The world looks best in a portrait mode. So does our website :)
Please tilt and enjoy the experience.

Card Result
We use cookies

to give you a better experience. By using our website you agree to our policies.

Jamsetji Tata and IISc

A Dream Fulfilled

The Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, a beacon of scientific learning and research in India, was envisioned by Jamsetji Tata and was brought to fruition after his death by his successors

March 2024     |     2941 words     |     11-minute read

Copy link Copy link
0 : 00 / 0:00
  • 0.5×
  • 0.75×
  • 1.25×
  • 1.5×

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) at Bangalore (now Bengaluru), a beacon for those seeking knowledge in science and engineering, envisioned by Jamsetji Tata, was brought to fruition after his death by his successors, following his resolute ambition and dedication.

Opposite the main building of the Institute stands a memorial to the Founder, a tribute to his relentless struggle that led to the birth of the Institute. The memorial was unveiled on March 10, 1922, by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wadiyar.

A special event was held at the IISc to mark 100 years of the JN Tata Memorial on March 17, 2023. N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons, and President of the IISc Court, presided over the function. This is the story of the struggle of wills between Jamsetji Tata and the British Government, in making his dream a reality and describes details about the impressive memorial of the Founder which celebrated 100 years.

N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons and President of the IISc Court with Director, Prof G Rangarajan and others at the JN Tata Memorial during the function held to commemorate 100 years of the memorial

The seeds of the plan to establish The Indian Institute of Science were sown in Jamsetji Tata’s mind at a time when there were no true institutions of higher learning in science and engineering in India. Jamsetji’s dream of setting up the IISc was greatly motivated by Lord Reay, Bombay’s popular Governor. During a Convocation Address in 1889, Lord Reay had stated that education could no longer develop if universities remained purely examining bodies. He asked for “real universities which will give fresh impulse to learning, to research, to criticism, which will inspire reverence and impart strength and self-reliance to future generations.” This speech had a profound impact on Jamsetji who decided to set up a university and in 1896, he wrote to Lord Reay proposing his scheme. In 1898, he announced an offer that was to astonish men of his day. He set aside 14 of his buildings and four landed properties in Bombay for an endowment to establish this institution. His donation was worth Rs 30 lakh in those days, which was half of his wealth. The other half he left to his two sons — Dorab and Ratan.

Jamsetji wanted a university that covered every spectrum of learning from technology and engineering, physics and chemistry, to the philosophy of education, Indian history, archaeology, statistics and philology. He sent educationist, Burjorji J Padshah to study the working of universities of Europe and America. Padshah recommended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore as the model.

A Provisional Committee of distinguished citizens was then formed to promote the scheme. A deputation of the Provisional Committee, which proposed the new institution for higher learning, met the Viceroy-designate, Lord Curzon, in December 1898, the day after his arrival in India. The deputation consisted of its Chairman, Justice ET Candy, Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court and Vice-Chancellor of the Bombay University, Jamsetji Tata, Burjorji J Padshah and three other members. Jamsetji chose to be silent during this meeting, giving Candy and Padshah the opportunity to present the draft of the scheme.

Not very convinced with the proposed scheme, Curzon asked two questions: “Where are the students to come from?” and “What are the employment opportunities for them?”

Prof William Ramsay (left), later a recipient of the Nobel Prize, was recommended by Burjorji J Padshah, when the IISc project needed to be examined by a well-known scientist

Jamsetji’s initial offer to the British was a package deal of Rs 60 lakh, one half of this was to go to the university and the other to a family settlement in favour of his sons, Dorab and Ratan. To adopt such a settlement, special legislation was needed which had been undertaken for Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy and Sir Dinshaw Petit, both Baronets. Curzon thought that Jamsetji too was seeking a baronetcy. But what Jamsetji was really trying to ensure was that if the rent on Rs 30 lakh of property estimated at £8,000 ever fell short, his sons would feel obligated to make up the deficit. Hence, he made such a deal. Curzon was firm and said that he wanted no linkage of the family settlement with the University, which was communicated by the British Government in a letter to Jamsetji Tata on July 27, 1899.

Quick to reply, Jamsetji wrote on August 11, saying that he would not let the family settlement issue stand in the way of the speedy accomplishment of his purpose. He went on further to explain that the sole purpose of the linkage was to guarantee financial stability of the Institute in the future, and he hoped the Government would see it in that light.

An artist’s visualisation of the architect, CF Stevens', plan for the Main Building

Curzon did not expect such a response and in his own words said that he was “hardly prepared”. Curzon then decided to re-examine the proposal and called a conference of educationists at Simla. Jamsetji believed that Indian princes, sardars and municipalities would join in this university of his dreams and hence he did not want his name associated with it. A number of sites for the university were discussed including Bombay, Calcutta, Poona, Deolali and Nagpur. But since the Maharajah of Mysore, one of the most advanced of the Indian states, had offered 371 acres of land in Bangalore, Rs 5 lakh towards the cost of building the Institute and an annual subsidy of one lakh, the site for the Institute came to be Bangalore.

In October 1899, Jamsetji Tata was invited to Simla by Lord Curzon who had by now formed a high opinion of his character. The Viceroy called the Chief Legal Advisers and Directors of Education from the principal provinces. The outcome of the conference was a government resolution expressing confidence that the proposed university will meet a great need and will contribute to the advancement of higher education and development of the resources of the country.

The Government of India had suggested that the project should be further examined by a well-known scientist, a suggestion to which Jamsetji readily agreed. For this purpose, the Provisional Committee, on the advice of Padshah, recommended Professor William Ramsay (later recipient of the Nobel Prize). When Jamsetji visited England in 1900, he met Ramsay and apprised him of the project. Professor Ramsay proceeded to Bombay and remained in India for over two months. The whole expense of his visit was borne by Jamsetji. Professor Ramsay suggested that the British Government should give at least £5,000 a year, if not £8,000, to match Jamsetji’s contribution of £8,000 a year.

The main building under construction

On Curzon’s two queries, Professor Ramsay advised that stipends be given to attract students and that new industries should be created to employ graduates. Professor Ramsay confronted the British Government with a proposal to encourage officially the industrialisation of India, which British rulers feared would adversely affect the industries in England.

Did you know?

During World War II, IISc contributed towards the war effort by training personnel, manufacturing military and industrial goods and collaborating with Hindustan Aircraft Limited to repair and maintain British and American war planes. This period saw an expansion of research in engineering and new departments such as Aeronautical Engineering, Metallurgy and Mechanical Engineering were added. The Department of Aeronautical Engineering was started in December 1942. Thus, after the Department of Electrical Technology, the Department of Aeronautical Engineering is the oldest engineering department at the Institute.

In 1901, Jamsetji saw the Secretary of State, Lord Hamilton. Jamsetji had warned Curzon before he left for England that he would again raise the matter of the package deal of a family settlement with his university request personally with the Secretary of State when he met him, and he did. Hamilton agreed to consider Jamsetji’s request. Curzon, however, refused to give Jamsetji’s scheme more than £2,000 a year. He privately wrote to Hamilton that if Jamsetji did not accept this offer “the onus for the failure of the scheme” would not fall on the British.

Jamsetji did not reject the offer. So, in 1902 Curzon appointed another Committee of Prof Masson of Melbourne University and Colonel Clibborn of Roorkee College to present a more modest scheme. They obliged by keeping the share of the Imperial Government to £2,000 annually — only one-fourth of what Jamsetji had generously offered. The Committee recommended Roorkee as a more suitable site climatically if the university could get a gift of land to match Mysore’s. No such offer came from Roorkee. Curzon was in no hurry. In 1903, Lord Hamilton announced in the British Parliament that the scheme was in abeyance. Lord Hamilton wrote to Curzon that he thought that Jamsetji would now put his money into “his iron or hydroelectric projects.” But Jamsetji was undaunted.

In 1904, Jamsetji added a codicil to his will reaffirming that this offer, which was worth half his fortune, be kept open for the British Government to accept. Soon after, on May 19, 1904, Jamsetji Tata died at Bad Nauheim, Germany.

Sir Dorabji Tata

In 1905, Sir Dorabji Tata was in England and met Curzon who was on a holiday at Bexhill, South England. The matter of the university was re-opened by Dorab Tata to a sympathetic Curzon, who promised that his government would match Jamsetji’s share earmarked for the university scheme. What Jamsetji had hoped for had come to pass, barely a year after his death.

The proposal was finally approved by Lord Minto in 1909 with a Vesting Order of the Government for what was called the Indian Institute of Science. The order spoke highly of Jamsetji Tata ‘the enlightened promoter and the donor.’ It went on to state that the Governor General in Council had no desire to associate himself intimately with the actual administration of the Institute or to claim a determining voice about the lines of research and instruction to be followed. There would be a Senate, a Court and a Council of the Institute to look after these aspects, this autonomy of the Institute and its academic freedom have been honoured from its inception to the present, which is due to the liberal attitude shown by the British Government and the succeeding Governments of India.

The Vesting order by the government

A tripartite venture of Tatas, the Government of India and the Government of Mysore (now Karnataka), the Indian Institute of Science finally came into existence on May 27, 1909, following the Vesting Order. Jamsetji’s dream, which did not see the light of day during his lifetime was finally fulfilled after a long and relentless struggle.

The IISc, the first of its kind in Asia, finally opened its doors on July 24, 1911, with 24 students joining the Institute. Its first Director was the English chemist, Morris Travers. The Institute started with just two academic departments: General and Applied Chemistry and Electrical Technology.

Inside the electrical technology laboratory
The physics department

Over the years, the IISc has grown into a premier institution of research and advanced instruction. Several eminent scientists such as CV Raman, the Nobel Laureate known for his work in the field of light scattering and the first Indian Director of IISc in 1933, Homi J Bhabha, the founder of India’s nuclear programme, Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of India’s space programme, Anna Mani, the meteorologist, Kamala Sohonie, the biochemist and nutrition expert, CNR Rao, solid state and materials scientist and Satish Dhawan, the eminent aerospace engineer, have been associated with the Institute.

Nobel Laureate CV Raman (left) and Homi J Bhabha, the founder of India’s nuclear programme, are just two of the many eminent scientists who have been associated with the institute

Today, it has over 40 departments spread across six divisions. It has nearly 4500 students pursuing PhD, Masters or undergraduate programmes and carrying out cutting-edge research. It now also has a second campus in Challakere in Chitradurga district in Karnataka where it has been running a successful teachers’ training programme for a decade.

The original library which is now the main hall
The students’ quarters

Memorial to the Founder at IISc

On Jamsetji’s death, the British-owned The Times Of India wrote: “His sturdy strength of character prevented him from fawning on any man however great, for he himself was great in his own way, greater than most people realised. He sought no honour, and he claimed no privilege. But the advancement of India and her myriad peoples was with him an abiding passion.”

The memorial at IISc is a fitting tribute to the great visionary who perceived the benefits of research in science, when it was not clear to most as to what the destiny of this nation was. To have envisioned in the year 1898 that science would be the key to the progress of the Indian nation and made a most munificent endowment from his assets, needed not only great courage but even greater confidence in the capacity of his countrymen to scale the heights of modern science which were then being conquered only in the countries of the western world.

JN Tata Memorial decorated with flowers

The memorial to the founder at IISc was made by Gilbert Bayes, a British sculptor, and was shipped all the way from England to India. The total cost of making and shipping the monument, as well as constructing the balustrade and the forecourt was Rs 79,500.

The statue, though completed in 1916, could not be shipped from England as World War I was on then. The memorial was unveiled on March 10, 1922 by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wadiyar. The Maharaja spoke on the occasion, as did Sir Dorabji Tata, son of JN Tata and Alfred Hay, the Acting Director of the Institute. There was a large and distinguished company of visitors in the audience, including Lady Meherbai Tata, The Yuvaraj of Mysore and Mr and Mrs WP Barton, General Sir William Marshal, Lord and Lady Ruthveen and party, Sir Leslie and Lady Miller and all leading officers of the state.

The pedestal is supported by statues representing Abundance (left) and Knowledge, on either side

The memorial is an impressive monument. A flight of steps, representing the steps of learning, leads to a stage on which rests a central pedestal. In front of the stage is a bronze rail with the lamp of learning at its centre; the lamp is flanked by dolphins symbolising Tata’s travels. The front face of the pedestal has a tablet with an inscription singing praises of Tata’s benevolence, patriotism and foresight. The inscription reads:

Jamsetji Nusservanji Tata. Parsi Citizen of Bombay. Born March 3, 1839. Died May 19, 1904.

To his foresight and patriotism, the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore owes its origin and to his munificence a great part of its endowment.

As a distinguished captain of industry and patron of learning he perceived the benefits to his country of advanced research in science, arts and industries and founded this institute, the first of its kind in India.

This statue of its founder was erected in 1916 by the Council of the Indian Institute of Science.

Though the tablet mentions 1916, the records existing at the IISc evince that the memorial did not arrive at IISc as a single consignment; there were at least two such consignments and that the memorial had been installed and was ready to be unveiled only by 1920.

The front face of the pedestal has a tablet with an inscription containing a tribute to Jamsetji Tata

The Avestan words Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta, which mean Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds are engraved at the top of the tablet.

The sides of the pedestal are supported by statues of two Greek women, one signifying Abundance and the other, Knowledge. To its left and right are reliefs that contain Gods and Goddesses from Roman and Greek mythology. The relief of the left has Jove (also known as Jupiter), the Roman God of Sky and Thunder, with his thunderbolts to typify electricity and Vulcan, the Roman and Greek God of fire and the forge, with his anvil, ready for steel. In the other, there is Minerva, the Roman Goddess of handicrafts, arts and war, holding a distaff with flax and distaff covered with flax and Calliope, the foremost of the nine Muses in Greek mythology who presides over eloquence and poetry, representing research.

The statues and reliefs represent Tata’s belief in the importance of learning and research. But they also symbolise endeavours that he believed were important for the growth of India: electricity, steel, and textiles.

To the left and right of the memorial are reliefs representing Greek and Roman mythology

From the central shaft rises a towering Jamsetji Tata, as he looks fondly at the replica of the Institute that he holds in his left hand. The Memorial, guarded on either side by two tall New Caledonian pines, faces the Main Building.

As a tribute to his munificence and vision, the Institute celebrates March 3rd, the birth anniversary of the Founder as the Founder’s Day every year. A flower-show is displayed around the memorial. Hundreds of faculty and staff gather to remember the Founder on this day, each year. More touching is the sight of scores of individuals who come and fold their hands in homage to the statue.

The memorial at IISc continues to encourage and inspire the hundreds of brilliant minds groomed at the Institute. It serves as a reminder of Jamsetji Tata's perseverance and persistence with which he worked for the welfare of India.

Text and photos courtesy Sands Of Time, December 2023, by Tata Central Archives.

Also Read

Jamsetji Tata - Founder's Day 2024
Founder's Day

Jamsetji Tata - Founder's Day 2024

Our tribute to Jamsetji Tata (1839-1904) on his 185th birth anniversary
Citizen Jamsetji

Citizen Jamsetji

The Tata Founder contributed much to the development of India’s commercial hub, Mumbai.
Jamsetji Tata

Trailblazer, Futurist, Jetsetter, Hobbyist, and Humanitarian

From altruistic to visionary, there are many titles that have been used to describe Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata
Jamsetji Tata: His Fight For India

Jamsetji Tata: His Fight For India

“If I am not a native of India, what am I?”