Reason to Believe

An ordinary Wednesday in downtown Bucharest.
2 streets are blocked by a long line of relic-worshippers.
An adjacent street is blocked by flower-vendors.
Gendarmerie, paid from our taxes, guards the line.
I wish our taxes were used to pay for education.

A song to go with it: Ugress, Reason to Believe.

Not so long ago, in the 80s, people would queue for food. Author unknown

It’s all gone. Palmyra

There are no words to describe the absurd horror of blowing something up that was built with such delicacy and skill as the temples of Palmyra.

Temple of Bel. 2004No situation describes the actual times better: a bunch of uneducated fanatics runs around blowing up in a matter of minutes what has been put up more than 2’000 years ago with more skill and craft than we can deliver today with modern machinery.

Great Colonnade at Palmyra, 2004.

Actually, it’s all about looking for hidden treasures to fund warfare and making it look like religious zeal.
The powerful nations keep away, it’s about antiques and therefore not their (democracy-spreading) business. The residents, intimidated and destabilised, begin fleeing towards those very democratic countries, whose governments are then taken aback and don’t know how to react.

A July morning in 2004, 6am

Memories of walking down those majestic streets 22 m wide ten years ago and passing the imposing walls and columns 12m high almost choke me now. I had hoped to come back one day in a month other than July.

Until May 2015, all people passing had respected the work of the ancients. 

The sands would have taken better care of the ruins, had they never been retrieved from it.

The amphiteatre, 2004. 20 people were shot here in May 2015. Ten times more were killed until August, at least one third were civilians..

There is nothing to go back to. Gone are the marvels now. Their guardian died trying to save them from looting and destruction. The valiant head of Antiquities Department in Palymra for 50 years, Khaled al-Asaad, 82, was captured, interogated about hidden treasures for one month and then, for his refusal to cooperate, beheaded last August in front of the very ancient stones he was trying to protect.
Do stop using the word ‘execution’ for similar acts: there is no ‚lawful penalty’ or ‚state’ or ‚trial’ linked with this kind of attrocity. It is murder.

Altar. Temple of Baalshamin, built in 131AD. 2004.

What happened since last August? The loathed bunch of freaks finances its existence by selling loot. I wonder who’s buying. And who keeps selling dynamite to creatures which ruin in one day what took years to accomplish and stood there for 2’000 years.

A lizard hiding in the altar wall, 2004

Once, under Queen Zenobia, this was a place of both power and tolerance, where different eastern and western cultures interacted. Not even the Mongolian Timurids dared to destroy what survived from the Neolithic times and what the Romans had built under Diocletian.

Destruction in 2015. ©REUTERS/Social Media

Meanwhile, there are 60’000 people trying to flee from this madness – and Europe keeps debating and discussing, trying to sit it out, make it go away.

While everybody sits around yapping and bawling on overpriced devices designed in California and made in China about the rights of borderline cases in countries whose people don’t give a flying fart about what happens here.

 Jordan, Za’atari, Syrian refugee camp, 2013. 122’700 people and 5’000 coming in every day. From Wiklipedia

Places are being pillaged and there are more people on the run than after WWII – but nobody seems to care about what Syria is going through or see the great efforts Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are making right now.

Jordan, Za’atari refugee camp, opened 2012, fourth largest in the world. Photo: Brian Sokol / UNHCR

So many lies everywhere. These are dark times and the end is nowhere near in sight. Let us please at least stop lying to ourselves.

The way in. ©The Economist from August 29th

Later edit, November 12th, 2015. The refugees are in Europe. Almost everywhere. Not in Romania, where there’s nothing much for them to be found except animosity and poverty.

In generous Germany’s harbours there are 80’000 people waiting for something. And winter’s coming.


The time was early 1982. My dad must’ve taken the picture. We were in Predeal for a ski cup, as you can easily recognize by the numbers on the people’s torsos.
These were his colleagues at the factory where he had landed as an oil engineer.

Times were murky. We’d go skiing as often as possible, because there was no other distraction from the routine. We’d all stay at some villa, which once had belonged to some…bourgeois, before the war. I’ll always remember the spaces as – cold and somehow strange. We’d all sleep huddled together in the same room. In the mornings, us kids would watch the grown-ups trying to fry raw cut in half eggs, which had frozen between the windows over night, on a rather improvised camper heater, attached to a smuggled gas bottle someone had brought along.

1982. People in a distant galaxy, it seems, are shaking their limbs to the sound of MJ’s Thriller. Madonna makes her debut and gets her first contract signed, while everybody’s wearing terry cloth stripes on their wrists and heads, in horrid neon colours. Shoulder pads, acid washed jeans and starry patterns rule the dance floors.
Prince William gets born to Lady Di in June– another one to follow the hairdo- and fashion sins of the moment.

By the time we’re competing in the Carpathians, Argentinian troops invade the British Falkland islands, on February 4th.

Grace Kelly drives off a cliff in Monaco, later that year, in September.
The Delorean motor company goes bankrupt.
Kohl becomes chancellor of Germany in October.
In November, Leonid Breshnev dies in Moscow. Yuri Andropov, former head of the KGB, takes his place as head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Lech Walesa is released in Poland after a year in prison.

The mountains were quiet and peaceful. We’d go there on every possible occasion in winter, because Bucharest had become dark and increasingly menacing. Ceausescu and his lot had started demolishing whole neighbourhoods, in order to build a new stronghold against capitalism.
Excavators were ripping deep trenches in the mud, were once houses stood and kids played on the cobbled streets under age-old trees. The city turned more and more silent, dark and scared. Grocery stores and markets looked emptier every week, while the lines for sugar, eggs, sunflower oil and – even toilet paper – grew. People just stood in lines in front of random stores, hoping some of these products would miraculously show up in the shelves. Gas, water and power shortages contributed to the fight against the imperialist enemy.

The system was keeping everybody busy.

I remember those winters as cold and dark, at best grey. I remember my parents speaking less and looking more tired, worried.
Naturally, I remember feeling protected – a lot more than I feel today.

But…this was because I was a kid, not because times were in any way better. Adults would bear the weight of the worries.
I just used to linger in the staircase and ask ‘When are we leaving for the mountains?’ innumerable times, no matter who’d pass me by.

I might look like some kind of a princess on that pic, but my biggest worry was not loosing that leather bag – and the contest. Instead of feeling protected and surrounded by caring people, I’d compete, in my head, against anyone and everyone, except the tall guy, Gil, whom I always admired.

Dad and his mates would soon go back to working at their factory, which does not exist anymore. I’d start school that next fall – about the time Grace Kelly drove her car off that cliff.

A few years later, the Berlin wall falls and there’s major change in the air all over the world.

It’s been…33 years since then.

On your birthday

On your birthday, I thought of you.

I walked home round 3 am through some darkened alleys, which once were streets.
Now they’re hidden behind some ugly blocks.
I felt spring was in the air and I smelled the river,
as I walked beside its black water skirting the old town.
The streets were seething with Friday night fever.

I passed that huge line of cabs we’d never notice in our endless talks
on the way to my place, on nights like this one.

I’ve missed you so much since you’re gone.

On your birthday, I filled the house with white flowers.

But then I saw the mistletoe you hung over the doorframe.
I remembered your hands, as they were tying it there.
Your voice. Your skin.

You disappeared, as if I menaced your mere bones.

You walk on different streets now, under a different sky.
You carry this shadow around you, selling it off as freedom.
Deep inside you, you know. It’s slow of sale.

Yours must be a sad life.

Otherwise you’d have never come near me, in the first place.

On taming wild beasts

When I was small, people would ask: ‘What do you want to be, when you grow up?’

There were always several answers in may head, so I’d need a moment to answer.
‘Storm!’ or ‘a millionaire’, I’d say sometimes.

Often I thought I’d like to be a tamer of wild beasts. To understand the languages of many and be able to handle their different ways. I’d be able to talk to owls and falcons, lizards and foxes, tigers and buffaloes…

Time passed by – and I became something else.
I do not want to tame beasts any more, I’d rather prefer to be like one.

A tiger, largely solitary, strong, unimpressed by ants or humans and their small struggle.
Minding his own business. Equally at ease on the ground, as in water.
Sharing food and territory amicably, whenever the case.
Just being.

‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.’ Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

We need to talk.

“You woke up, washed your face, put on your clothes,
went by your business,
Shaking hands, passing smiles, counting coin…
Got a secret?
Can’t tell nobody.
Carry it close, dawn to dusk.
Pick up tomorrow,
All over again.
Ain’t nothing at all.”
Daughter Maitland – St. Louis Blues. ‘Boardwalk Empire’

We need to talk’, she said.

By that time, there must have been nothing left to talk about, anymore.
Should have listened closer, way earlier’, she thought.
‘Should have said something, earlier’, he thought.
Cracks were already going all the way through the sky.

The Pharmacy

‘Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind’

Long time ago, before the World Wars, there were two German pharmacies in Bucharest. One was Thüringer’s, on 43, Elisabeta blvd. the other one was ‚La Ochiul lui Dumnezeu’ (‚At God’s Eye’), opposite to Stirbei Palace, on Calea Victoriei 138.

In 1939, on the occasion of the latter’s centennial anniversary at that location, a collection of ancient pharmaceutical devices was exhibited in the windows of the corner house: jars, tin pots and delicate scales, graters, mortar and pestle sets of various materials, to grind powders from which lozenges and ointments were made.

Behind the house, in a herb garden, various plants were cultivated for their specific uses:
thyme, for cough drops, sage, for disinfecting tinctures, several species of mint, for the stomach troubles, valerian, for treating insomnia, marjoram and lavender, against pain and unrest, rosemary, against migraines and blood pressure, dill and fennel for tummy teas, chervil for the eye bath.
Celandine (rostopasca), said to cure infections and even tumors. Centaury and artichoke thistle, as antioxidants, for liver, rein and blood problems. Horsetail, hemostatic and similar in effect with today’s aspirine. Yarrow (‚soldier’s woundwort’, or ‚coada soricelului’), that would stop bleedings.

This phial contains a few age-old grains of juniper, called ‘Wachholder’ in German. It was probably taken to the household for the kitchen cupboard and thus escaped the pharmacy’s fate.

Mr. Carl Schuster, the owner, had come from Transylvania in 1829 and opened a pharmacy in Bucharest. His brother Gerhard had also opened one in Vienna, on 18, Währinger Strasse, under the name of ‘Zum Auge Gottes’ (which means the same in German).

Gerhard and his sons all died in the First World War. Today the Viennese pharmacy moved to 79, Nussdorferstrasse.

Carl Schuster married in 1840 in Brasov and brought his wife to live with him in Bucharest. Their granddaughter Friederike married in 1920. Her husband, Albert Prall, was a 2m-tall officer freshly out of the Theresian Military Academy in Vienna. He left the army to study and become a pharmacist as well, in order to be able take over ‘God’s Eye’ one day. His story here.
When the Second World War started, Martin Schuster, Carl’s son, was already too old to be enrolled. He spent most of his time at the pharmacy, trying to offer help to whomever needed it.

The tides had turned: Romania switched from neutral at first, to the side of the Axis Powers after the Soviet invasion in Bessarabia and Bucovina. On the 23rd of August 1944, King Michael I removed marshal Ion Antonescu and Romania joined the Allied Forces.
In a tempestuous withdrawal, during three days, the Luftwaffe covered Bucharest with a carpet of bombs.  (This, after the Allies had severely bombed the city on Easter that year.)

On August 25th an infantry platoon in company of two tank destroyers rounded up Legatia Germana at 174, Calea Victoriei (opened in 1880, became later Cazino Victoria). Not accepting the defeat, German Embassador Manfred von Killinger shot his secretary first – and then killed himself.

When the sirens started howling again the following night, Mr. Schuster refused to go to take shelter in the Stirbei Palace cellars, claiming that he had to be at the pharmacy, in case somebody would have needed help.
In an attempt to hit the 52.5m high building of the Telephone Palace, the National Theatre on Calea Victoriei was put to ashes. The whole neighbourhood was set ablaze, as the bombs also hit the gas pipes on the main streets.

Eventually, as people from the palace returned and insisted again, Martin Schuster joined them, but left the pharmacy unlocked: he pulled the door shut by its handle, saying that someone might still need bandages, disinfectant or pain killers.

One of the last bombs fell into the pharmacy’s ventilation shaft that night. It landed in the basement and detonated the building together with its herb garden.

Coming out of the shelter the next day, he found the door handle on the pavement.
That – and a bundle of papers that had been locked in a safe – were the only remains of ‘God’s Eye’.

Eventually, with the help of his son in law, he put together a new pharmacy, which was nationalized in 1948. While returning from work one night in March of 1952, Albert Prall was killed by drunken soldiers, together with his Turkish colleague, whom he was trying to protect from being bullied in the street.

But this is a different story.
Albert Prall’s daughter is my grandma.
My mother was born in 1948.

Update on 2017-01-12 12:23 by Doro

Today I helped grandma out with the Christmas tree. I climbed up the ladder and got the box with the decorations down from the top shelf. The box!… one more piece that survived from the pharmacy!

May you have a peaceful and happy Christmas with your loved ones! May we never know hardship and duress.

The Counter

The Counter at Grand Central Terminal, 1929

Once I had this dream. I don’t even remember if I was actually sleeping – or just slipping away.

I dreamt I was so worn down by my life as I knew it. So exhausted by all the painful memories that were blurring all the positive ones.
Roaming around every day and trying new stuff, but it wouldn’t work.
Thinking, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
Realising, after a while, that the stronger you get, you only get lonelier.

After a while, I got so weary, I couldn’t learn how to enjoy whatever was going to come anymore. I’d only see the lousy sides of everything and would draw miserable conclusions, so life would increasingly become a spiral, with little variation.

I kept searching for a way to change it.
After a while, I learned there was a counter somewhere, where you could go to and give up your life, as a package, and ask for another one in return.
But you wouldn’t know what was in the new package, before you traded the old one in. No way of choosing.

Eventually, I found the building. It looked like a station, allthough you could walk around it. It had only one large double door.
I went to watch it, time and again, wondering if now was the right time to ask for the exchange.

I’d sneak around the impressive thing, observing the people who went in and out. They were not showing any major change in mood. But they’d come out with a different look on their faces. As someone else.

Every time I’d go there, I would toy around with the idea. And wonder.
Maybe the time’s not ready yet- imagine, you’ll give up all your memories, entirely.

All of them.
You wouldn’t know your loved ones anymore.
You wouldn’t remember how you discovered sunshine, in a plastic fishbowl, one morning.
Or your grandma’s generous smile. Sour cherries on mown grass.
The taste of freshly ground pepper on tomatoes, that grandfather made you eat one day, because ‚you can’t say you dislike something, without even having tried it.’

You’d never remember that day dad held you on his knees, while you were crying over your first bleeding knee or lip, and how he told you that it was going to be ok.
That way the streets smelled after a hot summer storm, when mom would come home with a sunflower from ‘patriotic work’ in a nearby field. Exhausted, but smiling.

You wouldn’t know your favourite perfume anymore. Or your first kiss.

Or your first trip abroad, when you discovered ‚the other world’, Switzerland! the land the old ones had told so many stories about. The wonderful house on the hill, where your godmother lived!

That amazed way in which someone, who had really mattered back then, had looked at you one morning.
Your first flight, alone! The travels!
…Those warm hugs with friends, when you came back, after all these years – it took them a couple of years to believe that you were going to stay, this time.

That crazy chase in the streets, one short happy night.

All of these were linked to painful memories, that would seep through, just when you were recalling the good ones!
The loved ones had judged you and had turned against you so many times, for no big reason,
the fish bowl had mysteriously disappeared one day.
Grandma died years ago – and nobody smiles like that anymore. Most cherries had had worms in them – and she used to eat them!
Someone too close had told you, furious, one day, “You are as reckless as your grandfather used to be.” He had died when you were six and you don’t even remember him that well anymore…

You always had bleeding knees in summer back then, because you were invariably veering too close to the corner of the house with your bike. The lip was from your first humiliating fight at school.
After that, things had gotten worse for years: you remember having been involved in more fights, than the others would remember afternoons of holding hands and kissing behind the school as teens.
Mom’s face looks ashen with exhaustion almost every day now, but she still keeps trying to save the world,
and there’s always so much more to be saved than is humanly possible.

So many other women are wearing your perfume. The guy who gave you that first kiss told you, two days later, that he had only kissed you out of ‚duty’ and you should forget about it, because he knew you had been fancying him for two years now…

You had never encountered the Switzerland of their stories – it was probably gone long before you were born – and the new one you had found instead had, in time, turned a very cold face at you.

That someone with the rapt look on his face had cheated on you in a terrible, unexpected way.
You had flown so many miles alone, wishing there was someone waiting for you at the airport, that the mere memory of those flights would turn your stomach.
So much about the friends.

And the chase that night? He had been drunk and exuberant and you were probably the only one to remember it that lovely way.
He had misleaded you – and you had gratefully accepted that lead.
Or maybe it wasn’t even that clear.
It wasn’t clear anyway. But it was gutless and sad…

So, now we’re here, you think. Have it, all of it, the whole package, with all its memories, let someone else delight themselves with its content, may they enjoy having your enthusiasm, your wits, your courage and your smile. Your skills, your love of so-many-things-in-this world, books and horses and languages and everything. Let someone else have it! …Maybe they’ll handle it better.

What if there are other, much more terrible lives, that people come to trade in? Are you feeling you’re there, now?
Would you trade your whole life in, for that?
he said, frowning.
Only desperate souls would come to trade their lives in at this counter, anyway.

Smart ones, not the trite ones, I know those happy simple souls! those wouldn’t find the counter anyway.
Would you switch with them,
is your misery so much sadder than theirs?

I never found the counter. And, I must say, I don’t think of it often.

But I now think that “in the battle between you and the world, bet on the world”, as the saying goes.

I wish I’d learn how to enjoy this world, instead of trying to battle it.

I guess that, for some things, I’m a slow learner.

The fig tree

In the garden of the house I grew up in, there’s this fig tree. Maybe young grandma planted it, in the late 30es, shortly after the house was built.

Winters here are often cold: there’s -18°C outside now. So, every once in a while, the fig tree doesn’t make it to spring. Every time I see the withered branches, I think to myself ‚So, this time it’s over.’

Somehow, we never even liked eating its fruit: they take so long to ripen, looking indecent all summer, in their shrivelled green skins.

Every time the tree withers, after a few weeks, an amazing little sprout shows up in the ground, just a few inches away from the old stem. It takes 3-4 years to grow back to the size you can see in the picture. By that time, next winter will be a cold one…

I never understood the fig tree parable in the bible. It seemed like a stub: some crucial information must have been left out, so the story makes no sense to me. Why curse the fig tree for not bearing fruit, if it wasn’t the season for figs anyway?

Once I read about Sylvia Plath’s fig tree.

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – from The Bell Jar, 1963

For such a long time I felt just like this. There were so many attractive options and – I was scared that choosing one meant, I’d decide against all the other ones.
Fortunately, I do not feel like that anymore.

The fig tree is not old, because it always starts anew. There were times when it came out again about 4 meters away from where it once stood. But it did – and it’s the same, somehow: it never forgets about spring and never looses the wonderful shape of its leaves.

It taught me this wonderful thing: it doesn’t really matter what you choose, as long as you keep on doing stuff. You’ll find your way. All in good time, it said.

The Jantar Mantar of Jaipur

Jaipur, the pink city, was built in the 18th century, as the new capital of Rajasthan. Jaipur panorama here

Its founder, Sawai Jai Singh II, succeeded to the throne of Amber in 1700 at the age of thirteen. Abandoning it as a capital, he founded the city of Jaipur in 1727.

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II ca. 1725 Jaipur. British museum

India, in the early decades of the 18th century was a land to turmoil, the Mughal empire was collapsing, its chiefs were busy in internal quarrels, and the Marathas, Portuguese, British, French and Dutch were fighting for the over lordship of India’s trade and political fortunes. In this age arose a brilliant star on India’s political and intellectual horizon – Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, Rajput ruler of Amber, founder of Jaipur, a great builder and ruler and an exceptional astronomer.

Building Jaipur from scratch, Jai Singh seized the opportunity to plan the whole town according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory. Jaipur streets were planned to go, according to vedic principles for comfort and prosperity (Shilpa Shastra), East to West and North to South.

The city is divided into seven rectangular areas following the caste system and preordination. In the 7th, central area lies the Palace, which houses the womens chambers and the holiest sanctum.

The pearl, right across from the Royal Palace, on the place where the temples would normally be located: the astronomical observatory, as one of five built in west central India between 1727 and 1734. (Delhi was first, followed by Jaipur one year later, then Mathura-now destroyed, last were Ujjain and Varanasi/Benares).

Sawai Jai Singh II had been commissioned by Emperor Muhammad Shah to make corrections in the astronomical tables and to confirm the data, already available on the planetary positions. He took seven years to finish the task.

The maharajah had sent his envoys thorughout the world to gather astronomical data available in the world. They came back with huge amounts of data: descriptions by Prince Ulugh Beg (1394-1449), who had built the most famous of the time in Samarkand, manuals by La Hire, Tycho Brahe, as well as texts by John Flam Steed, which were all used as source for the construction. 

The observatory, in the end, turned out to be more accurate than the tables it was built after and Sawai Jai Singh II published his book of tables to correct the known ones of that time by 1723. He built the first stone observatory in 1724 in Delhi. The Jaipur observatory of Rajasthan was built in 1728.

Early Greek and Persian observatories contained elements that Jai Singh incorporated into his designs, but the instruments of the Jantar Mantar are more complex, or at a much greater scale than any that had come before, and in certain instances, are completely unique in design and function. 

Its name, pronounced as ‘Yantra Mantra’, comes from the Sanskrit words yantra for instrument and mantra for formula, meaning, literally, ‘instrument for calculation’.

It’s instruments are large scale in order to obtain more accuracy in astronomical calculations by minimizing potential errors.

The Jaipur observatory consist of 14 major geometric devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars’ location as the earth orbits around the sun, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes and related ephemerides.

The instruments 

The Samrat Yantra/Yantra Raj, the largest instrument, is a sun dial of 27 meter height.





 Its shadow tells the time of day with an accuracy of about two seconds and moves visibly at 1 mm per second, or roughly a hand’s width (6 cm) every minute.

The Hindu chhatri (small domed cupola) on top is used as a platform for announcing eclipses and the arrival of monsoons.

It’s outer circle shows divisions for the 24h, of 6 fractions each, whereas the inner circle is divided in 360°, each of 6 subdivisions.

The ramp of the Small Sundial (Laghu Samrat Yantra) points right to the North Pole, so one can read the exact time in Jaipur on its marble divisions on the sides. detailed info here

The Kapali Yantra device consists of a  hollowed out hemisphere of marble with markings on its surface ‘Crosswires were stretched between points on their rim. From inside the sphere, an observer could align the position of a star with various markings or a window’s edge. The structure is based on concepts dating to as early as 300 B.C. when the Greco-Babylonian astronomer Berosus is said to have made a hemispherical sundial. more here.

Hemispherical dials also appear in European Church architecture during the Middle Ages, and at the observatory in Nanking, China in the late 13th-century.‘ But it is smaller and less practical than the Jai Prakash described below, as it is unique, not coupled and you cannot walk through it.

Jai Prakash Yantra or Mirror of Heavens

may well be Jai Singh’s most elaborate and complex instrument and its invention is atributed to the maharajah himself.

‘Two walkable complementary marble hemispheres set in the ground about 5 metres in diameter – in itself a master piece – where above a cross with a metal ring is applied. The inside surface is covered with coordinate lines. During the day the shadow of the metal ring allows to read the exact position of the sun on the coordinate lines, and of course the time. During the night a simple tube was used as a sighting device for observation.’

Narivalaya Yantra is another sundial for measuring the local solar time at the latitude of Jaipur. There are actually two paired instruments, one for use in winter (when the sun is in the southern hemisphere) and the other for use in summer, when the sun is in the northern hemisphere. Its faces are parallel to the equator, inclined 27°, which coincides with Jaipur’s latitude.

The gnomon/ iron rod being perpendicular on each of these masonry dials, is therefore parallel to the Earth’s axis, pointing to the south pole (for the winter instrument) or the north pole (for the summer instrument). Local solar time is read off from the angular position of the gnomon’s shadow on the dial.

Other instruments include the Ram Yantra whose primary function is to measure the altitude and azimuth of celestial objects, including the sun, (according to the height of the shadow, cast by the gnomon). In the Islamic and Hindu schools of astronomy there were no insturments like the Ram Yantra prior to Jai Singh’s creations. Height and radius of this instrument are the same.

As the sun rises and falls in the heavens, the shadow falls and rises correspondingly as it moves around the instrument. The sun is highest in the sky when the shadow is lowest on the scale. Wedges are cut out of the instrument to enable observers to move freely inside.

The Rashivalaya Yantras – the Zodiac

The Rashivalaya instruments were mentioned earlier as examples of sundials. However their orientation is unusual, since they do not point due north. This is a clue to their purpose, which is to calculate sidereal, rather than solar, time. The advantage of using sidereal coordinates is that they depend only on the annual orbit of the earth around the sun, not on the earth’s daily rotation.

Sidereal time is measured relative to the ecliptic, the path of earth’s orbit across the heavens. The ecliptic is divided into 12 parts for convenience, each part named after a constellation that is located there. The 12 constellations are called the “Zodiac”. (See Basic Celestial Phenomena for more information about this.)

In the Rashivalaya Yantras, each of the 12 instruments is associated with one of the 12 signs of the zodiac.