Ray, Prafulla Chandra

Ray, Prafulla Chandra (1861-1944) scientist, educationist, nationalist visionary. Born on 2 August 1861 in a landed family of Raruli, a village in a part of the district of Jessore that is now in Khulna, Prafulla Chandra was the third son of Harish Chandra Ray, a petty zamindar known for his liberal views. After his childhood education in his village school, Prafulla Chandra moved to the Hare School (Calcutta) in 1870, but could not continue his education there for more than two years due to ill health. After a lapse of two years he started again at the Albert School from where he passed the Entrance Examination in 1878. He joined the Metropolitan Institution (now renamed Vidyasagar College), from where he passed the First Arts Examination in 1880. In 1882 he joined the University of Edinburgh where he obtained the BSc degree in 1885 and DSc degree in Chemistry in 1887. Prafulla Chandra then entered the Bengal Education Service and joined the presidency college, Calcutta, as a temporary Assistant Professor of Chemistry in 1889.

Prafulla Chandra Ray

In 1902, Prafulla Chandra published his famous History of Hindu Chemistry, which came out in a revised and enlarged form in 1904. The immense popularity of the book led him to stretch it to a second volume, published in 1909. As a scientist Prafulla Chandra was particularly esteemed among his peers for his seminal contributions to mercurous nitrites preparation. In 1912, the University of Durham conferred on him the Honorary Degree of DSc in recognition of his contributions to scientific investigations.

The British Government first honoured him with the imperial title of CIE (Companion of the Indian Empire); and then with the Knighthood in 1919. In 1916 Prafulla Chandra left the presidency college and joined the newly founded Calcutta University College of Science as a Professor of Chemistry. In 1920, he was elected General President of the Indian Science Congress. The Universities of Calcutta, Benaras and Dhaka successively conferred on him the Honorary DSc Degrees in recognition of his contributions to the development of science. In 1932, the first volume of his autobiography, Life and Experiences of a Bengali Chemist, was published, and a second volume in 1935. In 1936, at the age of 75, he retired from Calcutta University as Palit Professor of Chemistry but continued as an Emeritus Professor until his death on 16 June 1944.

Beyond the realm of science Prafulla Chandra Ray took great interest in social work and cultural activities. He was an exponent of the cultivation of arts and sciences through one's mother tongue. He himself wrote a lot in Bangla and encouraged others to write in the mother tongue. Many schools and colleges received financial and other help from him. As a nationalist he also wanted that the Bengalis should come up in the world of enterprise. He himself set an example by establishing a chemical firm called the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works (1901), which was one of the pioneering industrial concerns launched and managed by Bengalis. [Syed Ali Imam]