation instruments to observe 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 function 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 offered a glimpse of Minimalist 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 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 is an integral part of Indian traditions, arts, music, sculpture, dance and architecture. For example, there are many Sun temples in India which provide beautiful settings to celebrate the presence of Sun and its influence on human existence. 

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 presence enabled life and our existence on earth. Most importantly, the festival is an occasion to bury family grievances to begin a new life together.  It is a day of hope, peace, celebration and positivity. 

Another observatory
Another observatory 5

Jantar Mantar and L’Esprit Nouveau

Jantar Mantar’s astronomical observatories are minimalist scientific instruments built with concrete and masonry in vivid colors. These scientific instruments built between 1724 and 1730, heralded a new spirit in architecture.  They were the earliest examples of minimalist architecture and should be recognized for their contribution to what Le Corbusier called, “L’Esprit Nouveau”. 

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