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History of Indian Time (IST)

Madras Observatory

The old Madras Observatory was established by the East India Company in 1792.

The guiding force behind the construction of this observatory was Michael Topping a sailor-astronomer. He acquired several astronomical instruments, some from William Petrie a noted English astronomer. Among the instruments that he had were achromatic refractors, astronomical clocks with compound pendulum, and an excellent transit instrument.

During this period several Government astronomers headed the observatory. Notable among them were Goldingham, Taylor, Jacob, and Pogson.

India Standard time has been has observed for two hundred years (5½ hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). From the time Madras' John Goldingham, who was the first official Astronomer of the East India Company in India, established the longitude of Madras in 1802 as 80º 18' 30" East (of Greenwich Meridian ).

The Standard Clock in the Madras Observatory then set the Standard Time for India. At 8 pm every day the time gun was fired to announce that all was well with Indian Standard Time. The clock in the Madras Observatory was directly connected to the gun and triggered it.

Kodaikanal Observatory

The Kodaikanal Observatory of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics is located in the beautiful Palani range of hills in Southern India. It was established in 1899 as a Solar Physics Observatory and all the activities of the Madras Observatory were shifted to Kodaikanal.

Uttar Pradesh State Observatory

The idea of starting an astronomical observatory in Uttar Pradesh germinated with Babu Sampurnanandji. He came from Benaras (present day Varanasi). He was a strong supporter of traditional culture and was deeply interested in ancient Hindu culture including Sanskrit and Phalit Jyotish (astrology). His interest in phalit coupled with his academic bent of mind got him interested in astronomy.

Dr. Avadhesh Narain Singh, D.Sc., another son of Benaras and a mathematician, and Babuji were good friends since their early days.

The two together wanted to do something academically meaningful for their hometown and, at the same time, for the preservation and propagation of ancient Indian traditions, astronomy included. After Independence, Babu Sampurnanandji became Education Minister in the first popular government of Uttar Pradesh.

Dr. Singh had by then become Professor of Mathematics at the Lucknow University. He had deep interest in Time and Time Keeping too. The two of them decided to fulfill their cherished dreams and drew up plans for establishing an astronomical observatory with a Time unit at the Government Sanskrit College, Benaras (GSC) (now Sampurnan Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya ).

In 1950, a Standard Time Installation from Rhode and Schwarz of Munich, consisting of two master quartz clocks providing standard frequency outputs at100 KHz (with a drift of better than 1 part in 108) and two slave clocks providing outputs of 1 khz at 1 Volt, were also to provide the same to Varanasi and the rest of India, thus becoming keepers of national standard time.

In 1952 the Government of Uttar Pradesh appointed a Committee of experts to determine and recommend a site for the establishment of an astronomical observatory.

After the consideration, the committee recommended setting up of the observatory at Sarnath. The Committee also recommended that the observatory be divided into two sections, one the “Telescope Section” to be located at Sarnath and the other the “TimeSection” to be situated at the GSC.

The telescope, quartz clocks and other equipment that were ordered arrived in the early part of 1953. The Standard Time Installation was installed in one of the towers of the GSC by engineers of Rhode and Schwartz who also trained a mechanic in receiving time signals from time installations like Rugby, Irkutsk, Paris, WWV, etc. and monitoring the time kept by the quartz clocks against these signals.

The scheme to relay standard time could not eventually materialize due to lack of permission from the Government of India who were of the view that the responsibility for keeping standard time rested with the National Physical Laboratory who were the sole keepers of national standards and were better equipped for the purpose.

The quartz clocks were, however, later useful as sources of standard frequency and also for monitoring time signals from ATA, New Delhi.

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