Acharya Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray: Father of Indian Chemistry
Acharya Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray, popularly known as ‘Father of Indian Chemistry’ also known as ‘Father of Indian Chemical Science’ well-known scientist, a great human being, legendry personality and first ‘modern’ Indian chemical researcher, was born on 2 August 1861. From childhood, he was a brilliant student and in 1882, Prafulla Chandra won a scholarship at Edinburgh University, UK and subsequently was awarded Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in 1887. He discovered the stable compound mercurous nitrite in 1896 and established Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Limited in 1901, first pharmaceutical company of India.
From UK, he returned to India in August 1888 and subsequently joined Presidency College, Calcutta as Assistant Professor of Chemistry in 1889 and worked there up to 1916, and subsequently joined Calcutta University College of Science (also known as Rajabazar Science College) as its first “Palit Professor of Chemistry”, a Chair named after Taraknath Palit (Taraknath was born in 1831 in then Calcutta, the only son of a millionaire, who donated money to set up the Chair). Since Dr Roy got a dedicated team so fully involved in research and worked on compounds of gold, platinum, iridium etc. Altogether 107 research papers of all branches of Chemistry were published based on his research works up to 1920. In 1936, at the age of 75, Dr. Ray retired from active service and became Professor Emeritus.
Anyway Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray and the company established by him Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Limited in present days is in the news because of the medicine Hydroxychloroquine or HCQ, the anti-malarial drug publicized by some as a potential weapon against COVID-19. It may be mentioned that Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Limited, the only public sector unit manufactures anti-malarial drug in India started Hydroxychloroquine’s production long ago but was stopped decades ago. Again in view of COVID-19, the Company has obtained licence to produce Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ).
Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray was also a great human being and involved with many humanitarian activities. In 1923, people of Northern Bengal suffered awfully because of flood as sequel millions of people became homeless vis-à-vis hungry. Dr Prafulla Chandra organised Bengal Relief Committee, which collected nearly 2.5 million rupees in cash and kind and distributed in the affected area in an organised manner. Further, he was greatly motivated by his father and influenced by the Brahmo Samaj, a religious sect. It is pertinent to mention that the Brahmo Samaj literally denotes community (‘samaj’) and in reality Brahmo Samaj does not discriminate any one based on caste, creed or religion. Raja Ram Mohan Roy (22 May 1772 – 27 September 1833) was one of the founders of the Brahmo Samaj. In those days because of ‘ugly face’ of Brahmanism in Bengal many were fed up with Hinduism and thus Brahmo Samaj could penetrate among the common persons. Dr Prafulla Chandra used to donate money regularly towards welfare of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, Brahmo Girls’ School and Indian Chemical Society. In 1922, he donated money to establish Nagarjuna Prize to be awarded for the best work in chemistry. In 1937, another award, named after Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, to be awarded for the best work in zoology or botany, was established from his donation. Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee was a prolific Bengali educator, jurist, barrister and mathematician. He was often called “Banglar Bagh” (“Tiger of Bengal”) for his high self-esteem, courage, academic integrity and uncompromising attitude towards the British Government.
The Royal Society of Chemistry dedicated its prestigious Chemical Landmark plaque to Dr Ray in 2011, the first non-European selected on his 150th birth anniversary. In addition Dr Ray was awarded many laurels.
Although Dr Ray (remained bachelor) left for heavenly abode on 16 June 1944 at the age of 82 years but he will be remembered not only by Indians but people across the world for his enormous contribution in the field of Chemistry and establishment of Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Limited, only public sector undertaking authorised to produce Hydroxychloroquine or HCQ.
The author consulted following websites:
Dr. Shankar Chatterjee
Former Professor& Head (CPME)
NIRD &PR (Govt. of India),