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Jagadananda Roy: The Forgotten Science Guru of Santiniketan

13 January, 2021 11:46:14
Jagadananda Roy: The Forgotten Science Guru of Santiniketan

December 22, 1901 (7th Poush, according to Bengali almanac). It was an epoch in the annals of 20th century history. This was the day when the Bard of Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore’s dream project was unveiled at Bhuvandanga. It was a day of festivities to mark the inauguration of Tagore’s Brahmacharyashram school at Santiniketan. The school started with five pupils who were formally initiated into the fold at the site of the present-day Patha Bhavana hall. These five students were Rabindranath’s eldest son, Rathindranath Tagore, Sudhirkumar Nan, Girindranath Bhattacharya, Gourgovinda Gupta and Premkumar Gupta. Two teachers of the institution, Shibdhan Vidyarnav and Jagadananda Roy, were present at the programme in pristine white tussar dhoti and scarves (chadar). Roy’s association with Santiniketan was a long one that continued for decades and his role as an ideal teacher became a part of the lore as he strived ceaselessly, inspiring, nurturing and molding students to excel in their own spheres in the years to come.

In 1910, he became the first Sarvadhakshya (Principal) of the school. After the first three years, Tagore himself suggested Roy to continue as Sarvadhakshya for the next term as well. In 1921, when Visva Bharati was formally established, Jagadananda was elected as the first acting secretary of the varsity as well as secretary of Santiniketn.

Jagadananda bilaan gnyan/ Gilan punthi ghar-jora/ Kanthal gulan kiliye pakan/ Gadha piti koren ghora (Jagadananda disperses knowledge, force-feeding voluminous amount of information from umpteen books scattered all over. He is a tough task master who doesn’t hesitate to punish mercilessly in his mission to turn a stupid donkey into a sharp and attentive horse). This limerick by Dwijendranath Tagore defines perfectly the qualities of an ideal teacher as manifested by Roy. Rabindranath Tagore himself was highly impressed by Roy’s dedication and wrote, teaching was a passion for Roy. He was totally devoted to imparting knowledge to his students. He was most content when he shared his wisdom with his wards. He always strived to raise the bar of learning higher and higher, coaxing and baiting his students to rise up to the occasion and take up challenges. 

Jagadananda taught science and mathematics. He would get immersed in the subjects when he taught but it pained him when he noticed some of the students did not pay attention in class during lessons. He taught science very casually to dispel any fear from the mind of his students. He   interacted and explained complex scientific theories in the form of interesting stories and anecdotes. His students would stand mesmerized watching Roy experimenting with instruments in the lab. He was forever willing to answer any question shot at him by his students or clear doubts about his subjects. His teaching was not limited to the syllabus rather he enjoyed opening a whole new world of learning for his students. Tagore fully supported and approved all endeavors of Roy. In fact, he had bought a 3-inch telescope for Roy that had cost him a princely amount of Rs 300 then. Jagadananda observed the celestial bodies at night with the telescope. Roy was a regular contributor in Tattwabodhini, a journal edited by Rabindranath himself. Roy wrote articles on science in interesting and lucid language. 

Jagadananda was a brilliant storyteller. In the evenings, students flocked to him to listen to his fantastic tales. He was very witty and related tales with so much conviction that his listeners often thought he was describing actual incidents. He looked glum and stern with his eyes gauging people from behind thick glasses and at first glance, students were petrified of him.

Roy was a pioneer in writing science topics in Bengali. He had the rare ability to write and explain complex scientific theories in simple lucid language. Tagore first read his article in Sadhana magazine and was highly impressed. Later when he learnt that Jagadananda’s family was going through immense financial crisis after his father’s death, he contacted him and offered him a job at his estate in Silaidaha. Jagadananda also taught at the school set up by Tagore at the Silaidaha Kuthibari. Rabindranath was a keen observer who discovered Jagadananda’s aptitude for teaching and decided to channelize his talent in the right direction. Hence in 1901, when he started Brahmacharyashram school in Santiniketan, he called for Roy and asked him, if he wanted to work in the estate at Silaidaha or wanted to take up teaching. Roy did not hesitate to state his interest. When Tagore agreed to fulfill Roy’s ambition, the latter was overjoyed. 

In 1910, he became the first Sarvadhakshya (Principal) of the school. After the first three years, Tagore himself suggested Roy to continue as Sarvadhakshya for the next term as well. In 1921, when Visva Bharati was formally established, Jagadananda was elected as the first acting secretary of the varsity as well as secretary of Santiniketn. Later he also took up the operations of ‘Santiniketan’ magazine and Santiniketan printing press. He was the first president of Visva Bharati Co-operative Board. In Rathindranath’s absence, he also officiated as joint secretary of   Sriniketan. Jagadananda was involved with many charitable institutions. He headed the Bolpur Union Board Bench as honorary Magistrate. 

Jagadananda enacted in plays. He acted in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 1908, during Durga Puja, he essayed the role of a miser named Laksheswar in the play, Sharadotsav. In Prayaschitta, he was Ramchandra, in Raja, he was Koshal-Raj, Dada-Thakur in Phalguni, Mahapanchak in Achalyatan and many more. He was fond of painting and music as well. He played the violin in his spare time. He was a genius and a man much ahead of his times.

Jagadananda was a brilliant storyteller. In the evenings, students flocked to him to listen to his fantastic tales. He was very witty and related tales with so much conviction that his listeners often thought he was describing actual incidents. He looked glum and stern with his eyes gauging people from behind thick glasses and at first glance, students were petrified of him. But   in no time, they discovered the soft-hearted, student-loving, caring teacher I him. Once, a teacher had punished a truant ashramite and he was denied lunch. When Roy heard this, he shed copious tears for the boy. Although he was a very strict disciplinarian, he compensated his scolding with generous offerings of candies and biscuits to the pupils. This often emboldened the boys. Once, Rathindranath and his classmates lifted the cot on which Roy was sleeping and carried it to the burning ghat amid boisterous chants of ‘Hori-bol.’ 

Jagadananda enacted in plays. He acted in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 1908, during Durga Puja, he essayed the role of a miser named Laksheswar in the play, Sharadotsav.  In Prayaschitta, he was Ramchandra, in Raja, he was Koshal-Raj, Dada-Thakur in Phalguni, Mahapanchak in Achalyatan and many more. He was fond of painting and music as well. He played the violin in his spare time. He was a genius and a man much ahead of his times. Poet Alokranjan Dasgupta had once rated his genius and rightly commented, “Jagadananada erased the false myth that separates science from literature. He refused to acknowledge the inherent hostility that lay at the basis of the two streams that distanced them from one another.”  

After his demise, Rabindranath Tagore had written, ‘Jagadananda Roy’s name is already well-known to children and their parents. He introduced science in a simple and interesting manner among the children of impressionable age. We know his deep love and commitment for children and now after his death, his labour of love that he has left behind, will remain intact.”   

Time moves on. Science has advanced manifold and as things stand now, it is science that rules the roost. The contribution of a soul dedicated to science who taught and thrived at Santiniketan many years ago, has faded from public memory and now is a forgotten entity. But one cannot but acknowledge the fact that he was a silent one-man crusader who left no stones unturned to unite the forces of science and literature through his works.

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  • Jagadananda Roy, Santiniketan

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