Ashutosh Mukherjee

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Ashutosh Mukherjee
Sir Asutosh Mukharji.JPG
Ashutosh Mukherjee
Born (1864-06-29)29 June 1864
Calcutta, British India
Died May 25, 1924(1924-05-25) (aged 59)
Patna, British India
Resting place Russa Road, Calcutta (Now 77 Ashutosh Mookerjee Road, Kolkata - 700025)
Occupation Educator and the second Indian Vice Chancellor of the University of Calcutta
Nationality Indian
Ethnicity Bengali
Alma mater University of Calcutta
Genres academic, educator
Literary movement Bengal Renaissance
Notable award(s) Order of the Star of India
Children Syama Prasad Mookerjee

Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, CSI (Bengali: আশুতোষ মুখোপাধ্যায়) (29 June 1864 – 25 May 1924) was a prolific Bengali educator and the second Indian Vice Chancellor of the University of Calcutta for four consecutive two-year terms (1906–1914) and a fifth two-year term (1921–23). Perhaps the most emphatic figure of Indian education, he was a man of great personality, high self-respect, courage and towering administrative ability. He became the first student to be awarded a dual degree (MA in Mathematics and Physics) from Calcutta University and received the prestigious Premchand-Roychand scholarship.

Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee was responsible for the foundation of the Bengal Technical Institute in 1906 and the College of Science of the Calcutta University in 1914. The Calcutta Mathematical Society was also founded by Mukherjee in 1908 and he served as the president of the Society from 1908 to 1923.[1][2] He was also the president of the inaugural session of the Indian Science Congress in 1914. The Asutosh College was also founded under his stewardship in 1916, when he was Vice-chancellor of University of Calcutta.

Ashutosh Mukherjee was knighted in 1911 for his contributions to education in India. He was often called the "Tiger of Bengal" for his high self-esteem, courage, academic integrity and a general intransigent attitude towards the British Government. Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee died in 1924 at Patna, Bihar soon after losing a hotly contested Hindu law inheritance case to the Shia Bihari Barrister Syed Hasan Imam. His son Syama Prasad Mookerjee founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

Early life[edit]

Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee was born on June 29, 1864 at Bowbazar, Kolkata to Jagattarini Devi and Ganga Prasad Mukherjee, a well known doctor who founded the South Sub Urban School in Calcutta. Brought up in an atmosphere of science & literature at home, young Asutosh went to the Sisu Vidyalaya at Chakraberia, Bhowanipore and showed an early aptitude for mathematics. When he was young, he met Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar who was a major influence on him. He was a student of Madhusudan Das.[3] In 1879, at the age of fifteen, he passed the entrance exam of the Calcutta University in which he stood third and received a first grade scholarship. In the year 1880, he took admission at the Presidency College in Kolkata where he met P.C. Ray and Narendranath Dutta who would later become famous as Swami Vivekananda. In 1883 he topped the BA examination at Calcutta University and was awarded the Premchand-Roychand scholarship to complete a postgraduate degree in mathematics. In 1885, he completed an M.A. in Mathematics and in 1886, a Masters in Physical Science, making him the first student to be awarded a dual degree from Calcutta University. In the same year he was married to Jogomaya Devi.

Ashutosh turned down a job in the Department of Public Instruction to complete his Bachelor of Law degree. During this time, he continued publishing scholarly papers on mathematics and physics. At the age of 24, Ashutosh Mukherjee became a Fellow of the Calcutta University and helped in its transformation from an examining body into a major center of learning and research in the Indian subcontinent. He was influential in the University affairs throughout his life, being appointed the Vice-Chancellor from 1906 to 1914 and again from 1921 to 1923. He was instrumental in discovering the talents of Dr. C.V. Raman and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan.

As a story goes, he defied the command of Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, on the strength of his fathomless devotion for his mother. Lord Curzon made a request to Sir Ashutosh to pay a visit to England so that the Britons could see a glimpse of the scholars produced by British education in India. As his mother would not allow her son to cross the seas due to the prevalent superstition of kala pani, Ashutosh had to decline the request of the Governor-General of India. At this Lord Curzon wrote: "Tell your mother the Viceroy and Governor-General of India commands her son to go." Ashutosh didn't show slightest trace of fear. He replied: "Then I will tell the Viceroy and Governor-General of India that Ashutosh Mukherjee refuses to be commanded by any other person except his mother, be he Viceroy or be he somebody higher still."

The French scholar Sylvain Lévi once commented :

Had this Bengal Tiger been born in France, he would have exceeded even Georges Clemenceau, the French Tiger. Ashutosh had no peer in the whole of Europe.

Contribution to education[edit]

Ashutosh Mukherjee had a vision of the kind of education he wanted young people to have, and he had the acumen and courage to extract it from his colonial masters. He set up several new academic graduate programs at the Calcutta University: comparative literature, anthropology, applied psychology, industrial chemistry, ancient Indian history and culture as well as Islamic culture. He also made arrangements for postgraduate teaching and research in Bengali, Hindi, Pali and Sanskrit. Scholars from all over India, irrespective of race, caste, and gender, came to study and teach there. He even persuaded European scholars to teach at his university. He was one of the first persons to recognize the work of Srinivasa Ramanujan. He also established Asutosh College in South Kolkata in 1916.

Curzon's education mission in 1902 identified the universities including the Calcutta University, as centres of sedition where young people formed networks of resistance to colonial domination.[4] The cause of this was thought to be the unwise granting of autonomy to these universities in the nineteenth century. Thus in the period of 1905 to 1935, the colonial administration tried to reinstate government control of education. In 1923, Mukherjee refused the post of Vice Chancellor when Lord Lytton tried to impose conditions on his reappointment.

The Government of India issued a stamp in 1964 to commemorate Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee for his contribution to education.

Other positions held[edit]

Ashutosh Mukherjee - First Row, Third From Left. Nalini Ranjan Chatterjee - First Row, Third From Right

Mukherjee was a member of the 1917-1919 Sadler Commission, presided over by Michael Ernest Sadler, which inquired into the state of Indian education. He was thrice elected as the president of The Asiatic Society. In 1910, he was appointed the President of the Imperial (now National) Library Council to which he donated his personal collection of 80,000 books which are arranged in a separate section. He was the president of the inaugural session of the Indian Science Congress in 1914. He was a polyglot learned in Pali, French and Russian, and was awarded the titles of Saraswati and Shastravachaspati by the pundits of Bengal for his service to Indian education.

Mukherjee was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Star of India (CSI) in June 1909[5] and knighted[6] in December 1911.

The epitaph beneath his marble bust at the Ashutosh Museum of Arts at the University of Calcutta reads:

His noblest achievement, surest of them all/ A place for his mother tongue --- in step mother's hall.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Edited by Patrick Petitjean, Catherine Jami and Anne Marie Moulin, Science and Empires, (Boston Study in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 136, Kluwer Academic Publishers).
  2. ^ "Calcutta Mathematical Society". Calmathsoc.org. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  3. ^ "Our History". mslawcollege.org. 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2012. "Ashutosh Mukherjee, the then Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University who was a student of Utkal Gourab Madhusudan Das" 
  4. ^ Aparna Basu, The Growth of Education and Political Development in India, 1898-1920, (New Delhi: OUP, 1974).
  5. ^ []
  6. ^ London Gazette, 8 December 1911