Daulat Singh Kothari, popularly known as D. S. Kothari, was an outstanding
scientist. He was a great educationist. His contribution to the
entire spectrum of Indian education from elementary school to the
university level is well-known. He was a student of Meghnad Saha.
Kothari is regarded as the architect of defence science in India.
He also played an important role in development of many other organizations,
notable along them are the University Grants Commission and the
National Council of Education Research and Training. Above all Kothari
was an outstanding teacher. He had the moral and intellectual qualities
of a rare human being. He devoted his life to the pursuit of knowledge
in its widest sense. He was a multifaceted personality—an
outstanding teacher, a great educationist, a renowned physicist
and a highly successful leader and organiser.
D.S. Kothari was born on July 6, 1906 at Udaipur.
At that time Udaiput was in the Mewar State of Rajasthan. His father,
Shri Fateh Lal Kothari, was a school teacher. Kothari had three
brothers and one sister. His father died in 1918 at the age of 38
years and Kothari, who was the eldest of five children, was just
12 years old. His father’s early death plunged the family
into severe economic difficulties. He was brought up by his mother,
a devout Jain and a generous lady. She was always willing to help
others in need. Kothari was much influenced by his mother. Kothari
was much influenced by his mother.
After his early education in his hometown Kothari
was invited by his father’s friend Sir Siremal Bapna, then
Chief Minister of Indore State, to stay with him and study with
his children. Kothari matriculated in 1922 from Maharaja Shivajirao
High School of Indore. After his matriculation he came back to Udaipur
and joined the Intermediate College. In his Intermediate Examination,
which he passed in 1924, he stood first in the Rajputana Board.
He secured distinctions in three science subjects – physics,
chemistry and Mathematics. For his outstanding performance in Intermediate
Examination, the Mahrana of Mewar granted him a monthly scholarship
of Rs. 50/- for pursuing higher studies. In those days it was an
exceedingly generous grant. Kothari Passed his BSc in 1926 from
the Allahabad University. At the time Kothari came to Allahabad
University, Meghnad Saha was heading the Physics Department. He
passed his MSc in 1928. He speicliased in Wireless (now renamed
After his MSc, in which he stood first in order
of merit, Kothari took an appointment as demonstrator in the Department
of Physics of the Allahabad University. After two years working
as Demonstrator he went to England for higher studies. This was
possible by the scholarship that he got from the United Province
(UP) State Government for going abroad and an interest free loan
of Rs. 3, 500/- from the Mewar State Government. Because he had
to ensure that after his departure his family did not suffer. In
September 1930 he sailed for Engalnd, where he worked at Cavendish
Laboratory, Cambridge under the supervision of Ernst Rutherford,
to whom he was recommended by Meghnad Saha. After obtaining his
PhD degree from the Cambridge University he came back to India and
resumed his duties as demonstrator in the Physics Department of
the Allahabad University.
In May 1934 Kothari Joined the Delhi University
as Reader and Head of the Physics Department. In those days the
science departments of the Delhi University functioned in a hired
building in Kashmiri Gate. The University imported education only
upto BSc degree. There was little equipment in the laboratories.
However, soon after his joining a number of developments took place
towards the improvement of the university. The university moved
to the Viceregal Lodge Estate. The Faculty of Science decided that
teaching in chemistry and Physics be extended to MSc level. In 1938
Sir Maurice Gwyer, former Chief Justice of the Federal Court of
India, was appointed as the first full time Vice Chancellor of the
University. Kothari was appointed Professor of Physics in 1942.
With active support of the Vice-Chancellor he took the task of establishing
the Physics Department. The first batch of five students passed
MSc in 1944. Kothari was able to attract some outstanding physicists
to the Department. He established the New Physics Laboratory. While
sending his good wishes for the New Laboratory Albert Eisntein advised
Kothari : “Keep good comradeship and work with love and without
pre-conceived ideas and you will be happy and successful in your
work.” Kothari often referred to this remark. Many eminent
physicists frequently visited the department and their visits enhanced
the prestige of the Department. Among those who visited included
: PMS Blackett, Niels Bohr, PAM Dirac, P Kapitza, I Prigogine, CV
Raman, H.J. Bhabha, M.N. Saha and K.S Krishnan. Kothari established
an active research group in physical science at Delhi University.
He published a number of research papers in various branches of
physics and astrophysics including plasma physics, magnetohydrodynamics,
quantum electrodynamics, and relativistic quantum statistics. His
work on pressure ionization was highly acclaimed. It found wide
ranging applications. Sir A.S. Eddington wrote : “I mentioned
that we only gradually came to realize that ionization could be
produced by high pressure as well as high temperature. I think the
first man to state this explicitly was D.S. Kothari. Stimulated
by some work of HN Russall, Kothari has made what I think is an
extremely interesting application.” Further commenting Dr.
Kothari’s work, Arnold Sommerfeld wrote : “During the
times of Galileo and Kepler the planets were at the focus of astronomical
interest but in view of the developments of the last few decades
the interest has shifted to stellar subjects and spiral nebula.
It is noteworthy that the Indian DS Kothari has developed an audacious
relationship between the old fashioned planets and the now discovered
newest heavenly bodies, the white dwarfs”.
Kothari played an important role in shaping the
University Library. This is because he could realize that without
a good library no teaching and research could be done. In 1936 May
he was unanimously elected Secretary to the Library Committee, a
post he held till October 1943. He organized the Third All India
Library Conference at the University of Delhi in December 1937.
He persuaded the Vice Chancellor to invite S.R. Ranganathan, who
is regarded as father of library science in India, for suggesting
a reorganization plan of the University Library. Dr. S.R. Das Gupta
who taught history at St. Stephen College was appointed the first
University Librarian. Before his appointment he was sent to the
Madras University for getting trained for the job.
In 1948 the Government of India appointed Kothari as Scientific
Advisor to the Ministry of Defence, a post he held until 1961 when
he was appointed Chairman of the University Grants Commission. The
Government invited PMS Blacket for advising them in organizing defense
science in India. It may be noted that Kothari and Blacket worked
together in the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge under the guidance
of Ernst Rutherford. Blacket had played an important role in organizing
defence science in the United Kingdom during the Second World War.
While commenting on the Kothari’s contribution in establishing
defence science in India Kothari’s colleague in Defence Science
Organization, Nagaratnam wrote : “In giving a direction and
coherent shape to the Defence Science Organisation, Professor Kothari
had no precedents to go by. It is a tribute to his clear thinking
and visionary foresight that he unerringly identified thrust areas
of relevance in the country’s geopolitical (both the then
existing and anticipated future) context. Further there were no
ready-made specialists in any of these disciplines in the country.
He carefully chose through personal contact, scientists (mostly
from universities) who had the necessary interest, aptitude and
competence. He guided them personally on developing these disciplines
on healthy lines. He himself spared no effort to get a mastery over
all these areas (most of which were new to him). He organized weekly
seminars on relevant subjects and made it a point to participate
actively in each one of them, and particularly encouraged the younger
scientists. He believed in humble beginnings and natural growth.”
During of Kothari’s term as Advisor to the Defence Ministry
the following laboratories were established under the aegis of Defence
Sciences Organisation :
1. Institute of Armament Studies (later renamed Institute of Armament
2. Naval Dockyard Laboratory (later renamed Naval Chemical and Metallurgical
3. Indian Naval Physical Laboratory, Kochi
4. Centre for Fire Research, Delhi
5. Solid State Physics Laboratory, Delhi
6. Defence Food Research Laboratory, Mysore
7. Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Chennai
8. Directorate of Psychological Research, New Delhi
9. Defence Electronics and Research Laboratory, Hyderabad
10. Scientific Evaluation Group, Delhi
11. Technical Ballistic Research Laboratory, Chandigarh
APJ Abdul Kalam in his recent book, Ignited Minds : Unleashing the
Power Within India. wrote : “Dr. D.S. Kothari, a professor
at Delhi University, was an outstanding physicist and astrophysicist.
He is well-known for Ionisation of matter by pressure in cold compact
object like planets. This theory is complementary to the epoch making
theory of thermal inisation of his guru, Dr. Maghnad Saha. Dr. D.S.
Kothari set a scientific tradition in Indian defence tasks when
he became Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister in 1948. The first
thing he did was to establish the Defence Science Centre to do research
in electronic materials, nuclear medicine and ballistic science.
He is considered the architect of defence science in India. We are
celebrating this great mind through a Chair research at the Indian
Institute of Science”.
In 1961 Kothari was appointed the Chairman of the
University Grants Commission and he remained in this post for almost
13 years. Kothari initiated a number of new activities in colleges
and universities. Kothari firmly believed that the future of the
country depended essentially on education. Describing a university
Kothari said: “A university is a society of teachers and students
dedicated to the pursuit of learning. It is, above all, a dwelling
place of ideas and idealism. And the contribution that the universities
and colleges in our country will or can make to meet the great challenge
of our times will be in direct proportion to their being and becoming,
in pursuit of their true ideals, places where there is freedom to
inquire boldly and readiness to doubt courageously, where knowledge
and understanding and true humility go together and grow more and
more, and where the highest standards of scholarship, integrity
and conduct are expected, respected and cultivated.” He also
said: “…the level of science and technology in the universities
provides a reasonably good and reiable barometer to the standard
and health of science and technology in a country. In a developing
country like ours, the strengthening of the universities is fundamental
to everything else.”
His commitment to education was total. So there
is no wonder that when the Government of India appointed the Indian
Education Commission in 1964, Kothari became its Chairman. Other
members of the Committee were Bhagwan Sahay, S. Chakravarty, M.
L. Dhar, M. V. Mathur and G. Parthasarathi. In the report entitled
“Education and National Development” prepared by the
Commission Kothari’s vision of education clearly reflected.
The Report was hailed as landmark in educational sectors in India
and other developing countries. To quote from the report : “The
destiny of India is now being shaped in her classrooms. This, we
believe, is no mere rhetoric. In a world based on science and technology,
it is education that determines the level of prosperity, welfare
and security of the people. On the quality and number of persons
coming out of our schools and colleges will depend our success in
the great enterprise of national reconstruction, the principal objective
of which is to raise the standard of living of our people.”
Kotahri’s deep concern for education led to his association
with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT),
since its inception. He not only conceptualized the role and functions
of NCERT but also gave a blueprint for its future development in
the Report of the Education Commission (1964-66). Kothari’s
role in reorganizing the examination and selection process for central
services of the Government of India is quite significant. Kothari
believed that education, specially scientific and technical education,
was directly linked to national development and prosperity. He said:
“The role of education is to improve the material standard
of the people and to enrich the quality of life. Besides knowledge
and skills, education should be also concerned with the ‘inner
content’ of our lives, with ideas and idealism and strengthening
of the spirit. We need a balance between three overlapping divisions
of education (at all levels) which may perhaps be described as:
tactical, strategic and humanistic. The first refers to theoretical
and practical knowledge of life-long utility, the second to knowledge
of life-long utility and value, and the third relates to quality
and meaning of life.” He emphasized the need for improving
the conditions for primary education in the country. He said: “No
country, whatever its stage of economic development, can in the
modern world afford to do anything less than provide primary education
to all its people. That is essential to survival and development.
Illiteracy is expensive in the long run.” He believed without
promoting excellence in educational institutions nothing could be
achieved. He said: “Education which does not value and promote
excellence is, in the end, a waste of effort and resources. Excellence
is to be understood as extending over a wide range of interests
and activities, that is, studies, research, teaching, technical
skills, promotion of social and moral values, sports, etc. The meaning
of excellence, and how to identify it, needs to be examined continually.”
Kothari had immense faith in the youth of the country and he did
everything whatever he could do to encourage the young scientists.
He was keen on identifying talented students and nurturing them.
The National Science Talent Search Programme and the subsequent
National Talent Search Programme started by the National Council
for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) owe their origin to
He had the highest regard for truth and non-violence.
He had the greatest tolerance for all religious beliefs. Above all
he believed in rationality. While talking on science and religion,
Kothari said: “Anti-science, negation of science, is to be
totally rejected. It is most important to make an unequivocal distinction,
even if it cannot be sharply made, between rational, beyond-rational,
(beyond-reason), and anti-rational (anti-reason). Anti-rational
or anti-science has no place in the affairs of man. It is untruth.
But beyond-reason is not anti-reason. And beyond-physics is not
anti-physics. It is not negation of physics…The reign of reason
is supreme in science. Its loyalty is to nothing else. But the very
existence of science, the great kingdom of reason, the very fact
that nature is comprehensible to human mind, is unfathomable mystery…Science,
through understanding of nature, enables us to transform matter
into energy—clay into gold, as it were. Faith can transform
men of “clay” into men of love, compassion and without
fear.” Further he said: “Science provides an understanding
of and control over Nature. But it is moral and spiritual insight
which gives a meaning and purpose to life, individually and collectively.
In the end both science and religion are to judged by their achievements,
and not by their pretensions or their promises.”
Kothari’s book, Nuclear Explosions and Their
Effects, jointly written with Homi J. Bhabha, is regarded as an
important contribution to the subject. The book has been translated
into German, Russian and Japanese.
Kothari received several honours and awards. Kothari
was Chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University for two terms
(1882-92). He was the President of the Indian National Science Academy
from 1973 to 1974. He was the General President of the Indian Science
Congress held in Delhi in 1962. The Government of India honoured
him with Padma Bhushan in 1962 and Padma Vibhushan in 1973. After
his retirement from the Delhi University in 1971, he was appointed
Emeritus Professor and he continued to maintain close contact with
students and teachers almost till his death on February 4, 1993.
In honour of Kothari the Delhi University has established the D.
S. Kothari Centre for Science, Ethics and Education. One of the
objectives of this centre is to collect technical and non-technical
writings of Kothari in book form.
We would like to end this article by Kothari on
the aim of education: “The true aim of all education is to
understand the wonderful world around us, to develop self-discipline
and contribute to the happiness to our home and the community. This
makes education enjoyable and most exciting, inspiring adventure.”
For Further Reading:
- Atom and Self: Collection of Lectures Delivered by D. S. Kothari.
Edited by Feroz Ahmed. New Age International Publishers. New Delhi
- Knowledge and Wisdom: Collection of Lectures Delivered by D.
S. Kothari. Edited by Feroz Ahmed. New Age International Publishers.
New Delhi 2002.
- Education and Character Building: Convocation Addresses Delivered
by D. S. Kothari. National Institute of Science Communication
(now renamed as National Institute of Science Communication and
Information Resources). New Delhi, 2000.