The Varanasi Observatory was housed in an already existing building

In 1764, the observatory was severely vandalised when Jawahar Singh, son of Suraj Mal, the Jat Raja of Bharatpur, plundered Delhi. He stands out as unique amongst Indian rulers in showing interest and support for science. The year 1720 was a year of rejoicing for Muhammad Shah because he had just freed himself from the clutches of the kingmakers in Delhi. Some of them in any case were too big and heavy for actual use. Incidentally, Jai Singh’s astronomical role model, "the martyr-prince" Ulugh Beg of Samarkand was also a collateral ancestor Din975 of the Mughal dynasty.Zij astronomy made its debut in India under the patronage of King Firoz Shah Tughlaq who ruled Delhi from 1351 to 1388. The word "zij" stands for tables of data and these were considered very useful for knowledge about heaven.Jai Singh’s edifice of science did not survive for long. He played the role of upper level Mansabdar to the Mughal Emperor, and was paid for his services by allotment of land as jagirs. Brass and masonry instruments on the other hand had reached a dead-end even if they were no worse than the earliest telescopic instruments. He had dreams of making peace with the Marathas and carving out a vast independent kingdom for himself. The pastimes of nobility in this period were degeneracy, music and poetry. Jai Singh went on to establish a number of (pre-telescopic) masonry observatories. Jai Singh failed to recognise the significance of European developments. Several books on astronomy were written during his reign, and astrolabes — an instrument for measuring the altitude of a star — constructed. However, in his defence it may be argued that vested interests may have played a role in misinforming him about the contemporary trend in Europe. Zij astronomy made its debut in India under the patronage of King Firoz Shah Tughlaq who ruled Delhi from 1351 to 1388. He also held various other jagirs that were granted to him by the emperor from time to time.

The Varanasi Observatory was housed in an already existing building; it is possible that Jai Singh renovated an old observatory. He held his vatan jagir at Jaipur. In the reign of the later, lesser Mughals, the cultural activity in keeping with the general atmosphere of intrigue became haveli (mansion)-oriented. It freed astronomy from the physical limitations of the eye and was therefore an instrument of the future. Arabic and Persian zijes were copied and commented upon in India.Even more ironically from a scientific point of view, the most remarkable feature of Jai Singh’s astronomy is its anachronism. His own rise in the court hierarchy was in direct proportion to the weakening of the central power. To him European developments were neither impressive nor unreliable. In 1702-03, when a mere lad of 14, he participated in Aurangzeb’s war campaigns against the Marathas and acquitted himself well. The Delhi Observatory (Jantar Mantar), set up during 1732-24, was followed by a bigger one at his new capital, Jaipur (1728-34). He came to the throne of Amber in 1699. On his orders, an astrolabe was placed on the highest minar of his capital, Firozabad (in Delhi). His epithet "Sawai" literally means one-and-a-quarter and is used to distinguish him from his (actually more) illustrious ancestor of the same name, Mirza Raja Jai Singh.Jai Singh was not a sovereign ruler.From the 18th century, we have Raja Sawai Jai Singh’s treatise on instruments, Yantra-prakara, essentially completed before 1724 with some additions made up to 1729. Jai Singh received huge funds from the emperor for enlisting troops against the Marathas, which he divided between Marathas and himself and preferred to spend his time at his capital. Zij-e-Muhammad Shahi (completed in 1728) is probably the only genuine tribute Raja Jai Singh ever paid to his ineffectual but charming emperor. Though not averse to intrigue, he was inspired by the earlier illustrious Mughals rather than his own contemporaries. For 25 years he served variously as the governor of the provinces of Agra and Malwa, but was dismissed from both the posts in 1737. But astronomy was also his refuge and probably a political statement too. He was Cambridge University’s Senior Wrangler in Maths in 1959. It is significant that Jai Singh’s observatories are the only examples of astronomical or scientific constructions of the Mughal era. When he came on the scene, the telescope had been in use in Europe for more than 100 years; observatories had been set up at Paris and Greenwich; and many important discoveries made. The telescope was a revolutionary break with the past. It is probably at this darbar that Jai Singh took the royal permission for building his observatory. This suggests that these instruments were meant for drawing room decoration rather than actual observations. Jai Singh came of age at a time when the once mighty Mughal Empire had started losing influence and power. Jai Singh was an exception. He failed in both the missions, but in 1727 he built a new capital, Jaipur, named after himself.In its heyday, the Mughal Empire was responsible for creation of spectacular buildings (like the Taj Mahal) and gardens.The writer, a renowned astrophysicist, is professor emeritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus. Science writer Owen Gingerich has pointed that there were at Lahore four generations of astrolabe makers whose instrument design remained virtually unchanged for a century and a half. A grand darbar was held on November 25, 1720, where Jai Singh successfully pleaded for the abolition of jazia, a tax imposed on non-Muslims for their protection. He also built smaller ones at Mathura, Ujjain and Varanasi.Jai Singh’s interest in astronomy was no doubt genuine. Perhaps the most telling commentary on Jai Singh’s dedicated but largely irrelevant scientific enterprise comes from the rather disconcerting fact that his grandson converted the Jaipur Observatory into a gun factory and used his ancestral 400 kg brass astrolabe for target practice

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