A towering scientist and his love for Bengaluru

Raman Research Institute, set up by C.V. Raman, who passed away 45 years ago, remains testimony to his love for science and Bengaluru.

November 21, 2015 08:22 am | Updated 08:22 am IST - Bengaluru:

The Nobel laureate explaining the phenomenon discovered by him, the Raman Effect., and (above) C.V. Raman on his institute premises.  Photo courtesy: Raman Research Institute

The Nobel laureate explaining the phenomenon discovered by him, the Raman Effect., and (above) C.V. Raman on his institute premises. Photo courtesy: Raman Research Institute

Perched in full bloom of yellow flowers that attempts to reach the cloudy skies, the Roseodendron tree towers among its neighbours — perhaps apt, for it carries with it the memory of a scientist who once towered over others in the country, and even now, continues to affect the scientific landscape of the city.

It was at this very spot, where the tree now stands in all its glory in the Raman Research Institute (RRI), that Sir C.V. Raman — the country’s second Nobel laureate and the State’s only winner of the highest scientific prize — was cremated in a simple ceremony exactly 45 years ago.

At the RII, an institute that remains testimony to his love for science and the city, archives show the overwhelming letters of anxieties and words of comfort that poured in after his hospitalisation following a heart attack in October 1970. A month later, on the morning of November 21, 1970, he passed away.

While Raman’s scientific achievement rings in every textbook of the country, his love for Bengaluru also becomes apparent. He harboured a desire to start his own institute, and eventually led to the formation of the RRI in 1948. “He spent a lot of money on this institute. While some land was given as a grant, he spent Rs. 75,000 to buy five more acres. The main building was constructed for Rs. 35,000 — all princely amounts,” says K. Krishnama Raju, who is with the RRI Trust.

An original brochure from Raman’s attempt to raise Rs. 10 lakh for the institute in 1934 starts off with the words, “In beautiful Bangalore”, and describes the to-be-constructed campus as being close to one of the historic Kempe Gowda towers (near Mehkri Circle) and with a “panoramic view of Bangalore” for miles.

A majority of Raman’s savings and lands purchased — some 84.5 acres in the city — has been dedicated to the institute and the trust by the scientist and his equally humble children, Mr. Raju says.

At an undisclosed location of Bengaluru — a secure safe — is the Nobel medal received by Raman nearly 85 years ago.

What if great scientists had come to India?

At the start of the Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe, many people, including eminent Jewish scientists, were dislodged from their homes and were seeking a country to adopt. Herein, C.V. Raman saw an opportunity to attract the best of community towards Indian Institute of Science — a fledgling institute where the Nobel laureate had just been made the first Indian director in 1933. Quantum physicist Max Born was brought to India by Raman after a payment of Rs. 9,000.

With discontent brewing after the appointment of Raman, the Irving committee, which was set up to look into the functioning of the institute, found the scientist had “not done enough” to reduce the expenditures of the institute — a reference to the intensive gardening on IISc. campus and the appointment of Born. The report saw Raman leave IISc., while, Born left for England — a beautiful, heartfelt send-off letter from his “admirers and students” of the IISc. was recently found by the RRI Trust. The quantum physicist eventually won the Nobel Prize in the U.K.

“The committee was a way to force out the Indian director as they talked only to those who opposed Raman… if he had his way, who knows how many great scientists would have come to the IISc.,” says K. Krishnama Raju from the RRI Trust.


Raman’s legacy as a children’s museum

By the side of a footpath nearly covered by street vendors and hungry customers in Malleswaram, is an unassuming plaque bearing the name ‘C.V. Raman’ on one side of the gate and ‘Panchavati’ on the other.

The 2.5-acre plot of old, verdant green trees was home to the Nobel laureate from the mid-40s. On weekends, Raman and his family would travel by tonga to Hemmigepura, where they owned a 65-acre estate, says K. Krishnama Raju, who works at the RRI Trust.

After Raman’s death, the bungalow was let out for public schools and for workshops on science to children. It, however, remains out of the public eye — with The Hindu’s correspondent being only the second visitor to the place in a week.

“The long-term ambition is to convert it to a children’s science museum. The trust is brainstorming on the ideas and themes for the museum, and then we can start raising funds for it,” says Mr. Raju.

The lush area, untouched by the wave of modernisation that has swept through the locality, remains an important memory of the area’s most important personality, says Poornima Dasharathi, who conducts a historical and culture guided tour that covers Raman’s house.

“The house has a charm that carries with it his personality. He personally planted most of the trees and the estate shows his love for colour and music,” she says.


A successful businessman too

C.V. Raman was not just astute in his scientific observations, but was also a shrewd businessman. He formed the Travancore Chemical and Manufacturing Co. Ltd., while he invested in other chemicals. The primary reason, says K. Krishnama Raju, who is aiding the archiving of Raman’s life, was to make money to fund the start of the Raman Research Institute. “At one point of time, he got 200 per cent dividend, which he invested entirely in the institute. He ensured he kept the company finances away from the RRI, but, whatever he made personally, he would invest in the institute,” he says.


Where is the commemoration event?

During a visit to the Raman Research Institute in late August, Union Minister of Science Harsh Vardhan talked to reporters on the importance of spreading the life and times of C.V. Raman. One of the ways, he said, was to organise a programme in mid-November — as, November 7 marked Raman’s 127th birth anniversary, while November 21 is his 45th death anniversary. He had assured of funds and support for such a programme.

In the intervening days, the idea seems to have received a quiet death, with officials of the RRI saying they had not received any communication from the Union government in this regard.


Timeline: Raman and Bengaluru

November 7, 1888: Born in present-day Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu

March 16, 1928: For a programme at Central College in Bangalore, C.V. Raman was invited as the chief guest. He announces the phenomenon discovered by him, the Raman Effect.

1930: Wins the Nobel Prize for his discovery; first from Asia to win the prize for sciences

1933: Becomes the director of the Indian Institute of Science. During his term, he undertakes extensive planting on the campus and attempts to bring in fleeing Jewish scientists from Nazi Germany.

1934: Founds the Indian Academy of Sciences (now on C.V. Raman Road). Starts to raise funds for what is now the Raman Research Institute.

1938: Irving committee reviews and removes C.V. Raman as IISc. director owing to his “inability to contain expenditure” on gardening and on a German scientist.

1943: Forms manufacturing companies, to fund the RRI

1948: On retirement from IISc., he forms the RRI. He remains its director till his death.

November 21, 1970: Dies in Bengaluru. His body is cremated in front of the Raman Research Institute main building

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.