Decline of an observatory

FL26LSCollegeINCONSPICUOUS in the midst of massive trees with frills of red gulmohur and yellow amaltas, the majestic facade of Langat Singh College in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, is a curious sight. This sprawling structure was modelled on the early modern European style of Balliol College in Oxford, United Kingdom, which is outlandish for Muzaffarpur. The white metallic dome on its roof and the adjoining igloo-like masonry structure that stare one in the eye right at the entrance of the building complete the picture of a fairyland comic thriller. These dome-shaped structures, telltale signs of an era gone by, are the remnants of an astronomical observatory.

The large dome rotates on a circular track and has a sliding opening on the top through which a telescope can be focussed on celestial bodies. Under the dome, there were telescopes and other instruments used in astronomical observations. Just a little distance away is the planetarium. A miniature version of modern planetaria, it once had a machine that recreated views of the sky with stars on its arching ceiling. Both the observatory and planetarium are non-functional and closed now. But where are their machines?

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