(14 November 1891-10 April 1949), an Indian paleobotanist
who studied the fossils
of the Indian subcontinent, was also a geologist
who took an interest in archaeology
. He founded the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany in Lucknow
The third son of Ishwar Devi and Lala Ruchi Ram Sahani, Birbal Sahni was born in Behra, Saharanpur District, West Punjab, on 14 November, 1891. Among the frequent guests of his parents were Motilal Nehru, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Sarojini Naidu, and Madan Mohan Malaviya. He was also influenced into science by his grandfather who owned a banking business at Dera Ismail Khan and conducted amateur research in chemistry. He got his early education in India at Government College University, Lahore (where his father worked) and Punjab University (1911). He learnt botany under S. R. Kashyap. He graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1914. He later studied under Professor A. C. Seward, and was awarded the D.Sc. degree of the University of London in 1919.
In 1917, Sahni joined Professor Seward to work on a 'Revision of Indian Gondwana plants' (1920, Palaeontologica Indica). In 1919 he briefly worked in Munich under the German plant morphologist Goebel. In 1920 he married Savitri Suri, daughter of Sunder Das Suri who was an Inspector of Schools in Punjab. Savitri took an interest in his work and was a constant companion.
Sahni returned to India and served as Professor of Botany
at Banaras Hindu University
, Varanasi and Punjab University
for about a year. He was appointed the first Professor and Head of the Botany Department of the Lucknow University
in 1921. The University of Cambridge
recognized his researches by the award of the degree of Sc. D. in 1929. In 1932 Palaeontologica Indica
included his account of the Bennettitalean plant that he named Williamsonia Sewardi
, and another description of a new type of petrified wood, Homoxylon
, bearing resemblance to the wood of a living homoxylous angiosperm, but from the Jurassic age. During the following years he not only continued his investigations but collected around him a group of devoted students from all parts of the country and built up a reputation for the University which soon became the first Center for botanical and palaeobotanical investigations in India. He was a founder of 'The Paleobotanical Society
which established the Institute of Palaeobotany on 10 September
which initially functioned in the Botany Department of Lucknow University but later moved to its present premises at 53 University Road, Lucknow in 1949. On 3 April
the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru
laid the foundation stone of the new building of the Institute. A week later, on 10 April
, Sahni succumbed to a heart attack.
Sahni was recognized by several academies and institutions in India and abroad for his research. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (FRS) in 1936, the highest British scientific honor, awarded for the first time to an Indian botanist. He was elected Vice-President, Palaeobotany section, of the 5th and 6th International Botanical Congresses of 1930 and 1935, respectively; General President of the Indian Science Congress for 1940; President, National Academy of Sciences, India, 1937-1939 and 1943-1944. In 1948 he was elected an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Another high honor which came to him was his election as an Honorary President of the International Botanical Congress, Stockholm in 1950, but he died before he could serve.
After his demise, Sahni's samadhi was placed within the Institute of Paleobotany as a reminder of his groundbreaking work.
- 1915. Foreign pollen in the ovules of Ginkgo and its significance in the study of fossil plants. New Phytol. 14 (4 and 5), 149-151.
- 1915. The anatomy of Nephrolepis volzibilis J. Sim, with remarks on the biology and morphology of the genus. New Phytol. 14 (8 and 9), 251-274.
- 1916. The vascular anatomy of the tubers of Nephrolepis. New Phytol. 15 (3 and 4), 72-80.
- 1917. Observations on the evolution of branching in the Filicales. New Phytol. 16 (1 and 2), 1-23.
- 1919. (With J. C. WILLIS.) Lawson's text book of botany. London: Univ. Tut. Press.
- 1919. On an Australian specimen of Clepsydropsis. Ann. Bot. 33 (129), 81-92.
- 1920. (With A. C. SEWARD) Indian Gondwana plants: a revision. Mem. Geol. Surv. Ind. Pal. Ind. 7 (I), 1-40.
- 1921. A stem impression from the plant-bearing beds near Khunmu (Kashmir), provisionally referred to Gangamopteris Kashmirensis Seward. Proc. (8th Ind. Sci. Cong. Cal.) Asiat. Sac. Beng. (N.S.), 17 (4), 200.
- 1921. The present position of Indian Palaeobotany. Pres. Add. 8th Ind. Sci. Cong. Cal. Proc. Asiat. Sac. Bengal (N.S.), 17 (4), 152-175.
- 1924. On the anatomy of some petrified plants from the Government Museum, Madras. Proc. 11th Ind. Sci. Cong. Bangalore, p. 141.
- 1925. The ontogeny of vascular plants and the theory of recapitulation. J. Ind. Bat. Soc. 4 (6), 202-216.
- 1925. (With E. J. BRADSHAW) A fossil tree in the Panchet Series of the Lower Gondwanas near Asansol. Rec. Geol. Surv. Ind. 58 (I), 77-79.
- 1931. On certain fossil epiphytic ferns found on the stems of the Palaeozoic tree-fern Psaronius. Proc. 18th Ind. Sci. Cong. Nagpur, p. 270.
- 1931. Materials for a monograph of the Indian petrified palms. Proc. Acad. Sci. U.P. 1, 140-144.
- 1932. Homoxylon rajmalzalense gen. et sp. nov., a fossil angiospermous wood, devoid of vessels, from the Rajmahal Hills, Behar. Mem. Geol. Sura. Ind. Pal. Ind. 20 (2), 1-19.
- 1932. A petrified Williamsonia (W. Sewardiana, sp. nov.) from the Rajmahal Hills, India. Mem. Geol. Sura. Ind. Pal. Ind. 20 (3), 1-19.
- 1933. (With A. R. RAO.) On some Jurassic plants from the Rajmahal hills. J. Asiat. Soc. Bengal (N.S.), 27 (2), 183-208.
- 1933. Explosive fruits in Viscum japonicum Thunb. J. Ind. Bat. Soc. 12 (2), 96-101.
- 1934. (With B. P. SRIVASTAVTA) Thee silicified flora of the Deccan Intertrappean Series. Pt. 3. Sausarospermum Fermori. gen. et sp. nov. Proc. 21st Ind. Sci. Cong. Bombay, p. 318.
- 1934. Dr S. K. Mukerji, F.L.S. (1896-1934). (Obituary.) J. Ind. Bot. Soc. 13 (3), 245-249.
- 1934. (With A. R. RAO.) Rajmahalia paradoxa gen. et sp. nov. and other Jurassic plants from the Rajmahal hills. Proc. Ind. Acad. Sci. 1 (6), 258-269.
- 1934. Dr Dukinfied Henry Scott. (Obituary). Curr. Sci. 2 (lo), 392-395.
- 1934. The Deccan Traps: Are they Cretaceous or Tertiary? Curr. Sci. 3 (lo), 392-395.
- 1935. The relations of the Indian Gondwana flora with those of Siberia and China. Proc. 2nd Cong. of Curb. Stratig. Heerlen, Holland. Compte Rendti I,517-518.
- 1935. Homoxylon and related woods and the origin of angiosperms. Proc. 6th Int. Bat. Cong. Amsterdam, 2, 237-238.
- 1935. The Glossopteris flora in India. Proc. 6th Int. Bat. Cong. Amsterdam, 2, 245-248.
- 1936. The Karewas of Kashmir. Curr. Sci. 5 (I), 10-16.
- 1936. The Himalayan uplift since the advent of Man: its culthistorical significance. Curr. Sci. 5 (I), 10-16.
- 1936. A clay seal and sealing of the Sunga period from the Khokra Kot mound (Rohtak). Curr. Sci. 5 (2), 80-81.
- 1936. A supposed Sanskrit seal from Rohtak: A correction. Curr. Sci. 5 (4), 206-215.
- 1936. Wegener's theory of continental drift in the light of palaeobotanical evidence. J. Ind. Bot. Soc. 15 (5), 319-322.
- 1936. The Gondwana affinities of the Angara flora in the light of geological evidence. Nature, 138 (3499, 720-721.
- 1937. Speculations on the climates of the Lower Gondwanas of India. Proc. 17th Int. Geol. Cong. Moscow, pp. 217-218.
- 1937. An appreciation of the late Sir J. C. Bose. Sci. & Cult. 31 (6), 346-347.
- 1937. Professor K. K. Mathur. (Obituary). Curr. Sci. 5 (7), 365-366.
- 1937. Revolutions in the plant world. (Pres. Add.) Proc. Nut. Acad. Sci. Ind. 46-60.
- 1937. The age of the Deccan Trap. (General Discussion.) Proc. 24th Ind. Sci. Cong. Hyderabad, pp. 464-468.
- 1937. Wegener's theory of continental drift with reference to India and adjacent countries. (General discussion.) Proc. 24th Ind. Sci. Cong. Hyderabad, pp. 502-506.
- 1938. (With K. P. RODE.)Fossil plants from the Deccan Intertrappean beds at Mohgaon Kalan, C.P., with a note on the geological position of the plant-bearing beds. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. Ind. 7 (3), 165-174.
- 1938. Recent advances in Indian Palaeobotany. (Pres. Add. Botany Section.) Proc. 25th Ind. Sci. Cong. Jubil. Sess. Calcutta (2), 133-176; and Luck. Univ. Stud. (2), 1-100.
- 1940. The Deccan Traps: an episode of the Tertiary era. (Gen. Pres. Add.) 27th Ind. Sci. Cong. Mad. (2), pp. 1-21. Prakrati, 3 (I), 15-35. 1944 (Gujrati trans.). Prabuddha Karnataka, 22 (2), 5-19 (Kanares trans. by H. S. Rao).
- 1941. Permanent labels for microscope slides. Curr. Sci. 10 (1 I), 485-486.
- 1942. 'A short history of the plant sciences' and 'The cytoplasm of the plant cell'. Reviews. Curr. Sci. 11 (9), 369-372.
- 1944. (With B. S. TRIVEDI.) The age of the Saline Series in the Punjab Salt Range. Nature, 153, 54.
- 1945. The technique of casting coins in ancient India. Mem. Numis. Sac. Ind. (I), 1-68.
- 1945. Obituary Note on B. P. Srivastava. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. Ind. 15 (6), 185-187.
- 1946. A museum of evolution. Curr. Sci. 15 (4), 99-100.
- 1948. The prospects of palynology in India. Svensk. Bot. Tidskr. 42 (4), 474-477.
- 1948. The Pentoxyleae: a new group of Jurassic gymnosperms from the Rajmahal Hills of India. Bot. Gaz. 110 (I), 47-80.