When someone hears the word Varanasi or its other common name, Benares, that person will immediately identify the city with colours, festivals, Ganges, life, death, and the convergence of everything spiritual and cultural. Varanasi is apparently where the fusion of culture is at its highest.
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A place so old, that its origin is yet unknown. As a matter of fact, the legendary poet Mark Twain once said that Benares is older than history, tradition, and even legend themselves. It then comes as no surprise that Varanasi, with all its glorious wonder, is the location of one of the almost forgotten treasures of Hinduism, the observatory Varanasi Jantar Mantar.
Varanasi is home to many of the world’s most amazing architectural structures and oldest buildings which includes the Man Mahal. A morning boat ride across the Dashashwamedh Ghat of the Ganges River will offer tourists a spectacular view of this Mughal-Rajput architecture. Built in stone with its painted ceilings and balconied windows, this tall-standing edifice offers a great scenic view against the famous orange sunrise of Varanasi. With its interesting façade, it has always been a wonder why the view from the terrace has always been a hidden treasure.
Sitting on top of the 300-year old building of Man Mahal or the Man Mandir as it is locally known is the Jantar Mantar observatory built in 1737 by the Maharaja of Jaipur, Jai Singh. The facility was created to help improve the Indian calendar and map making. Standing on top of the building, the observatory offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the nearby ghats and temples alongside the entire stretch of the Ganges river. Before the observatory was built, it was said that Jai Singh sent scholars to study other similarly built buildings in other countries. However, it was the structures found in Varanasi that were designed to measure several astronomical phenomenon.
A walk around the terrace will introduce you to the different measuring structures. These include the Samrat Yantra, Laghu Samrat Yantra, Dakshinobiti Yantra, Chakra Yantra, Digansa Yantra, Narivalaya Dakshin and Uttar Gola. These instruments are designed to measure the movements of the heavenly bodies and can also tell the time of day. Even if the observatory was built centuries ago, it is said that they can still be used with great accuracy up to this day that can even match modern astronomical instruments.
It is but a shame that most tourists do not visit this historical landmark. Unlike its Delhi and Jaipur counterpart which are very popular tourist spots, here in Varanasi, very few are even aware of its existence. To make even more disappointing, the entrance of the palace is littered with vegetable peddlers driving tourists away and discouraging visitors to go up to the top. Reports show that out of a hundred tourists that flock to the city, not more than a dozen take the time to see the observatory. However, the Varanasi people are still hopeful that this great assembly of structures will be once again restored into its former beauty.
Since the beginning of time, Varanasi has always been the heart of Hinduism and Indian religion and spirituality. Varanasi Jantar Mantar is just a perfect example of how timeless this culture is as the beauty and historical value of the place truly transcends beyond race and belief.