Devyani Nighoskar


12 Mar
Take a Heritage Walk Exploring Varanasi and its Unique Astronomical Observatories

A lot has been said about the city of Varanasi, ranging from its spiritual significance or built heritage that gives a deep insight into ancient Indian history and architecture, to its many ghats that are lit up for the evening aarti as the sun sets in the Ganges, to its funeral pyres that are known as the gateway to heaven, to its many temples where people come to pray for long lives. But few know that Varanasi’s spiritual embodiments also have a unique scientific past.

The city holds within itself many pieces of evidence that allow us to connect with the age-old techniques of measuring time, altitude and the position of the sun. There were astronomical observatories in temples, gardens and other spaces that allowed people to do so. Some of these methods are still implemented and some of these observatories still exist in Varanasi. And these are what we shall explore in a unique heritage walk organised by Sahapedia through its outreach programme, India Heritage Walks on March 23, 2019.

In this walk, we shall learn about these astronomical instruments (yantras) and their functions at Jantar Mantar. Varanasi’s Jantar Mantar is one of the five earliest observatories established in India. Built in 1737 by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Amber, it was constructed to measure the declination of the sun, stars and planets and determine eclipses. The observatory also allowed for the study of the motion, speed and properties of the stars and planets. They were recorded using special instruments that we shall discuss during the walk. These include T. Narivalaya Dakshin and Uttar Gola, Dhruva Yantra, Ram Yantra, Krantivritta Yantra, Prakash Yantra, Disha Yantra, Chakra Yantra, Samrat Yantra, Laghu Samrat Yantra, Digansha Yantra and many more.

Observatory at Varanasi. Source:

While the walk is a unique opportunity to learn about age-old scientific techniques, it also allows one to reflect deeply on Maharaja Jai Singh II’s legacy. The courageous ruler was known to be an astronomer with a keen interest in physics. Apparently, the king sent many scholars to several countries in the early 18th century to study construction, design, science, observation technologies, etc. After the scholars returned and presented their findings, the king built five observatories in Ujjain, Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi and Mathura.

The walk will also take us to the museum in Man Singh Palace for further explorations. Here, we will not only learn about the history and heritage of Varanasi city, but also understand the need to build observatories and the many stories associated with them.

Varanasi is a city that is blessed with temples. Having been a religious centre of the country since ancient times, these temples have withstood time and have seen spiritual and philosophical institutions develop in and around them. They are living embodiments of history, with thousands of stories frozen in their walls.

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A city of temples. Image Source:

The walk will take us to the Gautameshvara Mahadev Temple at Godaulia. With a beautiful brown, intricately carved facade, the temple has been around for several centuries. The Shivling here was supposedly laid by a famous saint by the name of Sant Gautameshwara. Pilgrims visit the temple to worship Lord Shiva and be rid of their wrongdoings, and to gain good karma. We will observe the temple’s architecture and discuss its history and significance before exploring the old shops and stalls around, and finally end at the ghat.

The walk is being led by Sonali Jaiswal, a conservation architect, practising architecture and living in Varanasi. A heritage enthusiast who loves to explore the city, she is a member of the ACLA - Asian Cultural Landscape Association (SNU Seoul, Korea), and some of her research projects are on the city of Banaras. Having participated in various cultural and social activities around the city, she is a vivacious storyteller who is all set to take you through a journey across time and space in the beautiful city of Varanasi.

Come, experience this city and all that it has to offer, like never before.


This guided tour is free.

For more details about the walk and registration, click here.

To learn more about the rich heritage of Varanasi on Sahapedia, click here.

Feature Image Courtesy: