Sunday, January 8, 2012

Instruments of calculation

Spent the bmorning in Jaipur's Old City, called the Pink City because of its pink stone, walking from one extraordinary palace to another. 
yes, exactly that–an astronomical garden called the Jantar Mantar, which means Instrument of Calculation.

One of the maharajas in the early 18th century was interested in astronomical measurements, so he gathered all the knowledge he could and constructed a garden for instruments: huge geometric shapes with brass (I think) fittings and finely etched notations.

The shapes are covered in plaster painted an imperial yellow–I say imperial because I recognize this yellow from St Petersburg in Russia, another city planned by mathematically-inclined or Enlightenment monarchs (that would be Peter and Catherine, roughly the same period as Jai Singh).

As for Jai Singh's shapes, Dave McCabe said that being in the park was like finding yourself in a Di Chirico painting. If you look closely, you find another great thing: the Hindu prototypes for our Arabic numerals. Most of the numbers have changed a bit, but 2 is a 2.

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