No Chemistry Student reads about P.C Ray who happens to be Father of Pharmaceuticals & Chemical Science in India
No Chemistry Student knows about the 2 Volume Masterpiece on Ancient Hindu chemistry.
Ray’s seminal work — A History Of Hindu Chemistry From The Earliest Times To The Middle Of The Sixteenth Century A.D —which revealed to the world the path-breaking advances made by ancient Bharatiya scientists.
Today is the Jayanti of Acharya P C Ray, a brilliant scientist,
educationist, historian, entrepreneur, philanthropist & a freedom fighter in his own way.
Ray was such a fierce nationalist, he used to tell his students at Calcutta’s Presidency College with “Science can wait, SWARAJ cannot” call.
Born to Harish Chandra Ray, Bhubanmohini Devi in Bangladesh on August 2, 1861, Prafulla attended a school founded by his family till he was 9. Later, the family moved to Calcutta where he and his elder brother enrolled at the Hare School. In 1874, a severe attack of dysentery forced him to leave the school.
For the rest of his life, he was very strict about his food; and he had regular exercise.
He absorbed himself in biographies, articles on science, history, geography, Greek, Latin, French and Sanskrit.
He completed matriculation from Albert School in 1879 and enrolled in Vidyasagar College but since it did not offer science courses, he attended lectures in physics and chemistry at the Presidency College.
Ray graduated from the University of Edinburgh before completing his doctoral studies and returning to Bharat in August 1888. The next year, he started teaching chemistry at Presidency College.
Meanwhile, after returning to Bharat, Prafulla came to realize that the drugs for Indian patients had to come from foreign countries at that time & required capital of only 800Rs, but it became difficult to raise even this small amount.
In spite of all these difficulties he founded ‘The Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works’.
Directly or indirectly he helped to start many other factories. Textile mills, soap factories, sugar factories, chemical industries, ceramic factories, and publishing houses were set up at the time with his active co-operation.
He was the driving force behind the industrialization of the country, which began at that time.
There was much thought that Indians were backward in scientific knowledge & had received it only recently from the West. But Prafulla Chandra said
that Indians knew little about their history. They did not know much about the devotion and industry with which our ancestors developed knowledge.
PC Ray from the beginning was interested in the work of the early Hindu chemists. After reading the famous book ‘Greek Alchemy’ by the great French scientist Berthelot his interest in Hindu Chemistry grew into a passion. He started reading many ancient books in Sanskrit, Pali, Bengali, and other languages which contained information on the subject. He wrote an article about a famous Sanskrit treatise ‘Rasendrasara Sangraha’, sent it to Berthelot.
Berthelot published it with an introduction praising it as an extremely interesting article. He wrote to Prafulla asking him to continue his research into the ancient texts & to publish a whole book on Hindu Chemistry.
After several years of study, Ray published his famous book, ‘The History of Hindu Chemistry’. In this book, he has given a very interesting account to show that Hindu scientists knew about the manufacture of steel, about distillation, salts, mercury sulfides, etc… from very early times.
Ray said on one occasion that when the people of Europe did not know how to make clothes and were still wearing animal skins and wandering in forests, Indian scientists were manufacturing wonderful chemicals. This is something we should be proud of.
But Prafulla also knew that it is not enough to be proud of our past. We should follow the example of our ancestors, seek knowledge & progress in science.
Ray wasn’t content & came with the 2nd volume of his Magnum Opus – Hindu Chemistry.
The 2 volume book, 1st published in 1902 & 2nd in 1907 busted the myth that modern-day chemistry owes its origins to the alchemists of western Europe who derived their knowledge from the Arabs. Acharya Ray proved that the Arabs, in turn, had derived their knowledge of rasashastra (as chemistry is called in Sanskrit) from ancient Hindus.
His book reveals that in the 800 CE, the caliphs of Baghdad ordered extensive translation of Ayurvedic texts into Arabic, Persian and sent many of their renowned scholars to India to study Ayurveda.
Ray conclusively proved that the Greeks, too, derived their knowledge of the sciences from the ancient Hindus. For instance, the ancient Hindus had solved the 47th proposition of the first book of Euclid 200 years before the Pythogoras.
Ray’s book highlights the surgical, medical treatises of Susruta and Charaka in the pre-Buddhist era. Ray discovered,
and wrote about, a highly interesting gathering of medical experts and alchemists from other ancient civilisations “somewhere in the Himalayas” around 1000 BCE!
In the preface to the 2nd volume, Ray very authoritatively states: “Ancient Hindu astronomy and mathematics were not less advanced than those of Tycho Brahe, Cardan and Fermat; the anatomy was equal to that of Vesalius, the Hindu logic and methodology more advanced than that of Ramus, and equal on the whole to Bacon’s; the physico-chemical theories as to combustion, heat, chemical affinity,
clearer, more rational, and more original than those of Van Helmont or Stahl; and the Grammar, whether of Sanskrit or Prākrit, the most scientific and comprehensive in the world before Bopp, Rask and Grimm”.
In 1916 he retired from the Presidency College.
A prolific scientist, he wrote 107 papers in all branches of chemistry by 1920. He was knighted in 1919, and founded the Indian School of Chemistry (the first chemical research institute in the country) in 1924.
After Presidency, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, appointed him as professor of Chemistry at the University Science College.
Prafulla worked here for 20 years. He remained a bachelor all his life. All these 20 yrs he lived in a simple room on the first floor of the college. Some of his students who were poor and could not live anywhere else shared his room.
In 1936, when he was 75, he retired from the Professorship. In 1921, when he reached 60, he donated, in advance, all his salary for the rest of his service in the University to the development of the Dept of Chemistry + Creation of two research fellowships.
The value of this endowment was about two lakh rupees. Besides, he gave ten thousand rupees for an annual research prize in Chemistry named after the great Indian Chemist Nagarjuna and another ten thousand for a research prize in Biology named after Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee.
In 1932 he wrote his autobiography in English and named it ‘The Life and Experience of a Bengali Chemist’. It was praised everywhere.
Later, he translated it into Bengali. The book was called ‘Atma Charita’.
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 used to repeat the Sanskrit saying, ‘A man may desire victory always but he should welcome defeat at the hands of his disciples’.
Famous Indian scientists like Meghnad Saha & Shanthi Swarup Bhatnagar were among his students.
A Gandhi follower, he began to spin a yarn with the Charaka at least for an hour every day. Till the end of his life, he used to wear only Khadi clothes.
In his 75th year, Acharya 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.