The mysterious portal to the stars built by an Indian king 300 years ago

Sculptures from the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory in Jaipur, India

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Sculptures at the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory in Jaipur, India, can measure the position of stars and planets, calculating the time accurately

A week before the spring equinox, it was a warm, cloudless afternoon. The time was perhaps not the best time to venture into the landscape of the city of Jaipur — the desert capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan — but it was perfect for measuring time with the shadows cast by the sun.

I strode through the frenzy of the Johri Bazaar—Jaipur’s main market—past its coral walls, delicate latticework, and Mughal arches, as I made my way to Jantar Mantar, the mysterious Indian gateway to the stars.

At first glance, this open-air complex, filled with strange gabled walls and stairs that lead nowhere, seems out of place. It lacks the ornamentation of the City Palace that surrounds it, nor the complexity of the respected Govind Dev Ji temple and nearby Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds).

But this site—a collection of 20 scientific sculptures known as yantras, 300 years old, that can measure the positions of stars and planets, calculating time accurately—had mystified me since childhood here in Jaipur, when structures looked like giant versions of the delicate instruments in my school geometry kit.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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