Radhanath Sikdar

(This post is based on the information researched and compiled meticulously by Dr (Ms) Ajana Chaudhuri, Retired Director, India Meteorological Department, Kolkata, and Hony. Research Fellow of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata. She had sent the information to Dr S. M. Kulshrestha, Retired Director General of Meteorology, New Delhi, in the years 2000-01, and he had then kindly shared it with me. The credit for this information goes entirely to Dr Chaudhuri. I also thank her for going through my earlier post and suggesting modifications, which I have now incorporated. – R. R. Kelkar 13 May 2007)

It is not commonly known that long before the India Meteorological Department was established in 1875, an Indian was at the helm of a government meteorological observatory under the British rule. In the year 1829, an observatory had been set up in the premises of the Office of the Surveyor General of India on Park Street at Calcutta (now Kolkata). The Surveyor General at that time was George Everest.

V. N. Rees served as the Superintendent of the Calcutta observatory from its establishment in 1829 until his retirement in October 1852. Radhanath Sikdar, then Chief Computor of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India, was entrusted with the charge of this observatory in addition to his main responsibility in surveying work.

Radhanath’s new appointment was greeted with great enthusiasm by the leading Calcutta dailies, not only because he was the first Indian to occupy this responsible position, but because he has already earned great fame in geodetic surveying work.

Radhanath Sikdar had joined the Survey of India at Dehra Dun in December 1831 in the post of Computor and he was the first Indian to do so. He was barely nineteen years old at that time. Dr Tytler, Professor of Mathematics at Hindu College, Calcutta, had recommended his pupil’s name to George Everest for his keen mathematical proficiency and investigative mind. Both George Everest and his successor, Andrew Waugh had held Radhanath in high esteem, and Everest had this to say about him, “There are few in India, whether European or native, that can at all compete with him. Even in Europe these mathematical attainments would rank very high.”

Radhanath proved to be an invaluable asset to the Survey of India and in 1851, he was promoted to the post of Chief Computor, and transferred to Calcutta. It was with this background that the Friend of India had said in its issue of 11 November 1852 about Radhanath Sikdar: “This native gentleman, lately Head Computor in the same establishment, has long been the first among few natives, whose scientific acquirements emulate those of Europeans…and we have little doubt that he will ably fulfill his duties as the head of the office of which he has long been the soul.”

Immediately after assuming charge of the Calcutta observatory, Sikdar prepared a table for reduction of barometric observations to 32°F for which he had to develop his own formula. It was based upon the physical concept that the temperature reduction was to be applied on two counts: the thermal expansion of the brass scale attached to the barometer and the dilatation of the mercury column in the tube. Sikdar’s work was significant because it made it possible to compare pressure observations taken at different times. A note describing Sikdar’s formula was communicated to the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal by the Deputy Surveyor General, Col. H. L. Thuillier and it was published by the Journal in 1852 (Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 329-332).

During the years 1829 to 1852, the Calcutta observatory had not been taking observations at strictly specified hours, but around sunrise, apparent noon and sunset, which varied from day to day. No instrumental correction or bar-reduction was applied. Radhanath introduced the system of hourly observations with proper corrections right from December 1852. Meteorological abstracts of hourly, daily and monthly means of the principal meteorological elements and many derived parameters, were published regularly in the Proceedings and Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal from December 1852 to1877 without a break. The credit of introducing accurate, systematic and uninterrupted hourly meteorological observations in the country, as well as their methodical processing, should go to Radhanath Sikdar. After he retired in November 1852, Gopinath Sen followed his methodology until 1877, when the Alipore observatory began to run independently.

The prime mover of the India Meteorological Department, H. F. Blanford, wrote in his first Administration Report, that the 24 years’ data from 1853 to 1877 of the Surveyor General’s Observatory “are the finest piece of our knowledge of the climate of Calcutta.”

Radhanath became a member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1853 and he was inducted as a member of its Meteorology and Physical Science Committee in 1858.

It was Radhanath Sikdar, who in 1852, had reported to the then Surveyor General, Andrew Waugh, about a Himalayan peak that was the tallest in the world, and which was later named by Waugh, after his predecessor, as Mount Everest.

It was Sikdar again who had started in 1853, a time signaling service for ships, based upon observations of the transit of stars across Calcutta.

Sikdar retired from government service in 1862, after which he led an eventful life devoted to social work and popularization of science until death came upon him on 17 May 1870.

To read a more recent and comprehensive article entitled “Radhanath Sikdar – Through the Haze of Time and Neglect”about Radhanath Sikdar, by Ajana Chowdhary, R R Kelkar and A K Sen Sarma published in the Statesman, Kolkata, on 1 March 2009, click here

India Post has honoured Radhanath Sikdar through the issue of a commemorative postage stamp on 27 June 2004.


24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Omprakash Das
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 08:35:05

    well come all the survey professional to celebrate the NATIONAL SURVEY DAY OBSERVANCE AT mahajatisadan anex auditorium near M. GANDHI.METRO STN.on 10th april 2013 at 11am. this progrramme organised byTHE NATIONAL SURVEY DAY COMMITTEE /this year special for bicentenary birth anniversary of babu RADHANATH SIKDAR/RADHANATH SIKDAR MEMORIAL LECTURE DELEBERATE BY DR.SANKAR NATH.


  2. Asinjit Sarkar
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 19:19:01

    We are going to celebrate the National Survey Day on April 10th, 2013, Wednesday at Asutosh Centenary Hall, GSI Campus, at Park Street. This is in commemoration of Great Trigonometrical Survey started on 10th April, 1802 atop St. Thomas Mount near Chennai and resolved in the Third All India Cadastral Survey Conference at Ootacamund (presently Udhagamandalam) in 1967 to be observed as ‘National Survey Day’.
    National Survey Day being observed in West Bengal for the last few years. Last year we successfully celebrated first time in North Bengal, where we were able to associate all members of our communities from North Bengal.
    This year the Hon’ble Chief Whip, Govt. of West Bengal has kindly consented to preside over the committee. Hon’ble Technical Education MIC, Hon’ble Science and Technology MIC and Hon’ble Education MIC; Govt. of West Bengal, and other eminent dignitaries have also given their consent to grace the occasion of the celebration.
    We are going to observe celebration of Radhanath Sikdar’s bicentenary in this occasion, thus with shame we are not able to found the actual date of birth of Sri Sikdar, we would request your kind-self to participate in our celebration to sharing your excellent vast experience in respect of Radhanath Sikdar and as well as developments scope of Surveyors modernisation.
    Looking forward to a positive response from your end at the earliest.
    Thanking you, Regards,
    Asinjit Sarkar
    On behalf of the Organising Committee
    Secretary, Forum of Survey Engineers & Technologists, West Bengal


    • Prof R R Kelkar
      Mar 13, 2013 @ 03:19:48

      Dear Shri. Sarkar,
      Thank you for your kind invitation. I would have been happy to participate had I been in Kolkata, but I live in Pune. I wish the event all success.
      R R Kelkar
      email kelkar_rr@yahoo.com


      • Asinjit Sarkar
        Mar 14, 2013 @ 21:05:24

        With your kind reply, thanks to say Sir, I know that you are from Pune. Would we pray for your blessings Sir? Plz direct me what kind of arrangements we can provide to you Sir, we can try.. Otherwise you can send your valuable presentation/ note/ blessings on my mail in deem fit Sir.. I will send about ourselves by Saturday on your mail Sir.. With lots of sincerity & Pranam for you Sir…. With Regards,
        Asinjit Sarkar
        General Secretary
        Forum of Survey Engineers & Technologists, West Bengal
        (A Society under Society Regd, Act of 1961 for Only Surveyors/Survey Professionals)

      • Prof R R Kelkar
        Mar 15, 2013 @ 01:16:07

        I suggest that you contact Mr Anjan Sen Sarma who has done a lot of research about Radhanath Sikdar. He lives in Kolkata and you could consider inviting him for your function. His email id is anjansen.sarma@gmail.com.
        R R Kelkar

    Feb 23, 2013 @ 07:58:07



  4. Tara Ghosh
    Apr 02, 2012 @ 09:28:40

    Dear Dr. Nath,
    Is your Bengali book on RADHANATH SIKDAR now published? If so please give me the full reference so that I may read it.
    Thanking you.
    T. N. Ghosh, Retired Profesor, Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine.
    N3, Belgachia Villa Kolkata-700037 983005263


  5. ayan sen
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 17:17:54

    I want to know the place where Radhanath Sikder died. I know that it is beside the river Ganga in Gondolpara, but I do not know its exact location.


    • Prof R R Kelkar
      Feb 22, 2012 @ 00:06:40

      Dear Ayan,
      Honestly, I have no idea, nor am I in a position to find out. Since you are so deeply interested in the subject, you should yourself do some local research and get authentic information. I can add it to my blog.
      Best wishes,
      R R Kelkar


    • Arpan Chakraborti
      May 09, 2012 @ 07:53:36

      It is in Chandannagar, Hooghly District, West Bengal.


      • Prof R R Kelkar
        May 09, 2012 @ 10:10:28

        Dear Arpan,
        Thanks for the information about Radhanath Sikdar’s birth place. Have you visited this site or verified the authenticity of your information?
        R R Kelkar

    Dec 22, 2011 @ 07:44:29

    I am going to publish a book on Radhanath Sikdar with some unknown facets of him ( so far not published ) in bengali due to be published at Boi Mela 2011, Calcutta.


    • Prof R R Kelkar
      Dec 22, 2011 @ 08:18:28

      Dear Dr Nath,
      Thank you for the information and best wishes for your project!
      R R Kelkar


  7. Ashish Lahiri
    Dec 23, 2009 @ 11:20:40

    Dear Mr. Datta,
    It is gratifyibg to learn that young people like you are getting interested in Radhanath Sikdar. If you can come to our rendezvous at Boi-Chitra, on the second floor of College Street Coffee House, Kolkata, I think we can talk about the matter.
    With best wishes,
    Ashish Lahiri


  8. Subham Dutta
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 06:12:27

    Dear Sir,

    I want to publish an article regarding the work of Radhanath Sikdar. Please give me suggestions.


    Subham Dutta.


    • Prof R R Kelkar
      Dec 21, 2009 @ 06:35:48

      Dear Subham,

      Will you tell me something about yourself and spell out your interest in the subject?



      • Subham Dutta
        Dec 21, 2009 @ 07:08:34

        Dear Sir,
        We are publishing a little magazine in the coming Kolkata Book fair. I don’t think there is any writing published in bengali regarding Work and Life of Radhanath Sikdar. So i want to write something about him. So please suggest me.

        Subham Dutta

      • Prof R R Kelkar
        Dec 21, 2009 @ 14:31:25

        Dear Subham,

        I suggest that you meet people like Ashish Lahiri or Anjan Sen Sarma who are based in Kolkata and whose contact details are available elsewhere on this blog. I do not have any material besides what I have posted here.


  9. Ashish Lahiri
    Oct 16, 2009 @ 13:22:27

    Dear Mr. Mukherjee,
    It is known that Sikdar did write an autobiography in English, but it was never published. However, based on that autobiography, the Bengali magazine Arya Darshan in 1888 carried a three-part biography of Sikdar. I have written some articles in Bengali and English on Sikdar, taking help from that biography. Some details, including some important letters, are available in Jogesh Chandra Bagal’s “UnaBingsha Shatabdir Baangali” and of course Shivnath Sastri’s “Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Banga Samaj”.
    Thanks for your interest in the remarkable man.
    Ashish Lahiri


  10. Pradipta mukherjee
    Oct 16, 2009 @ 12:02:51

    Respected Sir
    I am yet to receive a reply whether the
    autobiography of Radhanath Sikdar which
    was published in a Bengali magazine is
    being published by any publisher or not?

    with regards
    Pradipta Mukherjee


    • Prof R R Kelkar
      Oct 16, 2009 @ 12:24:21

      Dear Pradipta,

      Thanks for your two comments. However, I have no information about this.

      R R Kelkar


  11. Pradipta mukherjee
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 12:19:08

    Your article on Radhnath Sikdar is very
    much absorbing. May I know if Sri Sikdar
    wrote an autobiography in a magazine, which
    is not yet published by any publishers ?


  12. Ashish Lahiri
    Mar 29, 2009 @ 11:38:33

    Dear Sir,
    As an independent researcher in History of Science (particularly 19th century India) I found your article illuminating. I am doing research in Sikdar’s scientific achievement. Can you help me with some links? I am especially keen on having access to the reports Sikdar wrote on the geodetic survey of the Great Arc, done under Everest. Are these available?
    With regards,
    Ashish Lahiri


    • Prof R R Kelkar
      Mar 29, 2009 @ 11:52:24

      Dear Ashish,

      Thanks for your comment and interest. Most of the documents have been researched by my coauthors who are based in Kolkata. Are you by chance also in Kolkata? If yes, that will be very convenient. Otherwise you may have to get in touch with them through other means. Can you send me some more details about yourself by email to kelkar_rr@yahoo.com so that we can work it out?

      R R Kelkar


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