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Jagadish Chandra Bose – the Forgotten Great Brahmo

By Madhu Bindu D

Sri Jagadish Chandra Bose is well known to all of us as a renowned scientist. But unfortunately, very few people know that Sri Bose was a Brahmo.  It is a fact that is not mentioned anywhere in the school syllabus or reference texts that talk about him. My article will present Bose as the Brahmo rather than the scientist. We will discover the man who grew up in a Brahmo Samaj family, with Brahmo values. In this article I will be covering the following aspects of his life:

•  The influence of Brahmadhrama on his life

•   How being raised a Brahmo shaped his life, morals and ethics

•  His understanding of the oneness of God

•  His strong faith in God

•  His knowledge of the Vedas

•  His relation with the Brahmo Samaj

 Sri Jagadish Chandra Bose was born on 30th November, 1858 in the village of Mymensingh (now in Bangladesh). His parents were Sri Bhagwan Chandra Bose and Smt  Bama Sundari Devi. His father, Bhagawan Chandra Bose was worked as a deputy magistrate of Faridapur and also was a respected leader of the Brahmo samaj. Bhagwan Chandra Bose was very lawful, just, kind-hearted, very enthusiastic and active by nature. He established the first English medium school in his village and also acted as the headmaster of the school himself. Jagdish Chandra Bose spent his childhood in Faridapur. He was brought up in a house steeped in Indian tradition and culture. At that time, sending children to English medium schools was an aristocratic status symbol. But his father wanted him to learn the vernacular language too and wanted him to be familiar with his native culture before learning English. As a Brahmo Samaj leader, his father taught him crucial moral values and allowed him to develop love and adoration for nature. He taught all his children how to behave with everyone without any discrimination. Jagadish remembered the time spent in Faridpur, as a precious period of his life. 

While speaking at the Bikrampur Conference in 1915, Jagadish spoke about this period of his life.  Description of his childhood in his own words….

“In the vernacular school where I was sent to study, the son of the Muslim attendant of my father used to sit on my right side and the son of a fisherman to my left. They were my playmates. I listened spellbound to the stories of birds, animals and aquatic creatures. Perhaps these stories created in my mind a keen interest in investigating Nature. When I returned home from school accompanied by my school fellows, my mother welcomed and fed all of us without discrimination. Although she was an orthodox old fashioned lady, she never considered herself guilty of impiety, while treating these ‘untouchables’ as her own children. It was because of my childhood friendship with them that I could never feel that there were ‘creatures’ who might be labelled ‘low-caste’. I never realized that there existed a ‘problem’ common to the communities, Hindus and Muslims.”

This is what we call “Ekamvipramvasudhaikakutumabakam”. This principle was taught to Jagdish Bose in a practical way by his parents.  This was probably the reason why he never became selfish in his life. 

While all the other children were content with their routine school work, Jagadish was very curious about nature. Whenever he saw a firefly, he wanted to know what that ‘spark’ was. The fast-moving river with fallen leaves floating by, the sprouting of seeds and growth of plants, the attraction of the moth towards the light, the shooting stars, all were curiosities and he was impatient to understand them. He wouldn’t rest till he found a satisfactory answer. His father Sri Bhagavan Chandra Bose always encouraged his son and wanted his son to find out the truth for himself. Jagdish Chandra Bose became an avid self-learner.  At the age of ten, he was sent to Calcutta for further studies and had to stay in a hostel. During the time of his stay in the hostel, a malarial epidemic broke out in the village. Many children lost their parents due to malaria. His father built a workshop to help these children. In the workshop, the children used to learn carpentry and other trades which would give them the ability to earn their own bread. Jagadish started to spend most of his time in the workshop. He was especially fascinated by the foundry. What Jagadish learnt at the workshop, during his school holidays, helped him later in life. After he became a scientist, he could design and operate the equipment he wanted at a low cost.  

Bose graduated from Calcutta in 1879. At his father’s request, he went to England in 1880 to study medicine. But the odour of the anatomy laboratory made Bose sick very often. But he was not disappointed. Although he had travelled so far to study he did not give in to regret, nor did he blame his misfortune.     He decided to drop out of medicine and study natural sciences instead of Cambridge. In 1885 Mr Bose returned to India with two degrees, one in Arts and the other in Science.

On his return, he found that his father had made some miscalculations in business and ran up huge debts. Under such circumstances, he started to seek employment to repay the debt.  Bose was not disappointed that he had to put aside his quest to do research in the sciences and get a job. He did not comment on his father’s decisions. Instead he said that he learned how to deal with problems through his father. He also used to say that he had learned not to struggle against situations but to accept situations from his father. With great difficulty, Bose could get an appointment as a professor in the Physics department at Presidency College. At Presidency College he was not provided with the required facilities for research. He started experimenting in a small room of 24 square feet (2.2 m2) at the college. There was a lot of work pressure in college during the day. After his daily grind, he carried out his research far into the night, in his room at college. He used to arrange the money for his own research. No help was available at the college.

Jagdish Chandra Bose married Abala, the daughter of Shri Durga Mohan Das, a prominent Brahmo Samaj leader. She was very supportive of his work throughout Bose’s lifetime. Jagdish Chandra Bose did all his research in college as well as at home. Mrs Abala Bose supported him through it all. He designed all the tools he needed for his research with the help of a tinsmith. The engineering education he had received in his father’s workshop as a child came in handy during this time. He made great strides in his research on remote wireless signalling. Semiconductor junctions were used for the first time to detect radio signals. In 1895 he became a pioneer in the field of communication by doing the first communication experiments. In fact, most scientists agree that Bose’s research was 60 years ahead of its time. It took a long time for the world to understand the relevance of his work.

He presented his first scientific paper, ‘On the polarization of Electric Rays by Double Reflecting Crystals’ at the Asiatic Society of Bengal in May 1895. Many firms in Europe offered Bose fabulous prices for the exclusive rights on his apparatus. But Bose refused. However, instead of trying to gain commercial benefit from his inventions, Bose made his inventions available to the public in order to allow others to further develop his research. He never preferred to patent his inventions, but always wished that knowledge be never hidden or forbidden for selfish gains. His selflessness is very well known.

The influence of the Brahma Samaj principles and the moral values taught by his father made him so honest and selfless.

In 1897 he developed the Automatic Plant Growth Recorder for his research. This was how he proved the concept of life in plants. He gave a demonstration of life in plants at the Royal Society in 1901. He had to face a lot of criticism after giving his first paper presentation on this topic. Most physiologists disagreed. The Royal Institute accepted the paper but did not publish it. They agreed to publish the paper two years later, and it caused a great sensation in the world of science.

Adhyayanamadhyaapanam: Apart from being an inspired scientist and researcher, he was a very good professor for his students. He used to explain concepts in a very practical way. Abala and Bose didn’t have children themselves (they had one child who died young), and they used to treat their students as their children. Abala accompanied Bose on all his journeys, even abroad. The great couple dedicated their lives to helping others and contributing to the welfare of mankind. The Vedas say “Adhyayanamadhyapanamiti Brahmanavidhih”. That means, a Brahmo must learn and teach throughout his life. Jagdish Chandra Bose’s life epitomizes this principle. Bose did not want the hardships he faced in order to be able to pursue his scientific experiments to be passed onto future generations. He started the Science Institute in Calcutta in the hope that the institute would be useful to everyone in the world. He collected donations across the country and built an amazing science institute.

Spirituality and science: There is a lot of spiritual influence behind the scientific research of Jagdish Chandra Bose. He had clear views about the Creator and creation. His deep understanding of God inspired and paved the way for his wonderful research and discoveries. Bose not only proposed that every cell of matter has “life” and that it is subject to decay but was also able to prove it successfully. The knowledge he gained through his discoveries and research, further strengthened his spiritual perceptions.  His view of the world and of God is evident in his writings.

His beliefs and quotes: Bose said that education without moral values is of no use to the community. He also said that research is successful only when there are courage, patience and honesty and that God’s grace is greater on those who practice this. According to him, man’s faith and belief will be tested forever, and man should never lose them. He lived a life of endless faith and patience in God. He lived an exemplary Brahmo life.

Acquaintance with Vedas: In his first scientific monograph, “Response in the Living and Non-Living”, (1902) Bose started his presentation by saying that “The real is one: wise men call it variously”. He had taken this from Rigveda 1st mandala, 164th sukta, 46th mantra. Let us look closer at this mantra.  

indrammitraṃvaruṇamagnimāhuḥ।athodivyaḥsasuparṇogarutmān| ekaṃsadviprābahudhāvadantyagniṃ।yamammātariśvānamāhuḥ|| (ṛg-01 –164 –46)

इन्द्रम्मित्रंवरुणिम्नििाहुः।अथोदिव्युःससपणोगरुत्िाि्।एकंसद्ववप्राबहधाविन्द्त्यम्निं।यिमिातरिश्वाििाहुः॥

Meaning :

Divine people realise that the Almighty is one and only, the nearest friend to all, the One to be chosen, the Self Illuminated and sovereign source for all radiations and illuminations, the Sovereign of the whole world and all souls, the one and only Creator, the One who makes the rules of the universe and who ensures the whole universe follows those rules. His choice of mantra was apt. It clearly states the various attributes of the Almighty and His Oneness. It is my belief that unless one has a good knowledge of the Vedas it would not be that easy to select a Vedic mantra to quote God’s attributes.

Relation with Brahma Samaj: There is very little information available about the role and impact of the Brahma samaj in Bose’s life although he was wholeheartedly attached to it whole and implemented its principles all through his life. Jagadish Chandra Bose used to conduct upasana at the Brahma Samaj in Darjeeling. He often gave inspiring speeches at the Mahila Parishad set up under the auspices of the Southern Brahma Samaj. Thus we find the Brahmo aspect of the great scientist’s life.

But there some points to be addressed: How many of our country or world knew that Jagdish Chandra Bose was a Brahmo? Do we read in any books that there is the influence of Brahmadharma behind his research? Surprisingly, some organisations and persons who are in no way related to the Brahma Samaj, have claimed that they influenced Jagadish Chandra Bose. There are many Brahmos who worked in their fields relentlessly in order to serve the country. But today all of them are not recognised as they should be. It is time for us to re-recognise our leaders, and re-establish them before the country, to prove that the Brahma Samaj has produced many leaders and served the country. It’s time to inspire our youth by showing them that most of their favourite leaders belonged to the Brahma Samaj. This may have an impact on them and help turn them towards our Samaj.

[Madhu Bindu D, AGM(F&A), Eesavyasa Technologies Pvt Ltd, Hyderabad, Mob : 7093900199]

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