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Roots of Indian Science: Part D – Indian Science During the Colonial Era

In this part of “Roots of Indian Science”, we discuss the growth of Indian science, particularly astronomy, during the colonial rule.



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
Roots of Indian Science: Part C – Ancient Indian Universities


Starting with Vedic texts that sowed seeds of science in India, Aryabhata and Bhaskaracharya further developed it by mathematically interpreting various scientific phenomena and events occurring in nature. Thereafter Indian science did not advance at the same pace, partly due to unfavourable political environment prevailing in the country arising from frequent foreign invasions, starting with the Mughals, followed by Portuguese, French and the British.

In this part of the series on “Roots of Indian Science”, we discuss the growth of Indian science, particularly astronomy, during the colonial rule.

4.1 Introduction:

The foreign invasions of India started with Babur’s victory over Ibrahim Lodi in the first Battle of Panipat (1526) which established the Mughal rule in India. It reached its peak extent under Aurangzeb and declined rapidly after his death (in 1707) under a series of ineffective rulers. Following the Third Anglo-Maratha war in 1818, the Mughal emperor became a pensioner of the British Raj. The Mughal empire, with its power limited only to Delhi, lingered on until 1857 when it was effectively dissolved consequent upon the fall of Delhi after the failed Indian Mutiny of 1857.

The Mughal rulers encouraged Indians to pursue their scientific interests. Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur constructed his edifices in the form of astronomical observatories located at Mathura, Ujjain, Varanasi, Delhi, and Jaipur. He made astronomical observations and published his results in his book “Zij-e-Muhammad Shahi” dedicated to his Mughal Sultan.

Colonial traders from European countries started arriving in India towards the end of 15th century. Portuguese followed by British, Dutch and finally, the French arrived in India in the name of trade. However, they soon developed political ambitions in view of unstable political environment prevailing in the country due to lack of unity and infighting among the rulers of various princely states in India. However, with their approach to addressing real-life problems by employing scientific methods developed in the west, the Indian science got a boost. The colonial contributions to India’s development are significant, despite some negative aspects of their rule, viz. suppression of political freedom, imprisoning and even killing of the innocent population who challenged their authority and syphoning off the wealth as well as precious treasures of the country to their native countries.

By and large, the colonial regime did not encourage Indians to pursue independent scientific research but they were mostly hired to play supporting roles in projects that were deemed economically rewarding to the colonial regime. However, the exposure of Indians to western science and technology by interaction with foreign scientists who were invited to come to India to head these projects started by the colonial regime proved beneficial for the growth of Indian science in the long run. Some of these foreign scientists were eminent in their own fields and the Indian scientists associated with them received good training to eventually lead these projects after the end of the colonial rule in India.

4.1.1 The Colonial rule in India:

Colonial India was a part of the Indian subcontinent which was under the control of European colonial powers, through trade as well as conquest. The earliest European to arrive in India was Alexander the Great in 327–326 BC. Despite conquering a vast chunk of territory in India, he, however, had to retreat and leave India due to lack of support of his army in view of hardships faced by them and loss of lives suffered by them.

Later, trade was carried between Indian states and the Roman Empire by Roman sailors who reached India via the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, but the Romans never sought trading settlements or occupied any territory in India. The spice trade between India and Europe was one of the main types of trade and was the main catalyst for the European exploration of the East.

Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama became the first European to re-establish direct trade links with India since Roman times by being the first to arrive in India by circumnavigating Africa (1497–1499) and landed in Calicut, which was one of the major trading ports of India in those days. Trading rivalries brought other European powers to India. The Netherlands, England, France, and Denmark established trading posts in India in the early 17th century. As the Mughal empire disintegrated in the early 18th century followed by weakening of the Maratha empire after the third battle of Panipat, the relatively weak and unstable Indian states which emerged were manipulated by the Europeans through some “friendly” Indian rulers.

In the later part of the 18th century, Britain and France struggled for dominance by appointing proxy Indian rulers and also by direct military intervention. The defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799 marginalised the French influence in India. This was followed by a rapid expansion of the British Empire through the greater part of the subcontinent in the early 19th century. By the middle of the century, the British had already gained direct or indirect control over almost whole of India.

To appreciate the Indian contributions to science during the colonial period in proper perspective, we begin with an overview of the state of scientific developments in India in the pre-colonial period.

1.2 Science in India in the pre-colonial era

Aryabhata-I (476-550AD), widely regarded as the father of Indian astronomy, and BhaskaracharyaII (1114-1185) made significant astronomical contributions in the pre-telescope period (before the invention of the telescope in 1608) using mathematical calculations and observations of the sky with an unaided eye. There were a few more Indian astronomers who also contributed to astronomy by observing the planetary movements with an unaided eye. Varahamihira (505-587AD), Lalla (720-790AD), Sankaranarayana (840-900AD), Aryabhata-II (920-1000AD), Sripathi (1019-1066), Mahendra Dayashanker Gor Sūri (1340-), Parameshwara (1360-1455), Nilakanta Somayaji (1444-1554), and Kamalakara (1616-1701) are among those who calculated and observed motions of the earth and other celestial bodies and contributed to Indian astronomy [1].

After the invention of the telescope in 1608 by Galileo Galilei, which provided a new tool for carrying out astronomical studies, western scientists used it extensively to advance their studies.

With the use of the telescope, the western astronomy flourished rapidly whereas Indian astronomy lagged behind and by and large followed it.

4.3 Aryabhata’s Contribution to Astronomy:

Aryabhata wrote three important treatises on mathematics and astronomy. Only one of these (Aryabhatiya) has survived which covers arithmetic, algebra, plane trigonometry as well as spherical trigonometry. It also contains a description of continued fractions, quadratic equations, the summation of power series, and a table of sines.

Based on his writings, Aryabhata propounded that the Moon, as well as the solar system planets, shine because of the reflected sunlight and that the orbits of the planets moving around the Sun are elliptical. He also explained the mechanism for the occurrence of eclipses of the Sun and the Moon. The sidereal year was calculated by him to be equal to 365 days, 6 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds which is only 3 minutes, 20 seconds longer than the correct value of 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 10 seconds. The value of π=62832/20000=3.1416 was calculated by Aryabhata accurately up to the fourth decimal place.

He also calculated the Earth’s circumference as 24,835 miles, which is only 0.2% smaller than the actual value of 24,902 miles. This approximation remained the most accurate for over a thousand years after Aryabhata. His second book Arya-Siddhanta, containing a description of several astronomical instruments, is a lost text now. A third text, survives in the form of its Arabic translation ‘Al ntf or Al-nanf’. It claims that it is a translation of a book written by Aryabhata, but the Sanskrit name of this original work is not known.

4.4 Lalla’s Astronomical Instruments:

Lalla [1] designed some fundamental instruments that he used for observing celestial objects.
Figure-1 shows some of his instruments. Bhaskaracharya also designed a few astronomical
instruments used by him for his observations, especially the height and distance finding device
for finding the diameter of the earth. Figures 1 & 2 show the replica of some of the instruments that have been reconstructed and tested in recent times [1].

Bhaskaracharya discussed eight instruments, namely Gol yantra (armillary sphere), Nadi valay (equatorial sundial), Ghatika yantra, Shanku (gnomon), Yashti yantra, Chakra, Chaap, Turiya, and Phalak yantra. Of these, Phalak yantra was quite useful to astronomers for accurate calculation of time and also to understand many of the astronomical phenomena. Bhaskara’s Phalak yantra was probably a precursor of the ‘astrolabe’ used by Arabs during medieval times[2].

4.5 Bhaskaracharya’s Astronomical Instruments:


4.6 Astronomical Contributions of Vatasseri Parameshvara Nambudiri:

Vatasseri Parameshvara Nambudiri (1380–1460AD) was an eminent Indian mathematician and
astronomer of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics founded by Madhava of Sangamagrama. Parameshvara was a proponent of observational astronomy in medieval India and he himself had made a series of eclipse observations to verify the accuracy of the computational methods then in use. Based on his eclipse observations, Parameshvara proposed several corrections to the astronomical parameters which had been in use since the time of Aryabhata-I. The computational scheme, based on the revised set of parameters, has come to be known as the Drgganita system [3, 4]. He composed three treatises on eclipses, namely Grahanamandan, Grahanastaka and Grahananyayayadipika. In these treatises, the observations of eclipses that occurred between 1398 and 1431 AD are described.

4.7 Zij al-Sindhind:

‘Zij al Sindhind’ is the Arabic translation of Brahmagupta’s “Brahma-sphuta-siddhanta” (in Sanskrit) brought in the early AD 770s to the court of Caliph al-Mansur in Baghdad. Al-Mansur desired to have an Arabic translation of this work which was done by the 8th century astronomer and translator Muhammad al-Fazari. Zij (meaning Islamic astronomical books) contains astronomical tables that were used for calculation of positions of celestial objects. The work contains tables giving motions of the Sun, Moon and five planets that were known at that time.

It consists of 37 chapters on the calendar and astronomical calculations and 116 tables giving calendar, astronomical and astrological data, as well as a table of sine values. Thereafter the Arabs started visiting India frequently for interaction with Indian astronomers [5] and through them, Zij astronomy (Arab astronomy) came to India (1351AD).

Among the Zij, the book describing the instruments for measuring the altitude of various stars, called “astrolabe”, was constructed at Ferozabad (as the new capital of the Delhi Sultanate) during the rule of Firuz Shah Tughlaq [6]. This is the first documented installation of an astronomical instrument that took place in India and was marked by a grand ceremonial function with a musical band playing in the city throughout the day. People gathered at the place looking at it in bewilderment without really understanding what it was or the purpose it was meant for.

Some of Zij books containing details of instrumentation were also translated into Sanskrit by Mahendra Suri, the court astronomer of Firuz Shah Tughlaq. Mahendra Suri wrote Yantraraja, a monograph on astrolabe which is the first Indian treatise describing the Islamic ideas on the astrolabe, as mentioned by him in this famous text. Such astrolabes, made subsequently by a number of manufactures, were used merely as decorative items rather than as astronomical tools.

Mahendra Suri’s Yantraraja is the first book on astronomical instrumentation. Later, several authors wrote books giving an account of different instruments that were used for astronomical studies in ancient India [7]. In 1400 AD Padmanabha independently described an astrolabe, called as Dhruva-bhramana-yantra, different from the one described by Suri and a yantra to measure time by observing a group of stars.

4.8 Contributions of Sawai Jai Singh to Astronomy:

Sawai Jai Singh was born in 1688 and had his early education at Varanasi in accordance with his family tradition. From an early age Jai Singh had shown interest in learning mathematics and astronomy, generally considered as two allied fields since ancient times [8]. By this time (1689) telescope was already in use in India (in Pondicherry).

Due to the untimely death of his father Maharaja Bishan Singh in 1699 at the age of twelve, Sawai Jai Singh succeeded to the throne. Maharaja Bishan Singh was not a sovereign ruler but was a high ranking mansabdar (official) of the administration of the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. At that time Aurangzeb was engaged in fighting a war with the Marathas in South India and in the year 1701 Jai Singh was sent to fight the Marathas under Bidar Bakht, a grandson of Aurangzeb. Jai Singh displayed exemplary bravery during the war leading to the capture of the Khelna fort and consequent defeat of the Marathas.

The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was quite impressed with Jai Singh’s feat and bestowed upon the young Rajput the title of “Sawai”, meaning one and a quarter times superior to his contemporaries. Sawai Jai Singh continued his astronomical studies along with his princely duties. His mother, Rajmata Indra Kanwar of Kharwa, made all-out efforts to see her brilliant son grow under the guidance of Pandit Kewal Ram, Pandit Ratnakar Puranik, and Pandit Vidyadhar Bhattacharya. They taught him religion, philosophy, art, architecture, town planning etc. Pandit Jagannath Samrat gave him intensive coaching in ancient Hindu treatises on astronomy and mathematics. He studied ‘Surya Siddhanta’, the masterworks of Aryabhata, Varahmihira, Bramhagupta and Bhaskaracharya.

As an avid student of astronomy, Jai Singh made a detailed study of several of foreign classics, namely Ptolemy’s Syntaxis (Al-Magest), De La Hire’s Tabulae Astronomicae, Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica, Newton’s Principia, Euclid’s Elements, Mirza Ulugh Beg’s Astronomical Tables etc.

4.9 Princely Duties of Jai Singh vis-à-vis His Astronomical Studies:

Prince Bidar Bakht was quite impressed with Jai Singh and appointed him as the deputy governor of Malwa in 1705. Ujjain, located in Western Malwa, was a center for astronomy since the times of Aryabhata and Bhaskaracharya and was known for Hindu astronomy at that time.

Here Jai Singh met Jagannath, a veteran in astronomy. Jai Singh took Jagannath along with him who was asked to translate some Zij from Arabic and Persian into Sanskrit.

After Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, the battle of succession began among his sons. Prince Muazzam, the eldest prince, won this battle fought near Agra. Under the new sultan of Delhi, Jai Singh moved to Rajasthan and lived at his native place Amber.

In 1719, he was witness to an animated debate in the court of Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah which centered on how to make astronomical calculations to determine an auspicious date when the emperor could embark on a journey. This led Jai Singh to realize that the nation needed to be educated on the subject of astronomy. Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah complimented Jai Singh for his knowledge of astronomy which motivated Jai Singh to build astronomical observatories. It is rather surprising that in the midst of local wars, foreign invasions and consequent turmoil, Jai Singh still found time and energy to build astronomical observatories!

Five such observatories were built, one each at Delhi, Mathura, Benares (now Varanasi), Ujjain and his own capital Jaipur. Only one of these (at Jaipur) survives now and is still operational.

4.10 Contributions of Sawai Jai Singh:

Photo: Credai Rajasthan

In August 1722, Jai Singh was appointed Subhedar (governor) of Agra and Muhammad Shah, the then ruler with his headquarters at Delhi, ordered Jai Singh to capture Thun, the capital of Jats who had rebelled against the ruler at Delhi. Jai Singh fought the Jats bravely and defeated them.

From 1722 till 1729, Jai Singh pursued his own interests while building his capital at Jaipur. He constructed many astronomical observatories. He did not visit Malwa until 1729 when he was appointed the governor for the second time for a few months. He was appointed the governor of Malwa again for the third time between 1732 to 1737. Thereafter he was relieved of his job at Malwa and came back to his capital Jaipur where he spent remaining years of his life until his death in 1743.

4.11 Masonry Astronomical Instruments of Jai Singh:

The idea behind building a number of observatories at different locations in northern India was to make observations of the same celestial object from different places and thus reduce the errors introduced due to the limitations of resolution of the human eye as well as unfavourable sky conditions at some of the locations. Jai Singh built three small observatories, one each at Ujjain, Mathura, and Benaras, with the help of Hindu astronomers who had limited knowledge of civil engineering (architectural engineering). Building large brick and masonry structures was beyond their expertise. So he took the help of Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, a Bengali architect, whose ancestors were settled at Jaipur by Mansingh I. Vidyadhar Bhattacharya used his knowledge of Shilpa Shastra in building the Delhi Jantar Mantar in 1724 and further improved upon his own design for building the Jaipur observatory. Construction of instruments in this observatory started in 1728 and was completed in 1735. The building of the city of Jaipur started on November 18, 1727, which included construction of the boundary wall around the city and various gates for which appropriate rituals (Samkalpas) were performed.

4.12 Ulugh Beg Observatory:

Built in the 1420s by the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg, the Ulugh Beg Observatory, based in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, is considered by scholars as one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world. In addition to Ulugh Beg, some of the famous Islamic astronomers who worked at the observatory include Al-Kashi and Ali Qushji. The observatory was destroyed in 1449 and its remains were discovered in 1908 [9, 10].

Jaipur observatory of Sawai Jai Singh

Jai Singh was not satisfied with the results obtained from the small brass instruments that were used by him and, therefore, decided to build giant observatories to obtain precise measurements of celestial objects. In view of his goodwill with the Delhi ruler, he got permission to build his observatory. Considering Ulugh Beg, the prince of Samarkand, as his role model, he started the construction work. Jai Singh overlooked the contribution of contemporary European astronomers. During that period, there was an astronomical observatory both at Paris and Greenwich where the telescope was being used for over a hundred years. Jai Singh was not aware of these developments and instead sent a delegation to Portugal to get an expert opinion on building his observatory. This is one of the main reasons why despite his earnest efforts, his edifices failed to contribute much and make an impact on world astronomy.

When Jai Singh decided to build his observatory, French in Pondicherry had already installed a 12-inch telescope in 1689 and Father Jean Richard had been carrying out his studies there on stars. It was over 80 years since the invention of the telescope by Hans Lippershey, Galileo made it as an aid for his astronomical observations. A number of inventions based on the observations made by telescopes were well known during that period. It was a revolutionary invention which Jai Singh overlooked and went on to build his own edifices based on a defective astronomical table prepared by Philippe de la Hire that was brought by his delegates who visited Portugal (1728-1730) for this purpose. Later Jai Singh came to know of this defective table from Father Claude Boudier who visited Jaipur in 1734 on his invitation for consultation. But it was already too late as most of the construction work was already completed. A more accurate astronomical table “Tabulae Astronomicae” was published (1687, 1702) in France which Jai Singh’s delegates somehow missed taking note of. He tried to improve the design of instruments in his observatory by sending another group of delegates to France which, however, did not materialize due his death in 1743.

In 1745, two years after Jai Singh’s death, the then emperor of Delhi, Muhammad Shah, invited Father Andre Strobel of France to come to Delhi and look after Jai Singh’s observatory.

However, he declined to come to India for this purpose. In 1764 the observatory was seriously damaged by Jawahar Singh, a Jat King of Bhartpur, who was defeated by Jai Singh earlier. This revengeful act affected the prevailing scientific temper. After 150 years, the then Maharaja of Jaipur renovated the observatory which still exists in its present form. Jai Singh’s grandson later used this astronomical observatory as a playground and used astrolabe ‘Samrat Yantra’ for his target practice!

Among the five observatories built by Jai Singh for astronomical observations, only the Jaipur observatory survives now and is well preserved with different yantras still intact. Table-4.1 [9] lists these yantras along with their use. The observatory is being used now merely as a popular tourist place rather than as an astronomical observatory.

After the Mughal rule in India, European colonizers contributed significantly to Indian astronomy which continued to grow. During the colonial rule, Indians contributed significantly to astronomy as well as to science, in general, as discussed below.

4.13 Indian Science During the Colonial Era:

A major part of India has good climate round the year, whereas in Europe the situation is quite different with adverse weather conditions, particularly severe winter and overcast sky conditions, prevailing for a large part of the year. Hence to protect themselves from the adverse conditions, Europeans had taken recourse to science and technology. They prepared suitable devices to protect themselves from vagaries of nature. Hence science developed in Europe as a basic need for human survival, comfort, well being as well as the prosperity of people.

Indians got exposed to the developments in science and technology that took place in the west during the colonial rule. During this period, several British and French scientists came to India essentially to head some of the organizations created by the colonial rulers, such as the Geological Survey of India, Survey of India, astronomical observatories at Madras, Kodaikanal etc. The aim in creating organizations Geological Survey of India and Survey of India was mainly to serve the economic interests of the colonial regime, namely to exploit the largely untapped coal and mineral resources of India as well as to map the length and breadth of the country for effective administrative control of its vast territory. Indians were given jobs in these organizations primarily to be in a supportive role, mainly for field work, rather than for academic leadership positions. However, the silver lining was that Indians got exposed to developments in science and technology that took place in the west as a result of interaction with the British and French scientists, some of whom were leading authorities in their own fields. As the movement of people from Europe to India increased, new ideas and techniques in science and technology developed there began to reach the Indian subcontinent. Hence several centuries after Bhaskaracharya, interest in astronomy revived in India first through the contributions of Sawai Jai Singh (17th -18th century) and more importantly through French and British astronomers who worked in India during the colonial rule (18th -19th century).

4.14 French Contributions to Indian Science:

4.14.1 Astronomy During the French rule in India:

François Bernier (1625–1688), a French physician and traveller, was a court physician of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for several years. La Compagnie Française des Indes Orientales (French East India Company) was established in India under the leadership of Cardinal Richelieu (1642) and reconstructed under Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1664). In 1667 the French East India Company sent another expedition to India, under the command of François Caron (who was accompanied by a Persian named Marcara), which reached Surat (presently in Gujarat) in 1668 and established the first French factory in India [11].

In 1669, Marcara succeeded in establishing another French factory at Masulipatam (currently renamed as Machilipatnam, in the state of Andhra Pradesh). In 1673, the French acquired the area of Pondicherry from the qiladar of Valikondapuram under the Sultan of Bijapur and thus the foundation of Pondicherry was laid. By 1720, the French had lost their factories at Surat, Masulipatam and Bantam to the British.

In 1674 François Martin, the first French Governor, started building Pondicherry and transformed it from a small fishing village into a flourishing port town. The French in India were in constant conflict both with the Dutch and the British. In 1693 the Dutch took over Pondicherry and fortified it considerably. The French regained control of the town in 1699 through the Treaty of Ryswick, signed on September 20, 1697.

Until 1741, the objectives of the French, like those of the British, were purely commercial. The French East India Company peacefully acquired Yanam in 1723, Mahe in 1725 and Karaikal in 1739. In the early 18th century, the town of Pondicherry was laid out on a grid pattern and grew considerably. Able governors like Pierre Christophe Le Noir (1726–35) and Pierre Benoît Dumas (1735–41) expanded the territory of Pondicherry and made it a prosperous town.

4.14.2 Astronomical Observations at Pondicherry:

King Louis XIV (1687) sent a second delegation of fourteen Jesuit priests as royal scientists to the court of the king of Siam (presently Thailand), under the leadership of Father. The priests reached Siam in 1688. Meanwhile, the king of Siam was overthrown in a revolution and the delegation had to leave Siam immediately. Three of the fourteen priests went to Pondicherry where French had already established a base. Out of these three priests, one was a geographer and the second, Father Jean Richaud, was an astronomer cum mathematician [12]. In all four French astronomers came to India during 17th -19th century and made astronomical observations from the Indian Territory. Among them Father Richaud was the first and was followed by three others – Guillaume Le Gentil de La Galaisiere, Capt. Baptiste Francois Joesph de Warren and Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen [13].

4.14.3 Father Jean Richaud and Early Telescopic Observations in India:

Father Jean Richaud (1633-1690) was born in 1633 in Bordeaux, France and entered Jesuit mission at the age of fourteen. He studied philosophy, physics, and metaphysics at the Royal College, Pau. He started his career as a physics teacher and later taught mathematics at the Royal College, Pau. His interest in astronomy led him to observe the 1686 comet for several days. This made the King to choose him as one of the members in the Siam delegation. In Siam, Father Richaud made astronomical observations using his 12-ft telescope. The King of Siam encouraged father Richaud by providing him the necessary instruments for observations.

However, as the King was overthrown, Father Richaud had to leave Siam and he reached Pondicherry on February 17, 1689 carrying his telescope along with him.

Father Richaud made astronomical observations of the 1689 comet during December 8-21, which he reported in Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Science, Paris. In the history of astronomy in India, 19th December, 1689 stands out as an important date as on this day telescope was used for the first time on the Indian soil and the results of these observations were published.

Observation of the comet led Father Richaud to discover the double star α- Centauri. A large group of astronomers came to India to watch the lunar eclipse of 4th April, 1689 which was predicted by Father Richaud. He calculated the latitude and longitude of Pondicherry; the value given by him is very close to the present values. Further, he reported observing zodiacal light in France and also when he was in Siam and then at Pondicherry. Dark clouds near the Coalsack and two Magellan clouds were also observed and reported by him. Besides making important astronomical contributions from the Indian soil, Father Richaud taught astronomy at the school opened by the Jesuits in San Thome (now known as Mylapore in Chennai). He passed away on April 2, 1693 at Pondicherry [12].

4.14.4 Map of India (Carte de I’Inde):

On an invitation from the French East India Company, D Anville prepared a map of India “Carte de I’Inde” in 1752AD. It was the first ever map of India based on well-attested observations and surveys. It started with Father Jean Venant Bouchet SJ (1655-1732), a geographer who accompanied father Richaud from Siam. On reaching India in 1689, Bouchet covered the Coromandel coast on foot and made astronomical observations from Pondicherry and other places. He prepared maps and sketches of Coromandel area and sent it to France where Jean Baptiste Bourguignon D Anville (1697-1782) prepared the first ever map of the south Indian peninsula.

Father Claude Stanislaus Boudier S J (1686-1757) also contributed to Indian geography. On his arrival from France at Chandernagore in Bengal in 1718, he established himself as an astronomer. At the request of Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur, Boudier met him at his observatory in Jaipur from whom Jai Singh came to know about the defective astronomical table of Hire.

Boudier made frequent observations of latitude and longitude of various places during his trip from Agra to Allahabad, recording the distances and sketching them on a map.

French navigator Jean Baptiste Apres de Grace (1707-1780) undertook a number of voyages and published his observations in “Neptune Orientalis”, an atlas of marine geography of the Indian coast.

Figure-6: Map of India based on various sources, including Ptolemy, Turkish and Indian geographers and Jesuit surveys, specifically the work of Bouchet in 1719 and Boudier in 1734. The map, showing excellent details of Southern India and its coastlines, is indicative of the state of knowledge of this area during the mid-18th century. However, there is a conspicuous absence of names of various places in the interior north. (Picture courtesy: r_dAnville/D%27Anville.html)

4.14.5 Guillaume Le Gentil de La Galasiere (1725-92):

As an assistant to the Director of Paris Observatory, Guillaume Le Gentil de La Galasiere was sent to India by the king of France to observe the June 6, 1761 transit of Venus across the disc of Sun. The Venus transit had aroused great interest among astronomers at that time. The phenomenon was visible in the northern part of the Asian region. Due to the war between British and French, Galasiere had to travel a long distance to avoid being captured by the British army and reached India only after the Venus transit had already taken place. Hence he could not observe the Venus transit. However, he decided to stay back in India and observe another transit on June 3, 1769. He could not observe this transit also because of an overcast sky on that day.

During his stay at Pondicherry, he determined its longitude by a series of observations. He was involved in magnetic and other scientific work at Pondicherry, an account of which was published by him as “Voyage dans les Mers de l’Inde” at Paris in 1779.

4.14.6 Capt. Jean-Baptiste Francois Joseph de Warren (1769-1830) and Madras Observatory:

Capt. Jean-Baptiste Francois Joseph de Warren, popularly known as John Warren, came to Calcutta in 1793. He later joined army and fought against the army of Tipu Sultan of Mysore under the command of Arthur Wellesley. Because of his expertise and interest in mathematics, he was made assistant surveyor (1799) for the Mysore survey work. He was involved in the trigonometrical survey of southern India conducted in 1800 AD. In this study he was the first one to notice (1801) the existence of gold in the Kolar area near Bangalore in mineable quantities.

He became Acting Director of Madras Observatory during the period 1805-1811 when Goldingham was away on leave. His most notable work was on the determination of the altitude of Madras (1807) and on time keeping. He studied simple pendulum and ellipticity of earth during this period. Warren settled down in Pondicherry and at the invitation of a personal friend in 1814, he started the work on the south Indian method of time keeping. This made Indian calendars understandable to the Europeans and helped in comparing the European and Indian chronologies.

4.14.7 Pierre Jules Ceasar (1824-1907) and his Studies on Sun:

Pierre Jules César Janssen, popularly known as Jules Janssen, was a French astronomer and founder of the Astrophysical Observatory at Meudon, near Paris. He visited India to study the solar eclipse in 1868. His work on the study of this solar eclipse at Guntur, Andhra Pradesh using a spectroscope showed that solar prominences are made of gas. It was Janssen who identified the layer of gas surrounding the Sun which was named by him as “Chromosphere”. He also realized that some of the dark lines in the solar spectrum observed on the Earth were in fact caused by the water vapour present in the Earth’s atmosphere [14].

Janssen pioneered, around the same time as the English scientist Joseph Lockyer, a method of photographing the spectra of the solar prominences without the need to wait for the occurrence of an eclipse. It was Janssen who first noticed the spectral lines in the spectrum of solar prominences that did not correspond to any known element at that time. Lockyer showed that these lines were, in fact, due to the presence of a new element that he named ‘helium’.

4.15 British Contributions to Indian Astronomy:

The British East India Company, which had entered India around 1600AD, started their trading operations from Surat. However, as spices were mostly grown in south India, for securing the spice trade they felt the necessity of having a port close to the Malaccan Straits and succeeded in purchasing a piece of coastal land, originally called Chennirayarpattinam, from a Vijayanagar chieftain named Damerla Chennappa Nayaka based in Chandragiri. The British East India Company began construction of a harbour as well as a fort at Chandragiri. The construction of the fort was completed on 23rd April 1644 coinciding with St George’s Day. St George was a saint of England and the port was named after him. The fort, sea and some nearby fishing villages became a hub of trading activities. It led to the creation of a new settlement, called George Town (historically referred to as Black Town) which subsequently grew in size enveloping the villages around and led to the formation of the city of Madras.

The rocky and Coromandel coastal area covering Madras and the area north of it was badly affected by the summer as well as the winter monsoon which posed difficulty in the landing of ships in this area. This made the East India Company, to survey and studies the coastal area in detail. Accordingly, a well-equipped and experienced surveyor, Michael Topping, was brought from England to Madras in 1785 who was also an astronomer.

4.15.1 Madras Astronomical Observatory:

Madras Observatory was one of the first astronomical observatories started by the British East India Company for scientific studies. Later on similar observatories were started at different of locations in India. These included : the Royal Observatory, Lucknow in 1835 ( which functioned only till 1849); the Rajah of Travancore, Trivandrum Observatory (1842-1865); Captain W.S. Jacob’s Observatory, Poona (1842–1862); St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta (1875-1918); Maharaja Takhtasinghji Observatory, Poona (1882-1912); Hennessy Observatory, Dehra Dun (1884-1898); Solar Observatory, Kodaikanal (1901 to date); and Nizamiah Observatory, Hyderabad (1901-1954). An observatory in Calcutta at the Presidency College came up in 1905 [15, 16].

Michael Topping (1747-1796) was sent from England to survey the Coramandel region as the Chief Marine Surveyor of Fort St. George in Madras (now Chennai) who carried survey equipment along with him. He was an expert in the surveying work. Topping along with William Petrie, a civil servant and astronomer, were responsible for establishment of a public observatory at Madras. In 1786 Petrie set up his private make-shift observatory constructed using iron and timber at his sprawling 11-acre residence at Egmore and equipped it on his own with instruments which he had carried along with him from England. The main aim of the Observatory was to provide navigational assistance to the ships of East India Company.

In 1787, he hired a Danish young man called John Goldingham as his assistant. Petrie’s Observatory fulfilled the long-felt need for having a reference meridian in British India and as a result Madras became the Greenwich of India. In 1802 Goldingham determined the longitude of Madras as 80°18’30” east of the Greenwich Meridian (which is the same as the currently accepted value); accordingly he fixed (1802) Madras Time as GMT+05.30 h. This is a significant event as till then different time standards were being followed in different presidencies of East India Company in India. Consequently, the clock at the Madras Observatory became the standard reference time for the whole of India. At 20:00 hr every day, a gun was fired to signal the standard time. The clock at the observatory was directly connected to the gun which triggered its firing at the preset time.

Petrie and Topping made a strong appeal to the East India Company and the British governments to take over the Petrie’s Observatory and make it as the National Observatory of India. In 1790 their plea was accepted and an observatory to promote science, especially astronomy, geography and navigation, was established. Topping persuaded William Petrie to donate his entire equipment to the Observatory to set up a modern astronomical observatory that would be first of its kind in India. In 1791 the Observatory was shifted to a building to Nungambakam, and another floor was added to it to function as the library, astronomers’ residence and offices. A separate 20ft x 40ft room was constructed in 1792 to house the Observatory [15].

The Observatory has a giant conical shaped pillar on which the 12-inch alt-azimuth instrument was fitted. The 10-tonne pillar was eighteen feet in height, a diameter of four feet at the base and two feet at the top. John Goldingham was made in charge of the Observatory when it was opened at the end of 1792, a position he held till 1830.

Figure-7: John Goldingham with his reading telescope and Kater’s pendulum kept in front of a clock. Thiruvenkatachari, an assistant, is seen reading the clock, while another assistant, Shrinivasachari( seated near the pillar) is seen noting down the reading. (Picture Courtesy: The Royal Society

Goldingham was succeeded by Thomas Glanville Taylor (1830-48), Capt. W. S. Jacob (1849-1858), and Norman Robert Pogson (1861-1891) who was made chief of Madras Observatory.

Thomas Glanville Taylor carried with him a few astronomical instruments such as a five-foot transit, a four-foot mural circle, and a small equatorial. After landing in Madras (1831), he started his astronomical observations with four local assistants, whom he trained so well that even during his frequent absence from the observatory in connection with the trigonometrical survey of India work, the activities of the institution were not affected. During 1831–1839, he published five volumes of the results obtained by him and in 1844 the ‘Madras General Catalogue’ of 11,015 stars for the epoch January 1, 1835. This catalogue, which was subsequently revised in 1901, was described by Sir George Airy in 1854 (Monthly Notices, xiv. 145) as “the greatest astronomical catalogue of modern times”.

In 1949 Capt. W.S. Jacob took charge of the Observatory. With the transit instrument and mural circle, he revised 1440 stars listed in the British Association Catalogue between 1849 and 1852 and published his results in the second series of observations. In 1850 he revised and perfected Taylor’s catalogue and conducted a study on the orbits of α-centauri and other doublet stars and prepared a catalogue of 144 double stars. For a brief period (1859-1861), J.F.Tennant was made in-charge of the Observatory during which magnetic instruments were also added.

In 1861 N R Pogson took charge the Madras Observatory. Soon after he discovered (1861) an asteroid (number 67) and named it ‘Asia’. The solar eclipse of July 7, 1861 and the transit of Mercury on November 11, 1861 were also observed from the observatory. Another asteroid “80 Sappho’ was discovered in May, 1864. In 1867 the discovery of the variable star “R Reticuli” by Pogson’s assistant C Ragunathachary is a noteworthy contribution by an Indian astronomer. The total solar eclipse of 18th August, 1868 was observed at Masulipatnam (now renamed as Machilipatanam in A.P. state) by Madras Observatory astronomers. Polarization of light of the solar corona, bright lines of the corona and discovery of Helium are some of the major contributions of the Madras Observatory (Janssen). Another total solar eclipse was observed on December 13, 1871 at Avanashi in Coimbatore. A catalogue of 3000 stars based on 23,500 observations made in the meridian circle was completed in 1874. The catalogue contains a number of southern stars not observed anywhere till then.

N R Pogson is well known for the “Pogson’s scale” named after him which is being used even now in photometric work. For thirty years from 1861 onwards, Pogson held the position of Astronomer at the Madras Observatory. He also held the post of Meteorological Reporter to the Government of Madras for several years and was assisted in his work by his wife and daughter.

In 1882, Pogson proposed the need for conducting photographic and spectrographic studies of the sun and other stars using a 20-inch telescope, which could be located at a suitable hill station in South India. After Pogson’s death in 1891, Michie Smith took charge of Madras Observatory.

A series of initiatives were taken in 1893, following the recommendations of a high-level committee chaired by Lord Kelvin to establish a solar observatory at Kodaikanal due to its dust free, high altitude, and southern location. Transfer of equipment and personnel from the Madras Observatory to Kodaikanal began in 1895 and the Observatory was formally founded on April 1, 1899. From then onwards the Madras Observatory had a less significant role, viz. weather forecasting and time service [17,18]. Today only five monuments of the Madras Observatory that are left are housed in a separate enclosure for exhibiting to visitors at the Regional Meteorological Centre at Nungambakkam. The observatory building has been demolished but the large pillar on which the first astronomical telescope in India was mounted is still intact in its original position, along with a few relics kept in a small enclosure in its compound.

4.15.2 Shifting of Madras Observatory to Kodaikanal:

Round the year sunshine in India, except for the three to four months of the monsoon season, is ideal for study of solar energy incident on the earth’s surface. This attracted the Europeans to study weather forecasting in India. There was a famine in the Madras Presidency in 1893 which came up for discussion in the British government. The need for a study of the Sun to properly understand the monsoon system was highlighted in the meeting of the UK Secretary of State with the Indian Observatories Committee, chaired by Lord Kelvin. It was decided to establish a Solar Observatory at Kodaikanal, based on its southern, dust free, and high altitude location.

Michie Smith was selected as the Superintendent of the proposed Observatory that started in 1895. The work started soon after equipment from the Madras Observatory was shifted to Kodaikanal and the Observatory was formally founded on April 1, 1899.

The observations at Kodaikanal Observatory commenced in 1901, for which Greenwich Observatory sent a photoheliograph, which was one of the five instruments made for studying the 1874 transit-of-Venus expeditions to Kodaikanal. A six-inch reflecting telescope of the 1850 vintage was installed for photographing the Sun on a daily basis. This reflector telescope is still in use.

4.15.3 John Evershed (1864-1956):

John Evershed, a solar Physicist, arrived at Kodaikanal in 1906 and took over as its Assistant Director. He made the Observatory a world-class institution during his tenure, first as its Assistant Director and then as the Director. He employed the newly acquired photo-helioscope and the prismatic camera which he had brought along with him and was used in the spectrograph. In 1909, he discovered the horizontal motion of gases streaming out from the centre of sunspots, a phenomenon now called the “Evershed effect”. On an expedition to Kashmir in 1915, he made the first measurements supporting Albert Einstein’s prediction that the wavelength of light emitted by a massive body (in this case the Sun) should be increased by an amount proportional to the intensity of the local gravitational field of the body.

Evershed retired from the Kodaikanal Observatory in 1923 and on returning to England in 1925, he built his own solar observatory at Ewhurst. He went on six expeditions to observe total solar eclipses from Norway (1896), India (1898), Algeria (1900), Spain (1905), Australia (1922), and Yorkshire (1927).

After John Evershed’s retirement from Kodaikanal Observatory, the observational activity at Kodaikanal came to a standstill. For a brief period, Thomas Royds (1923-1937), a solar physicist who worked with Ernest Rutherford on the identification of alpha radiation from the nucleus of the helium atom, worked as the Director of the Kodaikanal Observatory.

4.15. 4 Appadvedula Lakshmi Narayan (1887 – 1973) at the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory:

Appadvedula Lakshmi Narayan, popularly known as A. L. Narayan, was the first Indian Director of Kodaikanal Solar Observatory between 1937–1946. In 1929 he joined the observatory as Assistant Director. During John Evershed’s period, the Kodaikanal observatory became well known in the scientific world for its solar studies. Narayan started extensive work with the aim of making this institution a centre of spectroscopic research. In recognition of his contributions, he was promoted to Director of the Observatory in 1937. During his tenure as the Director (1937-1946), the library was enriched by the acquisition of a large number of books and periodicals on astronomy, mathematics, physics, geophysics, statistics and allied sciences. He also expanded the workshop and spent considerable time in improving its working [19, 20].

During the Second World War, some of the senior staff members were deputed for carrying out meteorological work in connection with the war. But Narayan continued his research work with the meager staff available with him. After the War, the Government of India appointed a committee for the post-war development of astronomy and astrophysics in the country, with particular reference to the expansion of the activities of the Kodaikanal observatory under the chairmanship of Professor M. N. Saha. Dr. Narayan was an active member of this committee and was instrumental in expanding the activities of the observatory.

Narayan was born in 1887 to Shri Appadvedula Vyasulu and Smt. Mahalakshmi in the Mukkamala village of East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. He studied up to matriculation in the higher secondary school at Kothapeta. He developed a keen interest in science and continued his studies in the Government Arts College, Rajahmundry. He passed the B.A. degree and completed his post-graduation (M.A.) in Physics from the University of Madras in 1914. He joined as Lecturer in Physics in Maharajah’s College at Vizianagaram.

4.15.5 Amil Kumar Das (1902 –1961) at the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory:

Dr Amil Kumar Das was an Indian astronomer. During the International Geophysical Year(1957-58), observatories in Madrid, India, and Manila were involved in a coordinated programme of monitoring the solar activity and solar effects on the Earth’s ionosphere/magnetosphere. The Kodaikanal Solar Observatory also participated in this monitoring programme using the newly built solar tunnel telescope. Dr. Das was the Director of the Kodaikanal observatory at that time. In 1960 he was responsible for installing a tower/tunnel telescope at Kodaikanal for performing some of the first ever helioseismological investigations. The crater ‘Das’ on the far side of the Moon is named after him [19].

Das was born in 1902 in the former province of Bengal. After obtaining his M. Sc. degree in Physics of the Calcutta University, he joined the team of research workers under Professor Fabry at the Sorbonne. A study of the absorption spectra of halogens formed the subject of his doctoral thesis. A short stint of post-doctoral studies at Gottingen and a brief period at the Solar Physics Observatory in Cambridge during a subsequent visit to the United Kingdom constituted further training opportunities for him abroad.

Dr. Das joined the India Meteorological Department in 1930. His early work in the Department involved weather forecasting and some other aspects of meteorology. In 1937 he joined Kodaikanal Observatory as Assistant Director and was appointed as its Director in 1946. Except for a brief period during the war, he remained at Kodaikanal until his retirement from the Observatory in 1960. His tenure was marked by the development of new instrumentation and significant expansion of research activities in different fields of astrophysics.

Dr Das will be remembered mostly for his efforts to provide young researchers with observational facilities for astronomical research. At Kodaikanal, the new solar tower telescope and high-dispersion spectrograph, the coronagraph and H-alpha heliograph, the ionospheric laboratory and the magnetic observatory bear eloquent testimony to his vision, zeal and organizational ability. In recognition of his services to Indian astronomy, Dr Das was awarded Padma Shri in 1960 by Govt. of India.

4.15.6 Manali Kallat Vainu Bappu at the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory:

Widely regarded as the father of modern Indian astronomy and founder of Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIAP), M K Vainu Bappu (1927 – 1982) was a born astronomer. Bappu, along with two of his colleagues, discovered the ‘Bappu-Bok-Newkirk’ comet. He was awarded the Donhoe Comet-Medal by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1949. In 1957, he discovered the Wilson-Bappu effect jointly with American astronomer Olin Chaddock Wilson.

He was President of the International Astronomical Union during 1979-82. In 1953 he returned to India to establish Uttar Pradesh State Observatory (UPSO) at Nainital (now renamed as Aryabhata Research Institute of Observational Sciences and in 1960 he was appointed Director of Kodaikanal Observatory. While in Kodaikanal he realized that the place was not suitable for astronomical studies and that Kavalur in Tamilanadu was a better place for this purpose, being remote from habitation and night illumination due to city lights. The Kavalur observatory was inaugurated by the then Prime minister of India Mr Rajiv Gandhi in 1986 and named it after M K Vainu Bappu. However, Bappu passed away (on August 19, 1982) before it was inaugurated.

Vainu Bappu helped to establish several astronomical institutions in India, including the Vainu Bappu Observatory at Kavalur that was named after him and contributed to the establishment of Indian Institute of Astrophysics at Bengaluru and Uttar Pradesh State Observatory (UPSO) at Nainital. The Vainu Bappu Observatory is one of the main observatories of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics at present.

Vainu Bappu was born in a Thiya family on August 10, 1927 in Chennai as the only child of Manali Kukuzhi and Sunanna Bappu. His family originally hailed from Thalassery in North Kerala. His father w,as an astronomer at the Nizamiah Observatory in Andhra Pradesh. Bappu was thus exposed to astrophysics from his very childhood, when his father accompanied him to the dome of the Astronomical observatory at Hyderabad. He obtained his M.Sc. degree in Physics from Madras University in 1949. By that time he was already an amateur astronomer. A chance meeting with the Harlow Shapley in Hyderabad in 1948 fetched him an invitation and fellowship to carry out his higher studies at Harvard University which laid the foundation for modern Indian astronomy. In recognition of his contribution to Indian astrophysics, he was awarded “Padmabhushan” by Government of India in 1981.

4.16 The Survey Training School:

The need for starting a survey school in India was felt by the British, as after defeating Tipu Sultan in the Third Mysore war (1792), the British East India Company wanted to survey the entire east to the west region of India. The topping was then shifted from the Observatory and was given the responsibility to survey the east to the west region of southern India. To carry out this survey he needed assistants who would be trained for the survey work. Topping started a survey training school at Fort St. George on May 17, 1794, with eight students which later developed to become a civil engineering school in 1858 and eventually the College of Engineering in 1861. Its campus was then shifted from Fort St. George to the Observatory at Nungambakkam and to the Khalsa Mahal of Chepauk Palace before eventually settling in its own premises at Guindy.

Figure-16: The Star House designed as Nawab Nasir-ud-Din’s (1827-1837) observatory in 1820s. Colonel Wilcox was the Astronomer Royal in India at that time. The reason for its being called as the Star House is that it was intended to function as an observatory. (

4.17 A Critique of the Attitude of the Colonial Regime towards the Development of Science in India:

There is a general perception that colonial science in India was dominated by “production science”, meaning science for accumulating capital gains, in preference to the curiosity and knowledge oriented research in pure sciences. This is amply evident from an overt emphasis of the colonial regime on subjects such as geology and geography that were of direct interest to the government for harnessing the vast, largely untapped coal and other mineral resources of India.

Similarly, research in geography was promoted to know the vast territory of India both for their military operations as well as better administrative control of various regions.

In contrast there was near total absence of research in pure science subjects, such as Physics and Chemistry, which by then had reached a professional stage in Europe. Further, Indians were assigned work more of a supporting role rather than academic leadership positions and/or independence in carrying out their scientific work which were reserved for the British citizens as well as the Anglo-Indians. Despite lack of encouragement, several scientists made original contributions in their respective fields but these were either largely ignored or downplayed by the colonial regime. A prominent example quoted is of one Radhanath Sikdar who was not allowed to climb up in the scientific hierarchy by the British regime and remained where he was even after his election (in 1964) as a Corresponding Member of the Society of natural history (Bavaria) – a rare distinction conferred by a reputed German philosophical society on a foreigner. Thus Indians were excluded as a matter of policy for holding any important positions in government-sponsored scientific undertakings which led to many capable scientists to leave these organistions in disgust and their valuable work was left unfinished and lost in the process [21].

This attitude of the colonial regime made the Indian intellectuals to react strongly towards the so-called “apartheid” in science which found expression in the formation of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in Calcutta in 1876. M.L. Sircar, J.C.Bose, P.C.Roy and C.V. Raman were some of the earliest active members of this Association who conducted research by creating the necessary laboratory facilities by their own efforts in the premises of the Association. Despite lack of adequate equipment and financial resources during the colonial period to carry out fundamental research in basic sciences, several scientists made notable contributions on their own which were recognized internationally.

The great Indian mathematician, Ramanujan (1887-1920), while working at Cambridge University in Britain, made important contributions to number theory, elliptic functions, continued fractions and infinite series. Many of today’s best mathematicians are striving hard to solve his published/unpublished theorems.

Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937), working as a Professor of Physics at the Presidency College of University of Calcutta, pioneered the investigation of radio- and microwave- optics and made significant contributions to plant science. He may rightly be considered the father of radio science. He made remarkable progress in his research of remote wireless signaling and was the first to use semiconductor junctions to detect radio signals.

Satyendranath Bose (1894-1937), well known for the Bose-Einstein statistics, contributed greatly to theoretical work on general relativity as well as experimental work in many areas of physics. The sub-atomic particles known as bosons are named after him.

Sir C.V. Raman (1861-1970) was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery of the Raman Effect that relates to the scattering of light. His discovery proved a valuable tool in several fields, such as chemistry, physics and medicine. S. Chandrasekhar (1910-1995), an Indian-born American scientist, is known for his work on stars. While working at the University of Cambridge in early 1930s, he found that the greatest mass that a white dwarf star can have before it becomes a supernova is about 1.4 times the mass of our sun. This number is called the Chandrasekhar limit for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983.

P.C. Roy (1861-1944), working as a Professor of Chemistry at the Presidency College, affiliated to the University of Calcutta, discovered mercurous nitrite and its derivatives which brought him worldwide recognition. Meghnad Saha (1893-1956), a Professor at the University of Calcutta, worked on thermal ionization of elements which led him to formulate the well known “Saha Equation”. Using this equation one can determine the ionisation state of the various elements making up a star which is of fundamental importance to modern astrophysics.

4.18 Conclusions:

The colonial regime in India initiated research in many areas, particularly those which were deemed financially rewarding to the regime. Despite the usual criticism of the colonial rulers of being partial to Indian scientists involved in these projects in terms of their academic role as well as career growth, the Indian science, particularly observational astronomy and solar physics which are dependent on use of technology, got a fillip due to bringing in state of art technology developed in the west to India by the British and French scientists who were invited by the regime to initiate and lead these projects. Some of the fundamental discoveries in the field of astronomy and solar physics were made from the Indian soil by scientists working on these projects.

4.19 References

[1] Shekhar Narvekar, Astronomy Instrumentation in Ancient India,
[2] Bhaskarachārya,
[3] Parameshvara, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
[4] Eclipse observations of Parmeshvara, the 14-15 century astronomer of Kerala,
Indian Journal of History of Science 38.1, 2003, 43-57
[5] Zij al-Sindhind, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[6] Rajesh Kochhar and Jayant Narlikar (1995), Astronomy in India: A Perspective (New
Delhi: Indian National Science Academy), Chapter-1
[7] Jayant V Narlikar, The Scientific Edge, Pengiun, Page-61.Year 2003
[8] Anand M. Sharan, The Construction Times of Sawai Jai Singh’s Observatories ,
Faculty of Engineering, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada A1B
[9] V A Smith, Jantar Mantar, Greenage Books, 2011
[10] Ulugh Beg Observatory
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
[11] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
[12] N Kameswara Rao, A Vagiswari and Christina Louis, Father J Richaud and early
Telescope observations in India, Bulletin of Astr. Soc. India (1984), Vol-12, Page 81
[13] R. K Kochhar, French astronomers in India during the 17th – 19th centuries, Journal of
the British Astronomical Association, vol.101, no.2, Page-95-100
[14] History of Sciece and Technology,
[15] R. K. Kochhar, The Growth of Modern Astronomy in India, 1651-1960
Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore 560034, India,
[16] A. Raman, Looking back: Goldingham and the Madras Observatory
[18] C K Ananthasubramanium, The Madras Observatory, 1792-1931, Journal of the Royal
Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 85, NO. 2:629/APRI, P. 97, 1991…97A
[19] MKV Bappu,
[20] A. L. Narayan, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[21] S. S. Hasan, D.C.V. Mallik, S. P. Bagare & S. P. Rajaguru, Solar physics at the
Kodaikanal Observatory: A Historical Perspective, Indian Institute of Astrophysics,
[22] Deepak Kumar, Patterns of Colonial Science in India, Indian J. of History of
Science, 15(1), 105-113, May 1980.

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
+ 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.

Prabhakar Sharma
+ posts

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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