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Roots of Indian Science: Part C – Ancient Indian Universities

Universities and institutions of higher learning existed in India much before in any other country in the world.



If you are a new reader, we request you to first read the previous parts of the series here:
Roots of Indian Science: Science in the Vedas – Part A
Roots of Indian Science: Science in the Vedas – Part B


Universities and institutions of higher learning existed in India much before in any other country of the world. In view of the flourishing education and general prosperity prevailing in India, it became a target for invaders who attacked scholars, destroyed institutions, demolished buildings, looted gold, silver, precious stones as well as valuables texts and writings.

The destruction of the universities at Nalanda, as well as of many temples and monasteries throughout India which housed centres of learning, is considered by many historians to be mainly responsible for the sudden demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy. When rest of the world started advancing in science in the 17th century, India was on the back foot having lost everything including the scholars and treatises that contained a vast treasure of knowledge.

The period when Nalanda University ceased to exist was around the same time some of the great universities of the western world came into being. Only the universities of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Bologna in Italy and Oxford in England existed before the destruction of Nalanda took place [1].


There were only three universities that existed in the world before the destruction of Nalanda
University (1193AD) in Bihar, India [2]. Many such universities existed in India imparting higher education. Majority of them were Buddhist monasteries or Hindu temples where higher education in medicine, administration, art, craft and technology was given.

Students not only from India, far away places in India but also from neighbouring countries such as China, Magnolia, Persia used to visit these universities, temples, and monasteries to get an education.

All such educational institutions were destroyed by invaders who also killed the monks, acharyas as well as the students. But inspite of such invasions, people from abroad used to visit India for higher education. 2

Takshashila in the north-west region of India (800-500BC), Pushpagiri in Odisha (200BC-1000AD), Nalanda in central India (500BC-1200AD), Varanasi in north India (400BC-1200AD), Kanchipuram in south India (200BC onwards), Odantapuri in Bihar (550–1040AD), Somapura in Bangladesh (700-1100AD), Sharada Peeth, now in Pakistan (700-1200AD), Jagaddala in West Bengal (100-1200AD), Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh (200AD), Vikramashila in Bihar (800-1040AD), Valabhi in Gujarat (300AD), and Manyakheta in Karnataka (800-1000AD) were some of the places of higher learning in ancient India. Some of these are discussed in this article.

Takshashila (800-500BC):

In the north-west region of India, Takshashila kingdom comprised the present day Punjab, Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. Bharata, the younger brother of Lord Rama, conquered Gandhara and established the kingdom of Takshashila. He named this kingdom after his first son, Taksha.

The present-day Peshawar in Pakistan was named after his second son Pushkal. Takshashila is called Taxila in Ptolemy’s Geography. In the Historia Trium Regum (History of the Three Kings) written by John of Hildesheim around 1375AD, the city is called Egrisilla[2].

Takshashila also finds a mention in Mahabharata – citing Dhaumya, as the Acharya of Takshashila. It was at Takshashila, that the sage Vaishampayana rendered the first recorded narration of the Mahabharata to Janmajeya.

Takshashila also finds a reference in the Buddhist work Jataka, written in Sri Lanka around the 5th century AD. The Jataka literature mentions Takshashila as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara as a great centre of learning.

Takshashila also finds a reference in the Chinese monk Faxian’s (also called Fa-Hien) book who visited Takshashila in 405BC. Another Chinese monk Xuanzang (also called Hieun Tsang) also wrote about his visit to Takshashila in 630AD and again in 643AD. By this time the city appears to have been overrun by the Huns and was already in ruins.

Takshashila: A Centre for Higher Learning:

Takshashila became a well-known centre of higher learning (including the religious teachings of Hinduism) several centuries before the advent of Christ and continued to attract students from around the world until the destruction of the city in the 5th century AD.

In its heyday, Takshashila exerted a sort of “intellectual suzerainty” over other centres of learning in India, and its primary concern was not elementary education, but higher learning. Generally, students entered Takshashila at the age of sixteen.

The Vedas, the ancient and the most sacred Hindu scriptures, and the Eighteen Shilpas or arts, which included skills such as archery, hunting, and elephant lore, were taught, in addition to law, medicine, and military science.

Students came to Takshashila from far-off places such as Kashi, Kosala and Magadha, in spite of the long and arduous journey they had to undertake, mainly to study under learned teachers in Takshshila who were recognized as authorities in their respective subjects.

Education in Takshashila:

Takshashila is regarded as one of the earliest universities in the world. The teachers who taught there may not have had a formal membership of the colleges where they taught. The university did not seem to have specially built lecture halls and residential quarters in Takshashila. There was no external control by authorities like the king or local leaders on the scholastic pursuits at Takshashila. Teachers enjoyed complete academic autonomy in work, regarding a number of students, subjects taught, and the course contents without conforming to any centralized syllabus. The academic session was terminated when the teacher was satisfied with the students’ level of understanding of the subject. In general, specialization in a subject took around eight years, though this period could be made longer or shorter depending on the mental abilities and dedication of the students in question.

In most cases, the “schools” were located in the teachers’ own houses, and at times students were advised to discontinue their studies if they were unable to fit into the social, intellectual and moral milieu prevailing in the campus.

Financial support came from the society at large as well as from rich merchants and wealthy parents. Though the number of students studying under a single guru sometimes numbered in hundreds, teachers did not deny education even if a student was poor; free boarding and lodging were provided and all students had to do household work. Students who paid tuition fees, like princes, were taught during the daytime whereas those who could not afford to pay were taught at night.

Guru Dakshina was usually expected on the completion of a student’s studies, but it was essentially a token of respect and gratitude- – usually a turban, a pair of sandals, or an umbrella. In case of poor students who were unable to afford even such inexpensive articles, they could approach the king who would oblige them and provide help in this regard. Not providing a poor student a means to afford Guru Dakshina to his teacher was considered the greatest slur on the king’s reputation.

Examinations were treated as superfluous and not considered an essential requirement to complete one’s studies. The method of teaching was quite intensive; unless one unit was mastered completely, the student was not allowed to proceed to the next.

No convocations were held upon completion, and no formal “degrees” were awarded since it was believed that attaining knowledge was in itself a reward. Using knowledge for earning a living or for any
selfish end was considered sacrilegious.

Students arriving at Takshashila were usually those who had completed their primary education at home (until the age of eight), and also their secondary education in some ashram (between the ages of eight and twelve).

The purpose of their coming to Takshashila was mainly to gain advanced knowledge in specific disciplines. Both theoretical and practical aspects of the subjects were taught and particular care was taken to ensure that students achieved competence in subjects like medicine, where improper education could spell disaster for the patients who would be treated by the students on completion of their course.

The list of subjects taught at Takshashila underwent many additions over the years, with even Greek being included after the Alexandrian conquests. Foreign savants were accorded as much importance as the local teachers.

Some Eminent Students and Teachers of Takshashila:

Takshashila had great influence on the Hindu culture in general and Sanskrit language in particular. It is perhaps best known because of its association with Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, the strategist who guided Chandragupta Maurya and assisted him in the founding of the Mauryan empire.

The Arthashastra (Sanskrit word for the knowledge of economics) of Chanakya, is said to have been composed in Takshashila.

The Ayurvedic physician Charaka and Atreya also studied at Takshshila. Charaka also taught at Takshashila in the later period.

The well known ancient grammarian Panini who formulated the rules that defined classical Sanskrit was also part of the academic community at Takshashila.

The institution is very significant in the Buddhist tradition since it is believed that the Mahayana branch of Buddhism took shape there. Jivaka, the royal physician of the Magadha emperor Bimbisara who once treated Gautam Buddha as well as Prasenajit, the enlightened ruler of Kosala, are some of the important personalities mentioned in Pali texts who studied at Takshashila.

The British archaeologist Sir John Marshall (1876-1958) conducted excavations in Takshashila extending over a period of twenty years.

Students from Babylonia, Greece, Syria, Arabia, Phoenicia and China came to study in Takshashila. Under sixty eight different streams of knowledge, a wide range of subjects was taught by experienced teachers.

The subjects included Vedas, Language, Grammar, Philosophy, Medicine, Surgery, Archery, Politics, Warfare, Astronomy, Astrology, Accounts, Commerce, Futurology, Documentation, Occult, Music, Dance, etc.

The minimum entrance age was 16 years and at any given time there were about 10,500 students.

When Alexander’s armies came to Punjab in the fourth century BC, Takshashila had already developed a reputation as an important seat of learning. On his return, Alexander took many scholars with him from Takshshila to Greece.

Destruction of Takshashila University:

Ruins of world’s first university Takshashila (Picture: Ruines-de-Taxila, The Red List)

Being close to the north-west frontier of India, Takshashila had to bear the brunt of attacks and invasions from the north and the west. Thus the Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Shakas and Kushanas laid their destructive marks on this institution. The final blow, however, came from the Huns (who were also destroyers of the Roman Empire) who in c.450 AD razed the institution to ground. When the Chinese traveller Huen T’sang (AD 603 and 664) visited Takshashila, the town had lost all its grandeur as well as the international character [3].

The colonial narrative traces the destruction of Takshashila in 499 AD, by the Huns (Western historians called them White Huns, Romans called them Ephtalites; Arabs called them the Haytal; Chinese called them Ye Tha). Western historians have ascribed the demise of Takshashila to the White Huns, a Central Asian, nomadic tribe, roaming between Tibet to Tashkent and practising polyandry [4].

Varanasi (600BC-1200AD):

In ancient India, Varanasi was a great centre of education not only for Hindus but also for Buddhists and Jains. Students were taught Vedas, Upanishads and Philosophy and the religious thoughts in the ashrams or study centres that existed in the nearby forests.

Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory products, and sculpture. It was a centre of silk weaving and craft, making it a technological centre of ancient India. Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi.

Gautam Buddha (567BC), is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BC when he gave his first discourse (sermon) “Turning the Wheel of Law” after he attained enlightenment at nearby Sarnath. Thereafter it became a religious, educational, cultural and artistic centre in north India.

Kashi drew many learned scholars from around the world.

The celebrated Chinese traveller Hsüan Tsang was one of them, who visited India around AD 635 [5] and recorded in his writings that the city was a centre of religious and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 kilometres along the western bank of the Ganges.

The religious importance of the city continued to grow in the 8th century when Adi Shankara
established the worship of Shiva as an official sect of Varanasi. Varanasi was connected by a road starting from Takshashila and ending at Pataliputra during the Mauryan Empire.

The most important contributions to Varanasi were made by the Great Mauryan Emperor Ashoka
of 3rd century BCE. The lion pillar carved during his time, which is now the National emblem of the Republic of India, is an example of the craftsmanship of people of Varanasi.

Sushruta, the first Indian surgeon, taught at Varanasi and also composed his Sushruta Samhita, the famous Sanskrit text on surgery, in Varanasi.

The great Sanskrit grammarian Panini visited Varanasi and taught his wards.

Destruction of Varanasi:

Turkish Muslim rule under Qutb-ud-din Aibak (1194), Feroz Shah (1351), and Sikander Lodi (1496) saw the destruction of many temples in Varanasi. The invaders also looted gold, silver, and precious stones from Varanasi. Despite the adverse circumstances, Varanasi remained as the centre of activity for intellectuals and theologians and continued to grow as a religious centre.

Pushpagiri University (300BC-1100AD):

Pushpagiri University was established in ancient Kalinga kingdom (modern-day Odisha) and was spread across Cuttack and Jajpur districts. It was established in the 3rd century and flourished for the next 800 years till the 11th century. The university campus was spread across three adjoining hills – Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri. This was one of the most prominent centres for higher education in ancient India along with the universities of Takshashila, Nalanda and Vikramashila.

The Chinese traveller Huien Tsang visited this university in 639 AD. Lalitgiri is said to have been commissioned by early 2nd century BCE itself and is the oldest Buddhist centres in the world. Recently a few images of Emperor Ashoka have been discovered here based on which it has been suggested that the Pushpagiri University was established by Emperor Ashoka himself.

However, unlike Takshashila and Nalanda, the ruins of Pushpagiri University were not discovered until 1995, when a teacher from a local college stumbled upon the site. The task of excavating Pushpagiri’s ruins, stretching over 143 acres of land, was undertaken by the Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies between 1996 and 2006.

It is now being carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The Nagarjunakonda inscriptions also mention about this centre of learning [6].

A portion of the Mahavihara Ratnagiri (Picture: Creative Commons)

Vikramashila University (800AD-1200AD):

Ruins of Vikramshila University (Photo: HitXP)

Vikramashila University was established by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty during the late 8th century and flourished for about 400 years till the 12th century. It was located in the Bhagalpur district of present-day Bihar. It was in academic competition with Nalanda University, with over 100 teachers and 1000 students enrolled in the university. The university was well-known for its specialized training on the subject of Tantra (Tantrism).

One of the prominent graduates of this university was Atiśa Dipankara, founder of the Sharma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism who also revived the Buddhism in Tibet [7].

Vikramashila University, along with other major centres of Buddhism in India, was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji during fighting with the Sena dynasty around 1200 AD [8]. Vikramashila is known mainly through Tibetan sources, especially the writings of Tāranātha, the Tibetan monk-historian of the 16th-17th centuries. Subjects like philosophy, grammar, metaphysics, Indian logic etc. were taught here, but the most important branch of learning was Tantrism.

Valabhi University (600AD-1200AD):

Valabhi University was another Buddhist centre of higher education in ancient India, established in Saurashtra of modern Gujarat around the 6th century and it flourished for another 600 years till the 12th century. A number of inscriptions of King Maitraka belonging to 5th-8th century mention this university.

Chinese traveller Itsing, who visited this university during the 7th century, described it as a great ccentre of learning. Gunamati and Sthiramati, the two famous Buddhist scholars are said to have graduated from this university which was popular for its training in secular subjects and students from all over the country came to study in the university. Because of its high-quality education, graduates of this university were offered higher executive positions [7].

The total strength of students and monks in the university was around 6000. Hindu students from far off places (e.g. Gangetic plains) also came to study at Vallbha. In addition to Buddhist philosophy, medicine, administration, and economics were taught at this university.

It had a rich collection of books in its library which were donated by wealthy citizens of Gujarat. These find mention in the “Kathasaritsagara” written by Somadeva.

Odantapuri University (800AD-1200AD):

Odantapuri University was established by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty during the late 8th century in Magadha (which is in the present day Bihar) and flourished for 400 years till the 12th century. The famous Acharya Sri Ganga who was a teacher at the Vikramashila University was a graduate of this Odantapuri University.

According to the ancient Tibetan records, there were about 12,000 students studying at this university.

Ancient Tibetan texts mention this as one among the five great universities of its time, the other four being Vikramashila, Nalanda, Somapura and Jagaddala Universities – all located in India [7].

In the Tibetan history of the Kalachakra Tantra written by the Sakya master Jamgon Amye Zhab (1597–1659), it is mentioned that Odantapuri was administered by ‘Sendhapas’.

The university perished at the hands of the Muslim invaders (Bakhtyar Khilji). Sakya Sri Bhadra, the last Buddhist teacher of Odantapuri fled to Jagaddala Vihara (in the northern region of ancient Bengal, now situated in Naogaon District of Rajshahi division) for pursuing his studies witnessed the ruins of the Buddhist monasteries. It is said that the Muslim invaders mistook the university buildings with their high walls for fortresses. They mistakenly thought that the Buddhist monks were ‘shaven headed Brahmins’. Most of the early students and teachers of the Odantapuri and Nalanda were from Bengal region [10].

Somapura University (800AD-1200AD):

Somapura Mahavihara University was established by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty during the late 8th century in Bengal and flourished for about 400 years till the 12th century. The university was spread over 27 acres of land, of which the main complex occupied 21 acres, was one of the largest of its kind. It was a major centre of learning for Bauddha Dharma (Buddhism), Jina Dharma (Jainism) and Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). Even today one can find ornamental terracotta on its outer walls depicting the influence of these three traditions [7].

Ruins of Somapura University (Picture: HitXP)

Nalanda University (500-1200AD):

The University of Nalanda was established during the reign of the king Śakrāditya [9]. Both Xuanzang and Prajñavarman cite him as the founder, as does a seal discovered at the site. Nalanda University was the first great university in the recorded history and one of the world’s first residential university as it had dormitories for students. It is also one of the most famous universities. In its heyday, it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers.

The university campus was considered an architectural masterpiece and was marked by a lofty wall and one gate. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many meditation halls and classrooms. The campus had several lakes and parks. The library was located in a nine-storeyed building where meticulous copies of various texts were produced.

The remnants of the library of Nalanda University which is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it, ransacked and destroyed the monasteries and drove away the monks from the site

Xuanzang, a Chinese pilgrim and scholar from Tang Dynasty, studied, taught and spent nearly 15 years at Nalanda University. He has left a detailed account of the university in the 7th century. Yijing has also left information about other kingdoms located on the route between China and the Nālandā University. He was responsible for the translation of a large number of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese [9].The university complex was built with red bricks and its ruins are spread over an area of 14 hectares. At its peak, the university attracted scholars and students from as far away as Tibet, China, Greece, and Persia. Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by the Turkish Muslim army under Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193AD. The library of Nalanda University was so vast that it is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it, ransacked and destroyed the monasteries, and drove away the monks from the site and killed many of them.

In 2006, Singapore, China, India, Japan, and other nations, have announced a proposal to restore and revive the ancient site as Nalanda International University.

Library at Nalanda University:

The library at Nalanda University was a vast complex, called the Dharmaganja or Piety Mart. It was housed in three large buildings: the Ratnasagara, the Ratnadadhi, and the Ratnaranjaka. The Ratnadadhi, meaning the Ocean of Gems, was a nine-storeyed building and housed the most sacred manuscripts including the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Samajguhya. The towers were supposedly immense, bejewelled and gilded to reflect the rays of the Sun.

According to the Bhaskara Samhita, an ancient text on organizational practices, the library was to be built in a “finely built stone building” and each manuscript would have been placed on iron shelves or stacks and covered with cloth and tied up. Furthermore, according to the text, the librarian in- charge was not only responsible for maintaining the materials but also for guiding readers in their studies. The exact number of volumes in the library is not known but it is estimated to be hundreds of thousands. The library not only collected religious manuscripts but also had texts on subjects such as grammar, logic, literature, astrology, astronomy, and medicine.

Remains of Nalanda University Library

It is clear that Nalanda University library classified books possibly based on a text classification scheme developed by the great Sanskrit linguist Panini. Buddhist texts were most likely divided into three classes based on the Tripitaka’s three main divisions: the Vinaya, Sutra, and the Abhidhamma. Like most other Indian libraries of the ancient and medieval period, Nalanda would have used a basic catalogue to help readers find materials with ease. This bibliography, or Anukramanikas, would have listed the books by hymns, authors, the form of sutras, rishi’s name, and the hymnal meter.

Destruction and Demise of Nalanda University:

Towards the southeast of Patna, the capital city of Bihar state in India, is a village called the ‘Bada Gaon’, in the vicinity of which are located the ruins of Nalanda University [11]. According to the historical records, Nalanda University was destroyed three times.

The Revival of Nalanda University:

Nalanda University is being revived as an international centre of learning that is coming up in Bihar, with the cooperation of Australia, China, Cambodia, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Laos and Myanmar.

The campus is planned to come up about 12 km from the ruins of ancient Nalanda University campus in Rajgir, about 100 km away from Patna. The University is an initiative of the Indian government and 18 other East Asian countries.

The 446-acre campus of the residential university with eight-km boundary wall s will have all modern amenities on the same line as the ancient Nalanda University and is expected to be completed by 2020 [12].

Jagaddala Mahavihara (1100-1200AD):

Śakyaśrībhadra, a Kashmiri Buddhist scholar, who was the last abbot of Nalanda Mahavihara and instrumental in transmitting Buddhism to Tibet, is said to have fled to Tibet in 1204AD from Jagaddala when Muslim invasion seemed imminent. Historian Sukumar Dutt tentatively placed the final destruction of Jagadala to 1207AD; in any case, it seems to have been the last Mahavihara to have been overrun by invaders [13].

Nagarjunakonda (Established in 200AD):

Nagarjunakonda [14] is a historical Buddhist town, now an island located near Nagarjuna Sagar in Guntur district, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is 150 km south-east of the capital city Hyderabad and is one of India’s richest Buddhist sites, known in the ancient times as Sri Parvata. It now lies almost entirely under the Nagarjunasagar dam reservoir. It is named after Nagarjuna, an ardent follower of Mahayana Buddhism, who lived in the 2nd century AD and is believed to have been responsible for propagating Buddhism in the area.

The site was once the location of many Buddhist universities and monasteries, attracting students from as far as China, Gandhara, Bengal and Sri Lanka. The Buddhist archaeological sites in the area got submerged under the Nagarjunasagar dam reservoir and had to be later dug up and shifted to higher land on a nearby hill which had become like an island due to the construction of the dam.

Kanchipuram (Established 200BC):

The history of Kanchi can be traced back to several centuries BCE. The place finds a mention in Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, written in the 2nd century BC. Manimekalai, a famous Tamil classic, and Perumpanattu Padai, a great Tamil poetry book, vividly describe Kanchipuram city, as it existed at the beginning of the Christian era. Pathupattu, one of the Sangam texts, mentions that the king Thondaiman Ilandirayan ruled this town around 2500 years ago. Kanchipuram is traditionally a centre of religious education for Hindu, Jain and Buddhist faiths. The Buddhist monasteries acted as the nucleus of the Buddhist educational system. With the gradual resurrection of Hinduism during the reign of Mahendra Varman I, the Hindu educational system gained prominence with Sanskrit emerging as the official language.

Kanchi was a major seat of Tamil learning as well as an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, Jains and Hindus. Kalidasa has described it to be the best among the cities (Nagareshu Kanchi), just as jati (jasmine) is the sweetest amongst the flowers, Rambha the most beautiful amongst women and Grihasthashrama the most ideal amongst the four ashramas of human life. One of the kings of Kanchi, Mahendravarman-I, was a great scholar and musician, a man of great intellect and also a great playwright.

Under the Pallavas, Kanchipuram flourished as a centre of Hindu and Buddhist learning. King Narasimhavarman II built the city’s important Hindu temples, the Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple, the Varadharaja Perumal Temple and the Iravatanesvara Temple.

Xuanzang, a Chinese traveller who visited Kanchipuram in 640AD, recorded that the city was 6 miles in circumference and that its people were known for their bravery, piety, love for justice, and veneration for learning [15] He further recorded that Gautam Buddha had also visited the place. As regards learning, Kanchi ranked second in glory only to Banaras. Once the seat of learning and religious fervour, its downfall started with the Mughal invasions followed by three centuries of colonial rule under the British.

Manyakheta (814AD-968AD):

Manyakheta (Mānyakheṭa, Prakrit Mannakhea, modern Malkhed) [16] is located 40 km southeast to the district headquarters Gulbarga and 18 km west to the taluk headquarters Sedam. From 814 AD to 968 AD, Manyakheta rose to prominence when the capital of Rashtrakutas was moved from Mayurkhandi in Bidar district to Mānyakheṭa during the rule of Amoghavarsha I (Nrupatunga Amoghavarsha), who ruled for 64 years and wrote Kavirajamarga, the first classic Kannada work. Amoghavarsha I, along with the
mathematician Mahaveeracharya, and intellectuals Ajitasenacharya, Gunabhadracharya and Jinasenacharya, helped to spread Jainism. After the fall of the Rāshṭrakūṭas, it remained the capital of their successors, the Kalyani Chalukyas or Western Chalukyas till about 1050 CE.

According to Dhanapāla’s Pāiyalacchi, the city was ransacked by the Paramāra king Harṣa Sīyaka in CE 972–73, the year he completed that work. The well-known mathematics text Ganita Saara Sangraha was written here by Mahaviracharya.


Ancient Indian universities were located at the places of worships where people from all regions and faiths could receive higher education. The Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples and Jain Basadi (Jain temple) were places where higher education was offered in India till the end of 12th century.

The primary concern of ancient Indian universities was higher learning, rather than imparting primary education. Students used to join these universities at the age of 16 and continued their studies for the next 8-10 years. The duration of the academic session was not fixed but lasted till the teacher was satisfied with students’ level of understanding of a given subject.

Teachers enjoyed the complete academic freedom to the extent that they could even decide their own syllabus, rather than teaching a prescribed syllabus. The method of teaching was, however, quite intensive; unless one mastered the subject well, one was not allowed to proceed to the next level.

Examinations were not considered as an essential requirement to complete one’s studies. No convocations were held upon completion of the course and formal “degrees” were not awarded, since it was believed that the basic purpose of education was to attain knowledge and not earn any degree.

Under different streams of knowledge, a wide range of subjects was taught by well qualified and experienced teachers. Further, knowledge was considered sacrosanct and was not meant for earning a living or for any other selfish motive.

Financial support for such universities came from the state as well as society at large. However, there was no role of any external agencies in deciding academic matters of the universities.

In view of the flourishing education and general prosperity prevailing in India, it became a target for invaders who attacked scholars, destroyed institutions as well as valuables texts and writings. As India could not defend ourselves in protecting the universities from the invaders, we paid a heavy price by losing our knowledge bank, viz. writings by our eminent teachers and scholars.

Some new initiatives that have been started in India recently in the field of university education may, however, restore some of its ancient glory in the field of education.


[1] Revived Nalanda University to start functioning by February end, India Today,
Online Patna, January 5, 2014
[3] Takshashila: The world’s first known university,
[4] Destruction of Takshashila – a defining moment
[5] The History of Varanasi (Banaras)
[6] Ancient higher-learning institutions
[7] Ancient Universities of India apart from Takshashila and Nalanda,
[8] Vikramaśīla University
[9] Nalanda University –
[11] Jayanth V Narlikar, The scientific edge, The Indian scientist Vedic to modern times, Penguin
Books, 2003, Page-32
[12] Revived Nalanda University to start functioning by February-end
[13] Jagaddala –
[14] Nagarjunakonda, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[15] Kanchipuram –
[16] Manyakheta, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the authors. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

This article was first published in the journal ‘Laboratory Experiments‘, published by Kamaljeeth Instrumentation and Service Unit, Bengaluru, India.

Jeethendra Kumar P K
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A PhD in physics, Dr Jeethendra Kumar P K worked as a physics lecturer at Mangalore University for eight years. He is the founder of a physics instrument manufacturing company (1990) and Lab Experiments journal (2001), Bengaluru, India.

Prabhakar Sharma
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Dr Prabhakar Sharma, Scientist (Retd.), is Ex-Head of the Academic Servies, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, India.

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Mumbai’s Iconic CST Station Building Completes 130 Years

This magnificent monument was originally planned as the office of GIP (Great Indian Peninsular) Railway.



MUMBAI (Maharashtra): Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (earlier Victoria Terminus) has completed 130 years of its construction on 20th May 2018.

The present-day Headquarters building of Central Railway popularly known as Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus) is an architectural marvel.

This magnificent monument was originally planned as the office of GIP (Great Indian Peninsular) Railway.

This is the most photographed building (in India) after Taj Mahal and was designed by Frederick William Stevens, a consulting architect.

Thus taking almost a decade to build it at a princely sum of Rs. 16,13,863/- Stevens designed the monumental Terminus which was the largest building then erected in Asia and which even today is a standing testimony of his innovative talent.

The magnificent CST Building lit up for India’s Independence Day on August 15

The construction started in 1878 and on Jubilee Day in 1887, it was named after Queen-Empress Victoria.

Later in 1996, it was renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It was again renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in July 2017.

In 2004, UNESCO has enlisted this building as World Heritage Site for its architectural splendour.

From December 2012, this heritage building has been opened for public viewing on working days.

Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (earlier Victoria Terminus) was constructed at a cost of Rs.16.14 lakh and is designed in the Gothic style adapted to suit Indian context. It is a C shaped building planned symmetrically about the east-west axis.

The crowning point of the whole building is the central main dome carrying up a colossal 16’-6’’ high figure of lady pointing a flaming torch upwards in her right hand, and a spoked wheel low in the left hand, symbolizing `Progress’.

This dome has been reported to be the first octagonal ribbed masonry dome that was adapted to an Italian Gothic style building.

The station was constructed with 6 platforms at a cost of Rs.10.4 lakh and in 1929, the first remodelling took place to have 13 platforms. Further modifications were done to the yard and the station had two more platforms thus making it a total of 15 platforms in 1994.

Today it has 18 platforms with a spacious east side entry as well.

In April 2018, a heritage gully was inaugurated adjacent to platform no.18, wherein Sir. Leslie Wilson, the GIP Heritage Electric Loco, and other heritage items are displayed.

During Centenary celebrations of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Building, a postal stamp was released.

In 2013, when the building celebrated quasi-centennial (125 years) anniversary, a special postal cover was released on the occasion.

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Roots of Indian Science: Part F – Scientific Activities in India During the Colonial Era

Experimental development was by and large neglected during the colonial era.



If you are a new reader, we request you to first read the previous parts of the series here:
Roots of Indian Science: Part A – Science in the Vedas
Roots of Indian Science: Part B – Science in the Vedas
Roots of Indian Science: Part C – Ancient Indian Universities
Roots of Indian Science: Part D – Indian Science During the Colonial Era
Roots of Indian Science: Part E – Physics in Ancient India


The British government in India needed a scientific base in the country not only for educating their ward but also to satisfy their intellectual curiosity to unravel the mysteries of nature. The clear skies and bright sunshine almost round the year in India was an added attraction for the study of Sun which was not possible in Europe due to frequent overcast sky conditions. The basic need for having trained manpower necessitated the development of human resources from native Indians for which they established schools, colleges and universities in India. This offered an opportunity to Indians to get training in scientific methods using state of art technology developed in Europe which resulted in producing Indian scientists, engineers, and doctors.

6.1 Early Observations on Venus Transit in India:

The space observations of Aryabhata and others did not continue further in a significant way. After the arrival of Europeans in India, the western science developed in India. During December 9, 1874 transit of Venus both British and the French were in fierce scientific competition to showcase their superiority in science. This resulted in sending their own delegations to various countries to observe Venus transit events. Under the guidance of British Astronomer Royal, Sir George Biddel Airy, three field stations, viz. Roorkee, Visakhapatnam and Madras were selected for this purpose under the overall supervision of Col. James Francis Tennant and Norman Robert Pogson of the Madras Observatory.

At Roorkee, more than 100 photographs of Sun were taken and sent to Airy in England. Photographs from all the field stations were reduced by Captain G. L. Tupman who wrote a book in which he said: “There is only one really sharp image in the whole collection, including the Indian and Australian contingents, and that is one of Captain Waterhouse’s wet plates taken at Roorkee”. Other than British astronomers, Italian astronomer Pietro Tacchini led an expedition to Muddapur, India.

Indian and European team members observing the transit of Venus at Daba Gardens Observatory in Visakhapatnam, India (Picture: Royal Astronomical Society Library)

The Venus transit was also observed by an enthusiast and amateur astronomer Ankitam Venkata Narasinga Row [1, 2], from his private observatory in Visakhapatnam (Daba Gardens Observatory, also called Chukkala Meda).

He used a 6” telescope with a locally made clockwork mechanism to turn it for pointing at various celestial objects. His findings were reported and published in the Proceedings of Royal Astronomical Society.



6.2 Dehra Dun Observatory (1878-1925):

The 1874 transit of Venus led to the institutionalization of astrophysics in India, although the state had no major stake in astronomy. The motivation and the peer pressure came from European solar physicists who wanted to use the benefit of India’s sunny weather and clear sky conditions for their astronomical research. The government was also interested in the work as it was believed that a study of the Sun would help understand and predict the periodic failure of the Indian monsoon, a phenomenon that was not really well understood.

Accordingly, starting from early 1878 solar photographs were regularly taken at Dehra Dun under the auspices of Survey of India, and sent to England every week. Dehra Dun observatory continued solar photography till 1925 [2].

6.3 St. Xavier’s College Observatory, Calcutta:

In 1859 the Superior General of the Society of Jesus entrusted the opening of a college to the Jesuit Province of Belgium for the native Catholics of West Bengal. The superior of the Jesuit community at Namur, Henri Depelchin S.J., was sent to India as the head of a group of Jesuits which was entrusted with this task. St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta was opened for classes in January 1860. Aware of Lafont’s talent in the field of science, Delpelchin requested that he be assigned to the mission. Lafont left for India and arrived in Calcutta on 4th December 1865 [3].

Soon after arriving in the capital city of British India, Lafont was appointed to teach science. Since science could not be taught without conducting practical experiments, he promptly established a laboratory in the college, the first such science laboratory in India. In November 1867 he made headlines in the local press for establishing a makeshift observatory on the terrace of the college. He recorded daily meteorological observations which enabled him to accurately anticipate the arrival of a devastating cyclone.

The government authorities were informed and immediate measures were taken that prevented loss of many lives. Thereafter meteorological forecasts made by Lafont were regularly published in the Indo-European Correspondence, a major weekly newspaper published from Calcutta.

From 1870 onward Lafont began to deliver scientific lectures for the general public, in which he demonstrated his expertise in popularizing science. Various new scientific discoveries and inventions of the second half of the 19th century were thus disseminated, generally with empirical evidence. These include the magic lantern, telephone, phonograph, X-rays, photography, etc. Through his contacts in Europe, Lafont had procured and brought along with him the latest scientific tools available at that time, such as the meteograph of Angelo Secchi (meteorology remained his favourite field of interest). His lectures were a huge success and continued until he retired and moved to Darjeeling where lived there till his death in 1908.

In 1873, when Lafont was the Rector of St. Xavier’s College, a high level international scientific expedition visited Calcutta on its way to the nearby town of Midnapore for observing a rare astronomical phenomenon – the transit of planet Venus before the Sun.

Lafont also joined the group and his observations made him known internationally and the following year he secured financial assistance that was needed in order to build an astronomical observatory in the college premises. The observatory was equipped with the most modern telescope available at that time.

On 10th March 2014 the astronomy observatory was re-commissioned and a solar observatory was established and inaugurated by Fr. Felix Raj SJ, the then Principal of the St. Xavier’s College and was dedicated to the memory of Fr. Eugene Lafont. Fr. Lafont was a favourite teacher of Acharya Jadish Chandra Bose and he introduced Bose to the excitement of pursuing science.

Observatory of Fr. Lafont at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata

This observatory set up by Fr. Eugene Lafont in 1865 is one of the oldest in the subcontinent. Father Lafont is regarded as “Father of Modern Science in India.” This observatory made headlines in various Indian newspapers in November 1865 for predicting a severe cyclone which saved hundreds of lives due to prompt preventive measures taken by the government authorities. It was listed among the active observatories of the world at that time and had close collaboration with the Observatory of Vatican. It is the oldest observatory in the country and the biggest one in an educational campus.

6.4 Takhtasinghji’s Observatory, Poona (1888- 1912):

Kavasji Dadabhai Naegamvala

The observatory was a personal facility of Kavasji Dadabhai Naegamvala (1857-1938), a lecturer in Physics in Elphinstone College, Bombay [1]. His original plan was to establish a spectroscopy laboratory at Elphinstone College for use by students. Naegamvala received the seed money of Rs 5,000/- from the Maharaja Takhtasinghji of Bhavnagar and a matching grant from the Bombay Government. While in England in 1884 for buying equipment, he was persuaded by Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer, Astronomer Royal of United Kingdom, and Lockyer to build a spectroscopy observatory. Since Poona was a better site than Bombay, Naegamvala was transferred to College of Science, Poona in 1885 where the Observatory came up in 1888. After Naegamvala’s death in 1912, the observatory was demolished and the equipment was transferred to the Kodaikanal Observatory [2].

6.5 Nizamia observatory, Hyderabad:

Nizamia observatory Hyderabad

Nizamia observatory was an optical observatory established in 1908 during the reign of the Nizams of Hyderabad state. It was founded by British educated noble Nawab Zafar Yar Jung Bahadur, who was the minister for defence in the Nizam’s government. It had an 8″ Cooke Astrograph and a 15″ Grubb refractor telescope. Taken over by the government in 1907, the observatory worked for many years on an ambitious programme of photographing and charting a large segment of the sky. It was originally established in Ameerpet, Hyderabad but was later shifted in the premises of the Osmania University campus in Hyderabad but is defunct now and is being used as a dump store for old furniture and unused equipment in the University.

6.6 The Survey of India:

In the process of surveying the Coramandal region of the south-east part of India, the British East India Company established a training school at Fort St. George at Madras (1794), which later became Civil Engineering School (in 1858) and subsequently (in 1861) the College of Engineering. It is now renamed as College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG) in Chennai, and is located in the main campus of Anna University [4]. This was the first such training institute started by the British to develop human resources for the survey work in India. Later the British started similar training schools in the northern part of India, such as the Survey of India in Dehra Dun (in 1767) which is one of oldest institutions started by the British for the purpose of mapping and surveying length and breadth of India.

The Survey of India’s illustrious history includes handling of the mammoth Great Trigonometric Survey under the leadership of William Lambton and George Everest and the discovery of Mt. Everest. It is a tribute to the foresight of such Surveyors that at the time of India’s independence the country inherited a survey network of the country built on scientific principles. The great trigonometric series spanning the country from North to South and East to West are some of the best geodetic control series available in the world. The scientific techniques of surveying have since been augmented by the latest technology to meet the multi-disciplinary requirement of data by planners and scientists [5].

6.7 Establishment of Engineering colleges in India:

The British government needed schools, colleges and universities in India not only for educating their ward but also for having trained manpower from native Indian population to work for their development projects. This made the government start schools, colleges and universities in India. The first engineering college in India was established in Roorkee on November 25, 1847.

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee

After the death of Raja Ramdayal in 1813, a Bargujar king of Landhaura state, British East India Company took charge of Roorkee city. Till 1840, Roorkee was a tiny hamlet consisting of thatched mud huts on the banks of Solani rivulet. Digging work on the Upper Ganges Canal formally began in April 1842, under the aegis of Proby Cautley, a British officer. Soon, Roorkee grew into a town. The canal, which was formally opened on 8th April, 1854, irrigated over 767,000 acres (3,100 km²) of land in about 5,000 villages [6].

To look after the maintenance of the canal, the Canal Workshop and Iron Foundry was established in 1843 in the civil lines area of the town on the canal bank. This was followed by the establishment of Civil Engineering School which started functioning in 1845 to train local youth for assisting in the civil engineering work of the Upper Ganges Canal. This became the first engineering college established in India. On November 25, 1847, the college was formally constituted, through a proposal by Sir James Thomason, Lt. Governor of North Western Province (1843–53). After his death in 1853, the college was rechristened as Thomason College of Civil Engineering. The college was later upgraded and became
University of Roorkee in 1949. On September 21, 2001, through an Act of Parliament, it was made Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee

6.8 Establishment of Medical Colleges in India:

6.8.1 Indian traditional medicine

Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine existed in India much before the British rule, since Vedic times. The oldest known Ayurvedic texts are the Suśruta Saṃhitā and the Charaka Saṃhitā. These classical Sanskrit texts constitute the foundation of the Ayurvedic system of medicine [7].

Ayurvedic practitioners developed a number of medicinal preparations and also surgical procedures for treatment of various ailments. Ayurveda is well integrated now with the Indian National health care system, with Ayurvedic hospitals for established across the country.

6.8.2 The first medical college in India

The Europeans who came to India ostensibly for trade needed their European medicines frequently which were difficult to procure from Europe. Further, they wanted to have their own medical facilities for treatment. The French were the first to start a medical college in India in 1823 [8]. The first medical college “Ecole de Médicine de Pondichéry,” was established at Puducherry (now renamed as Pondicherry) on 1st January 1823 for training French citizens in Pondichéry by the French imperial government in India. Two more medical colleges were started by the British, one at Calcutta (on 28th January 1835) and the other at Madras (on 2nd February 1835). After independence, the medical college “Ecole de Médicine de Pondichéry” was taken over by the Government of India in 1956 and renamed as “Dhanvantari Medical College”. On 13th July, 1964, it was renamed as “Jawaharlal Institute
of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research” (JIPMER).

Under the French rule in Pondicherry, the college was located in the heart of the town in the renovated buildings of the high court, opposite Le place de Gaulle, which is now the Legislative Assembly Hall of the union territory of Pondicherry. In 1959, SE Le Comte Stanislas Ostrorog, Ambassador of France in India, laid the foundation stone of the new medical college building located on the outskirts of the town which, in 1964, moved to its new campus at Gorimedu [8].

Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research

6.8.3 The British Medical Colleges in India:

Medical College, Bengal (now known as Calcutta Medical College), was established in 1835. This was the second college in Asia where European medicine was taught, after Ecole de Médicine de Pondichéry, which was the first to teach medicine in the English language. The establishment of this medical college on 28th January 1835 was soon followed by Madras Medical College on 2nd February 1835 [9].

On 9th May 1822, the British government took twenty young Indians to fill the positions of native doctors in the civil and military establishments of the Presidency of Bengal. The outcome was the establishment of “The Native Medical Institution”(NMI) in Calcutta on 21st June 1822, where teaching was done in the vernacular medium. Treatises on human anatomy, medicine, and surgery were translated into English from other European languages.

From 1826 onwards, the teaching of Unani and Ayurvedic medicine was also started at the Calcutta Madarsa and the Sanskrit college respectively. In 1827 John Tyler, an orientalist and the first superintendent of the NMI started teaching of Mathematics and Anatomy at the Sanskrit College. In general, the medical education provided by the colonial regime at this stage involved parallel instructions in western and indigenous medical systems. Translation of western medical texts was encouraged and though dissection was not performed, clinical experience was essential. Trainee medical students had to work in different hospitals and dispensaries. Successful native doctors were absorbed in government jobs [9].

Towards the end of 1833, a Committee was appointed by the government of William Bentinck in Bengal to report on the state of medical education in India and also to suggest whether the teaching of indigenous medicine should be discontinued. The Committee consisted of Dr John Grant as the president and J C C Sutherland, C E Trevelyan, Thomas Spens, Ram Comul Sen and M J Bramley as members. The Committee was critical of the medical education imparted at the NMI in respect of the teaching, with no courses on practical anatomy and also of the examination procedures adopted. The Committee submitted a report on 20th October 1834 with the recommendation that the state should found a medical college “for the education of the natives”. It also recommended that rather than the traditional medicine, the various branches of medical science promoted in Europe should be taught in this college. The aspiring candidates should possess adequate knowledge, both reading and writing, of the English language, in addition to knowledge of Bengali and Hindi and proficiency in Arithmetic. This recommendation, followed by Macaulay’s minutes and Bentinck’s resolution, sealed the fate of the college for native doctors and medical classes at the two leading oriental institutions of Calcutta. The NMI was closed and the teaching of medicine at the Sanskrit College and at the Calcutta Madarasa was discontinued by the government order of 28th January 1835 [10].

The proposed new college, known as the Calcutta Medical College (CMC), which was established by a government order of 28th January 1835, ushered in a new era in the history of medical education in India. Its stated purpose was to train native youths aged between 14 and 20 years irrespective of caste and creed, in accordance with the ethics of medical science that was in vogue with the model adopted in Europe. This marked the end of the official patronage of the teaching of the traditional medical system which in its turn evoked resentment among the Indian practitioners of indigenous medicine and later the nationalists also strongly criticised the government for withdrawal of patronage to the traditional Indian system of medicine. Different sections of the Indian population responded to this newly founded system of education in different ways. Among the Hindus, the Brahmins, Kayasthas, and Vaidyas were particularly enthusiastic about offering education of traditional Indian medicine.

6.9 Establishment of Universities in India:

During the colonial era, a need was felt for offering higher education as well as quality basic education. Those who had adequate resources could afford to their have higher education in England and other European countries. Moreover, the need for having ever increasing number of British soldiers, officers, and engineers in India was felt which necessitated the establishment of English medium schools and colleges in India. Christian missionaries established such schools in India. In West Bengal, a large number of missionary schools have started functioning since then [11].

In south India, the first ever demand for higher education in Madras Presidency was voiced in a public address to The Right Honourable Lord John Elphinstone G.C.H., Governor of Madras. A petition regarding this was signed subsequently by 70,000 native inhabitants. The public petition which was presented by the then Advocate General, Mr George Norton, to the Governor of Madras on 11th November 1839 emphasized for the need for having an English medium college in the city of Madras. Following this, Lord Elphinstone evolved a plan for the establishment of either a central collegiate institution or a university. It was suggested that this institution/university should have twin Departments: (i) a High School for promoting English literature, the regional language, philosophy, and science; and (ii) a college for teaching literature, philosophy and science [12].

The University Board was constituted in January 1840 with Mr George Norton as its President. This was the precursor to the present day Presidency College, Chennai. However, a systematic educational policy for India was formulated only after 14 years through the historic Dispatch of 1854 (Sir Charles Wood’s Education Dispatch), which pointed out the rationale for “creating a properly articulated system of education from the primary school to the university”. Establishment of Professorship positions was recommended in the universities “for the purposes of the delivery of lectures in various branches of learning including vernacular as well as classical languages”. As a sequel, the University of Madras,
organised on the model of London University, was incorporated on 5th September 1857 by an Act of the Legislative Council of India.

The British Court of Directors of the East India Company sent a dispatch in July 1854 to the Governor General of India, suggesting the establishment of universities in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. In accordance with this, University of Calcutta was founded on January 24, 1857, the University of Bombay on 5th September 1857 and Madras University on 18th July 1857. Later three more universities, viz. University of Punjab (1882), University of Patna (1917), and Nagpur (1923) University were established during the British rule in India. The universities adopted the pattern of the University of London and gradually introduced necessary modifications of their constitution.

6.10 Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS):

Mahendralal Sircar

Dr Mahendralal Sircar (1833–1904) was an allopath-turned-homoeopathic doctor, social reformer and proponent of scientific studies in the 19th century India. Along with Father Eugène Lafont, he founded the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in 1876. The main aim of the Association was to disseminate scientific knowledge and keep the general public abreast with the latest scientific developments taking place in the west. From its early days, the Thursday evening lectures given by Lafont were one of the main activities of the Association [13].

Further, it also aimed to create departments in basic science subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Geology, Botany, Zoology etc involving Indians in scientific activities. C V Raman, who was working at that time in Calcutta as Deputy Accountant General in the Finance Department, took a keen interest in the activities of the Association.

Subsequently, he quit the job and joined as Professor of Physics in the Calcutta University. Another notable member of the Association was Nagendra Nath Dhar (1857-1929) who made optical parts in his workshop at Hoogly for use in telescopes and explained the process in the IACS meetings. This tradition of making optics in Kolkata is still continuing; all the microscopes and telescopes that are being manufactured in Ambala Cantt. (Haryana), use Kolkata optics. Sircar also supported women’s education in 19th in India at a time when pursuing higher education among women was rare. Till 1920, the activities of the Association were published regularly in the form of its in-house Journal (Indian Journal of Physics).

6.11 Eugène Lafont, S.J. (1837- 1908):

Lafont was more of an educator than a research scholar or inventor. His competence and varied activities gave him a place in the University of Calcutta, of which he was a Senate member for many years. It was because of him that importance of the study of science in the University was acknowledged. He prepared the science syllabus of the University and in 1903 managed to obtain substantial funding from the Indian Universities Commission for setting up of laboratories and improvement of the science curriculum. In 1908, a few months before his death, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Sciences, Honoris Causa, by the University of Calcutta.

6.12 Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858–1937):

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, was a Bengali polymath, physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and a writer of science fiction. He pioneered the investigation of radio- and microwave- optics, made significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent. IEEE named him one of the fathers of radio science. He is considered the father of Bengali science fiction. He invented the ‘crescograph’. A crater on the moon has been named in his honour.

Jagadish Chandra Bose [15] was a student of Lafont and later became his friend. When Bose discovered the ‘wireless telegraphy’ (as the source of radio-phonic inventions) it was Lafont who made a public demonstration of this discovery in Calcutta in 1897. For Lafont, there was no doubt that Bose had preceded the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi in this discovery. He never failed to give due credit to his former student.

Father Eugene Lafont and J C Bose with his radio-phonic invention


6.13 Radha Gobinda Chandra (1878 – 1975):

Radha Gobinda Chandra

Radha Gobinda Chandra [16] was an amateur astronomer from an early age. He had immense interest in Astronomy and in the later part of his life started pursuing amateur astronomy on his own. When he was in grade 6 in school, there was a textbook entitled Charupath in which there was an inspiring prose on Astronomy and Cosmology written by Bengal writer Akshay Kumar Datta. He became motivated to become an astronomer after reading this book. Later he wrote about this in his autobiography. He was first motivated to watch celestial objects in the sky when he got a scientific apprenticeship with a lawyer named Kalinath Mukherjee who was the editor of the ‘Star Atlas’.

During the period April–July 1910, Chandra observed the Halley’s Comet from Jessore with his small binocular as he did not have a powerful binocular or any other instrument. He wrote a detailed account of his observations of Halley’s Comet in the ‘Hindu Magazine’. In 1912, Chandra purchased a 3” telescope from England after which he continued regular observation of variable stars with the help of the ‘Star Atlas’ compiled by Kalinath Mukherjee. He communicated a total of over 37000 trained-eye observations made by him till 1954.

The importance of his prodigious work lies in the fact that he worked at an eastern longitude far from that of most observers in the west, greatly improving the temporal completeness of the observational records for the stars he observed.

6.13.1 Discovery of Nova:

Chandra used to observe stars most of the nights at that time. He suddenly noticed a bright star on 7th June 1918. He tried to match it with the Star Map but did not find any. He observed it for the next few days and came to the conclusion that it is a new star. In the terminology of astronomy, it was a ‘Nova’. He published a detailed account of this Nova in the ‘Probashi’ magazine. Later this nova was named as ‘Nova Aquila-3’.

6.13.2 Membership of AAVSO:

Chandra sent his observatory report to Edward Charles Picketing who was then a researcher at the Harvard Space Observatory. Picketing encouraged him and sent him some books on astronomy. Chandra became a member of American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) in 1926. Picketing also sent him a 6” aperture telescope. Chandra made over 37000 trained-eye observations till 1954, when he finally retired.

6.14 Megananda Saha (1893 – 1956):

Megananda Saha

Meganada Saha’s best-known work concerned thermal ionisation of elements which led him to formulate what is now known as the Saha’s ionization equation. This equation is one of the basic tools in astrophysics for interpretation of the spectra of stars. By studying the spectra of a star, one can find its temperature from which, using Saha’s equation, ionisation state of the various elements making up the star can be determined.

This work was soon pursued by Ralph H. Fowler and Edward Arthur Milne.

Saha had his initial schooling at Dhaka Collegiate School and later graduated from Dhaka College. He studied at the Presidency College, Calcutta. He was a professor at Allahabad University from 1923 to 1938, and thereafter Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Calcutta and continued in this position until his death in 1956. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1927. He was president of the 21st session of the Indian Science Congress in 1934.

Saha was fortunate to have brilliant teachers and classmates. Amongst his classmates were Satyendra Nath Bose, Jnan Ghosh and J. N. Mukherjee. In later part of his life, he became close to Amiya Charan Banerjee, a renowned mathematician at Allahabad University.

Saha also invented an instrument to measure the weight and pressure of solar rays and helped to build several scientific institutions, such as the Physics Department in Allahabad University, and the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Calcutta. He founded the journal Science and Culture and was its editor until his death. He played a lead role in establishing several scientific societies and institutions, such as the National Academy of Sciences (1930), the Indian Physical Society (1934), and Indian Institute of Science (1935). A lasting memorial to him is the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, founded by him in Kolkata in 1943.

The Palit Research Laboratory used to be a laboratory under the Department of Physics in the University of Calcutta. Megananda Saha became the Palit Professor of Physics at the University of Calcutta in 1938. Realizing the growing importance of nuclear physics, he reorganized the university curriculum to include nuclear physics and commissioned the necessary instruments. Soon the necessity of having a small-scale cyclotron was felt. Thanks to the help of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and patronage of the eminent industrialist J.R.D.Tata, the foundation stone of the Institute of Nuclear Physics was laid at Calcutta in 1949. The institute was shifted to its new building in Bidhannagar in the late 1980s [17].

6.15 Satyendra Nath Bose (1894 – 1974):

Satyendra Nath Bose was an Indian physicist specialising in mathematical physics. He is best known for his work on quantum mechanics in the early 1920s, providing the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics and the Bose–Einstein condensate. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, he was awarded India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan in 1954 by the Government of India [18].

After completing his MSc, Bose joined the University of Calcutta as a research scholar in 1916 and started his studies on the theory of relativity. It was an exciting era in the history of scientific progress. Quantum theory had just appeared on the horizon and important results had started pouring in.

He joined as Reader in the Department of Physics of the newly founded University of Dacca (renamed as University of Dhaka, now in Bangladesh). Bose set up new departments, including laboratories, for teaching advanced courses for B.Sc. (honours) and M.Sc, and taught thermodynamics as well as Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism.

Satyendra Nath Bose

Bose wrote a paper on deriving Planck’s quantum radiation law without making any reference to classical physics by using a novel way of counting states with identical particles. This paper, submitted to the British Journal Philosophical Magazine for publication, was seminal in creating the very important field of quantum statistics. Though not accepted for publication in this journal, he sent the article directly to Albert Einstein in Germany. Einstein, recognising the importance of the paper, translated it into German himself and submitted it on Bose’s behalf to the prestigious German journal Zeitschrift für Physik. As a result of this work, Bose was able to work for two years in European X-ray and crystallography laboratories, during which he worked with eminent scientists, Louis de Broglie, Marie Curie, and Einstein.

Bose laid the foundation of quantum statistics, now called Bose-Einstein statistics, when Einstein met Bose face-to-face and asked Bose whether he was at all aware of the fact that he had invented a new type of statistics. Bose very candidly said ‘no’, as he was not familiar with Boltzmann’s statistics and didn’t realize that he was doing the calculations differently.

He was equally candid with anyone who asked this question. Einstein also did not at first realize how radical Bose’s invention was, and in his first paper after Bose’s work, Einstein was guided, like Bose, by the fact that the new method gave the right answer. But after Einstein’s second paper using Bose’s method in which he predicted the Bose-Einstein condensate, he started to realize just how radical it was, and he compared it to the concept of wave-particle duality, saying that some particles did not behave exactly like particles!

Einstein adopted the idea of Bose and extended it to atoms. This led to the prediction of the existence of phenomena which became known as Bose-Einstein condensate, a dense collection of bosons (which are particles with integer spin, named after Bose). The existence of Boson was demonstrated experimentally in 1995. Although several Nobel Prizes were awarded for research related to the concepts of the boson, Bose-Einstein statistics and Bose-Einstein condensate, it is ironical that Bose himself was not awarded a Nobel Prize!

6.16 Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (1888-1970):

Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman was born at Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu on 7th November 1888. After completing his M.Sc. in Physics in 1907, Raman studied the diffraction of light and his thesis on the subject was published in 1906 [18].

During those times there were not many opportunities for scientists in India. Therefore, Raman joined the Indian Finance Department in 1907and was posted at Calcutta as Deputy Accountant General. After his office hours, he carried out his experimental research in acoustics and optics in the laboratory of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science.

Because of his passion for physics, he resigned from his job in the Finance Department and was offered Palit Professorship of Physics at Calcutta University in 1917 where he continued for the next fifteen years. During his tenure there, he received worldwide recognition for his work in optics and scattering of light. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1924 and was knighted by the British government in 1929. In 1947, he was appointed as the first National Professor by the Government of India.

Raman with the spectrometer

In 1930, Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the “Raman Effect”. He employed monochromatic light from a mercury arc which passed through transparent materials and was incident on a spectrograph to record its spectrum. Raman detected some new lines in the spectrum which were later called ‘Raman Lines’. The ‘Raman Effect’ was found to be very useful in analyzing the molecular structure of chemical compounds. Within a decade of its discovery, the structure of about 2000 compounds was studied. With the invention of the laser, the ‘Raman Effect’ has proved to be a very useful tool for scientists.

Raman’s other research interests include the physiology of human vision, the optics of colloids and the electrical and magnetic anisotropy in materials. In 1925 he set up Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, where he continued the scientific research until his death on November 21, 1970. His truly exemplified his own conviction that scientific research needed original thinking and dedication rather than mere availability of sophisticated equipment.” (He used an inexpensive equipment, costing just Rs.200, to discover the Raman Effect.)

6.17 Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861–1944):

Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861–1944) was a distinguished chemist, educator and entrepreneur. After obtaining his B.Sc. degree from Edinburgh University, Ray embarked on his doctoral thesis in the same university and completed his doctorate (D.Sc.) in 1887. He was awarded the Hope Prize which allowed him to continue his research for a further period of one year after completion of his doctorate. While he was still a student, he was elected Vice-President of Edinburgh University Chemical Society in 1888 [19].

Ray returned to India in August 1888 and joined Presidency College, Calcutta. In 1896, he published a paper on the preparation of a new stable chemical compound: mercurous nitrite. This work paved way for a large number of investigative papers on nitrites and hyponitrites of different metals, as well as nitrites of ammonia and organic amines. He started Indian School of Chemistry in 1924.

Ray retired from the Presidency College in 1916 and joined the College of Science in Calcutta University as its first Palit Professor of Chemistry. Here, along with his dedicated team, he worked on compounds of gold, platinum, iridium etc. with mercaptyl radicals and organic sulphides. He had published 107 papers in various branches of Chemistry by 1920.

In 1902, he published the first volume of A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Middle of Sixteenth Century. The second volume of this book was published in 1908. The work was the result of his meticulous search through ancient Sanskrit manuscripts.

In 1908 the University of Calcutta awarded him an honorary Doctor of Philosophy. He also received an honorary D.Sc. degree from Durham University in 1912, and another from Dacca University (now Dhaka University) in 1936. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1911. He was an honorary fellow of the Chemical Society and Deutsche Akademie, Munich. He was knighted in 1917 by the British government. The Royal Society of Chemistry honoured his life and work with the first ever Chemical Landmark Plaque outside of Europe.

6.18 Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis (1893 – 1972):

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was an eminent Indian statistician. He is best known for the Mahalanobis Distance, a statistical measure. He made pioneering studies in anthropometry in India. He founded the Indian Statistical Institute and contributed to the design of large-scale sample [20].

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis (Photo: Famous People)

Mahalanobis studied at Presidency College, Calcutta and obtained B.Sc. degree in 1912. He left for England in 1913 to join the University of London. He interacted with the mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan during the latter’s time at Cambridge. After his Tripos in physics, Mahalanobis worked with eminent physicist and Nobel Laureate C. T. R. Wilson at the Cavendish Laboratory. He took a short break and went to India and taught physics for a while at the Presidency College, Calcutta. He, however, went back to England and worked on the application of statistics to problems in diverse fields, such as
meteorology, anthropology etc.

On his return to the Presidency College, Calcutta, many of his colleagues took an active interest in statistics and the group grew in the Statistical Laboratory located in his room in the college. This eventually culminated in the establishment of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) on 28th April,1932. In 1933, the journal Sankhya was founded along the lines of the British journal Biometrika. The ISI grew its activities in biometrics and in 1959 it was declared as an institute of national importance and a deemed university.

Mahalanobis was influenced by the anthropometric studies published in Biometrika. He found a way of comparing and grouping populations using a multivariate distance measure. This measure, now called “Mahalanobis distance”, is independent of measurement scale. His statistical work included analysis of university exam results, anthropometric measurements on Anglo-Indians of Calcutta and some meteorological problems. He also worked as a meteorologist for some time, particularly on prevention of floods.

His most important contributions are, however, related to large-scale sample surveys. He introduced the concept of pilot surveys and advocated the utility of sampling methods in diverse fields such as consumer expenditure, tea-drinking habits, public opinion, crop acreage and plant diseases.

Mahalanobis also worked on quantitative linguistics, language planning, and speech pathology and contributed to the field of language correction.

As a member of the Planning Commission of India in the later part of his life, Mahalanobis contributed significantly to independent India’s Five-Year Plans in which he emphasised the importance of industrialisation and played a key role in the development of a statistical infrastructure. He was conferred “Padma Vibhushan” by the Government of India in 1968 for his contribution to science and services to the country.

Mahalanobis received several awards and honours, including Fellow of the Royal Society, London (1945), President of Indian Science Congress (1950), Fellow of the Econometric Society, USA (1951), Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, UK (1954), and Foreign member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1958). His birthday, 29th June, is celebrated as National Statistical Day.

6.19 Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar (1894–1955):

Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar was a well-known Indian chemist. He was the first Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and is widely acknowledged as the “father of research laboratories” in India. He was also the first Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) [20].

Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar (Picture: Prasar Bharati, Government of India)

Bhatnagar obtained M.Sc in chemistry in 1919 from Punjab University. He carried out his doctoral research work at University College, London and was awarded D.Sc. in 1921, after which he returned to India and joined the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) as a professor of chemistry, where he continued for three years. He then moved to Lahore as a Professor of Physical Chemistry where he carried out his original scientific work on magneto-chemistry, particularly use of magnetism for studying chemical reactions. Jointly with K N Mathur, Bhatnagar wrote Physical Principles and Applications of Magneto Chemistry which is considered as sthe tandard text on this subject.

His research interests were varied and included emulsions, colloids, and industrial chemistry. In 1928, jointly with K.N. Mathur, he invented the Bhatnagar-Mathur Magnetic Interference Balance, which was one of the most sensitive instruments for measuring magnetic properties. It was exhibited at the Royal Society Soiree in 1931 and was marketed by M/S Adam Hilger and Co., London.

Bhatnagar also worked on several industrial problems. His major innovation was on improving the procedure of drilling crude oil.

Bhatnagar’s persistent efforts led to the establishment of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as an autonomous body, which came into existence on 28th September, 1942. In 1943 Bhatnagar’s proposal to establish five national laboratories was approved by
the Government. These included the National Chemical Laboratory, the National Physical Laboratory, the Fuel Research Station, and Glass and Ceramics Research Institute. This was the beginning of the establishment of scientific laboratories in India.

Bhatnagar played a key role in building India’s science and technology infrastructure and policies after its independence. In 1947, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was set up under the chairmanship of Dr. Bhatnagar. He was appointed its first Director-General. He was responsible for establishing a number of chemical laboratories in India.

For his outstanding contributions to pure and applied chemistry, Bhatnagar was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1936. He was knighted by the British government in 1941. In 1943 the Society of Chemical Industry, London elected him as Honorary Member and later as its Vice President. In 1943 he was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society, London.

In independent India, he was elected as the President of the Indian Chemical Society, National Institute of Sciences of India and the Indian National Science Congress. He was awarded Padma Bhushan by the government of India in 1954.

To honour him CSIR instituted the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology since 1958 to outstanding scientists who made significant contributions in various branches of science.

6.20 Daulat Singh Kothari (1905–1993):

Dr Daulat Singh Kothari, the architect of defence science in India

D. S. Kothari was born in Udaipur in Rajasthan in 1905. He had his early education at Udaipur and Indore and received a master’s degree in physics from Allahabad University in 1928 under the guidance of Meghnad Saha. For his PhD thesis, Kothari worked at the Cavendish Laboratory, the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Ernest Rutherford, to whom he was recommended by Meghnad Saha [21].

After his return to India, he worked at the Delhi University from 1934 to 1961 in various capacities as the reader, professor and Head of the Department of Physics. He was the scientific advisor to Ministry of Defence from 1948 to 1961 and was appointed as Chairman of the University Grants Commission in 1961 in which capacity he worked till 1973.

D. S. Kothari was president of the Indian Science Congress at its golden jubilee session in 1963. He was elected President of Indian National Science Academy in 1973. His research on statistical thermodynamics and his Theory of White Dwarf Stars gave him international recognition.

Govt of India conferred on him Padma Bhushan in 1962 and Padma Vibhushan in 1973. He was also listed as a “Proud Past Alumni” by the Allahabad University Alumni Association. In 2011, the Department of Posts issued a commemorative stamp in his honour.

Daulat Singh Kothari
Picture courtesy:

6.21 Conclusions:

The naked-eye and trained-eye astronomical observations by Radha Gobind Chandra provided important data on various celestial objects from the eastern longitudes. Meghanada Saha, S. N. Bose and C V Raman made outstanding scientific contributions to Physics both in theory and experiment. The high point of the science in India during the colonial regime was the discovery of the “Raman Effect” by C V Raman who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930. S N Bose laid the foundation of quantum statistics, now called Bose-Einstein statistics. Meghanada Saha demonstrated that the spectra produced by a distant star can be analysed on the basis of high-temperature ionisation theory developed by him. Saha’s equation forms one of the basic tools in astrophysics for interpretation of the spectra of stars.

However, the experimental development was by and large neglected during the colonial era. Manufacturing of optical components, as well as iron and aluminium casting, were introduced in India only after its independence in 1947 and the importance of making scientific instruments locally in India was also realized.

Einstein’s theory of relativity was translated by Satyendranath Bose in Bengali. Meghnad Saha wrote an article on comet Halley in Bengali, inspired by Agnes Clerke’s popular book on astronomy.

The popularization of science started taking shape in India towards the end of the colonial rule. The outstanding book A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Middle of Sixteenth-Century written by P C Ray gives an authentic account of the contributions of Indian scholars to Chemistry in a lucid manner.

6.22 References:

[1] Jayant V Narlikar, The Scientific Edge, Penguin Books, 2003, Page-82
[2] Kochhar, Rajesh & Narlikar, Jayant (1995), Astronomy in India: A Perspective
[3] Eugene Lafont -Wikipedia the free encyclopediaène_Lafon
[4] P Sharma and Jeethendra Kumar P K, Roots of Indian Science Part-IV: Indian
Science during Colonial Era, LE-49, Vol-14, N0-1, Page-72
[5] Survey of India;
[7] Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research
[8] Medical college and hospital, Kolkata,_Kolkata
[9] Calcutta medical college,
[10] P Sharma and Jeethendra Kumar P K, Roots of Indian Science Part-IV, LE-49, Vol14,
No-1, Page-78
[11] University of Madras,
[12] University of Madras
[13] Mahendralal Sircar,
[14] Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics,
[15] Jeethendra Kumar P K, Mobile telephone history, Vol-3, No-3, Page-263
[17] Satyendra Nath Bose Biography
[18] C V Raman a pictorial biography, Indian Academy of Science, Complied by S
Ramaseshan and C Ramachandra Rao
[19] Prafulla_Chandra_Ray;
[20] Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar; Swaroop Bhatnagar
[21] Daulat Singh Kothari

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the authors. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

This article was first published in the journal ‘Laboratory Experiments‘, published by Kamaljeeth Instrumentation and Service Unit, Bengaluru, India.

Prabhakar Sharma
+ posts

Dr Prabhakar Sharma, Scientist (Retd.), is Ex-Head of the Academic Servies, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, India.

Jeethendra Kumar P K
+ posts

A PhD in physics, Dr Jeethendra Kumar P K worked as a physics lecturer at Mangalore University for eight years. He is the founder of a physics instrument manufacturing company (1990) and Lab Experiments journal (2001), Bengaluru, India.

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Eminent Artist and Sculptor Uttam Pacharne is the New Chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi

He is a widely respected person in the field of art and has held various important positions.



NEW DELHI: The President of India has appointed Uttam Pacharne, as regular Chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi. Shri Pacharne is an eminent artist and sculptor.

He is a widely respected person in the field of art and has held various important positions.

Currently, he is Member of Advisory Committee, Kala Academy, Goa and Member of Advisory Committee, P.L. Deshpande State Lalit Kala Academy and Director, Janseva Sahakari Bank Borivali.

He is the recipient of National Lalit Kala Award 1985, Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar 1985 from Government of Maharashtra, Junior National Award 1986 and Jeevan Gaurav Puraskar 2017 from Prafulla Dahanukar Foundation.

Pacharne will hold office for a term of three years from the date on which he assumes the charge of his office.

Previously in March 2018, M.L. Srivastava, Joint Secretary (Akademies), Ministry of Culture was appointed Protem Chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi, pending appointment of a regular Chairman.

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