A Descriptive Catalogue of Indian Astronomical Instruments

The large masonry instruments designed and erected by Sawai Jai Singh in his five observatories in the early eighteenth century mark the culmination of a long process of development in astronomical instrumentation. But what kind of astronomical instruments were used in India before Jai Singh's time? Sanskrit texts on astronomy - starting from Brahmagupta's Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta, composed in AD 628 - describe the construction and use of several types of instruments. Are there any specimens extant where one can see how the textual prescriptions were executed in practice? Such questions led me to an exploration of nearly a hundred museums and private collections in India, Europe and USA for about a quarter century and to the identification of 555+ specimens which are extant or of which photos and other records are available.

A Descriptive Catalogue of Indian Astronomical Instruments is the outcome of this exploration. The renowned historian of science, Derek Price, remarked once: 'Each instrument is a valuable document in itself, yielding historical and scientific data often unobtainable elsewhere. ...however, ... the full significance of any one instrument cannot be properly realised except by comparison with the corpus of all such instruments extant.'

This catalogue describes each instrument in the context of the related extant specimens, while laying special emphasis on the interplay between Sanskrit and Islamic traditions of instrumentation. Therefore, each instrument type is organized in a separate section. Each section begins with an introductory essay on the history of the instrument type and its varieties, followed by a full technical description of every specimen, with art historical notes on the decorations and ornamentation. Moreover, all engraved data are reproduced and interpreted as far as possible. There are also introductory essays on some prominent instrument-makers.

The appendices contain, among others, long extracts from two important Sanskrit texts, namely Mahendra Sūri's Yantrarāja, the first Sanskrit text on the astrolabe (AD 1370) and Padmanābha's Dhruvabhramādhikāra (ca. AD 1423), along with English translations.

The Catalogue is available for download here. Please note that the PDF is quite large (>300 MB) and thus might take some time to download.

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Following a suggestion that a shorter version of the Catalogue, consisting of all the introductory essays and appendices, but excluding the catalogue proper, would be easier for the general reader to handle, this Abridged Version has been prepared [based on the previous Cataloge release]. The pagination here remains the same as in the Catalogue. Those who wish to read about individual instruments can always consult the Catalogue. The Abridged Version of the Catalogue is available for download here.

You may also copy or download the Abridged Version of the Catalogue via Dropbox.

A 'Print On Demand' copy of the Abridged Version can be obtained at tredition or at Amazon as well as at any other book store under the ISBN 978-3-7482-2782-3. The associated charges cover the costs of distribution and printing; the contents are identical with those of the online version.


The Catalogue may be viewed, stored and distributed for academic and personal purposes free of charge. Commercial use is not permitted. When reproduced, in part or as a whole, the author and the website www.srsarma.in must be named and there may be no alterations whatsoever to the contents. All images in the Catalogue are under copyright as indicated. Images may not be extracted from the Catalogue and may not be reproduced without the permission of the respective owners.