Prafulla Chandra Ray

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Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray
আত্মচরিত (প্রফুল্লচন্দ্র রায়) 005.tif
Born Prafulla Chandra Ray
2 August 1861
Raruli-Katipara, Jessore District, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now in the Khulna District, Khulna Division, Bangladesh)
Died 16 June 1944(1944-06-16) (aged 82)
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India (now India)
Nationality British Indian
Alma mater Metropolitan Institution
Presidency College
University of Calcutta
University of Edinburgh
Known for Founder of Indian chemistry research; Founder of the Indian chemical industry
Scientific career
Thesis Conjugated Sulphates of the Copper-Magnesium Group: A Study of Isomorphous Mixtures and Molecular Combinations (1887)
Doctoral advisor Alexander Crum Brown
Notable students Satyendranath Bose
Meghnad Saha
Jnanendra Nath Mukherjee
Jnan Chandra Ghosh

Acharya Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray also spelled Prafulla Chandra Rây CIE, FNI, FRASB, FIAS, Hon.FCS (Bengali: প্রফুল্ল চন্দ্র রায় Praphulla Chandra Rāy; 2 August 1861 – 16 June 1944)[1] was a Bengali chemist, educationist, historian, industrialist and philanthropist.[2] A leading Bengali nationalist, he established the first Indian research school in chemistry and is regarded as the father of chemical science in India.[3]

The Royal Society of Chemistry honoured his life and work with the first ever Chemical Landmark Plaque outside Europe. He was the founder of Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals, India's first pharmaceutical company. He is the author of A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Middle of Sixteenth Century (1902).


Early life[edit]

Ray was born Prafulla Chandra Raychowdhury in the village of Raruli-Katipara (then in the Jessore District and subsequently in the Khulna District) in the eastern part of the Bengal Presidency of British India (in present-day Bangladesh). He was the third child of Harish Chandra Raychowdhury (d. 1893), a zamindar (landed proprietor) and his wife Bhubanmohini Devi (d. 1904).[4] Ray was one of six siblings, including three brothers - Jnanendra Chandra, Purna Chandra and Buddha Dev - and two sisters, Indumati and Belamati. His father Harish Chandra was strongly associated with the Brahmo Samaj,[5] and Ray would maintain his connections with the Samaj throughout his life.

In 1866, he began his education in the village school, run by his father, and studied there until he was nine.[2] In 1870, Ray and his family migrated to Calcutta, where Ray was admitted to the Hare School the following year.[4] In 1874, while Ray was in the fourth standard, he suffered a severe attack of dysentery; due to the severity of the attack, Ray was forced to postpone his studies and return to his ancestral home. He later considered this disruption in his studies as a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to read much more widely than what would have been possible within the constraints of school curricula. While convalescing, he read biographies, articles on science, Lethbridge's 'Selections from Modern English Literature' and Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield, among others. He also studied history, geography, Bengali literature, Greek, Latin, French and Sanskrit.[2] Although he made a full recovery, he would suffer residual bouts of indigestion and insomnia for the rest of his life.[6]

After recovering from his illness, Ray returned to Calcutta in 1876 and was admitted to the Albert School, established by the Brahmo reformer Keshub Chandra Sen; owing to his concentrated self-study over the preceding two years, his teachers found him to have advanced much further than the rest of the students in his assigned class. During this period, he attended Sen's Sunday evening sermons and was deeply influenced by his Sulabha Samachar.[5] In 1878, he passed the school's Entrance Examination (matriculation exams) with a First Division, and was admitted as an FA (First Arts) student to the Metropolitan Institution (later Vidyasagar College) which was established by Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The English literature teacher at the Institution was Surendranath Banerjee, the prominent Indian nationalist and future president of the Indian National Congress, whose passionately held ideals including an emphasis on the value of service and the need to continually strive for India's rejuvenation left a definite and lasting impression on Ray, who took those values to heart.[6]

Though Ray had maintained a focus in history and literature until this stage, chemistry was then a compulsory subject in the FA degree. As the Metropolitan Institution offered no facilities for science courses at the time, Ray attended physics and chemistry lectures as an external student at the Presidency College.[6] He was especially drawn to the chemistry courses taught by Alexander Pedler, an inspiring lecturer and experimentalist who was among the earliest research chemists in India. Soon captivated by experimental science, Ray decided to make chemistry his career, as he recognised that his country's future would greatly depend on her progress in science.[2] His passion for experimentation led him to set up a miniature chemistry laboratory at a classmate's lodgings and reproducing some of Pedler's demonstrations; on one occasion, he narrowly escaped injury when a faulty apparatus exploded violently.[2] He passed the FA exam in 1881 with a second division, and was admitted to the BA (B-course) degree of the University of Calcutta as a chemistry student, with a view towards pursuing higher studies in the field.[4] Having learnt Latin and French in addition to achieving a "fair mastery" of Sanskrit, a compulsory subject at the FA level, Ray applied for a Gilchrist Prize Scholarship while studying for his BA examination; the scholarship required a knowledge of at least four languages. After an all-India competitive examination, Ray won one of the two scholarships, and enrolled as a BSc. student at the University of Edinburgh without completing his original degree.[6] He sailed for the United Kingdom in August 1882, aged 21.[4]

Student in Britain[edit]

At Edinburgh, Ray studied physics, chemistry and biology amongst other subjects. But Ray did not confine his studies to only natural sciences. He also developed a strong interest in history and read books like Rousselet's L'Inde des Rajas, Lanoye's L'Inde contemporaine, Revue dex deux moneds. He also read Fawcett's book on political economy and Essays on Indian Finance.[7] After obtaining his BSc degree from the University of Edinburgh, Ray embarked on his doctoral thesis (DSc) in the same university and completed his doctorate in 1887. He was awarded the Hope Prize which allowed him to work on his research for a further period of one year after completion of his doctorate. His thesis title was "Conjugated Sulphates of the Copper-magnesium Group: A Study of Isomorphous Mixtures and Molecular Combinations". While a student he was elected Vice-President of the University of Edinburgh Chemical Society in 1888.[8]


Bust of Prafulla Chandra Ray which is placed in the garden of Birla Industrial & Technological Museum

Prafulla Chandra returned to India in the first week of August 1888 and subsequently joined Presidency College, Calcutta as temporary Assistant Professor of Chemistry in 1889. Ray who had a doctorate in science from the University of Edinburgh felt deeply aggrieved when even with his excellent educational credentials he was not able to secure a position within the Imperial service (his academic position was within the 'provincial service') and attributed this to the discriminatory attitude of the ruling government towards native intelligentsia. He complained to the top officials of the government but with no effect.

In 1896, he published a paper on preparation of a new stable chemical compound: mercurous nitrite.[8] This work made way for a large number of investigative papers on nitrites and hyponitrites of different metals, and on nitrites of ammonia and organic amines. He started a new Indian School of Chemistry in 1924. Ray was president of the 1920 session of the Indian Science Congress.[9]

Prafulla Chandra retired from the Presidency College in 1916, and joined the Calcutta University College of Science (also known as Rajabazar Science College) as its first "Palit Professor of Chemistry", a chair named after Taraknath Palit. Here also he got a dedicated team and he started working on compounds of gold, platinum, iridium etc. with mercaptyl radicals and organic sulphides. A number of papers were published on this work in the Journal of the Indian Chemical Society.

In 1936, at the age of 75, he retired from active service and became Professor Emeritus. Long before that, on the completion of his 60th year in 1921, he made a free gift of his entire salary to the Calcutta University from that date onward, to be spent for the furtherance of chemical research, and the development of the Department of Chemistry in the University College of Science.

He had written 107 papers in all branches of Chemistry by 1920.[8]

Literary works and interests[edit]

He contributed articles in Bengali to many monthly magazines, particularly on scientific topics. He published the first volume of his autobiography Life and Experience of a Bengali Chemist in 1932, and dedicated it to the youth of India. The second volume of this work was issued in 1935.

In 1902, he published the first volume of A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Middle of Sixteenth Century.[10] The second volume was published in 1909.[11] The work was result of many years' search through ancient Sanskrit manuscripts and through works of orientalists.

Social service[edit]

In 1923, Northern Bengal suffered a flood which made millions of people homeless and hungry. Prafulla Chandra organised Bengal Relief Committee, which collected nearly 2.5 million rupees in cash and kind and distributed it in the affected area in an organised manner.

He donated money regularly towards welfare of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, Brahmo Girls' School and Indian Chemical Society.[5] In 1922, he donated money to establish Nagarjuna Prize to be awarded for the best work in chemistry.[5] In 1937, another award, named after Ashutosh Mukherjee, to be awarded for the best work in zoology or botany, was established from his donation.[5]

Recognition and honours[edit]

An exhibition on Prafulla Chandra Ray, was held at the Science City, Kolkata on his 150th birth anniversary (2 August 2011).

Medals and decorations[edit]

Academic fellowships and memberships[edit]

Honorary doctorates[edit]


  • Felicitated by the Corporation of Calcutta on his 70th birthday (1932)[4]
  • Felicitated by the Corporation of Karachi (1933)[4]
  • Title of Jnanabaridi from Korotia College, Mymensingh (now the Government Saadat College) (1936)[4]
  • Felicitated by the Corporation of Calcutta on his 80th birthday (1941)[4]
  • Chemical Landmark Plaque of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the first to be situated outside Europe (2011).[19]

Named after P. C. Ray[edit]

Personal life[edit]

He remained a bachelor throughout his life who took active participation in politics. He was closely associated with Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and occupied various administrative posts during his lifetime and finally elected as the President and Trustee of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. He was elected solely on the basis of his potential, and not because of his father's influence in the Bramho Samaj.


  1. ^ a b Prior to 1970, the Indian National Science Academy was named the "National Institute of Sciences of India", and its fellows bore the post-nominal "FNI". The post-nominal became "FNA" in 1970 when the association adopted its present name.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "P C Roy and Modern Science". Frontier Weekly. Retrieved 10 October 2012.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Obituary: Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray". Journal of the Indian Chemical Society. XXI: 253–260. 1944.
  3. ^ Uma Dasgupta (2011). Science and Modern India: An Institutional History, C. 1784–1947. Pearson Education India. p. 137. ISBN 978-81-317-2818-5.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Majumdar, Sisir K. (2011). "Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray: A Scientist, Teacher, Author and a Patriotic Entrepreneur" (PDF). Indian Journal of History of Science. 46.3: 523–533.
  5. ^ a b c d e J. Lourdusamy (1 January 2004). Science and National Consciousness in Bengal: 1870–1930. Orient Blackswan. pp. 145–. ISBN 978-81-250-2674-7. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Ray, P. (1944). "Prafulla Chandra Ray: 1861-1944" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Indian National Science Academy. 1: 58–76.
  7. ^ Ray, Prafulla Chandra (1937). Ātmacaritra আত্মচরিত [Autobiography] (PDF) (in Bengali). Calcutta. p. 43.
  8. ^ a b c Patrick Petitjean; Catherine Jami; Anne Marie Moulin (1992). Science and Empires: Historical Studies about Scientific Development and European Expansion. Springer. pp. 66–. ISBN 978-0-7923-1518-6. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  9. ^ "List of Past General Presidents". Indian Science Congress Association. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  10. ^ "A History of Hindu Chemistry".
  11. ^ "'The History of Hindu Chemistry' A Critical Review" (PDF). Ancient Science of Life. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  12. ^ "No. 28617". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 1912. p. 4300.
  13. ^ "No. 31099". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1918. p. 106.
  14. ^ a b "List of Foundation Fellows" (PDF). Indian National Science Academy. 1935. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  15. ^ The Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science: Annual Report for the Year 1943. 1943. p. 2.
  16. ^ "Annual Convocation". University of Calcutta. Archived from the original on 28 May 2012.
  17. ^ "University and Educational Intelligence" (PDF). Current Science. 4.10: 114. August 1936.
  18. ^ "University and Educational Intelligence" (PDF). Current Science. 6.6: 313. December 1937.
  19. ^ "Royal society honour for father of Indian chemistry P C Ray". Times of India. PTI. 30 September 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2018.

External links[edit]