Rising like a Colossus from the noisy urban landscape of College Street of Kolkata, the Presidency college is a monument to the enlightenment, awakening and glory of Bengal spanning the last two centuries. The Hindu College was established on 20th January, 1817, exactly 201 years ago and was renamed the ‘Presidency College’ in 1885. Among its celebrated founders and contributors were Raja Ram Mohan Roy, David Hare, Sir. Edward Hyde East (the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Fort William), Raja Radhakanto Deb, Rani Rashmoni, Baidyanath Mukhopadhyay and Rasamay Datta. First started in a rented house on Chitpur Road, it later shifted to the building of Sanskrit College in College Street before moving to the present building, the foundation of which was laid on 27th February, 1873, as per the copy of the ‘Foundation Stone’ displayed in the museum
The Presidency University houses a museum which was renovated in January, 2018. The museum is set up on an area of about 2000 sq feet. Pioneering research and great historical events associated with the erstwhile Presidency College come to life in the museum in stunning displays and multiple visual presentations.The names of Jagadish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Roy blaze like stars in the annals of the University. While Bose’s experiments on ‘Life in plants’ and ‘Wireless communication’ started in a very humble way in the premises of the college, the chemical wizardry of Prafulla Chandra Roy paved the way for the rebirth of a nation from being a humble consumer to an innovative producer. Bengal Chemicals, the first company producing Indian goods, was his brainchild. The instruments used by these scientists in their humble laboratories in the college are the major attractions among the exhibits of the museum.
As you enter the premises, you come across the museum in the ground floor of the main building. The museum has two big halls. As you enter the museum, two huge flexes of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (one of the first two graduates of Calcutta University, alumni of this college) will instantly catch your attention. There are two more of such flexes of the famous scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose and Radhanath Sikdar, a gifted mathematician, who was part of the team that measured the height of Mt. Everest, hanging high up the ceiling. The museum displays important documents such as extracts from the writings and speeches of Bipin Chandra Pal, an excerpt of Rabindra Nath Tagore’s speech on ‘English Language’, reproduced from the college magazine and a very beautiful poem by Manmohan Ghose, brother of Aurobindo Ghose and the then teacher of English. The college recognises the extraordinary work of its alumni and faculty such as Bhabatosh Datta, Sukhamoy Chakraborty, the renowned film maker Satyajit Ray and the Nobel Laureate Amartya Kumar Sen.
The museum is a delight for all Science lovers. There is an exceptional collection of vintage machines, and apparatus that were then being used for experimenting in the various research laboratories and display boards used for educational purposes. Enthusiastic Physicists would be enthralled at the sight of the Electromagnetic wheel used for teaching electrophysiological aspects, Torsion balance, pin hole camera with detachable photosensitive plate, Hand-cranked motor for manually generating electric power, Static electricity generator manufactured by Baird and Tatlock, England, Spectrophotometer used to split light into an array of different colours, Sextant Husun model used to measure the angular distance between two astronomical objects, telescopes, cathode ray tubes, Coolidge X-Ray tubes producing X-rays and Photoelectric colorimeter.
With its vast collection of zoological specimens, the museum opens a wonderful vista for the Biology enthusiasts. The Transpiration Balance used to calculate the rate of transpiration in leaves and the Colony Counter for counting the number of bacteria in a colony, the Imbibition meter used to measure the Imbibition rate of seeds, different types of microscopes which were once used by the renowned scientists, are bound to amaze the visitors.
The department of History thrived under the tutelage of great teachers like Derozio, E. B. Cowell, Kuruvilla Zachariah, S. C. Chandra Sarkar, Amalesh Tripathi, Ashin Dasgupta and Ranajit Guha. The museum houses a vast collection of Prehistoric samples such as those of Harappan pottery, Bengal’s terracotta, Prehistoric hand axe, Islamic coins and so on.
Geology was always a thriving department right from the inception of the college with Sir Thomas Holland as the subject teacher. However, Hem Chandra Das Gupta was the first full-time teacher of Geology after whom the department’s museum is named. Important Geological collections include a wave ripple preserved in sandstone, a peel of recent tidal flat sediment from Chandipur, megafossils, etc.
Anyone would be awestruck at the sight of the third volume of Sir Isaac Newton’s ‘Naturalis Principia’ in Mathematics, the seminar register with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s signature. There’s an exclusive group photograph of Dr. Rajendra Prasad with Prof. H. M. Perceival. Our first president studied at the Presidency College between 1902-05. After seeing all the antiquities, we come across the copy of the gazetted version of the West Bengal Act XIII of 2010 – the Presidency University Act – whereby the Presidency College was granted the status of a University.
Music lovers will be impressed to discover in the museum the article by G. N. Dhar on ‘music classes at Presidency College’ extracted from the college magazine. A rare collection of a megaphone used to amplify the sound, an acoustic instrument and a tanpura takes the visitor into a journey through space and time.
Coming out of the Presidency museum and stepping into the street below is a jerk. The aura of glory, the sequels of daring journeys of man into the unknown world of knowledge refuse to die even in the face of the jostling crowd and blowing horns of passing vehicles on the street.
Presidency Unversity MUSEUM
86/1, College Street, Kolkata, 700073
Open: 10 am to 5 pm
Tel: 033 4052 9999
Closed: Saturday & Sunday
Photography: With permission
Car Parking: Bankim Chaterjee Street (behind College Square)