Related institutions /Events


Thiruvananthapuram Observatory
(an article by Dr.Gopchandran)

The Thiruvananthapuram Observatory stands on a hill, about 60 feet high, and 200 feet above the level of sea from which it is distant, in a straight line, about two miles. It commands an extensive and beautiful view of an undulating and finely variegated country towards north, the east, and the south-and of the sea horizon to the west. The eastern view is terminated by the Ghat Mountains.

The geographical situation of the Observatory is 8 degree 30 min northern latitude and 76 degree 59 min eastern longitude.The Observatory which functions today as part of the Department of Physics, University of Kerala, commenced its operations in 1837 and is one of the oldest of its kind in modern India. It owes its origin to the initiative and vision of Sri Swati Tirunal (1829-46), the versatile Maharaja of Travancore who himself, a keen student of Astronomy.  The Maharaja used to discuss the different aspects of astronomy with Mr.John Caldecott the commercial agent of Travancore Government at Alleppey who was well-versed in astronomy. Mr. Caldecott used to make astronomical observations with several portable instruments of his own and found them to agree with those of the Hindu science and Astronomy. A formal proposal for the establishment of an Observatory was put up to the Maharaja by Caldecott through Col. Fraser the British Resident and it was sanctioned by the Maharaja who was "desirous that his country should partake with European nations in scientific investigation". Though Caldecott originally proposed the establishment of the Observatory at Alleppey, the Maharaja decided to have it at Trivandrum.   The Observatory building was satisfactorily erected under the direction of Lieutenant Horsely of the Madras Engineers who was visiting Engineer and Superintendent of Irrigation in Travancore State. The infant institution received the astronomical instruments owned by Caldecott as free gift.
The Maharaja also took special interest in equipping it with the best instruments available at the time in Europe. Caldecott himself was appointed first Director of the Observatory, in addition to his being the court Astronomer. Mr. Caldecott's original proposal was the establishment of an astronomical Observatory, and he got down for this purpose a few astronomical instruments but when the institution started work in 1837, greater attention seems to have been paid to meteorological observations.

The instruments initially procured to the Observatory include a transit telescope with five feet focal length and four inches aperture, a transit clock an altitude and azimuth instrument having 18 and 15-inch circles and powerful telescopes.Mr. Caldecott also published three issues of an astronomical ephemeris adapted to the meridian of Trivandrum. After the death of Mr.Caldecott, Mr.John Allan Broun.F.R.S was appointed Director of the Observatory in 1851, and he took charge of the institution in 1852. Before he came to India he was for seven years Director of the magnetic Observatory at Makerstoun on southern Scotland, and had an excellent record of work published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. However he continued his work in Trivandrum with special interest in magnetism and meteorology. From his observations he concluded that the Sun and the Moon exert certain influence on the direction of the magnetic needle, and there is a lunar diurnal variation for this influence. Near the equator the influence was in December opposite to what it was in June. He also showed that the lunar action was reversed at sunrise, and much greater during daytime than at night, whether the moon was above or below the horizon. Mr.Broun also deduced that day to day changes in the horizontal force of the earth's magnetism was simultaneous all over the world and some of these changes he attributed to the moon while the others had periodical changes once in 26 days, due the influence of sun. He also inferred that the greater magnetic disturbances were due to actions proceeding from certain meridians of the Sun.Mr. Broun established another Observatory on the top of Agustia peak at a height of 6200 feet above the sea level. This is the most conspicuous peak of the Western Chats that could be seen from any part of Trivandrum and in this work

Mr.Broun had to overcome great difficulties arising from weather conditions and in exploring a thick forest abounding in wild animals. Mr. Broun continued this work till 1855, when he went to England. Afterwards according to the suggestion of the Governor of Madras (Sir William Denison) the magnetic Observatory was closed. He devoted the rest of his life for publishing the Trivandrum Observations on Magnetism and Meteorology.

Although only one volume of this was published during his lifetime, his complete works were published in the transactions of the Royal Societies of Edinburgh and London, and also in the Indian Meteorological Memoirs. In recognition of his meritorious work Mr.Broun was awarded the Keith Prize and the Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh for 1859-61 and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1878.After the retirement of Mr. Broun the working staff of the Observatory was considerably reduced and a few meteorological observations alone were continued upto 1892, when Dr.Mitchell, Professor of Mathematics in H.H. the Maharaja's College took charge as Honorary Director of the Observatory. He introduced a scheme of rainfall measurement for the whole state.  In 1910 Mr.Stephenson, Professor of Physics succeeded Dr.Mitchell as Director of the Observatory. He continued the work started by Dr.Mitchell till 1920. During the later part of Mr. Stephenson's time, he had also an assistant director, Mr.M.Rama Varma Raja, who was a highly enthusiastic worker in the field of astronomy. In 1916 to 1919 Mr.Raja published an astronomical ephemeris. In 1920 Dr.K.R.Ramanathan succeeded Mr.Stephenson as Director. He arranged for the normals of a large number of meteorological elements being computed uptodate and he made a study about the thunderstorm activity in Trivandrum. In 1922 Dr. Ramanathan left Travancore service and Mr. Sivaramakrishna Iyer was confirmed as Honarary Director. Self-recording instruments for meteorological measurements were fitted up in1922 and the institution was recognized as a first class Meteorological Observatory by the India Meteorological Department.   In 1927, the work of the Observatory was divided into two sections, Astronomical and Meteorological, under the charge of the Government Astronomer Dr.H.Subramani Iyer and the Government Meteorologist Mr. Sivaramakrishna Iyer then Director respectively.  From that time two independent sections started functioning in the Observatory.With the creation of Astronomical Department, weekly publication of astronomical notes giving the position of the Sun, Moon and the planets for Trivandrum and details of other important celestial phenomena were started. Other important works done during that period include Celestial photography and from 1928 daily time signals being received by the use of a wireless set. Till then, the mean time clock was standardized only by the star observations with the 4-inch transit. Another change made in connection with giving accurate time to the public was the system of firing accurate time to the public, which was the system of firing time-gun by the use of an electrical signal controlled by the clock room of the Observatory. Giving training to students of colleges in studying sky and use of the astronomical instruments started in 1932.In 1931 the Observatory building built by Mr. Broun and Dr. Mitchell had to be dismantled as that spot had to be given over to Engineering Department for the construction of a high level reservoir for distributing water in various parts of the town. Thereupon Government sanctioned the construction of a new building adjacent to high level reservior for locating the Observatory, in addition to the part of the quarters of the Astronomer built during the time of Mr.Broun. The five inch Equatorial has been shifted to the top of the reservoir and is thus able to secure a better view of the sky all round. In 1937, the centenary year of the Observatory, the University of Travancore was established. On August 17, 1939 the Observatory was transferred to the control of this University. In 1940 the Meteorological and Astronomical sections were amalgamated.The Thiruvananthapuram Observatory captured international attention when Dr.H.Subramony Iyer sighted a new comet 1941-C at the Observatory on the morning of 23rd January 1941. . In 1951, the meteorology section of the Observatory was taken over by Government of India and Astronomical section by the State Government. On January 1, 1976 the Government of Kerala decided to transfer the Observatory back to the control of the University of Kerala.In the recent past, the arrival of comet Ikeya-Zhang in 2002 and other astronomical events like eclipses, occultations and transits have contributed in reviving the activities of the Observatory. The rare planetary alignment in the western sky during May 2002 had given a boost to the activities of the observatory and got wide coverage in newspapers and television networks. University has decided to upgrade the activities of the Observatory both in research and popularization of astronomy and is now equipped with good computational facility, library and audio-video facilities. It is now possible for few M.phil. /M.Sc. students to do their project work with these facilities. With the present modern facilities like 11 inch telescope, CCD camera, Sun workstations, image processing facility and collaboration with national programmes, the Observatory will grow as one of the important centres in astronomy and related fields in our country. The sky watching programmes for students, teachers and the public in the evenings is being conducted on all working days. This endeavour may fulfill the dream of Maharaja Swati Tirunal in establishing a center of learning in astronomy at Thiruvananthapuram.


(By G. Hari Sundar

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM July 26. The ancient building, which had been once a part of the first meteorological center and observatory in the State, will now be saved, thanks to the timely intervention of the State Archaeology Department. The department has demanded the protection of this structure situated near the present meteorological center.Built in 1836 during the reign of Swathi Thirunal, this building in which the observatory had functioned till 1992, became a burden to the met center authorities after the completion of the new building.A section of the employees refused to work in it following injuries sustained by an employee when a small piece of the roofing fell on him.In a letter sent to the superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India

John Caldecott, First Observatory Director Old Observatory (till 1931) Allan Broun, FRS, Second Observatory Director

(ASI) in July this year, the met center authorities had requested the ASI to take steps for the demolition of the building, stating that it did not have any archaeological importance and that the CPWD executive engineer had certified that it had outlived its fire.This building is noted for its architectural splendour. The emblem of the erstwhile Travancore could be seen in all rooms. The single-storey building with traditional sloping roof is made of timber and tiles and walls with lime mortar. The small tiles used for the roof as well as the floor tiles are exquisite. A team consisting of the Director of the Archaeology Department, V. Manmadhan Nair, and the superintending archaeologist (Kerala circle ) of the ASI, Ramamoorthy, conducted an inspection on July 22. They would be now submitting a report to the ASI authorities demanding the protection of the building.Though the met center authorities state that this building was only the residence of the director of the observatory in the past, the State Archaeology Director says that the fact that the building was more than 170 years old alone was enough for conserving it.However, the Director of the meteorological center, M.D. Ramachandran, says that the roof of the building was badly damaged and water seeped into the rooms during monsoon.Some portions of the roof plaster had also fallen off and the windows were damaged making it difficult for regular use.Mr. Manmadhan Nair told The Hindu that the negligence of the authorities and lack of maintenance were the main reasons behind the pitiable condition of the building.However, he director of the met center said that they had asked for its demolition since it proved to be a threat to the life of the employee and the CPWD had refused to renovate it.Though there has to be adequate open space around an observatory and met centre, as per the world Meteorological Society norms, this was not the case here, says Mr. Ramachandran.“Once the unused building was demolished, we would get some open space for meteorological studies, “ he said.Mr. Manmadhan Nair says protection of this building would not be a problem for them.


Copy Right 2003 , All Rights Reserved, Designed and Maintained by C-DIT ,