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Scientist
Birbal Sahni
1891-1949
Birbal Sahni was the third child of his parents, the late Professor Ruchi Ram Sahni and Smt. Ishwar Devi. He was born on the 14th of November, 1891 at Bhera, a small town in the Shahpur District of the West Punjab now in Pakistan. Birbal Sahni received his early education in India at Lahore, First at the Mission and Central Model Schools and then at the Government College, where his father held the chair in the Chemistry. He gained many academic distinctions, standing first in Sanskrit at the Matriculation examination of the Punjab University and attaining a Province position in Intermediate Science. His partiality for Sanskrit endured till the very end, and in-deed, its later years he became much devoted to it. In the year 1911 he left for England to join Emmanuel College at Cambridge.

Birbal Sahni graduated from Cambridge in 1914 and soon settled down to research under the inspiring leadership and guidance of Professor Sir A.C. Seward. It was a relationship deeper and more exquisite than between a teacher and his disciple that stimulated him for a meaningful understanding of fossil plants, knowledge of living plants, geology and other related disciplines. For his researches on fossil plants he received the D.Sc. of the London University in 1919. Returning home in the same year, he served as Professor of Botany for one year each at the Universities of Banaras and Punjab. In 1921 he took charge of the newly opened Botany Department of the Lucknow University, as its first Professor. Charisma of Professor Birbal Sahni as a teacher noted for brilliance, lucidity and illustrative skills became a legend and inspired a number of young minds to join the University of Lucknow. Despite his heavy teaching schedule and other preoccupations, he threw himself heart and soul into the work of organizing researches in palaeobotany and made enormous collections of fossils from various localities and geological periods. In recognition of his outstanding merits the Cambridge University conferred on him the degree of Sc.D. in the year 1929. He motivated research scholars to take up studies with devotion and thoroughness. By hard work and persuasive charm he built up a reputation for the University, which soon became the first centre of palaeobotanical investigations in India. In 1936 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, London.

Professor Birbal Sahni, on April 10, succumbed to a severe heart attack. It seems as if he was preordained to fulfil a mission and passed away as soon as that was achieved. His earthly remains were cremated within the precincts of the Institute where his ‘Samădhi’ remained a sacred spot to seek inspiration for his followers, to build up the Institute.


In recognition of his outstanding merits the Cambridge University conferred on him the degree of Sc. D. in the year 1929. He was elected Vice-President, Palaeobotany section, of 5th and 6th International Botanical Congress 1930 and 1935, respectively In 1936 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, London. 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 a foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected an Honorary President of the International Botanical Congress, Stockholm in 1950.

Source :Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany
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