Prafulla Chandra Roy

Prafulla Chandra Roy (প্রফুল্ল চন্দ্র রায়) was a Bengali academician, a distinguished chemist and entrepreneur. He was born on August 2, 1861 in the village Raruli-Katipara in Khulna District (now in Bangladesh) and died on June 16, 1944. He was the founder of Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals, India's first pharmaceutical company.

Early life

His father Haris Chandra Ray was a land proprietor. Up to age of nine, Prafulla Chandra studied in a school in his village. Then his family migrated to Calcutta and there he studied in Hare School. While studying in Hare School, he suffered from a severe attack of dysentery, which hampered his health throughout his life. Later, he studied at Albert School, Calcutta.

In 1879 he passed the Entrance Examination of the Calcutta University and entered the Metropolitan Institution. P.C.Roy developed his interest in science after reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and his famous ‘kite experiment’. At that time the Metropolitan Institution had no science classes or laboratories and Prafulla Chandra attended lectures in physics and chemistry at the Presidency College, Calcutta. Here he was specially attracted by the chemistry courses of professor Alexander Pedler. It was Pedler who first awakened his interest in natural science. While taking the science course for the B.A. Degree, he was awarded in 1882 one of the two Gilchrist Prize Scholarships after an all-India competitive examination. Without completing the course for his degree, Prafulla Chandra proceeded to the United Kingdom for further study and entered the Edinburgh University. In Chemistry, he was a pupil of Professor Alexander Crum Brown, F.R.S., noted for his philosophical outlook and engaging personality. Alexander Smith and James Walker were his fellow students. He obtained the B.Sc. degree in 1886, and the D.Sc. degree in 1887. He was awarded the Hope Prize. While being a student of Edinburgh University, he was elected Vice-President of Edinburgh University Chemical Society in 1888.


Prafulla Chandra returned to India in 1889 and joined Presidency College, Calcutta as Assistant Professor of Chemistry. He was reputed as a successful, inspiring and popular teacher. Also, he was surrounded by a group of dedicated research students . Though at that time, the Chemistry department of Presidency College did not boast of any well-equipped world standard laboratory, but a lot of original chemical experimentation occurred there.

In 1896, he published an important paper on preparation of a new stable chemical compound: mercurous nitrite. This pathbreaking work made way for a large number of investigative papers on nitrites and hyponitrites of different metals, and on nitrites of ammonia and organic amines. All this endeavour along with his inspiring leadership gave birth to a brand new Indian School of Chemistry in 1924.

Prafulla Chandra retired from the Presidency College in 1916, and joined the University College of Science (now known as Rajabazar Science College) as its first Palit Professor of Chemistry, a chair named after Tarak Nath Palit. Here also he got a dedicated team and he started working on compounds of gold, platinum, iridium etc. with mercaptyl radicals and organic sulphides. A number of papers were published on this work in the Journal of the Indian Chemical Society.

In 1936, at the age of 75, he retired from active service and became Professor Emeritus. Long before that, on the completion of his 60th year in 1921, he made a free gift of his entire salary to the Calcutta University from that date onward, to be spent for the furtherance of chemical research, and the development of the Department of Chemistry in the University College of Science.

His contributions in the field of Chemistry were widely acclaimed. He had written 107 papers in all branches of Chemistry by 1920.


He realized that advancement of Indian and its people can happen only by economic advancement through development of new industries on scientific lines. He showed the way by investing his own money into forming Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works in 1893. This company culminated into the pioneer of chemical industry in India. In 1902, it became a limited company and grew up under his guidance.

Literary works and interests

Prafulla Chandra Ray was well-versed in literature, history, and philosophy. Shakespeare, Tagore, and Michael Madhusudan Dutt were his favourite poets, from whose works he could quote extensively. He was also very fond of the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle; a copy of Emerson's Works was a constant companion. He contributed articles in Bengali to many monthly magazines, particularly on scientific topics. He published the first volume of his autobiography Life and Experience of a Bengali Chemist in 1932, and dedicated it to the youth of India. The second volume of this work was issued in 1935.

In 1902, he published the first volume of A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Sixteenth Century. The second volume was published in 1908. The work was result of many years' painstaking search through ancient Sanskrit manuscripts and through works of orientalists.

Social service

In 1923, Northern Bengal suffered a devastating flood which made caused millions of people homeless and hungry. Prafulla Chandra organized Bengal Relief Committee, which collected nearly 2.5 million rupees in cash and kind and distributed it in the affected area in an organized manner. His charity was not bounded by any consideration of personal comfort or well-being. He gave away freely for the poor and needy.

He donated 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 Ashutosh Mukherjee, to be awarded for the best work in zoology or botany, was established from his donation.


He earned his Ph.D. at Calcutta University in 1908. He received a honorary D.Sc. degree from Durham University in 1912, and another from Dacca University in 1936. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1911 and received the Knighthood in 1917. He was Honorary Fellow of the Chemical Society and Deutsche Akademie, Munich. He was president of the 1920 session of the Indian Science Congress.


He remained a bachelor throughout his life who took active participation in politics. He led a simple life staying in a room in the University College of Science. He could get along with young and old alike and was loved by all. His punctuality and work ethics earned respect of people around him. He never enjoyed good health, but had a strong determination and will power.

His family, in particular, his father Harish Chandra Roy, was strongly associated with Brahmo Samaj. Prafulla Chandra developed direct connections with the Samaj as he grew up; he used to attend sunday evening sermons of Keshub Chandra Sen and was deeply influenced by Sen's Sulabha Samachar.


Tagore, when presiding over his seventieth birthday celebration, said:
It is stated in the Upanishads that The One said, 'I shall be Many'. The beginning of Creation is a move towards self-immolation. Prafulla Chandra has become many in his pupils and made his heart alive in the hearts of many. And that would not have been at all possible had he not unreservedly made a gift of himself. The glory of this power in Prafulla Chandra as teacher will never be worn out by decrepitude. It will extend further in time through the ever-growing intelligence of youthful hearts ; by steady perseverance they will win new treasures of knowledge.
This summarizes the effect and influence that Prafulla Chandra had on his followers and countrymen.

Acharya Prafulla Chandra College and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray Polytechnic, both in Kolkata, are named after him.


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