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Prof. D. D. Kosambi: Scientist, Indologist, humanist and peace activist
Fredrick Noronha | 26 Mar 2008

Two great Goans, the father and son duo -- renowned Buddhist
scholar, Acharya Dharmanand Kosambi and mathematician turned
Indologist, Damodar Kosambi -- have carved unique niches for
themselves in history.

Acharya Dharmanand is more famous in Buddhist countries than
in Goa and Damodar Kosambi is well known in Europe, Russia,
China and the United States. Both were intellectual giants.

The centenary year of Damodar Kosambi begins from July 31,
2007. Damodar was born at Kasabem, on July 31, 1907. His pet
name was "baba". His colleagues at Harvard university also
used to call him by this name.

>From 1912 to 1918 he completed his school education at Pune.

Then he was sent to Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1929, he
graduated from Harvard University. From 1929 to 1937 Prof.
Damodar taught at Benares Hindu University where he won the
prestigious Ramanujan memorial award.

In 1930 he published his first research paper. Then there was
no looking back. In his research and writing career spanning
36 years, DDK published more than 150 research papers, many
in French and German.

On May 7, 1931 Dr. Damodar married Ms. Nalini Madgaonkar.
Then he joined Pune's Fergusson college. His interest in
Indology, prehistory, numismatics was nurtured by that city
of intellectuals. He got an offer to join the Mathematics
division of newly established Tata institute of fundamental
research (TIFR) in 1947 where he continued to work till 1962.

Dr. Damodar Kosambi was far ahead of his time. He
created ripples among the critics in 1956 after
publication of his first book, 'Introduction to the
study of Indian history'.

This was followed by 'Exasperating Essays'. His next book was
an objective lesson in interdisciplinary research. When 'Myth
and reality, studies in formation of Indian culture' was
published it proved a landmark in scholarly research.

Dr. Damodar crowned this book with his magnum opus in 1965 -
'The culture and civilization of ancient India -- a
historical outline'. This book has seen several editions
since then and has been prescribed in several universities in
India and abroad.

Dr. Damodar Kosambi caused a radical paradigm shift
in contemporary interpretations of Indian history.
He has to be credited for having offered the
Indians a "people's perspective" of history as
compared to earlier focus on royalty, kingdoms,
aristocratic and feudal class, battles and the
populist myths.

As a mathematician, he became curious about genetics. He
discovered the Kosambi formula for calculating the length of
chromosomes. He contributed to tensor analysis, probability
statistics, path geometry but at the same time he was
commenting on Bhartihari and Kautilya.

His interest in numismatics was brought out in 'Indian
numismaticc' a book published posthumously. Dr. Kosambi
stood for ethics in science. He condemned science which was
engaged in violent research. He attempted to combine science
and humanism in his essays.

'Steps in science', 'Science and freedom', 'The social
functions of science', 'Science an Introduction' were some of
his much discussed essays.

In 1964 he wrote 'Scientific attitude and religion' and
challenged certain popular beliefs. He rejected the thesis
that population explosion was leading to a rise in poverty.

Dr. Kosambi was overwhelmed by the scientific and
technological progress made by the erstwhile Soviet
Union. His impressions were reflected in
'Revolution and the progress of science'. He
vehemently opposed nuclear weapons and pleaded for
global nuclear disarmament.

In 1964, Dr. Kosambi again wrote on 'Solar energy for
underdeveloped world'. Dr. Kosambi had a vision of making
India a global superpower in solar energy research. Dr.
Kosambi's genius was recognized by the Chinese government.
He was invited to find the mathematical and statistical
solutions for Chinese agricultural sector.

Dr. Kosambi's views on science are extremely relevant in the
21st century. He was of the firm opinion that scientists
would feel themselves truly free and liberated when they
would engage themselves in pursuing research only for human
welfare. Historian Kosambi died at Pune on June 29, 1966. On
July 9 the citizens of Pune, assembled to condole his death
and resolved to bring out a volume in his memory. Dr V V Giri
chaired the committee. In 1974 this volume 'Science and human
progress' was published.

A brief chronology of major events in his life:

* July 31, 1907: Born at Kosben, Goa.

* 1918 Early education in New English School, Poona.

* 1918-1925 Studied at Cambridge Grammar School and
Latin High School, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.

* 1925-1929 Studied at Harvard University. Graduated
with S.B. 'Summa cum Laude' and 'Phi-Beta-Kappa'
membership.

* 1930 First published paper on scientific subject
"Processions of an Elliptical Orbit" in Indian Journal
of Physics.

* 1929-1937 On the staff of Benares Hindu University

* May 7, 1931 Married Nalini Madgavkar, Bombay.

* 1931-1932 On the staff of Aligarh Muslim University.

* 1932 Papers first published in French and German.

* 1933 On the staff of Fergusson College, Poona.

* November 10, 1935 First daughter born (now Mrs. Sarkar
in Sweden) .

* April 24, 1939 Second daughter (Meera) born. She has
had a very brilliant academic career, both in India
and in Sweden.

* 1947 Joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
(Mathematics Department), Bombay.

* 1956 Introduction to the Study of Indian History
published by Popular Book Depot, Bombay.

* 1957 Exasperating Essays published by People's Book
House, Poona

* 1960 Grand-daughter (Nandita) was born.

* 1962 Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of
Indian Culture published by Popular Prakashan, Bombay.

* 1962 Retired from the Tata Institute of Fundamental
Research, Bombay.

* 1965 The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in
Historical Outline published by Routledge & Kegan
Paul, London.

* 1965 Scientist Emeritus conferred by Council of
Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi.

* June 29, 1966 Passed away in sleep at Poona.

(Adopted from: Science & Human Progress, Essays in the Honour
of late Prof. D.D. Kosambi, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1974)

Damodar Kosambi's books are  available as e-books (PDF files)
for non-commercial purposes, on IUCAA-Pune's scientist
Aravind Gupta's website - http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/.
Click on Books > English and scroll down to reach books by DD
Kosambi (birth centenary 2007). There 16 downloadable files.

Compiled by Dr. Nandkumar M. Kamat, lecturer and scientist,
Goa University and member SLC, for the SLC, DDK birth
centenary celebration programme, July 2007.