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Life Sketches

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray

Born August 1861 – Died 6th June 1925

by Aniruddha Rakshit

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray was an Indian scientist and teacher of repute. He was one of the first “modern” Indian to do path breaking research work in Chemistry. His discovery of the stable compound Mercurous Nitrite in 1896 put him on the world map of great scientists. The ideal of a free nationhood was so strong in him that he established the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd, India’s first pharmaceutical company in 1901, to promote India’s self reliance.

Early Life and Education: Prafulla Chandra Ray was born on 2 August 1861, in the village of Raruli-Katipara, now in Bangladesh, as the younger son of his father, Harish Chandra Ray, a landlord. His father inspired the zeal to learning in young Prafulla Chandra by providing his sons with an extensive library in their home. His mother, Bhubanmohini Devi, was very well educated and had very liberal ideas.

Prafulla Chandra moved with his family to Kolkata, then Calcutta, at the age of nine and he was admitted to the Hare School. Due to his illness, he had to return to his village in 1874. He regained his health after two years but it left him permanently frail with sleeplessness and digestive problems. The well-equipped library of his father provided him with the much needed food for his intellects during his long convalescence. After returning to Calcutta (now Kolkata) he joined Albert School from where is passed his Entrance Test in 1979. He then joined the Metropolitan College which is now known as Vidyasagar College. Prafulla Chandra had his lessons in chemistry at the Presidency College where he grew to love it. He set up his own laboratory at home for experimentation.

Prafulla Chandra won a scholarship to study at the Edinburgh University, in 1882, and earned his degree in 1885. He was honoured with a D. Sc. in 1887 and received the prestigious “Hope Prize” for his thesis on “Conjugated Sulphates of the Copper-Magnesium Group: A Study of Isomorphous Mixtures and Molecular Combination. At such a young age he published a unique essay in English on India, which was a great eye-opener and showed his keen awareness of the state of governance of his motherland.

Contributions and Achievements:On his return in 1888 Prafulla Chandra joined as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the Presidency College in Calcutta next year (1889). He established his research laboratory and trained a dedicated band of students into fine researchers. He had around 150 research publications to his credit, of which many were published in the most renowned journal of his time. While experimenting with Nitrite and Hypo-nitrite compounds, he discovered the stable compound called Mercurous Nitrite in 1896. Other areas of his studies included organic compounds containing Sulphur, double salt, homomorphism and fluorination. Prafulla Chandra Ray read the ancient texts and published his epoch making volumes of “The History of Hindu Chemistry” in 1902 and 1908. He had extensive knowledge of metallurgy and medicine in ancient India.

After retiring from Presidency College in 1916, Prafulla Chandra Roy joined the University of Calcutta in its College of Science at Upper Circular Road. He spent his life working and teaching there and lived in a room at the campus in order to be near his laboratory and his students. 

A supporter of India’s freedom struggle, Prafulla Chandra believed in self reliance. To follow up his ideal he established Bengal Chemical Works with a small capital of 700 INR, which flourished under his supervision. Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd (BCPW) initially produced herbal products and indigenous medicines which gradually emerged as one of leading chemical and medicine produces.

Prafulla Chandra Ray wanted to use science for the upliftment up the masses through his passionate and devoted social work which kept him engaged during famine and flood. He was a promoter of the Khadi movement. Acharya Prafulla Chandra was a true rationalist who opposed the caste system and other irrational social prejudices. He took an active part in educational activities of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and was a council member of Brahmo Samaj Educational Society for several years. He participated in Student’s Weekly Service and was actively involved in the Society for the improvement of the Backward Classes. He took part in relief missions and other philanthropic activities of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and presided over the 46th session of the East Bengal and Assam Brahmo Conference held in 1936 at Tangail. He was a trustee of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and was elected as its President in 1941. He was actively involved in his social and academic pursuits till his last.

Prafulla Chandra remained a bachelor and died on 16 June 1944, at the ripe old age of 82.

Lady Abala Bose

8 August 1865 – 25 April 1951

By Aniruddha Rakshit

Lady Abala Bose, the daughter of the renowned Brahmo reformer Durga Mohan Das, was a visionary and a social worker in her own right who worked relentlessly towards women’s education and alleviation of the misery of the widows.[1] Born in a family of social and political workers, Abala was herself a remarkable person who was a match for her brother Satish Ranjan Das and sister Sarala Roy, both great educationists. Her cousins were Chittaranjan Das, and Chief Justice of India Sudhi Ranjan Das.

Abala was born on 8 August 1865, at Barisal in the famous Das family of Telirbagh, Dhaka, now in Bangladesh. Married to the great scientist and inventor Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, Lady Abala was his true life partner who gladly sacrificed her own career to support the scientific pursuits of her husband.[1]

Early life:Abala was one of the earlier pupils of Banga Mahila Vidyalaya that finally merged with Bethune School (established by Bethune). She passed her Entrance Test in flying colours, securing a scholarship in 1881. In those days the Calcutta Medical College denied admission to women. Undaunted, Abala joined the Madras Medical College, that admitted female students, in 1882. She was awarded the Bengal government scholarship for studies in medicine. Unfortunately she had to give up her studies due to ill health. She returned to Calcutta partially completing her course and Jagadish Chandra in 1887.[1]

Abala was one of the early feminists who had a keen interest in empowering women. She was an excellent educator with a clear vision on education reforms. She wrote in Modern Review, a leading English magazine, that the reason for a deeper and extened education for women was needed ‘not because we may make better matches for our girls… not even that the services of the daughter-in-law may be more valuable in the home of her adoption, but because a woman like a man is first of all a mind, and only in the second place physical and a body.’ She inspired many leading women of her times like Poet Kamini Roy, who studied with her in Bethune School, to think in terms of feminism.[2]

Later life:A great proponent of empowerment of women, she set up Nari Shiksha Samiti, a non profit organisation for imparting education to women, young and adult alike. The society was registered under Act XXI of 1860, in 1919. It was a non-profit voluntary organisation dedicated to public charity through educating and imparting vocational training to women in distress so that they could become economically independent.

During her lifetime, Lady Abala Bose established around 88 Primary Schools and 14 Adult Education Centers in different parts of undivided Bengal. As a modern educator she pioneered institutional training of Pre-Primary and Primary Teacher’s and established Vidyasagar Bani Bhavan Primary Teachers Training Institute in 1925. As the Secretary of Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya from 1910 to 1936, she introduced many unusual and revolutionary training programmes in the school curricula. Lady Bose was the first woman president of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj from 1944-45.

Lady Abala Bose died on 26 April 1951.[1]

References

1. Sengupta, Subodh Chandra and Bose, Anjali (editors), 1976/1998, Sansad Bangali Charitabhidhan (Biographical dictionary) Vol I, (in Bengali), p23, ISBN 81-85626-65-0

2. Ray, Bharati, Women in Calcutta: the Years of Change, in Calcutta The Living City Vol II, edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri, Oxford University Press, first published 1990, paperback edition 2005, pp. 36-39, ISBN 0-19-563697-X.

Bhai Sitaram

Born 20th of August 1879; Died

By Sanjoy Chanda

The message and ideals of the Brahmo Samaj had inspired a large number of men and several of them were inspired to dedicate their lives to service of the Samaj. Bhai Sitaram was one such person and we feel proud of his association with Delhi Brahmo Samaj. 

Bhai Sitaram was born in a middleclass family on the 20th of August 1879 in a village in Sargoda district of undivided Punjab. His father was the “Patwari” of the village. His mother was dedicated to Sikh Gurus and, influenced by her, Sitaramji learned several of the “Shabads” of Guru Granth Sahib.

He started his education in his village school, but for high school studies he had to move to a place called Bhera, 9 kilometers away from his village. Here he stayed at his sister’s house. The Principal of this school was Lala Raghunath Sahai, a Brahmo. Raghunathji used to be visited by a Brahmo missionary Lala Prakash Devji. Also resident of that place was another Brahmo Sri Ruchiram Sahni. Coming in contact with these learned men and the message of the Brahmo Samaj made their mark on young Sitaram’s mind.

After matriculation Sitaramji took up service with the Postal Department. However, his interest in Brahmo Samaj continued. In 1904 he came to Lahore and was formally initiated into the Brahmo Samaj by Lala Prakash Devji in the presence of Pandit Sivanath Sastri who was then visiting Lahore. By then Lala Raghunath Sahai was also in Lahore and was the principal of the Dayal Singh High School. Sitaramji got involved in Samaj work and gradually got immersed in it, so much so that he gave up his job and dedicated himself fully to the service of the Samaj.

Later on Sitaramji went to Sialkot and started a Brahmo Samaj there. He carried his message of love and brotherhood to many other places including Jammu, Rawalpindi, Miawali, Firozepur, Amritsar, Gurjanwala etc. For many years, he used to go to Calcutta during Maghotsav. In Sialkot a Brahmo mandir was built where regular weekly prayers were held.

Bhai Sitaram used to sing very often from “Shabads” of Guru Nanak and Kabir. Due to the influence and inspiration of Pandit Sivanath Sastri, Bhai Sitaram started an “Atmonnati Sabha”. It can be compared to the “Atmiya Sabha” of Raja Rammohun Roy. He also started a school which ran for about 15 years. He published a paper “Brahmo Pracharak”. In 1924 Bhai Sitaram was invited to Basra in Iraq by Dr. Puran Singh. Lahore was his main base, though he was like a roving priest or preacher.

The partition in 1947 caused major upheaval in the lives of millions of people. Bhai Sitaram, along with many Hindus, Sikhs and Brahmos had to leave Lahore. To begin with he came to Amrtitsar and from there to Delhi. Prof. Salil Sen (Principal of Delhi Polytechnic which was later renamed as Delhi College of Engineering and is now known as Delhi Technology University) and his wife Chitra Sen took Bhai Sitaram into their house in the Civil Lines and he spent most of his stay in Delhi there. From the very beginning he became active among the Brahmos of Delhi. Apart from the Brahmos who came to Delhi from the Punjab and Sind after the partition, there were a number of Brahmos from other parts of the country engaged in Government and other services. The practice then was to meet at someone’s residence for the weekly Sunday prayer meeting. Even Maghotsav would be celebrated in someone’s home.

It was Bhai Sitaram who suggested that a Brahmo Samaj be established and a Brahmo mandir be built in Delhi. The Delhi Brahmos took up the proposal enthusiastically and the Samaj was founded and registered as a society in 1955. Several dedicated members put in a lot of effort to procure land and construct the Raja Rammohun Roy Memorial Hall which is the seat of Brahmo Samaj Delhi now. After the building was constructed, Bhai Sitaram stayed in the guest room there during the last two years of his life. He passed away on the 17th December in 1966.

Most of today’s Brahmos of Delhi do not know about Bhai Sitaram. A few of the old timers who met him as children remember him as a gentle, soft spoken person. But for us there is much to be learnt from the life of this saintly man, modest and selfless, who dedicated his life in the service of the Brahmo Samaj, to spread the message and ideals of Brahmo Dharma. Bhai Sitaram was an ideal Brahmo who helped the poor, the needy and those suffering. Sri Gurdial Malik, the well known Brahmo leader, paid Bhai Sitaram the following tribute on January 19, 1967:

“Bhai Sitaramji was a beloved of God and man. He was indeed a lantern of faith – faith in the creator, His creation and His creatures. His love for humanity radiated from his love of God. And in the light of his love, hundreds of people and their little lamps were lighted. As he sang constantly heartfelt thanksgiving to the Divine for His diversities of graces and gifts, he served the sick in body as well as in mind, with the touching tenderness of a mother. Bhai Sitaramji was thus a fountainhead of benedictions to one and all. We offer our reverent and loving salutation to his ever-shining spirit”.

Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das

5th November 1870 – 16th June 1925

By Aniruddha Rakshit

Chittaranjan Das, the son of Bhuban Mohan Das and nephew of Durga Mohon Das, the social reformer, was born on 5 November, 1870. Chittaranjan was inspired by the spirit of nationalism in his student days at Presidency College, Calcutta, where he took active part in students’ movements. He was a member of the Students’ Association (1886) and was inspired by Surendranath Banerjee’s fiery lectures on patriotism.

Chittaranjan was drawn to the Bengali literature, his favourite the writings of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. However, he excelled in English too. After attending the Inner Temple in London in 1883 to qualify as a Barrister, Chittaranjan came back to India. While still new to his profession, Chittaranjan was requested by Krishna Kumar Mitra to defend Aurobindo Ghosh, when the latter was an accused in the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy case. Attempts had been made on the life of Mr Kingsford, Chief Presidency Magistrate of Calutta. Unfortunately Kingsford escaped the attempt but two innocent English ladies succumbed to the attack. Aurobindo Ghosh was charged as the mastermind behind the bomb blast. No lawyer came forward to defend Aurobindo but Chittaranjan took up the challenge. After a trial that lasted 126 days, in which 200 witnesses were examined, Ghosh was acquitted. This was a turning point in his career and he attained great fame after his successful defence of Aurobindo.

Das was the first Mayor of Calcutta when the Corporation was constituted in 1923. He launched ‘Forward’ a newspaper that challenged the British intellectually and sought to awaken his fellow countrymen. Later it was renamed “Liberty”. Das led the Non-Cooperation Movement from the front. Initially used to aristocratic ways, Chittaranjan lived in great luxury before and all his clothes were sent to Paris for laundry. But he gave up all the luxuries during this movement in 1919-22 and burnt his European clothes before he gave the clarion call to boycott all foreign goods. He was an avid supporter of self rule and after he joining the freedom struggle he gave up his expensive habits to don khadi in his later life. He even gave up his flourishing Law practice and chose to lead his fellow citizens in to the Non Cooperation Movement. 

Das and his family suffered at the hands of the British for his political commitments. He was jailed with his wife and son in 1921 and they spent six months in prison. However, he was opposed to the Mahatama and his supporters in the motion against legislative council entries for Congressmen legislators and resigned as the President of the Congress party in its Gaya session. Subhash Chandra Bose was drew his inspiration from Chittaranjan Das and regarded him as his political mentor.

After the Non-Cooperation Movement failed, Das and Motilal Nehru formed the Swaraj Party in opposition to Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership of Indian National Congress. They contested the elections and won a majority in the Bengal Legislative Council in 1924.

Das was conversant with British legal system and believed in constitutional methods in realizing Independence. He was a champion of Hindu-Muslim unity and firm believer in local self governance, as well as strengthening of cottage industries and cooperative credit societies. His effort at eradicating social evils was a step towards freedom. He espoused widow re-marriage initiated and donated his home together with the adjoining lands to set up an institution for destitute women a couple of years before he died. The present Chittaranjan Seva Sadan Hospital in Kolkata is founded on this property.

Das was a voracious reader and had a flair for writing. He composed verses for the collections of Mala, Antaryami and Kishore-Kishoree, and contributed to scholarly magazines. He founded the famous journal ‘Bande Mataram’ with Aurobindo Ghaosh.

Chittaranjan was one of the key persons who established the Brahmo Sammilan  Samaj. He proposed that this hall was consecrated for the purpose of ensuring full participation of Brahmo Ministers and members owing allegiance to all the three factions of the Brahmo Samaj, the Adi, the Navabidhan, and the Sadharan Samajes. Hence it was named “Brahmo Sammilan Samaj”. This formal proposal was passed at a Special General Meeting held on 1st October 1902. Unity of all Brahmos in matters of worship, welfare and social activities was the goal of this nascent institution. Deshbandhu felt that this should be enshrined in the very name as also in the rules and regulations of the Samaj. So he proposed yet another resolution that a committee be appointed to frame rules and regulations and to draw up a trust deed relating to the land and building that the Samaj was hoping to acquire and this also was accepted unanimously. The drafts presented by him were accepted at a meeting held on 16th November 1902 and it can be legitimately surmised that he had done the bulk of the work involved.

No illness could deter him during his short but meteoric rise as a national leader. Aurobindo Gosh gratefully acknowledged the fact that the case that Das fought to save Aurobindo cost him his health that bagan to fail from May 1925. Das withdrew to a mountain home in Darjeeling where Mahatma Gandhi visited him. He died there on June 16, 1925 aged only 55. The body was brought to Calcutta where the funeral procession was led by Mahatma Gandhi. Rabindranath Tagore even penned a couplet in his honour.

He was a national hero who had immortalized his name in the service of the nation. The nation honours his memory by naming many enclaves and institutions named him. Dr. B.C. Roy, the erstwhile Chief Minister of West Bengal, named the Railway Locomotive Factory and its colony near Asansol in his name. Firmly cast in metal, the Reserve Bank of India honoured the brave life of Das by issuing a commemorative two rupee coin in 1998. It has been in general circulation since then.

References:

  1. Autobiography of Krishna Kumar Mitra (in Bengali)

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