Mughal India: Astrolabe, Charlotte Todd


It took me a while to pick an object because there was so much material in the Mughal India exhibit at the British Library. In the end I chose the astrolabe(which I read as astroLOBE before Professor Yousefzadeh pronounced it). It was in the room dedicated to science and medicine, right next to the celestial sphere that Courtney picked. The astrolabe was invented in 150BC in Alexandria. It has been used in multiple cultures. This doesn’t surprise me because it is part of the human condition to wonder at the mysteries of the world we live in. The sky is so vast and full of questions. The astrolabe was invented to answer these questions, and find what questions to ask in the first place. It calculates astrological measurements. It is used to locate and predict the location of the sun, moon, stars, and planets. It is more complex than a simple sundial, but it can be used to determine local time depending on latitude.


This particular astrolabe was crafted by Muh Muqim of Lahore, a prominent royal astronomer of Mughal India. We know this because it was common to sign your work. I can’t find in my notes what exactly this one was made out of, but it appeared to be iron or brass. I didn’t have a camera on me so I couldn’t manage to sneak a photo. All astrolabes are constructed similarly, and resemble the inner workings of a clock. I read that the astrolabes in Mughal India were more simple than Persian astrolabes, which came to be pretty complex.


I love that it is an important and formerly useful piece of technology, but is also a work of art. I was drawn to it in the first place because it was so aesthetically pleasing to me. It is intricate and geometric, but still simply beautiful. 




Sorry the photos are so large, but the details are remarkable. 


13 thoughts on “Mughal India: Astrolabe, Charlotte Todd

  1. I like that you compared it to the sundial as a sort of evolution of technology. I didn’t think of that before.

  2. I like how you connected the functionality of a scientific object with its form as a simply beautiful piece of art. We so rarely see this combination nowadays. Engineers aren’t signed by their makers, it’d be absurd to have Steve Jobs’s name on the back of my iPhone, but when art and invention merge there’s something artistically personal about it. I’d be interested to know more about how the astrolabe works and what it’s used for.

  3. I agree with how interesting it is to have both the technology as an instrument and an aesthetic piece. It is quite lovely to look at and was used widely to calculate astrological measures. The questions continue today to look at the vast universe. When looking in scientific research today the instruments used are not as beautiful or even close. But when it isn’t beautiful it makes it seem disposable.

  4. I pike how you made the connection between using the stars to find out what questions to ask. Indeed in those times technology seemed more than ever to harness the natural world, and it brings up questions of the relationship between nature and technology.

  5. The idea of functionality alongside aesthetics–science and art, as it were–is what drew me to my own piece. It’s fascinating when you think about exactly how much influence this technology had and the importance many of the Mughal emperors placed on astrology.

  6. I agree that it’s very aesthetically pleasing, since I remember being equally fascinated by it. The fact that is also held such an important scientific function only adds to its intrigue. Your presentation makes me want to learn more about how an astrolabe works. I also like how you mention the craftsmen of the particular astrolabe that was on display and how he signed the piece.

  7. This astrolabe really is a beautiful and intricate object and I think it is so interesting. I can’t imagine how people could understand the workings of such a complex mechanism. The technology is so advanced for this time period, and I agree with you that it’s a fascinating object.

  8. With Galileo’s work being at the beginning of the Mughal Empire, it is very innovative and quick of them not just to realize the patterns of the stars but also to use these observations to create this method of recording time using the stars. It shows how innovative they were not just in the arts but in the sciences.

  9. This choice of object is nice because it’s not only art, but a functioning instrument of technology. The conversation that came forth from this object, about amazing technology was very interesting. The astrolabe was like the iphone in it’s time, it’s truly incredible. I’m still a little confused about how it works, but am incredibly impressed that people invented something like this so long ago.

  10. Charlotte, the sundial you chose to write about seems like an amazing object. I liked the way you described it as both a beautiful work of art, and as a remarkable technological device.

  11. I think it is fascinating how this is both functional and beautiful- a combination of art and technology. I keep thinking about what we talked about in class….. the evolution of technology. Google maps of the 12th century. Yet now we seem to move away from ornament.

  12. I didn’t know when the Astrolabe was invented, but I would have guessed that its invention dated much earlier and in more Eastern regions of the world (for some reason). I like how you picked this particular artefact as we do not usually think of Indian Empires as astronomers, whereas they covered this field of knowledge and many more.

  13. This object is so pleasing to the eye that a person forget its true function. Technology nowadays are simplified for its users, which prevent objects from reaching its optimum beauty. This innovative astrolabe shows that beauty is extremely valued.

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