Advertisement

K.D. Naegamvālā: The Founder of the First Astrophysical Observatory in India

  • S. M. Razaullah Ansari
Conference paper
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings book series (ASSSP, volume 54)

Abstract

Kavāsjī Dādābhāi Naegamvālā was born in 1857, and belonged to an illustrious family of Parsi contractors. He was educated at Elphinstone College in Bombay, where he studied for B.A. and M.A. before being appointed a Lecturer at the College in 1882. Six years later he shifted to the College of Science in Poona, as their founding Professor of Astrophysics, and in 1900 became the Director of the new Takhtasinghji Observatory in Poona. He remained at the College until his retirement in 1912, and the Observatory was then closed and its astronomical instruments transferred to Kodaikanal Observatory. Naegamvālā died in 1938.

In this paper I relate briefly the tremendous efforts of Naegamvālā to educate himself in ‘celestial spectroscopy and astronomical physics’, first with the aid of Father Lafont (Calcutta) and later at European observatories in Rome, Potsdam and South Kensington, before he established India’s first astrophysical observatory in Poona. For this he procured what, at the time, was the most modern astronomical equipment in India. In his endeavours, Naegamvālā was helped in particular by the Astronomer Royal, Sir William Christie. I then end this paper by examining Naegamvālā’s observations of the 1898 total solar eclipse. This paper is based largely on archival records and family papers (I had the privilege to meet Nowrojee in 1976 at Poona, when he was in his mid-80s. I was also fortunate then to meet Professor Naegamvālā’s grand-daughter, Dr. Silloo M. Vacha, grandson, Mr. J.P. Naegamvala, and the mother of Dr. Vacha, who were very kind in letting me study the Family Papers, containing Professor Naegamvālā’s publications, hand-written drafts and typescripts. They are referred to here as ‘Family Papers’. Records concerning Professor Naegamvālā’s work and Takhtasingji Observatory are extant also in the Maharashtra Government Archives (Mumbai) and in the Education Department (1882–1899), which I refer to here simply as ‘Bombay Archives’ (and then cite the No. and the Year).).

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to late Mr. P.S. Laurie of the Royal Observatory Archives at Herstmonceux Castle; to the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society and the India Office (London); and to the National Archives of India (New Delhi) and the Maharashtra Government Archives (Mumbai), for permission to consult their records. I am also grateful to Dr. S.M. Vacha, the granddaughter of Professor Naegamwālā, and to other family members, for kindly providing me with photocopies of family records. I am also indebted to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Bonn) for financial support, which made it possible for me to access original sources in England.

Last, but not least, I thank Professor Wayne Orchiston for his help to finalise this paper for publication, and I acknowledge the magnanimity shown by Professor Mayank Vahia for accommodating my private difficulties. I am also grateful to Ms. Anitta Camilya (India) for her enormous patience and understanding.

References

  1. Adams, W.S., 1939. Biographical Memoir of George Ellery Hale, 1869–1938. Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 21, 181–241. Google Scholar
  2. Ansari, S.M.R., 1977. On the early development of Western astronomy in India and the role of Royal Greenwich Observatory. Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences, 27, 237–252.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  3. Ansari, S.M.R., 1985. Introduction of modern astronomy in India during 18th-19th centuries, with a foreword by Hakeem Abdul Hameed. New Delhi, IHMMR (present Hamdard University) Hamdard Nagar, 81pp. Cf. also Indian Journal of History of Science, 20, 363–402 (1985), but especially pp. 390–394. But here I refer to pages and notes of the former monograph.Google Scholar
  4. Ansari, S.N.R., 2000. Introduction of modern Western astronomy in India during 18th–19th centuries. In Sen, S.N., and Shukla, K.S. (eds.). History of Astronomy in India. New Delhi, Indian National Science Academy. Pp. 395–453.Google Scholar
  5. Ansari, S.M.R., 2011. Early modern observatories in India, 1792–1900. In Das Gupta, U. (ed.). History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization. Volume XV, Part 4. Science and Modern India: An Institutional History, c.17841947. Delhi, Pearson Longman. Pp. 349379.Google Scholar
  6. Bappu, M.K.V., 1974–75. Astronomy in India during the period of 1787–1947. Kodaikanal Observatory [preprint]. Revised text published in Sen, S.N. (ed.), 2000. Cultural Heritage of India. Volume VI, New Series. Calcutta, Ramakrishna Mission, pp. 261–269.Google Scholar
  7. Baum, R., 2014. Maunder, Edward Walter. In Hockey et al., 1420–1421.Google Scholar
  8. Becker, B., 2011. Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bhattacharyya, J.C., and Vagiswari, A., 1985. Astronomy in India in the 20th century. Indian Journal of History of Science, 20, 403–435.ADSGoogle Scholar
  10. Biswas, A.K., 1994. Reverend Father Eugene Lafont and the scientific activity of St. Xavier’s College. Indian Journal of History of Science, 29, 77–88.Google Scholar
  11. Biswas, A.K. (ed.), 2003. Collected Works of Mahendralal Sircar, Eugene Lafont and the Science Movement (18601910). Kolkata, The Asiatic Society.Google Scholar
  12. Bombay Archives, 1882–1899. Maharashtra Government Archives (Bombay), Education Department, referred in the text just by No. and Year.Google Scholar
  13. Brück, M.T., 2002. Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burckhalter, C., 1898. A general account of the Chabot Observatory-PIERSON eclipse expedition to India. Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 10, 203–212.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Campbell, W.W., 1898. A general account of the Lick Observatory-Crocker Eclipse Expedition to India. Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 10, 127–140.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Campbell, W.W., 1900. Some spectroscopic results obtained at the Indian eclipse of the Lick Observatory-Crocker Expedition. Astrophysical Journal, 11, 226–233.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chinnici, I., 1995/96. An “Italian” observatory in Calcutta: the history of the Calcutta Observatory. Studies in History of Medicine and Science, 16, 91–115.Google Scholar
  18. Christie, W.H.M., 1897. Letter to K.D. Naegamvala, dated 6 August, in Herstmonceux Archives.Google Scholar
  19. Christie, W.H.M. 1898a. Report on Indian Observatories, proposed scheme of reorganisation. 17 pages.Google Scholar
  20. Christie, W.H.M., 1898b. Report on the 1898 Solar Expedition to India. Proceedings of the Royal Institution (London), 15, 810–814. [This is actually the report sponsored by the Joint Eclipse Committee of the Royal Society and Royal Astronomical Society.]Google Scholar
  21. Copeland, R., 1898. Total solar eclipse of January 22 1898. Report on observations made at Ghoglee, Central Province. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 64, 21–26.ADSGoogle Scholar
  22. De Campigneulles, V., 1899. Observations Taken at Dumraon, Bihar, India during the Eclipse of the 22nd Jan. 1898. London, Longmans, Green & Co.Google Scholar
  23. De Campigneulles, V., and Josson, H., 1898. The Total Solar Eclipse on Jan. 22, 1898. Calcutta, Thacker, Spink & Co.Google Scholar
  24. Dewhirst, D.W., 2014. Christie, William Henry Mahony. In T. Hockey et al., 422–424.Google Scholar
  25. Frost, E.B., 1908. Hermann Carl Vogel. Astrophysical Journal, 27, 1–11.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grove-Hills, E.H., & Newall, H.F., 1898. Total solar eclipse of 1898 January 22. Preliminary report on the observations made at Pulgaon, India. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 64, 43–61.ADSGoogle Scholar
  27. Hockey, T. et al. (eds.), (2014). Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. 2nd Edition. New York, Springer.Google Scholar
  28. Kameswara Rao, N., Birdie, C., and Vagiswari, A., 2014a. Bhavnagar Telescope: the most widely travelled telescope in the country. Current Science, 106, 618–620.Google Scholar
  29. Kameswara Rao, N., Vagiswari, A., and Birdie, C., 2014b. Charles Michie Smith – founder of the Kodaikanal (Solar Physics) Observatory and beginnings of physical astronomy in India. Current Science, 106, 447–467.Google Scholar
  30. Kapoor, R.C., 2014. Indian astronomy and the transits of Venus. 2: the 1874 event. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 17, 113–135.ADSGoogle Scholar
  31. Kinder, A.J., 2008. Edward Walter Maunder: his life and times. Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 118, 21–42.ADSGoogle Scholar
  32. Kochhar, R.K., 1993. Historical perspective. In Kochhar, R.K., and Narlikar, J. (eds.). Astronomy in India: Past, Present and Future. Pune, IUCAA. Pp. 1–42.Google Scholar
  33. Kochhar, R.K., and Narlikar, J. (eds.), 1995. Astronomy in India. New Delhi, Indian National Science Academy.Google Scholar
  34. Kochhar, R., and Orchiston, W., 2017. The development of modern astronomy and emergence of astrophysics in India. In Nakamura and Orchiston, 705–770.Google Scholar
  35. Lockyer, N., 1898. Report on Indian Observatories and their Organisation. London, printer report dated 15 May, 44pp. Available in the India Office Library, London, call no. IOR-L/E/7/425.Google Scholar
  36. Maunder, E.W. (ed.), 1899. The Indian Eclipse 1898. Report of the Expeditions Organized by the British Astronomical Association to Observe the Total Solar Eclipse of 1898, January 22. London, Hazell, Watson and Viney.Google Scholar
  37. Meadows, J., 1972. Science and Controversy. A Biography of Sir Norman Lockyer. Cambridge (Mass.), MIT Press.Google Scholar
  38. Naegamvala, K.D., 1882–1899. Family Papers, in the possession of J.P. Naegamvala (grandson) and Silloo M. Vacha (grand-daughter), Poona. Cf. Note 1.Google Scholar
  39. Naegamvala, K.D., 1888. The Maharajah Takhtasingjee (of Bhavnagar) Observatory at Poona. Observatory, 11, 438.Google Scholar
  40. Naegamvala, K.D., 1891a. Observation of the transit of Mercury. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 51, 501–502.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Naegamvala, K.D., 1891b. On the character of the chief line of the Nebula in Orion. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 51, 442–443.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Naegamvala, K.D., 1892. Notes on the spectrum of the great sunspot group of Feb. 1892. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 52, 424–426.Google Scholar
  43. Naegamvala, K.D., 1895. Nebula No. 6595 of the New Catalogue. Observatory, 18, 310.ADSGoogle Scholar
  44. Naegamvala, K.D., 1896. Letter to Sir W.H.M. Christie, London, dated 10 October, in Herstmonceux Archives, Sig. No.Q 5(6) 1893–1913.Google Scholar
  45. Naegamvala, K.D., 1897. Nebula H-I, 43 Virginis, photographed on April 16–18, 1896. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 57, 586.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Naegamvala, K.D., 1898. Photograph of the spectrum of the “Flash” at the solar eclipse of 21 January, 1898. Astrophysical Journal, 8, 120–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Naegamvala, K.D., 1899. Memorandum to William Baron Sandhurst, Governor and President in Council of Bombay, dated 6 April, Poona (printed). [It is available both in the Family Papers and the Bombay Archives.]Google Scholar
  48. Naegamvala, K.D., 1901. A first note on the nova in Perseus on 25–26 February. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 61, 338–339.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Naegamvala, K.D., 1902. Report on the Total Solar Eclipse, Jan. 2122, 1898, Observed at Jeur in Western India. Volume 1. Poona, Publication of the Maharaja Takhtasingji Observatory. [Volume 2 is not known to have been published.] [Read Volume 1 on line; the text is on NDL.]Google Scholar
  50. Naigamvalla, Nowrojee K.D., 1946. Stars of the Dawn, with an introduction by J.R.B. Jeejeebhoy. Poona, published privately, 52pp.Google Scholar
  51. Nakamura, T., and Orchiston, W. (eds.), 2017. The Emergence of Astrophysics in Asia: Opening a New Window on the Universe. Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  52. Nath, B.B., 2013. The Story of Helium and the Birth of Astrophysics. New York, Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. NDL, National Digital Library of India. Website : https://ndl.iitkgp.ac.in/.
  54. Orchiston, W., and Pearson, J., 2017. American observations of the 22 January 1898 total solar eclipse from Jeur, India. In Nakamura and Orchiston, 795–814.Google Scholar
  55. Sohini, V.V., 1951. Reports of the Kodaikanal Observatory 1901–1951. New Delhi, India Meteorological Department.Google Scholar
  56. Terao, H., & Hirayama, S., 1910. Report on the Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun observed at Jeur, in Western India on January 22, 1898. Annales de l’Observatoire Astronomique de Tokyo, III (1).Google Scholar
  57. The Observatories of India. Observatory, 22, 307309 (1899).Google Scholar
  58. Udias, A., 2003. Searching the Earth and the Sky. The History of Jesuit Observatories. Dordrecht, Kluwer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Hindustan Book Agency 2018 and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. M. Razaullah Ansari
    • 1
  1. 1.Physics DepartmentAligarh Muslim UniversityAligarhIndia

Personalised recommendations