|Biographies of Great
Indians & Hindus
Scientist A Great Man
Prafulla Chandra was a great scientist. But he had several other interests also, in which
he shone equally well.
He had an abiding interest in literature. He knew by heart many passages from
Shakespeare's plays and the poems of Tagore and of Madhusudan Dutt. He was well read in
English literature. In 1932 he wrote his autobiography in English and named it 'The Life
and Experience of a Bengali Chemist'. It was praised every where. Later, he himself
translated it into Bengali. The book was called 'Atma Charita'. In recognition of his
service to Bengali literature he was twice elected
President of the Bengali Literary Conference.
Prafulla Chandra was the President of the National Council of Education. He believed
that it was not enough for students to acquire degrees like Bachelor of Science or Master
of Science; they should endeavor to acquire real knowledge. In his opinion, to take
degrees just to get government jobs was a waste. The students should rather get technical
education and start their own business. Young men should enter trade and
industries by themselves. He said that the medium of instruction in schools and colleges
should be the mother tongue. It is much easier to acquire knowledge in one's own language.
Social service was a great. Ideal in Prafulla Chandra's life. He used to remember what
he had told his mother in his youth: "I will earn money and regain the Property of
family". He said a nobler ideal was to spend one's wealth in the service of
fellow-beings. He practiced what he taught; he spent all his earnings on his students and
the needy people around him.
Prafulla Chandra used to keep only a small portion of his income for his own needs. He
spent the rest to help poor students and schools and colleges. He had shares valued at a
lake rupees in the Bengal Chemical company; these he gave away as an endowment. The profit
from this was used for the benefit of poor widows, orphans, and to help spinning and the
production of Khadi. The rest of his property was given to the Brahmo Samaj, a religious
organization, and to a high school in Raruli founded in the name of his
It was his strong desire that Hindus should set right the defects in their society like
untouchability, child marriage and the giving of dowry. He severely opposed these evils.
He had a scientific outlook and worked sincerely. He was never satisfied with mere words.
When people underwent suffering because of floods, famines or earthquakes, he worked
actively to help them. He would organize committees for their relief and with their help
procure food, clothes and money for the victims. He worked hard day and night for such
In 1921 there was a famine in Khulna District and in 1922 a severe flood in North
Bengal, Thousands of people lost all their possessions.When they begged for help, the
government did not pay muchattention. Prafulla Chandra organized a relief committee which
included leading European and Indian citizens of Calcutta. He made his college the center
of relief operations. With the help of his students and of the citizens, he collected
clothes and food as well Es large sums of money. These were quickly given to the needy
victims. In 1931, there was again a big flood in Bengal. Prafulla Chandra again helped
thousands and thousands of people troubled by the flood.
Pratulla Chandra had great respect for the Charaka and Khadi movement started by
Gandhiji. At first he was doubtful whether the crude spinning wheel could achieve what an
industry could easily do. But when he saw that the spinning wheel gave both work and
earnings to the poor villagers, he was convinced of its usefulness. He himself began to
spin yarn with the Charaka at least for an hour everyday. Till the end of his life he used
to wear only Khadi clothes. Because of his very great love of Khadi, some of his friends
called him 'Charakashri' or 'Sir Khaddar'!
Prafulla Chandra was very affectionate towards his students. He was overjoyed when they
received awards of honors. He used to repeat the Sanskrit saying, 'A man may desire
victory always but he should welcome defeat at the hands of his own disciples'. Famous
Indian scientists like Meghnad Saha and Shanthi Swarup Bhatnagar were among his students.
Prafulla Chandra followed a regular timetable. He had strict control over his diet and
habits, and was regular in his exercises, He would not waste time. He always wore clean
Khadi clothes. But they were often not passed. He would not allow others to serve him. He
himself washed his clothes and polished his shoes. But he was very generous in. helping
others. One day a student who was taking care of his daily food bought plantains for an
Anna and a halt (equivalent to 9 Paise), instead of the usual halt an Anna (3 paise). He
had spent more money so that his teacher might have bigger and tastierteacher-Might have
bigger scolded him fruits. ButPrafulla Chandra for wasting precious money. The same day a
social worker by name Ghosh came to him and appealed for help to an orphanage, which was
short of funds.Prafulla Chandra called the same student and asked him to look into his
bank Pass Book and see what the balance was. He had Rs. 3,500 at credit. Prafulla Chandra
wrote out a cheque for Rs. 3,000 and gave it to Mr.Ghosh. The student was astonished that
his teacher, who had scolded him in the morning for the sake of just one Anna, now gave
away three thousand rupees without any hesitation!
Prafulla Chandra was very simple in his clothes. He was unhappy when he saw Indians
dressed in European style. Sometimes his simple clothes used to land him in difficulties.
Once he was appointed as a member of a government committee. The meeting of the committee
was held at the Grand Hotel, Calcutta. Prafulla Chandra went there early and was waiting
for others. The servant there thought that Prafulla Chandra also was a
servant waiting for his master. He asked him, "When is your master coming?"
The operator of a lift in a hotel once refused to take him in the lift. He said,
"People like you should climb the stairs. The lift is for Europeans." Prafulla
Chandra would not permit such an insult to Indian clothes. He complained to the management
and got the operator warned.
For many years, Prafulla Chandra used to spend an hour or two at Calcutta's large
maiden every evening, in the company of his friends and students. All subjects under the
sun were discussed there freely and solutions offered with confidence and finality. Old
and young were equally free to participate and give their opinion.
Whenever he got some leisure, Prafulla Chandra used to go to his native village Raruli and
spend his time there with the simple villagers. He helped them as much as he could. He
never forgot his life in the village.
At the 70th birthday celebrations ofPrafulla Chandra, poet Rabindranath Tagore praised his
exemplary life. He said, "in the Upanishads, we learn 'the one became Many".
Acharya Prafulla Chandra has devoted his life to his students; he now lives in the hearts
In his 75th year Prafulla Chandra Ray retired from the Professor's post. In 1941 the
Calcutta University and the public celebrated his eightieth birthday.
Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray passed away on the 16th of June 1944; he died in the same
room he had occupied for twenty-five years. He was 83 years old at the time.
When India was still under foreign rule and when facilities for scientific research were
very meager in the Country, Acharya Ray achieved great fame even in distant countries by
his brilliant research. He discovered Mercurous Nitrite, when scientists did not know that
such a chemical could exist. When it was thought that Indians were backward and that they
should learn everything from the West, he wrote his famous book 'The History of Hindu
Chemistry. This book served to open the eyes of many Indians and foreigners. When he grew
up, he found the family burdened with debts. He not only repaid the debts but also spent
large sums of money earned by him to help students and the poor, and on scientific
research. When catastrophes like famine, flood or earthquake struck, this scientist
-professor led the way to bring relief to the victims. He did not confine himself to his
laboratory. Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray was a great scientist who was endowed
with noble human qualities. He was also a great patriot and social worker.
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