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In communion with the cosmos

Dr. B.G. Sidharth's fascination for the universe led him to pursue astronomy and popularise it. Through planetariums, he has been able to engender a scientific temper among children and adults alike.


I HAD a long stint in Calcutta having studied and worked there. My affair with the cosmos started right from my student days. Although I did my PhD in Applied Mathematics, the events in the Sixties inspired my interest in the cosmos. The launch of Sputnik I and the Pioneer space craft to the planets and Yuri Gagarin's space voyage motivated me to pursue astronomy.

I came to Hyderabad in 1984 to settle down. By then, I had a long stint of 18 years with the planetarium in Calcutta. Popularising astronomy had been an enriching experience. Making planetarium programmes was my forte. But now I was looking to get back to serious academics. However, he who is destined to will not drown. Back again I was with the B.M.Birla Planetarium, Hyderabad, practically with the laying of the first bricks.

Those were interesting and even suspenseful days. The least of the problems were - getting the structure of the planetarium ready, getting the instrument installed, testing out the various equipment, and preparing the first astronomical presentations. For me the big question was, how would the response be? After all, the planetarium was a brand new concept in the city.

Finally the day came for launching the B.M. Birla Planetarium. Amidst hectic activity and the usual stoppage of heartbeats the facility was thrown open to the public sometime around September 15,1985. And we couldn't control the flood of people! Not just our marketing but also the extremely positive and supportive role played by the press had worked. Then the word of mouth took over. Soon I started hearing from many people the phrase. "It's no use going to the planetarium - we have to wait for hours for a ticket.''

Over the years, two features have stood out. First, there has been undiminished enthusiasm to visit the planetarium. Second, any number of Indian and foreign visitors have written, unsolicited, in our visitors' book that the planetarium was better than the one they saw in one western city or another. The continuing enthusiasm is of course due to the fact that Hyderabad is an alive and kicking middle class city. Parents, in particular, would like their children to be science and technology savvy, and this spirit has permeated to the school managements also. And then the programming in the planetarium has been imaginative, catering to the scientific taste of the people.

Further, we have been lucky enough to host a galaxy of great scientists and astronomers from all over the world, the likes of Sir Fred Hoyle, Sir Hermann Bondi, Nobel Laureates Prof. William Fowler, Anthony Hewish and many others. Their lectures have been received with tremendous enthusiasm. The press too contributed its very positive role, and this has not only helped the planetarium, but it has also engendered the scientific temper, as indeed has been incorporated in our constitution itself by our founding fathers. All this has made an important landmark possible. The number of visitors has reached the ten million mark.

I have been involved in research in the fields of theoretical Physics, Astrology, Cosmology, Ancient Indian Astronomy and chronology and have presented several papers in international fora and published articles in several international journals.

Looking back, this has been a source of great satisfaction to me personally. Astronomy, and the universe at large have always fascinated me and it has been a pleasure to be able to communicate some of this excitement, some of these cosmic perspectives to people at large.

(The writer is the Director of the B.M. Birla Planetarium.)


Photo: P. V. Sivakumar

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