C. V. Raman


CV Ramen

C V Ramen

Dr. C.V. Raman was  was an Indian physicist whose work was influential in the growth of science in India, who was awarded the 1930 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the ‘Raman Effect’, which is named after him.Chandrasekhar Venkata Raman, commonly known as C.V. Raman was born on November 7, 1888 at Tiruchirapalli on the bank’s of Kaveri  in Tamillandu. His mother tongue was Tamil. He was the second children of Chandrasekhar Iyer and Pravathi Ammal. His father was a lecturer in mathematics and physics. C V Raman was a very brilliant student right from his childhood.Raman’s maternal grandfather Saptarshi Sastri was a great Sanskrit scholar, who in his younger days travelled on foot to distant Bengal (over 2000 km away) to learn navya nyaya (modern logic).

 Chandrasekhar Iyer(Raman's father)

Chandrasekhar Iyer(Raman’s father)

Pravathi Ammal(Raman's mother)

Pravathi Ammal(Raman’s mother)


Raman’s parents were R. Chandrasekhara Iyer and Parvathi Ammal. Raman’s father, who initially taught in a local school for many years and later became a lecturer in mathematics and physics in Mrs. A.V. Narasimha Rao College, Vishakapatnam (then Vizagapatnam) in Andhra Pradesh. Raman passed his matriculation examination at the age of 11 and he passed his F.A. examination (equivalent to today’s Intermediate) with a scholarship at 13. In 1903 Raman joined the Presidency College in Chennai (then Madras) from where he passed the B.A. (1904) and M.A. (1907) examinations. He stood first both in B.A. and M.A. examinations and won all the prizes available. To get some idea we quote here Raman himself.

History of Ramans by his words

” I finished my school and college career and my university examination at the age of eighteen. In this short span of years had been compressed the study of four languages and of a great variety of diverse subjects, in several cases up to the highest university standards. A list of all the volumes I had to study would be terrifying length. Did these books influence me? Yes, in the narrow sense of making me tolerably familiar with subjects of so diverse as Ancient Greek and Roman History, Modern Indian and European History, Formal Logic, Economics, Monetary Theory and Public Finance, the late Sanskrit writers and minor English authors, to say nothing of physiography, chemistry and dozen branches of Pure and Applied Mathematics, and of Experimental and Theoretical Physics. But out of this welter of subjects and books, can I pick out anything really to mould my mental and spiritual outlook and determine my chosen path in life? Yes I can and I shall mention three books.

A purposeful life needs an axis or hinge to which it is firmly fixed and yet around which it can freely revolve. As I see it, this axis or hinge has been, in my own case, strongly enough, not the love of science, not even the love of Nature but a certain abstract idealism or belief in the value of the human spirit and the virtue of human endeavour and achievement. The nearest point to which I can trace this source of idealism in my recollection of reading Edwin Arnold’s great book, The Light of Asia. I remember being powerfully moved by the story of Siddhartah’s great renunciation, of his search for truth and of his final enlightenment.

The next set of books that I have to mention is one of the most remarkable works of all time, namely, The Elements of Euclid. Familiarity with some parts of Euclid and a certain dislike of its formalism have dethroned this great work from the apparently unassailable position which it occupied in the esteem of the learned world for an almost incredibly long period of time. Indeed, my own early reactions to the compulsory study of Euclid were anything but favourable… Not until many years later however, did I fully appreciate the central position of Geometry in relation to all natural knowledge. I can illustrate this relationship by a thousand examples but will content myself with remarking that every mineral found in Nature, every crystal made by man, every leaf, flower or fruit that we see growing, every living thing from the smallest to the largest that walks on earth, flies in the air or swims in the water or lives deep down on the ocean floor, speaks aloud of the fundamental role of geometry in Nature.

The pages of Euclid are like the opening bars of the music of the Grand Opera of Nature’s great drama. So to say, they lift the veil and show to our vision a glimpse of a vast world of natural knowledge awaiting study.

Of all the great names in the world of learning that have come down to us from the remote past, that of Archimedes, by common consent, occupies the foremost place. Speaking of the modern world, the supremost figure in my judgment is that of Hermann von Helmholtz. In the range and depth of his knowledge, in the clearness and profundity of his scientific vision, he easily transcended all other names I could mention, even including Isaac Newton. Rightly he has been described as the intellectual colossus of the nineteenth century. It was my great good fortune, while I was still a student at College, to have possessed a copy of an English translation of his great work The Sensations of Tone. As is well-known, this was one of Helmholtz’s masterpieces. It treats the subjects of music and musical instruments not only with profound knowledge and insight, but also with extreme clarity of language and expression.” While Raman was a student, he independently undertook original investigations in acoustics and optics. Raman was the first student of the Madras Presidency College to get a research paper published, that too in a prestigious international journal. His first paper on ‘unsymmetrical diffraction bands due to a rectangular aperture’ was published in the Philosophical Magazine (London) in November 1906. This was the result of Raman’s measuring the angles of a prism using an ordinary spectrometer in his college. This was followed by a note in the same journal on a new experimental method of measuring surface tension. Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919) took note of the papers published by Raman as a student. Rayleigh was an outstanding mathematical physicist and a good experimenter, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of argon. Raman and Rayleigh exchanged some correspondence. It is interesting to note that Lord Rayleigh addressed Raman as Professor.

 Though Raman proved his brilliance in scientific investigations but as were the norms of those days he was not encouraged to take up science as a career. At the instance of his father Raman took the Financial Civil Service (FCS) examination. He stood first in the examination and in the middle of 1907 Raman proceeded to Kolkata (then Calcutta) to join the Indian Finance Department as Assistant Accountant General. He was then 18½ years old. His starting salary was Rs. 400 per month, a fabulous sum in those days. At that point of time perhaps nobody would have even dreamt that Raman would again venture into the pursuits of science. Raman’s prospects in the Government service were too lucrative. And during those days opportunities for doing research were rare. But then one day while going to office Raman saw a signboard with the words “Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science” written on it. The address was 210, Bowbazar Street. On his way back he came to the Association where he first met an individual named Ashutosh Dey (Ashu Babu) who was to be Raman’s assistant for 25 years. Ashu Babu took Raman to the Honorary Secretary of the Association, Amrit Lal Sircar, who was overjoyed when he came to know about Raman’s intention — to do research at the Association’s laboratory. Amrit Lal had reason to be overjoyed because it was his father Mahendra Lal Sircar (1833-1904), a man of vision, who established the Association in 1876. This Association happened to be the first institute to be established in India solely for carrying out scientific investigations.

Mahendra Lal Sircar, who took the MD degree in 1863, was appointed a Fellow of the Calcutta University in 1870 and Sheriff of Calcutta in 1887. He was also a member of the Bengal Legislative Council from 1887 to 1893 and was associated with many learned societies of Kolkata. Mahendra Lal was a staunch patriot and his interest ranged beyond medicine. Being a visionary he had visualised that many problems faced by the country could only be solved by the application of modern science. Mahendra Lal had shown a great foresight by realising that ‘science would never strike a deep root in this country through the process of its introduction in the educational curriculum alone.’ To realise his dreams Mahendra Lal founded the Association. Mahendra Lal stated the objective of the Association as follows: “The object of the Association is to enable the Natives of India to Cultivate Science in all its departments with a view to its advancement by original research and (as it will necessarily follow) with a view to its varied applications to arts and comforts of life.” At the beginning the major activity of the Association was to organise popular science lectures by well-known scholars and scientists. The Association had built a Laboratory in 1891 with the generous donation by the Maharaja of Vizianagram. However, during Mahendra Lal’s lifetime nobody came forward to do research under the aegis of the Association. Mahendra Lal was dismayed by the apathy of Indians towards the cultivation of science. A few weeks before his death Mahendra Lal had stated his wish in the following words : “Younger men must come and step into my place and make this into a great institution.” So when Amrit Lal Sircar saw Raman, perhaps he felt that he (Raman) would realise his father’s dream. And as we know today Raman indeed realised Mahendra Lal Sircar’s dream.

It was not an easy task. Till 1917 Raman continued his research at the Association in his spare time. Doing research in his spare time and that too with very limited facilities Raman could publish his research findings in leading international journals like Nature, The Philosophical Magazine and Physics Review. During this period he published 30 original research papers. His research carried during this period mainly centred on areas of vibrations and acoustics. He studied a number of musical instruments viz., ectara, violin, tambura, veena, mridangam, tabla etc. He published a monograph on his extensive studies on the violin. The monograph was titled ‘On the Mechanical Theory of Vibrations of Musical Instruments of the Violin Family with Experimental Verifications of the Results Part- I’. During this period Ashu Babu, who never entered the portals of a university, was his only collaborator. This did not prevent Ashu Babu from becoming a joint author in many papers that Raman published. Even Ashu Babu was the sole author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. It was in 1919 Raman took research students for the first time.

There was an interruption to Raman’s work at the Association. He was transferred to Rangoon (1909) and Nagpur (1910). However, Raman’s research work was not completely stopped. At both places he converted his home into a laboratory and continued his work. He came back to Calcutta in 1911.

In 1917 Raman was invited by Asutosh Mookerjee (1864-1924), to be a professor in the newly established Science College. Mookerjee, who was a judge of the Calcutta High Court for twenty years, was a great educationist and jurist of his time. On being appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University he not only started a post-graduate department for various disciplines of science but he also persuaded people to create endowment Professorships. Raman was offered the Palit Professorship in Physics. The salary for the professorship was about half the amount that Raman was getting in the Finance Department. Moreover, Raman was successful as a Finance Officer. In fact the Finance Department was reluctant to let him go. Thus the Member (Finance) of the Viceroy’s Council wrote : “We find Vankataraman is most useful in the Finance Department being, in fact, one of our best men”. However, Raman happily accepted the offer. He joined the Calcutta University as Palit Professor in July 1917. That Asutosh Mookerjee was touched by Raman’s total devotion to science is obvious from his following remarks: “For the Chair of Physics created by Sir Taraknath Palit, we have been fortunate enough to secure the services of Mr. Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who has greatly distinguished himself and acquired a European fame by his brilliant research in the domain of Physical Science, assiduously carried on under the most adverse circumstances amidst the distraction of pressing official duties. I rejoice to think that many of these valuable researches have been carried on in the laboratory of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, founded by our late illustrious colleague, Dr. Mahandra Lal Sircar, who devoted a lifetime to the foundation of an institution for the cultivation and advancement of science in this country. I should fail in my duty if I were to restrain myself in my expression of genuine admiration I feel for the courage and spirit of self-sacrifice with which Mr. Raman had decided to exchange a lucrative official appointment with attractive prospects, for a University Professorship, which, I regret to say, does not carry even liberal emoluments. This one instance encourages me to entertain the hope that there will be no lack of seeker after truth in the Temple of Knowledge which it is our ambition to erect.”

Asutosh Mookerjee had to change the provision of the endowment before appointing Raman. Because one of the requirements, for appointment to the Palit Chair was to have been trained abroad. But Raman refused to go abroad to be ‘trained’. The terms of Raman’s appointment as the Palit Professor did not entail any teaching responsibilities. His duties were :

  • to devote himself to original research in his subject to extend the bounds of knowledge
  • to stimulate and guide research by students; and
  • to supervise the laboratory in the College of Science.

Though he was free from teaching responsibility but Raman, being a born-teacher, could not be away from the class room. He took a prominent part in MSc teaching. Here we quote L.A. Ramdas, one of his students : “Prof. Raman took `Electricity and Magnetism’ in the year 1920-21 and `Physical optics’ in 1921-22. Both sets of MSc students felt that they were indeed listening to a type of inspired teaching to which was brought all the original flavours and excitement of the past…. We shared with him much of excitement and superb thrill that Banjamin Franklin, Oersted, Arago, Gauss, Faraday, Maxwell, Hertz, Lord Kelvin and many others must have felt while they were making their actual discoveries… Often he used to take the entire forenoon, for 2 and sometimes even 3 hours – such was his tremendous love of teaching….And after each lecture we used spontaneously to look up original papers and treatises like Maxwell’s Electricity and Magnetism, J.J. Thomson’s Conduction of Electricity, Faraday’s Experimental Researches, Lord Raylegh’s and Kelvin’s Collected Papers, and so farther”.

Even after joining the Calcutta University Raman was allowed to continue his work at the Association’s Laboratories. In fact the Association became the research arm of the University. Following the death of Amrit Lal Sircar in 1919 Raman was elected as Honorary Secretary of the Association, the post he held till 1933, when he left Kolkata. It was not that Raman was very willing to leave Kolkata. His exit was the result of the clash between him and Meghnad Saha, another great personality of Indian Science. Raman was voted out of the Honorary Secretaryship of the Association. It was certainly a moment of bitter humiliation for Raman and it was more so because he had himalayan ego. And so he decided to take up the pending invitation from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, to become its Director. He was the first Indian to become its Director. Raman succeeded Sir Martin Forster, FRS. He served IISc both as its Director (1933-1937) and head of the Physics Department (1933-1948).

When Raman joined IISc its academic accomplishments were not very high. Its funding position was much better than Calcutta University where Raman was working. Raman brought out the following changes:

  • A new physics department came into existence
  • Some of the existing departments were reorganised
  • Steps were initiated to establish a central workshop for fabricating precision instruments.
  • The surroundings were improved by planting beautiful flowering gardens.

For achieving academic excellence he himself gathered a team of talented students and started doing high quality research in many fields of physics. Raman also wanted to initiate basic research in fields like quantum mechanics, crystal chemistry and vitamins and enzyme chemistry by recruiting outstanding faculty. At that point of time many reputed scientists were forced to leave Germany because of Hitler’s racist policy. Raman wanted to bring some of these scientists to IISc. Raman had many names on his list, both foreign and Indian’. However, he was only successful in bringing Max Born, that too for a short time.
Some of the Raman’s moves were opposed by the existing staff. In fact Raman’s moves to reorganize some of the existing departments and the Institute’s workshops led to the resignation of two professors — the Professor of Chemistry (Prof. Watson) and the Professor of Electrical Engineering (Prof. Modawalla). Raman’s act of reapportioning the Institute’s budget to aid the newly established physics department invited charges of embezzlement. He was accused of patronizing the physics department at the cost of other departments. His attempt to keep Max Born in the institute was also not liked by many. As time passed Raman found himself increasingly in isolation. Seeing the growing turmoil in the campus, the Council, the body charged with overseeing the management of the Institute, recommended to the Visitor (then Viceroy of British India) in July 1935 to appoint a Review Committee to review the Institute’s affairs. The Committee, the appointment of which was formarlly announced on January 19, 1936, consisted of Sir James Irvin, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of St. Endrews University, Dr. A . H. Mackenzie, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Osmania University and Dr. S.S. Bhatnagar, then Professor of Chemistry at the Punjab University at Lahore. Irvin was to head the Committee. The Committee in its Report to the Viceroy submitted in May 1936 more or less reaffimed the accusations made against Raman. The Report stated : “Making full allowance for possible exaggeration, we greatly fear that there is much truth in these allegations. The resignations of Professor Watson and Professor Modawalla can now be readily understood”. According to the Irvin Committee Report, Raman was guilty not only of administrative irregularities, but of financial lapses as well. The Committee branded Raman inimical to applied science. Besides castigating Raman, the Committee also proposed measures to curtail the powers of the Director. For example the Committee suggested that the budget be processed “through no fewer than four bodies in succession before it is finally sanctioned.” Raman’s warning that “it would place insuperable obstacles in the path of progressive administration such as is essential for success of a scientific institution” went unheeded. The Council endorsed the Report of Irvin Committee and the friction between the management of the Institute and Raman continued to grow. Finally the situation became such that there was no alternative for Raman other than to resign the Directorship of the Institute. In fact he was asked to resign or face action. However, he remained in IISc as Professor of Physics. Raman retired as Professor from the Institute in 1948.
After retirement from the Institute he concentrated his attention in building an institute of his own – the Raman Research Institute (RRI). Even before his retirement Raman had started to build an institute where he could retire and enjoy science. To quote Raman : “You know, I was to retire at 60. So two years before my retirement I started building this institute so that on the day I retired I took my bag and walked right into this institute. I can not remain idle for a single day”. Raman had to gather money for building the Institute. Raman had lost most of his life’s savings including his Nobel Prize money in an investment. The Institute was built on a ten acre plot of land gifted by the Maharajah of Mysore way back in 1934 the land of given to the Indian Academy of Sciences, and for its related activities. Raman traveled extensively for raising donation for constructing the building for housing the institute. When Raman moved to the institute the facilities were far from complete. Raman was opposed to the idea of taking grants from the government for running the institute. To earn money for the institute he started a few chemical industries (in association with one of his former students). The dividends from these industries were sufficient to support the institute to start with. He gifted away most of his personal properties to the Academy for the benefit of the institute, as also the Lenin Peace Prize money. A museum was built to house Raman’s collection of crystals, gems, minerals, rock specimens, shells, stuffed birds, butterflies and so on. Raman had fascination for colours and so he collected everything that had colours.”


Raman was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1924 in recognition of his outstanding researches in physical optics, molecular diffraction of light, X-ray scattering by liquids and a molecular anisotropy. It may be noted that Raman had resigned the Fellowship of the Royal Society. He was conferred a Knighthood by the British Government in 1929. He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930. The Government of India awarded him the title of “Bharat Ratna” in 1954. The erstwhile Soviet Union honoured him with the International Lenin Prize in 1957. Some of the other awards/honours, received by Raman were: Mattencci Medal of the `Societe Italiana della Scienzia of Rome (1928); Hughes Medal of the Royal Society of London (1930) and Franklin Model of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia (1941).
Raman died on November 21, 1970. As per his desire he was cremated in the gardens of his institute.
Stamps published by indian government

  • C. V. Raman, A New Radiation, Indian Journal of Physics, 2, 387 (1928)
  • C. V. Raman et K. S. Krishnan, A New Class of Spectra due to Secondary Radiation. Part I., Indian Journal of Physics, 3, 399 (1928)
  • C.V. Raman et K.S. Krishnan, The production of new radiations by light scattering. Part I., Proceeding of the Royal Society of London, AI22, 23-35 (1929)
  • C.V. Raman, The molecular scattering of light. Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1922-1941, 267-275 (1930)



  • C.V. Raman : A Pictorial Biography. Complied by S. Ramaseshan and C. Ramachandra Rao, Indian Academy of Sciences
  • vigyanprasar

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