Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II and Jantar Mantar

It was all very, very romantic. On a terrace watching the moon and the stars were a princess and a king. The question she asked was one that no Hollywood or Bollywood film script writer would have ever thought of putting into the mouth of any of his heroines. The question was, "How far away are these stars and the moon?" If the lover in the king was abashed by the question, so also was the astronomer in him. When the princess gently chided him for his ignorance, all thoughts of romance fled and he decided that he must find the answer to her question.

Astronomers were invited to his court for study and discussions and the king read all the treatises he could find on the subject. The Jantar Mantar (observatories) which the king built to gain her love and admiration still stand in New Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi and Ujjain. Unfortunately, the one at Mathura was destroyed by building contractors who wanted the stones.

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh (November 3, 1688-September 21, 1743) was ruler of the kingdom of Amber (later called Jaipur). He was born at Amber, the capital of the Kachwahas. He became ruler of Amber in 1699 at the age of 11 when his father Maharaja Bishan Singh died. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb bestowed upon him the title of "Sawai" which meant one and a quarter times superior to his contemporaries. This title adorns his descendants even to this date.

Sawai Jai Singh was the first Hindu ruler in centuries to perform the ancient Vedic ceremonies like the Ashwamedha (1716) sacrifices — and the Vajapeya (1734) on both occasions vast amounts were distributed in charity.

Jai Singh’s observatories were called ‘Jantar Mantars’, which in Sanskrit roughly translates to ‘The Formula of Instruments’. The first one was built at Delhi in 1724, the second at Jaipur in 1734 and the other smaller ones at Mathura, Ujjain and Varanasi between 1732 and 1734. These monumentally grand, surrealistic structures, with their remarkable geometric shapes, are themselves the astronomical instruments, outfitted with drafting devices and grid indicators, and are so highly sophisticated that they are capable of exactly measuring planetary positions and reading time precise to one second. They were built with the assistance of the Bengali Pandit Vidyadhar Bhattacharya (also the engineer of Jaipur City), and are based on Ulugh Beg’s large 15th century instruments at Samarkhand. Although smaller, futuristic instruments like the telescope and newer-type of observatories in Paris and Greenwich were revolutionizing contemporary Europe, Jai Singh had more faith in the accuracy of his huge masonry structures.

These days Jai Singh's observatories at Jaipur, Varanasi, and Ujjain are functional. Only the one at Delhi is not functional and that at Mathura disappeared long time ago.

He also himself designed some of the instruments, like the Samrat Yantra (a huge equinoctial dial), Ram Yantra (a cylindrical building with an open top and a pillar in its center), and Jai Prakash Yantra (a concave hemisphere), the Digamsha Yantra (a pillar surrounded by two circular walls), and the Narivalaya Yantra (a cylindrical dial).

Jai Singh’s greatest achievement was the construction of Jaipur city (known originally as Jainagara (in Sanskrit, as the 'city of victory' and later as the 'pink city' by the British by the early 20th century), the planned city, later became the capital as the Indian state of Rajasthan.

Jai Singh opened his observatories to the public in order to popularize astronomy. Today, Jai Singh’s Jantar Mantars are open to tourists and are well-worth a visit.

For these multiple achievements Sawai Jai Singh II is remembered even to this date, as the most enlightened king of 18th Century India.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vedas - Most Ancient Religious Texts

The Vedas are the ancient scriptures or revelation (Shruti) of the Hindu teachings. They manifest the Divine Word in human speech. They reflect into human language the language of the Gods, the Divine powers that have created us and which rule over us.

The Vedas ("knowledge") are a large body of texts originating in Ancient India. They form the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism.

According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas are apauruseya ("not of human agency"), are supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called shruti ("what is heard"). Vedic mantras are recited at Hindu prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions.

The Vedas are the primary texts of Hinduism. They also had a vast influence on Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. The Vedas contain hymns, incantations, and rituals from ancient India. They are among the most ancient religious texts still in existence. Besides their spiritual value, they also give a unique view of everyday life in India four thousand years ago.

The Vedas were compiled around the time of Krishna (c. 3500 B.C.), and even at that time were hardly understood. Scholars have determined that the Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Vedas, was composed about 1500 B.C., and codified about 600 B.C. It is unknown when it was finally committed to writing, but this probably was at some point after 300 B.C.

There are four Vedas:

The Rig-Veda:- The Rig-Veda Samhita is the oldest significant existent Indian text. It is a collection of 1,028 Vedic Sanskrit hymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten books (Sanskrit: mandalas). The hymns are dedicated to Rigvedic deities. The hymns are dedicated to thirty-three different gods; these gods were, quite expectedly, nature gods. The most often addressed gods are Indra (rain god; king of heavens), Agni (fire god) and Rudra (storm god; the 'howler'). A sizeable chunk of the verses are also dedicated to Soma (the draught of immortality), which was a cool alcoholic brew made from the leaves of the soma plant and was drunk during sacrifices.

The Sama-Veda:- The Sama-Veda is the "Veda of melodies" or "Knowledge of melodies". The Sama-Veda or the wisdom of chants is basically a collection of samans or chants, derived from the eighth and ninth books of the 'original Veda', the Rig-Veda. These were meant for the priests who officiated at the rituals of the soma ceremonies – in full sway there could have as many as seventeen full rituals.
It is not surprising that the Sama-Veda is better known for the precise meter of its poetry than for its literary content. There are also painstaking instructions in Sama-Veda about how particular hymns must be sung; this is perhaps because great emphasis was put upon sounds of the words of the mantras and the effect they could have on the environment and the person who pronounced them.

The Yajur-Veda:- The Yajur-Veda or the wisdom of sacrifices lays down various sacred invocations (yajurs) which were chanted by a particular sect of priests called adhvaryu. They performed the sacrificial rites. This is very much a ritual based Veda for although there are a few hymns to various Gods the main stress is on the theory of the ritual. The Veda also outlines various chants which should be sung to pray and pay respects to the various instruments which are involved in the sacrifice.

The Atharva-Veda:- The Atharva-Veda Sahita has 760 hymns, and about 160 of the hymns are in common with the Rig-Veda. The Atharva-Veda (the wisdom of the Atharvans) is called so because the families of the atharvan sect of the Brahmins have traditionally been credited with the composition of the Vedas. It is a compilation of hymns but lacks the awesome grandeur which makes the Rig-Veda such a breathtaking spiritual experience. It is roughly equivalent to the western magic spells and has incantations for everything – from success in love to the realization of otherworldly ambitions.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bailey bridge - World's highest bridge

The Bailey bridge is the highest bridge in the world. It is located in the Ladakh valley between the Dras and Suru rivers in the Himalayan Mountains. It was built by the Indian Army in August 1982. It is 30 meters (98 ft) long, and is at an altitude of 5,602 meters (18,379 ft) above sea level.

The Bailey bridge is a portable pre-fabricated truss bridge, designed for use by military engineering units to bridge up to 60 m (200 ft) gaps. It requires no special tools or heavy equipment for construction, the bridge elements are small enough to be carried in trucks, and the bridge is strong enough to carry tanks.

A bailey bridge is a prefabricated bridge used by combat engineers, which can be rapidly constructed on the battlefield. The system was devised by British engineer Sir Donald Bailey during World War 2, and consists of a basic diamond braced unit of welded steel, 3×1•5 m/10×5 ft square, which can be easily manipulated by a squad of six men and joined together to make complex bridging structures.

A large part of what made Bailey bridges as successful and unique as they were is the modular design, and the fact that it could be assembled with minimal aid from heavy equipment. Most, if not all, previous designs for military bridges required cranes to lift up the preassembled bridge and lower it into place. Finally, the modular design allowed engineers to build each bridge to be as long and as strong as needed, doubling or tripling up on the supportive side panels, or on the roadbed sections.

Each unit constructed in this fashion creates a single 10 ft (3 m) long section of bridge, with a 12 ft (4 m) wide roadbed.

For added strength several panels (and transoms) can be bolted on either side of the bridge, up to three. With three panels across and two high, the Bailey Bridge can support tanks over a 200 ft (60 m) span.

An astonishing feature of the Bailey bridge is its ability to be "launched" from one side of a gap. In this system the frontmost portion of the bridge is angled up with wedges into a launching nose and most of the bridge is left without the roadbed and ribands. The bridge is placed on rollers and simply pushed across the gap, using manpower or a truck or tracked vehicle, at which point the roller is removed (with the help of jacks) and the ribands and roadbed installed, along with any additional panels and transoms that might be needed.

The Bailey bridge was originally developed by the military to construct quickly across rivers in wartime. There's a lake to the right of the bridge and a hydroelectric dam to the left.

They are a bit noisy when you drive over them but they are very stable. There isn't much traffic here as it's almost at the end of a valley. Cars, trucks and even tanks can easily pass through them.

More to read : World's Highest Battle field, Chail - World's Highest Cricket Ground
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