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Birbal Sahni

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Birbal Sahni was born on November 14, 1891 at Bahera, Shahpur district (now in Pakistan). His father Ruchi Ram was professor of chemistry at the Government College, Lahore. Leading political figures such as Motilal Nehru, Gokhale, Srinivasa Sastri were guests in their Lahore home. Sahni received his early education in the schools at Lahore. He passed out with a high mark in the Intermediate examination of the province andobtained a degree in botany from the Punjab University.


He studied under a great Indian Botanist, Prof. S.R. Kashyap, which association continued in later years. Besides he imbibed a love for Sanskrit, which interest he continued to keep throughout his life. Sahni proceeded to England in 1913 to study for the Natural Science Tripos in the Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge.

A steady stream of scientific papers followed, first paper in 1915 and four more till 1919. This research output culminated in the publication, jointly with J.C. Willis, of Laswon's Textbook of Botany. For his contribution to the study of fossil plants, Sahni received in 1919 from the University of London the D.Sc. degree. The thesis work was published in the Philosophical Transaction (1920), by which Sahni emerged as an original thinker of botany.


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Sahni also taught at the Punjab University for about a year. Birbal Sahni's academic background was so strong that he was elected the head of the botany department in Lucknow University in the year 1921. There were numerous such landmarks in the life history of Birbal Sahni, whose fabulous research work was honored by the University of Cambridge that decided to present him with the degree of Sc. D. in the year 1929. In the coming time, Sahni not only continued his own study, but also appointed and guided a number of bright students under him. He holds the credit of establishing the Paleobotanical Society that went on to set up the Institute of Palaeobotany on 10 September 1946. Professor Sahni was respected by all academicians and scholars of his time both in India and abroad. He was appointed the Fellow of the Royal Society of London (FRS) in the year 1936, which is the biggest British scientific honor. And for the first time since its inception, this award was given out to an Indian botanist.

He was a founder of The Paleobotanical Society which established the Institute of Palaeobotany on 10 September 1946 which initially functioned in the Botany Department of Lucknow University but later moved to its present premises at 53 University Road, Lucknow in 1949. On 3 April 1949 the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone of the new building of the Institute.


Personal Life

Birbal Sahni married Savitri Suri in 1920. She was the daughter of Sunder Das Suri who was an Inspector of Schools in Punjab. His wife took an active interest in his scientific pursuits and was a pillar of support to him.


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He died of a sudden heart attack on 10 April 1949, just a week after the foundation-stone laying ceremony of his institute.



1947:- Sir C. R. Reddy National Prize


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