Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy : The pioneer of Bengal chemicals

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy : The pioneer of Bengal chemicals

Saptaparna Chakraborty

Born on 2nd August, 1861, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray was the youngest son of Bhubanmohini Devi and Harish Chandra Ray. He was born in the village of Raruli – Katipara, Jessore district, which is presently in Khulna, Bangladesh.

Ray family moved to Calcutta when he was 9 years old and he attended the Hare school there. But he fell ill and returned to Raruli in 1874. He became insomniac and weak and had permanent digestive issues. While he was recovering, he read books from the library that was made by his father in their village house. He enjoyed reading literature, Bengali, History, Geography, Science, Latin, French and Sanskrit.

After two years i.e in 1876, he returned to Calcutta and passed his metriculation examination with First Division from Albert School after which he joined Metropolitan Institution, later renamed as Vidyasagar College.

Although Ray was primarily interested in languages but it was Alexander Pedler – an inspiring lecturer and experimentalist, whose Physics and Chemistry lectures delivered at Presidency College, where Ray was an external student, inspired him to take Science. Ray was so much interested that he even set up a mini laboratory and started replicating one of Pedler’s experiment but the results were faulty.

After obtaining F.A diploma from University of Calcutta, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray when to University of Edinburgh at the age of 21. It was the year 1882, August. After getting Gilchrist Scholarship, he completed his B.Sc and D.Sc degrees. He was awarded a D. Sc. in 1887 and the “Hope Prize” for his thesis on “Conjugated Sulphates of the Copper-Magnesium Group: A Study of Isomorphous Mixtures and Molecular Combinations”.

Not only he published about 150 scientific research papers in his lifetime, he was also a visionary and philanthropist. In 1888, he chose to return to India and worked with Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose. In 1889, he was appointed as Assistant Professor in Chemistry at Presidency College.

He firmly belived that India would progress when we will have our own industries and with that vision, finally in 1901, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray set up his very humble “Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceutical Works Ltd” in a house that he rented at 91 Upper Circular Road, Culcutta. He started with only Rs. 700.

Ray was the pioneer in establishing the first Indian company to manufacture its own chemicals. It includes drugs, pharmaceuticals, homs products, fire extinguishers, talcum powder, toothpaste, glycerine soap, carbonic soap etc. that were in demand during that time. Slowly the company evolved and became the leading chemical and medicine producing industry.

After much research he published his “The History of Hindu Chemistry” in two volumes,in 1902 and 1908 respectively. In 1916, he joined Culcutta University after retiring from Presidency College. He was elected as Indian Science Congress President in 1920. He published the two volumes of his autobiography in 1932 and 1936 titled “Life and Experiences of a Bengal Chemist”. He retired as an professor emeritus in 1936 at the age of 75. He is regarded as “Father of Indian Chemistry”.

He worked for his country till death and was against caste system and other irrational systems.

During this recent COVID-19 crisis, Bengal Chemicals got clearance by Government of India to produce “hydroxy chloroquine” which is helpful for treating COVID-19 patients as recommended by ICMR.

As an honour to him, the Chemistry department of our Assam University is named as “Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray Department of Chemistry”.

On his birth anniversary, we pay our humble tribute to this great scientist and visionary.