Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II (Biographical details)

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II (royal/imperial; Indian; Male; 1686 - 1743)

Also known as

Sawai Jai Singh


Sawai Jai Singh II, the remarkable Monarch of Jaipur, was a mathematician, an astronomer, and a town planner par excellence. He set up the famous observatories known as Jantar Mantars and built the city of Jaipur.

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II (1686-1743) was the ruler of the Rajput State of Amber in India. A feudatory of the Mughals, he received the title of 'Sawai' (one and a quarter) from Emperor Aurangzeb, who declared him a quarter superior to his famous forebearer Mirza Raja Jai Singh (d. 1667) after he captured the Fort of Vishalgarh from the Marathas in 1701. The title was officially recognized by an Imperial Edict in 1712, and, to commemorate it, the rulers of Jaipur began the practice of flying two flags, one full and one quarter-sized. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mughal Empire went into a decline and the Delhi Court became a hotbed of intrigues and treacherous politics. It wasn't until 1719 when, after surviving assassination attempts and other sundry opposition, the nineteen-year old Muhammad Shah became the Emperor that some sort of stability was achieved. This lasted for the next twenty years until the Afghan invader Nadir Shah sacked Delhi in 1739 and, amongst other loot, carried away the famous Peacock Throne. The shrewd and opportunistic Jai Singh managed to retain his political importance during these turbulent times. His accomplished diplomacy had kept him in Aurangzeb's good graces and he remained a favorite too with Muhammad Shah. It was on his instigation that the new Emperor abolished the hated Jaziya tax imposed on the Hindus. After bringing to the Emperor's notice some astronomic discrepancies that possibly affected the timings of Hindu and Muslim holy events and expressing his desire to correct these, Jai Singh also received Imperial backing for building his Astronomy Observatories at Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura. In return, as a tribute to his Mughal patron, Jai Singh titled the astronomical work he completed in 1728 as 'Zij-e-Muhammad-Shahi' (Muhammad Shah's astronomical tables). That same year he also built his new, magnificently designed capital Jaipur, about 200 km southwest of Delhi and constructed by combining the aspects of the ancient Hindu treatise on architecture, the Shilpa Shastra, and plans of many European cities of the period with Jai Singh's own ideas. Jaipur, which was built on the grid system with nine rectangular zones corresponding to the nine divisions of the universe and had different zones allotted to different professions, boasted 119 feet wide main streets that were perpendicularly intersected by 60 feet wide auxiliary streets, which were further honeycombed by 30 feet wide lanes and 15 feet wide by-lanes. Beautiful, harmonized buildings and shady trees lined the streets, and the city was well-provided with water conduits and wells. The European travelers of the time, like the Frenchman Louis Rousselet, and the English bishop, Heber, were greatly impressed by Jai Singh's unparalleled excellence in city-planning.

Astronomy, however, was Jai Singh's grand passion. He was a scholar, with an eclectic collection of astronomical manuscripts and tables from Arabia and Europe that included the Englishman John Flamsteed's 'Historia Coelestis Britannica', the Portuguese Pere de la Hire's 'Tabulae Astronomicae', the Turkish royal astronomer, Ulugh Beg's tables 'Zij Ulugh Begi', and the Greek Ptolemy's 'Almagest'.