Great Indians in History

From an honour roll that goes back to be, it is possible to provide thumbnail sketches of only a few of the remarkable people who have enriched this land in diverse ways, especially during the struggle for Independence.


Born in Maharashtra, Vinoba Bhave took a vow of celibacy when he was 10. He studied at Varanasi, joined Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati and later started his ashram at Paunar. He started the Bhoodan Movement for equitable distribution of land. A great scholar of Sanskrit, he spoke about 18 Indian and foreign languages.

AGNIMITRA (2nd century BC)

Son of Pushyamitra, the founder of the Sunga dynasty, Agnimitra reigned in 149- 141 Be according to the Puranas. A great patron of art and literature, he is the subject of a famous contemporary play Kalidasa’s Malvikagnimitra (See Literature: Sanskrit).

AMRITA SHERGIll (1913-1956)

One of the pathbreaking artists of modern India, Amrita Shergill ‘s works display both Indian and western traits. She was born in Budapest (Hungary) and came to India and settled in Shimla after completing her education in music and painting in Paris. In 1936, she made a self-portrait which gained her instant fame. Among her better known paintings are An Ancient Story-teller, Three Virgins, The Celibate. She died early leaving behind a rich legacy.


Anna Saheb Karve led an ascetic life. He worked for the upliftment of women , kindling a new awareness through his writings in the reformist journal Kesari. He was a staunch advocate of widow remarriage and established an orphanage in Pune. He founded the Bharatiya Mahila Vidyapeeth, the first university for women. He died at the age of l04.


Annie Besant, British by birth, adopted India as her home. She was president of the Theosophical Society and president of the Indian National Congress and founder of the Home Rule league in India. She took a leading part in the struggle for Indian Independance and established the Central Hindu College in Benaras. She was the author of Religious Problems in India.

ARYABHATTA (5th century BC)

A famous mathematician and astrologer, author of the celebrated Aryabbatta Tantra in Sanskrit at the age of 23. He was also a poet and scholar who is famous for Dasgitikasutra which contains 33 stanzas on mathematics, 25 on measurements. of time and 50 on spherical measurements. He was the first to believe that the earth was round and not flat-Before Copernicus he insisted the earth rotated round the sun. He knew the reasons behind solar and lunar eclipses and was also aware that the moon and other planets get their light from the sun (See Science).

ASVAGHOSA (lst century BC)

A philosopher and priest, who lived in the reign of Kanishka (See History: Dynasties) he was a well known poet, musician, intellectual and dramatist. Rashtrapala and Sariputra Prakarana are two well-known plays by him. He also wrote a book of poems Sutra Alankaraand the memorable epic Buddhacharita, which narrates the life of Gautama Buddha. He expounded Mahayana Buddhism and his books were translated into Tibetan and Chinese (See Religion: Buddhism).


After a revolutionary career in the struggle for Independance, he became a saint and yogi. He edited the publications Vande-matram and Karmayogi and was hounded by the British. He left politics in 1909 and started the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. He wrote of his beliefs in The Divine Life. Divyajeevan, Sauitri, GeetaKi Bbumika, Veda RabasyaandFuture Poetry are his other well known books. Sauitri was his last major work (See Literature: Indo-Anglian).


Bal (or Balwant) Gangadhar Tilak believed that militant methods were necessary to get rid of British rule. He was affectionately called ‘lokmanya’ (honoured by the people) Tilak. In 1881 he started journals like Kesari (Marathi) and Maratba (English) to prompt national awakening. He coined the famous slogan, “Swaraj (independence) is my birthright and I shall have it.” For his anti-imperialistic acivities, he was jailed several times. During his imprisonment he wrote his famous commentary on the Srimad Bbagavad Gita, the Gita Rahasaya.

BHAGAT SINGH (1907-1931)

Sardar Bhagat Singh played a vital role in the struggle for India’s freedom. Born at Banga near jalandhar, he was the nephew of a freedom fighter, Sardar Ajit. Sukhdev, Rajguru and Dutt were Bhagat Singh’s fellow martyrs. They hurled a bomb at the hall of the Central Assembly and after a mock trial were sentenced to death and hanged on March 23,1931. Bhagat Singh was honoured with the title Shahid (martyr).

DR. B. R. AMBEDKAR (1893-1956).

A leader of the Indian underprivileged classes, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was educated by the Maharaja of Baroda and studied in America and England. He started as a typist in a government office and went on to become a founding father of the Indian Constitution. He was the first Union Minister of law, Government of India 1947- 51 and the president of the Scheduled Castes Federation. He embraced Buddhism as a rejection of oppressive Hindu orthodoxy. He presented the reformist Hindu Code Bill which was passed by Parliament. Dr. Ambedkar has authored several books on economics, sociology and politics.

BIRBAL (16th century)

One of the ‘nine gems’ or band of distinguished people in the court of Akbar the Mughal, he was a poet and a trusted general, known for his wit and humour. His real name was Mahesh Das. Akbar gave him the titles of ‘Raja’ (king) and ‘Kaviraj’ (the great poet). He was killed in action while trying to subdue the Pathan tribes in the North-west Frontier.

CHANAKYA (4th century BC)

A celebrated Brahmin who plotted and achieved the destruction of the degenerate Nandas of Pataliputra and the enthronement of Chandragupta Maurya. Also called Kautilya or Vishnugupta he wrote the political treatise Arthashastra, often com- pared to Machiavelli’s The Prince. He is the protagonist of Vishakadatta’s play, Mudrarakshasa. Chanakya’s guile and fore- sight are a byword even today in Indian folklore and literature.


A nationalist who sacrificed his life for India’s freedom, he had no faith in non- violence. While Bhagat Singh was active in Punjab, Azad was busy in UP spreading nationalist propaganda. He led the Hindustan Republican Army and the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. With a group of people he looted the government treasury for funding the freedom movement. He was finally surrounded in

Alfred Park, lucknow, by a police squadron. Azad faced them courageously for hours. Even after he fell, the British officers dared not approach him, until it was con- firmed that he was really dead.


The great iconoclast intellectual of ancient India who negated the Vedas and brushed aside concepts like rebirth and moksha or liberation (See Philosophy) and claimed that truth was what was experienced with the senses. According to him ‘pleasure’ was the ultimate aim for which one struggled in life. He also blasted moral strictures like patioratya or fidelity of women, saying it was the creation of weak-minded men. Charvaka’s school of philosophy came to be known as ‘Lokayata’ (See Philosophy). According to Jaina sources, he hailed from Avanti Desha and died at Pushkara Tirtha.

CHHOTU RAM (1883 – not certain)

Sir Chhotu Ram dedicated himself to public life in Punjab and dominated state politics in the pre-partition days. He served as assistant secretary to the Raja of Kalakar(Oudh). In 1908 he joinedthe St.]ohn’s Mission High School, Agra. He practised law at Agra fora year and shifted to Rohtak in October 1912. For over a period of ten years (1926-36) he acted as the leader of the Unionist Party in the Punjab Legislative Council. He was elected the president of the Council in 1936 and was the state minister for development and revenue.

C.R. ANDREWS (1871-1940).

An English priest who took up the cause of Indian Independence, he dedicated himself to Mahatma Gandhi and his creed of non-violence. He came to India as a missionary and professor in St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, but stayed on to join the struggle for freedom.

C.N. DAS (1870-1925)

Chittaranjan Das was a great nationalist leader who earned the honorific ‘Deshbandhu.’ He joined hands with Motilal Nehru and Lajpat Rai to form the Swarajya Party. Das first showed his brilliance as a lawyer in defending Aurobindo Ghose. He fathered nationalism in Bengal and Subhash Chandra Bose looked upon him as his guru. When Das was appointed the mayor of Calcutta, Bose became the chief executive officer.


Philosopher and nationalist leader he was the only Indian to become governor general of India. Mountbatten was viceroy then. He founded the Swatantra Party in 1959 which merged with the Janata Party in 1977. Author of popular English versions of the epics Ramayanaand Mahabharata.

C. V. RAMAN (1888-1970)

Dr. Chandrashekhar Venkata Raman isone of the most distinguished scientists of this century. He passed his matriculation when he was only 12 and a post-graduate degree in physics from Presidency College, Madras, breaking all previous records. His discovery on light is known as the ‘Raman Effect.’ For this, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930. The British Government in India conferred a knighthood on him. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of London. The Government of independent India honoured him with the Bharat Ratna (jewel of India order) in 1954.


The ‘grand old man of India’ was looked upon as a father figure by the nationalists, being a founder-member of the Indian National Congress. Nominated to the British Parliament in 1896 and 1906, he was a ‘moderate’ who believed the goal of Indian independence could be best achieved by gradually winning over the British:

D. H. CHAPEKAR(1869-1899).

Damodar Hari Chapekar with his brothers Balkishan Chapekar (1873-1899) and Vasudev Chapekar 0879-1899) killed two British officers in 1897 in protest against British rule. This was the first individual action or terrorist act against the British in India. All three were executed by hanging at Yervada Centraljail,

DHYAN CHAND (1905-1979)

Sportsman, who joined the army at the age of 16 and started playing hockey while in service. He was included in the Indian hockey team for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. India won the gold medal and out of a total 28 goals scored by the Indian team, 11 were scored by Dhyan Chand. He was also the captain of the gold medal winning hockey team in the historic 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan. Dhyan Chand scored 101 goals in the Olympics and 300 goals in other international matches. His record stands un- broken.


The charismatic leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) movement in Tami Nadu who believed in ‘direct’ action to overthrow British Rule. He was nick- named ‘Periyar’ which means ‘the elder.’


Leader of ‘Young Bombay Party’ which established several political, religious and social organisations to promote liberal thought.


Born in a Parsi family in Bombay, he studied law in England and returned in 1868 to join the freedom struggle. He was eminent amongst those formed the Indian National Congress. He started propagating his views on higher education through The Bombay Chronicle, started in 1913.

GANGA RAM (1851-1927)

Sir Ganga Ram was one of India’s pioneer engineers. Despite his humble beginnings he was a great philanthropist. The Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi is named after him.


One of the pioneer industrialists of India, he was the president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in 1924, a delegate to the International Labour Organisation at Geneva in 1927 and a member of the Indian Fiscal Commission on Labour in 1939. Celebrated for his philanthropy and contribution to Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for freedom, he founded several educational institutions, the best -known of which is the Institute of Technology and Science in his village Pilani in Rajasthan.

G. K. GOKHALE (1866-1915)

He has the unique distinction of being the political guru of two diametrically opposed leaders: Gandhi -and Jinnah. Gopal Krishna Gokhale belonged to a poor family and had to struggle hard for a living. His moderate views and calm, good sense exerted a powerful influence on Indian politics. In 1899 he ws elected to the Bombay Legislative Council. In 1905 he founded the reformist Servants of India Society. He was a member of the Imperial Legislative Council till his death.


Born at Almora in UP and educated at Allahabad, he qualified as a lawyer in 1909, and joined the freedom struggle, inspired by the non-violent philosophy of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He worked mainly in UP and was associated with the Nehru family. Pandit Pant came to be known as an able administrator. After Independence he became chief minister of UP and later the Union home minister. He was honoured with the Bharat Ratna in 1957.


World-renowned physicist who was chair- man of the Atomic Energy Commision of India and president of the Indian Science Congress in 1951. He published papers on cosmic rays and the Quantum Theory, presided over the Atoms for Peace Conference at Geneva in August 1955 and supervised the building of several atomic reactors in India. He died in an air crash over the Alps.

IFTIKAR ALl KHAN (1910-1952)

Nawab of Pataudi, father of cricketer Mansur Ali Khan was the only sportsman to play Test cricket for both England and India. He was in Douglas Jardine’s ‘Bodyline’ team that toured Australia in 1932-33. He objected to Jardine’s bodyline tactics, was dropped from the team and never played for England again. In 1946 he captained the Indian side against England and was even a member of India’s winning hockey team in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.


Scientist who amazed the world with his discoveries. A professor of physics at Presidency College, Calcutta, Bose’s chief work was on plants and metals. He proved that all the three kingdoms of matter, animal, vegetable and mineral are one. His best-known books are Response in the Living and the Non-living, Plant Responses and Motor Mechanism of Plants.


A founding father of Indian industry, he started a cloth mill in Nagpur more than a hundred years ago. Realising that an industrial revolution could be brought about only with the creation of basic industries, he planned and built an entire ‘steel city’, now known as Jamshedpur. He established the Indian School of Science at Ban- galore and the hydro-electric project at Bombay. The Taj Hotel in Bombay, the first of the premier chain of hotels was also built by Tata.


As an architect of modern India and champion of world peace Jawaharlal Nehru has a permanent place in contemporary history. He was educated in England where he qualified as a barrister in 1912 and re- turned to India. In 1916 he came into contact with his political teacher, Mahatma Gandhi. He was elected president of Indian National Congress five times and it was under him that the Congress adopted the famous resolution of ‘Complete Independance’ at its Lahore session in 1929. When India gained freedom in 1947, Nehru became prime minister. He laid a strong foundation for the economic and industrial progress of the country and pursued a policy of non-alignment in the international sphere, which became a valid option for countries which shunned the power blocs of the time. A man of letters, some of his books are Glimpses of World History and Discovery of India. Nehru loved children and his birthday 14th November is celebrated as ‘Children’s Day’ each year.

J.B. KRlPALANI (1888-1982)

A nationalist who came to the forefront of the Indian National Congress by his sheer ability and political acumen. He participated in every phase of the Independence struggle. He was jailed for the first time in 1920. His association with Gujarat University (1922-1927) fetched him the tide ‘Acharya’ (preceptor). In 1951, he formed the Kisan Majdoor Dal, a popular rural labour union. Hewasa member of the RajyaSabha and Lok Sabha for many years. The secretary of the Indian National Congress and later its president in 1946. He authored several books, and was a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

J. KRlSHNAMURTI (1895-1986)

Jiddu Krishnamurti was a profound thinker of modern times. He gave a new meaning to spiritualism and brought it to the level of the common people. At 11 , he was initiated into the teachings of Theosophical Society (See Annie Besant). In 1929, he dissociated himself from the Society and toured through Europe, America, Australia and other countries preaching his philosophy.

J. G. PHULE(1827-1890)

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was a great social reformer who fought for the rights of non- brahmins, for widow remarriage, and education for women.

K. D. CHATTOPADHYAY(1903-1989).

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was the general secretary of the All India Women’s Conference 1926-30 and its president 1944- 45. She was actively associated with the national academy for dance, drama and music (Sangeet Natak Akademi) and was responsible for reviving dying handicrafts with her writing, campaigning and official involvement.

K. VEERESALINGAM (1848-1919)

Social refomer, founder of the renaissance in the Telugu language, a liberal and a champion of the rights of women, particularly of education and of widow remarriage.

K. N. ANNADURAI (1909-1969)

Leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, author, playwright and social reformer, venerated in Tamil Nadu as ‘Anna’ (elder brother).

K. M. MUNSHI (1887-1971)

Lawyer, statesman, author, one of the framers of the Constitution, home minister of Bombay in 1937, food minister, governor of UP. Founded the literary-cultural institution, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan soon after Independance. As a prolific modern writer in Gujarati, he has a great many novels, dramas and memoirs to his credit, as well as essays and histories in English.

KAPIL DEV (b 1959)

One of India’s finest all-rounders in cricket. Surprisingly he did not play the game until he was 13. He started playing First Class cricket in 1975 and played in a Test match for the first time in 1978 during the Indian tour of Pakistan. When he was just 20, he set a new record by scoring 1,000 runs and taking 100 wickets within a period of just one year and 109 days. The main credit of India’s victory in the World Cup, held in England in 1983 goes to Kapil Dev. His autobiography is titled By God’s Decree. His latest world record is 400 wickets in Tests and he now ranks second only to New Zealand’s Sir Richard Hadlee.

KHUDI RAM BOSE(1889-1908)

A revolutionary who popularised the gospel of Vande Mataram or worship of the motherland. In 1906, at an exhibition organised by the British, he distributed anti-government pamphlets. He tried to hurl a bomb at a British magistrate, but was apprehended and sentenced to death. He smilingly accepted the noose.


Born into a poor family, his quiet talent and determination brought him to the forefront in the freedom movement and then to politics in UP. He was the minister for railways in the Nehru cabinet and after the death of Pandit Nehru in 1964, he became prime minister of India. He coined the immortal slogan Jai Jawan jai Kisan (Hail soldier, hail farmer). He died in 1966 at Tashkent of a heart attack. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.

LALA LAJPATRAI (1865-1928)

‘Punjab Kesari’ Lala Lajpat Rai did not believe in non-violent means for throwing off the British yoke. He joined the freedom struggle at a very early age and visited Eng- land several times to confer with the British about better terms for Indians. He founded the ‘Indian Home Rule League’ and started a monthly paper Young India. He wrote a popular book, Self Determination for India. He led the black flag demonstration against the Simon Commision and suffered blows in return (See History: Chronology).


Remembered as• one of those fearless young revolutionaries who jumped into the freedom struggle without a thought for his life, he was born into a well-to-do Punjabi family. His commitment to the Freedom movement led him to shoot dead two British officers. He died in the same jail where Sardar Udham Singh was hanged. During his trial, he admitted he had taken this extreme step for his motherland and added, “In the service of my country I have nothing but my blood to give.”

M. M. MALAVlYA (l861-1946)

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya is known for his contribution to social, ethical, and educational upliftment. He is called ‘Maha- mana’ (greatly respected). His untiring efforts in the field of education led to the establishment of Benaras Hindu University. He died in 1946, a year before India became independant.

MASTI V. IYENGAR (1891-1986)

Venkatesa Iyengar was a prolific revolutionary novelist of the Kannada language. He was awarded the Jnanpith Award in 1983 for his work Chikkavir Rajendra. He wrote 18 plays, 30 novels, 46 biographies and 17volumes of shortstories. His first collection of stories Kelpu Sanna Katheyak, was published in 1920. Masti was selected for the administrative services in 1914 and rose to become chief secretary in 1943.

MAULANA AZAD(1888-1958)

Abul Kalam Azad was a national leader, revered as the embodiment of the spirit of freedom and unity, rising above distinction of caste, creed and communalism. His intense patriotism led to his being imprisoned several times by the British. A premier medical college in Delhi is named after him.

MEGH ADSAHA(l894-1956)

Born in Saroyatali village in Dhaka (now in Bangladesh), Meghnad Saha came to Calcutta for higher studies where he met scientists like Jagdish Chandra Bose and Dr. Prafulla Chandra Rai who inspired him in his work. Dr. Saha worked with many international scientists in his field of specialisation, astrophysics and invented an instrument to measure the weight and pressure of solar rays. In 1913, Pandit Nehru appointed him director, Indian Science Association. He prepared the original plan for the Damodar Valley Project,the first of its kind in India. Dr.Saha was also a member of Lok Sabha.

MIHIRSE T (b.1930)

A lawyer by profession,Sen is a barrister of the Calcutta High Court. In 1958, he was the first Asian to swim the English Channel. In 1966, he established five important records and became a world renowned salt-water swimmer. In 1959, he was awarded the Padma Shri and in 1967 the Padma Bhushan, both national awards for excellence.


‘The Flying Sikh’ is one of the most out-standing athletes of India. In 1935, he joined the army and paid special attention to athletics. In 1957, he established a new national record of 47.5 seconds in the 400 metres race. In the Asiad held at Jakarta (Indonesia), Milkha Singh won a gold medal in this event. He was awarded the PadmaShri.

MIRZA GHALIB (1797-1869)

His real name was Mirza Asadullah Begh Khan Ghalib and he wrote simple, intense poetry and prose. Diioan-i-Gbalib, in 10 volumes is a collection of his poetical works, while Urdu-i-Hindi and Urdu-i- Mullah are collections of letters (See Literature: Urdu).

M. K. GANDHI (1869-1948)

‘Mahatma’ (Great Soul) Gandhi is known as ‘the father of the nation.’ He played a pivotal role in the freedom movement and was the chief architect of Indian Independence. His public career can be divided into two distinct periods. The first is identified with South Africa and the second belongs to India. In South Africa he fought against the racist Asiatic Exclusive Act. He returned to India and began to agitate for Independance. His deadly weapons were passive resistance and non-cooperation. He was assassinated by Nathuram Godse in Birla House,  Delhi on 30th January 1948, five months after India attained Independance. Mahatama Gandhi had also championed a number of other causes like removal of untouchability, the upliftment of backward classes, nationalism and abstention from alcohol. He was a prolific writer and his best known book is his biography My Experiments with Truth (See History: British Period).


Former prime minister of India, he gave up a promising career in the civil service when Mahatma Gandhi gave a call to people to join the national movement for freedom and joined the Indian national Congress. He became general secretary of the Gujarat Provincial Congress Committee and minister for revenue in the first Congress cabinet. He held key cabinet posts as minister for finance and industry and was India’s deputy prime minister. A staunch Gandhian, he is an advocate of naturotherapy.


Mother Teresa who has been inextricably involved with the fortunes of Calcutta, was born Agnes Gontha Bajai him in Albania and came to India in 1929. Since then, Calcutta has been the centre of her humanitarian activities. She founded the order of the Little Sisters of the Poor, ‘Nirmal Hriday’ homes for the sick. and the dying and ‘Shishu Bhawan’ for disabled and mentally retarded children. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and the Bharat Ratna in 1980.


Agro-scientist of international repute whose research in the field of agriculture and efforts in improving the quality of wheat in particular, have won him many laurels. He was the director of the Pusa Institute; director general of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research; secretary, ministry of agriculture and vicechairman of the Planning Commision. In 1972, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan.


Carnatic vocalist who has helped popularise Indian classical music all over the world. It was her golden voice that led to her appearance in films, the first one being Seva Sadanand her most memorable films were Meera and Saintri (Tamil). She has sung at some of the most prestigious centres in the world. Among the many awards bestowed on her are the Padma Bhushan in 1954 (the first year of its inception) and the Magasaysay Award in 1974.

ANA SAHEB(1824-uncertain)

ana Saheb, along with Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, is remembered as the moving spirit of the 1857 revolt. The background for revolt was prepared by him. He was adopted by Peshwa Bajirao as his son in 1827 and trained as a scholar and soldier. He was instrumental in bringing Hindus and Muslims together to fight under one banner. His end is unknown (See History: British Period; Literature: Indo-Anglian).

NARENDRA DEVA(1889-1956)

Called Acharya, he was an educationist, patriot and politician, he was a scholar of ancient Indian history and political philosophy and was vice chancellor of Lucknow and Benaras Universities. He was a major activist in the freedom struggle and founded the Praja Socialist Party.


Freedom fighter and statesman, Jai Prakash Narain or JP, a follower of Gandhi, joined the Civil Disobedience and the Quit India Movement and was jailed. He organised the All-India Socialist Party after his release. He joined Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Movement and fought against the Emergency in 1975 for which he was jailed.


Known as the Iron Man of India, Sardar Patel, as the first Home Minister of independent India was responsible for bringing the 600 princely states into India’s fold. A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, he died in harness.


A man of incredible creativity, he was a novelist, playwright, poet, painter, philosopher, educationist, freedom fighter and actor who on 13th November, 1913, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his collection of poems, Gitanjali. He founded an international educational institute in Santiniketan in i 901, which later developed into the Vishwabharati University. His well-known poetic works include The Cycle of the Spring, The Evening Songs and The Morning Songs. Some of his well known novels are: Cora, Raja ‘aur Rani, Raj Rishi and Binodini. Kabuliuiallab is one of his most endearing stories. Both India and Bangladesh adopted songs by Tagore as their national anthem.

RAFI AHMED KIOWAl (1896-1954)

Born at Barabanki at Uttar Pradesh, he was the food and agriculture minister in the Nehru government. After his graduation, he joined Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement in 1920 and was jailed. While in prison he got to know the Nehrus and became Motilal Nehru’s private secretary. In 1936, he was elected president of the UP Congress. In 1942, he was again sent to jail for his active participation in the Quit India Movement.

RAJA BHOJA (997 -1052)

Raja Bhoja is the hero of many folktales in Gujarat, a number of them stemming from the fact that he is said to have defeated Mahmud of Ghazni. Known to be a patron of art and literature, he was himself the author of Yogamartanda, explaining yoga in terms of mathematics, astrology and architecture.


A revolutionary social reformer who worked with the British East India Company and in 1830 visited England to plead a case on behalf of the Mughal emperor who in turn honoured him with the tide of’ Raja.’ He stood firmly against all kinds of social bigotry and superstitions and advocated a liberal, international education for his countrymen. He believed in the fundamental unity of all religions. In 1814, he founded the Atmiya Samaj’ and in 1828, the ‘Brahmo Samaj.’ His greatest achievement as a social reformer was the abolition of ‘sati,’ the practice of widow burning (See Religion: Hinduism – Concepts). He has been called the ‘Father of Indian Renaissance’ (See literature: Indo-Anglian).


Union minister for health for 12 years, she had earlier worked as Gandhiji ‘s secretary for 15 years. Shewas imprisoned in 1942 for participation in the Quit India Movement. She was the first woman president of the 19th session of the International Red Cross held in Delhi in October 1957.

RAJNEESH (1931-1990)

One of the most controversial cult founders of recent times. Born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan in 1931, he became a lecturer in philosophy. He preached a kind of spiritualism and declared himself a ‘Bhagwan’ (deity). He started an ashram near Pune early in 1970. Rajneesh built an ultra modern town called ‘Rajneeshpuram’ in Oregon, USA. He expounds his philosophy in several books.


Born in Shahjahanpur, he passed a difficult childhood and devoted his life to the cause of India’s freedom. Inspired by the intellectuals and revolutionaries of the socio-religious Arya Samaj, he was convinced that only an armed struggle would achieve Independance. He was involved in the ‘Manipuri’ and ‘Kakori’ conspiracies. He planned to rob the state treasury for buying arms and ammunition but was caught and sentenced to death by hanging. He left behind a body of prose and revolutionary verse.


Among the noted mathematicians of the world, Ramanujam discovered new methods of solving mathematical problems. In 1914, he went to UK to study and became the first Indian to be selected Fel- low of the Royal Society in 1919. Though he was only 33 when he died, Ramanujam was recognized as a mathematical genius. A commemorative stamp was issued in honour of this wizard.

RANI LAKSHMI BAl (1834-1858)

Her childhood name was Manikarnika or Manu. When she was eight she was married to Raja Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi and thus came to be called the Rani of Jhansi. By 1853, she lost both her infant child and husband. She adopted a boy but the British Government did not recognize him as her son and annexed Jhansi in 1853 under the infamous Doctrine of Lapse policy. She led her troops against British forces and died fighting. Her name is immortalized in song, verse and story.

RASH BEHARI BOSE (1886-1945)

Founded the India Independence League in Japan in 1926. Revered as one of India’s great revolutionaries, he wanted the British to quit not just India but Asia as well. He prepared and distributed a text called Liberty explaining his views. In 1915, Bose left India for Japan and started preparing for ‘war’ against the British. He edited New Asza, a newsletter and authored many books. He also established the ‘Indian League’. He died in japan in 1945, and was honoured by the japanese.

RAVl SHANKAR (b. 1920)

Sitar maestro, disciple of Baba Allaudin Khan of Maihar. He composed music for several Satyajit Ray films (See Visual Arts: Cinema), forthe welcome song of the IXth Asiad held at Delhi in 1982 and the signature tune of Doordarshan, the Indian television corporation. In 1976, he was elected a fellow of the Sangeet Natak Academy. The Government of India honoured him by nominating him to the Rajya Sabha in 1986. As an exponent of Indian music and as an incomparable sitarist, Pandit Ravi Shankar enjoys great popularity all over the world.


He belonged to the family of Toru Dun, the Anglo-Bengali poetess (See Literature: Indo-Anglian) and served as a civil servant in Bengal. In 1886 he published a complete translation of the Rig Veda in Bengali. His well-known books are The History of Civilization in Ancient India, Great Epics in Ancient India and England-and India.

RUKMINI DEVl (1904-1985)

The first person to retrieve the dance form Bharata Natyam from the disrepute into which it had fallen and renew its status as the premier classical dance of the country. She married Dr. G.S. Arundale, president of the Theosophical Society and established Kalakshetra, the school of fine arts at Adyar in Madras. As a Rajya Sabha member, she contributed in no small measure to popularising the concepts of animal welfare and vegetarianism.

SALIM ALI (1896-1987)

An eminent ornithologist associated with the famous Bombay Natural History Society. He received many awards and honours and was nominated to the upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha. Among his many books are The Book of Indian Birds and Handbook of Birds of India and Pakistan, as well as his autobiography, The Roll of a Sparrow to.


Sarojini Naidu holds pride of place among the women freedom fighters of India. She was the first president of the Indian National Congress in 1925, elected at the Kanpur session. After Independence, she became governor of Uttar Pradesh. Known as the Nightingale of India, some of the well-known collections of her poems are Feat bercftbe Iiaum, The Song of India, The Broken Wing (See Literature) ..

DR. S. S. BHATNAGAR (1894-1955)

Dr Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar, a scientist who played a great part in India’s scientific and industrial development, got his doctorate from London University and worked in the Benaras and Punjab Universities, con- ducting a number of scientific research programmes. He became the director of the Centre Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1941. After Independence he headed the ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs. He was also an Urdu and Hindi poet. A prestigious annual award for scientists and a memorial lecture is instituted in his name.


Born as Munni Ram, he was an atheist but an encounter with Swami Dayananda changed him into an ascetic and a patriot. Once he bared his chest to the gun-wielding soldiers of the viceroy at the Chandni Chowk nationalist procession in Delhi. He founded the Gurukul Kangri with a view to spreading education and edited the journals Saddharma Pracharak, Shraddha, Vijay and Arjun; through which he aroused his readers’ nationalist feelings. He was president of 1913 Hindi Sahitya Sammelan (literary assembly).

SIRSHRI RAM (1883-1963)

An eminent industrialist who started his career as an assistant secretary in the Delhi Cloth and General Mills on a salary of Rs. 100 a month. By the time he died, he had become a legend. In 1930, he established a sugar mill in Daurala, UP, and the Delhi Cloth Mills.

S. P. MUKHERJI (1901-1953)

A leading light of Hindu Mahasabha. In his early political career, he founded the Bharatiyajana Sangh.


A controversial revolutionary leader. In his youth, while he was in the search of a spiritual master he visited Gandhiji at his ashram in Sabarmati in 1928. However he preferred activism to pacifism. Bose was elected president of the Indian National Congress in 1938. He founded the Indian National Army, which crossed the Indo- Burma Frontier in 1944. Bose and his colleagues left Rangoon on 24th April 1945 for Bangkok. After that, nothing is known. A few days later, Tokyo Radio announced that Bose had died in an aircrash.


A revolutionary nationalist poet of Tamil Nadu, he started writing atthe age of seven. The king of Ettayapuram was so impressed by his writing that he conferred on him the title ‘Bharati’ when he was only eleven. In 1905, when Bengal was to be partitioned, Bharati expressed his anguish through his poems. He edited the journals Bal Bharati and India. He was a political activist and attended the Varanasi session of the Congress. His collection of poems Swadesha Geetam was published in 1907. In 1918, he was imprisoned for writing inflammatory verses. In 1920, he edited the journal Swadesham. Kuyil Paatu and Panchali – Sabadham were two well-known poems by him and his compositions are still sung and taught in Tamil Nadu


The ‘little master’ of cricket started his test career in 1971, during the Indian tour of the West Indies. He has hit 34 centuries and scored more than 10,000 runs, the highest by any batsman. He is the only cricket player in the world who has scored 1,000 runs in a single year thrice. In 1975, he received the Arjuna Award and in 1980, he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan. Gavaskar has written Sunny Days, Idols, Runs and Runs and One Day Wonders.

S. N. BANNERJEE (1848-1925)

Sir Surendranath was nine years old when the Indian Revolt of 1857 broke out. He passed the Civil Service Examination in 1869 and was appointed assistant magistrate in Sylhet. Soon he fell into disfavour and was dismissed from the Civil Service. He went to England to plead his case but the verdict went against him. He returned to India and became professor of English in the Metropolitan Institution in June 1875. He was elected to the Bengal Council in 1893. His political career was influenced by English literature.

SWAMI DAYANAND (1824-1883)

Swami Dayanand Saraswati was the founder of the popular reformist Hindu Arya Samaj movement. When he was ten, he left home to become a sanyasi of the Saraswati order. He sought in the Vedasa solution to the problems of human misery and final salvation. After 1866, he gathered disciples, maintaining that in the Vedas, (especially in the Rig Veda) all modern discoveries were enumerated. Arya Samaj eschewed caste and creed differences. Numerous Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (D.A.V’) schools in India and abroad came into being. He wrote Satyartha Prakash, a book on his doctrine.


One of the prominent leaders of the Indian religious and cultural renaissance. His real name was Narendranath Dutta. After the death of his guru, Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (See Sages and Saints), Swami Vivekananda took up the task of spreading the message of love and spiritualism. He inspired a whole generation of leaders and people in many parts of the world. He delved deep into literature, philosophy and history and had great oratorical powers. In 1893, he went to Chicago as a speaker to the Parliament of World Religions and delivered a historical speech for which he won tremendous acclaim. In 1897, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission for the service of the Indian people.

TANTIYA TOPE (1814-1859)

The credit for the impact made by the 1857 revolt goes largely to Tantiya Tope whose real name was Ram Chander Rao. He was of immense help to Lakshmi Bai and Nana Saheb as the commander-in-chief of the rebel army (See Rani Laksmi Bai and Nana Saheb). Apart from his outright victories he also confused the British army by his guerilla tactics. The revolt ended with his death.

TEZI GORGAY (1914-1986)

Born in a poor Buddhist family in Nepal, he acquired Indian citizenship in 1933. He was the first Indian to scale the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest as a member of the British mountaineering team led by Sir Edmund Hillary. He reached the peak on 29th March, 1953. He was a warded the Padma Bhushan in 1959.

TULA RAM, RAO (1825-1863).

Led the attack on Meerut in 1857 and headed the troops to crown the last but deposed Mughal, Bahadur Shah II. After the British suppressed the revolt, he fled to Afghanistan and founded the Azad Hind Fauj in Kabul where he remained till his death.

UDHAM SINGH (1899-1940)

Udham Singh’s name is synonymous with the infamous jallianwalla Bagh incident (See History: Chronology). He avenged the massacre by shooting General O’Dyer, the British officer who had ordered the firing on a peaceful gathering. Udham Singh waited 21 years before he could travel to England and carry out his revenge on 13th March 1940. He was arrested and sentenced to death on 3Oth July, the same year.


Looked upon as the first space scientist of India, his main field of research was cosmic rays. He started a physics research laboratory at Ahmedabad. To Sarabhai goes the credit for India’s first space satellite Arya- bhatta. He received the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Puraskar (named for the eminent scientist) in 1962 and was a warded the Padma Shri in 1 %6 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1972, both civilian honours.

V. D. SAVARKAR (1883-1966)

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was a patriot, scholar, poet and a writer. His graduate degree was withheld because of his revolutionary activities. At the age of 16, he founded the Abhinav Bharat Organization. When he was being shipped to India from England to face trial, he jumped off the ship and swam into French territory. For his daring acts he came to be called ‘Veer’ (brave) Savarkar. He wrote many books, including History of lndian Independence.

ZAKlR HUSSAIN (1897-1969)

Born in Hyderabad, he was a Muslim nationalist leader who adhered to Gandhian principles all his life. He held a number of key positions after Independence: governor of Bahrain 1957, vice-president of  India in 1%2 and president of India in 1967.

He was also the chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and established the jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi. The author of several books on the reformation and development of Indian education, he was a symbol of secularism and in 1%3 he was awarded the Bharat Ratna.