Darashaw Nosherwan Wadia was one of those great
geologists of the Geological Survey of India, whose pioneering work
laid the foundation of geological investigations in India. What
is important to note is that most of his observations and interpretations
in those early days of Indian geology still hold good. Wadia’s
career was a single-minded pursuit of his scientific interests and
indefatigable effort. He climbed peak after peak in the Himalayas
to understand their geology and their structure. Wadia explained
the abnormal sequence of rock formations of varied ages in the North-Western
Himalayas. He also offered an explanation for the formation of the
unique knee-bend of the mountain chains around the knot called Nanga
Parbat. For the first time he gave a detailed geological account
of the districts of Chilas, Astor-Deosai and Hazara. Wadia’s
devotion to the study of the Himalayas was unlimited. Wadia was
a great visionary. He was responsible for the establishment of the
Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun and became its founder
director (1968-69). The Institute was later renamed as the Wadia
Institute of Himalayan Geology in Wadia’s memory. He was intimately
associated with the establishment and functioning of the National
Geophysical Research Institute at Hyderabad and the National Institute
of Oceanography in Panaji, Goa. Wadia was the founder director of
the Indian Bureau of Mines (1947) and the Atomic Minerals Division
(1949-69). Wadia was an ardent advocate of a national policy for
the search, utilization and conservation of mineral resources including
gas, oil and water. He was an avid reader and wrote the first textbook
on Indian geology that enthused generations of geologists. Wadia
was extremely energetic and hardworking and lived a simple life.
Wadia was born on October 23, 1883 at Surat, a
historical town in Gujarat in a Parsee family. He was the fourth
of nine children of his parents, Nosherwan and Cooverbai Wadia.
He was a descendant of the well-known clan of the Wadias, the erstwhile
shipbuilders of Surat. When the Wadias built ships in Surat, it
was an important west-coast port for maritime trade and commerce.
With the development of its dockyard in 1735, the city of Mumbai
(then Bombay) became the centre of maritime trade and commerce in
the west coast. Most of the Wadias shifted to Mumbai. Only a few
families preferred to stay back at Surat. In Mumbai, the Wadias
rose quickly in the ladder of social hierarchy. The Wadias occupied
important positions in industry, commerce, and education. Ardseer
Cursetjee (1807-1877), a member of the Wadia clan, was the first
Indian to be elected as the Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) of
London in 1841. Cursetjee was a naval architect and marine engineer.
Wadia’s father, Nosherwan Wadia, was a Station
Master at a small railway station. As there was not much scope of
education where his father worked, Wadia was kept in Surat under
the care of his randmother. Wadia first studied in a private Gujarati
school and then in Sir J J English School to complete primary education.
At the age of 11, Wadia joined the Baroda High School at Baroda,
where his family shifted from Surat. At Baroda Wadia came under
the influence of his elder brother, Munchershaw N. Wadia. From Munchershaw,
who was a well-known educationist, Wadia imbibed thre important
qualities of his life—a strong love for science, devotion
to knowledge and a rational outlook.
After completing his school education, at the age
of 16, Wadia joined the Baroda College, which was then affiliated
to Bombay University. From Baroda College, Wadia completed two BSc
degrees. His first BSc degree, which he obtained in 1903, was in
Zoology and Botany. He obtained his second BSc degree in 1905, which
was in Botany and Geology. Wadia’s interest in geology was
aroused by his teacher at the Baroda College, Adarjee M. Masani,
a keen naturalist and Professor of Natural history. In those days
Baroda College did not have sufficient facilities for imparting
education in geology therefore whatever Wadia learned was mostly
through selfstudy. At Baroda College, Wadia was also influenced
by Aurobindo Ghosh, who was then a Professor of English. Aurobindo
later turned a mystic, philosopher and saint. In 1905 Wadia was
appointed Fellow of the Baroda College. He completed his MSc degree
in Biology and Geology in 1906. The geological specimen kept in
the Museum of Arts and Science at Baroda greatly helped Wadia to
pursue his geological studies. The Museum was set up under the patronage
of the then ruler of Baroda State, Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwar.
In 1907 Wadia joined the Prince of Wales Colege
in Jammu in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir as Professor
of Geology. The Prince of Wales College was later renamed as Mahatma
Gandhi College and now it is affiliated to the Jammu University.
He served at the Prince of Wales College for 14 years. Besides geology,
Wadia also taught English, a testimony of his command over the language.
During his services at the College, Wadia spent his vacations in
the foot-hills of the Himalayas to get famililarised with their
geology. He also collected minerals, rocks and fossils to aid his
teaching at the college and also to solve problems that emerged
from his field trips. Commenting on Wadia’s teaching and research
work in geology during his stay at Jammu, KS Valdiya, an eminent
geologist, has written: “ He used to take his students on
adventure trekking and investigative field trips in the Siwalik
Hills of the Jammu region. It was in one of these ventures that
he discovered a 3 metre long fossil tusk of an elephantine mammal
Stegedon ganesa, a finding of crucial importance. He pursued his
personal research on stratigraphy, structure and palaeontology of
the Kashmir Himalaya with single-minded devotion. Having a very
keen eye for observation, he worked towards identification of broad
structural elements of the NW Himalaya.” The fossil tusk is
now kept at the Museum of the Geology Department of the Jammu University.
In 1921 Wadia left the Prince of Wales College,
and joined the Geological Survey of India (GSI) in 1921 as Assistant
Superintendent. He was 38. It has been reported that Wadia was the
first Indian without any European degree to be appointed in the
GSI. Wadia’s appointment provided him ample opportunities
for carrying out investigations on the stratigraphy and tectonics
of the northwestern Himalayas. Wadia embarked upon the arduous and
challenging task of mapping and interpretation of the geology of
North Western Himalayas. It was a very laborious work. Thus K. K.
Dar wrote: “Nothing can speak so much of Wadia’s unremitting
labour as the fact that when his first memoir was published in 1928
with his geological map, he was found to have covered not only the
2,000 square miles of the mountaineous Poonch State in the Middle
and Lesser Himalayas, but an additional 2,100 square miles of the
piedemount country in the adjacent parts of Punjab.” He made
pioneering contributions. R. D West wrote: “wherever Wadia
traveled in the Himalayas he was successful in throwing significant
light on problems of stratigraphy and tectonics which had hitherto
remained uninvestigated or unexplored.” Wadia authored about
one hundred original research papers, monographs on various topics
and the Records and Memoirs of the Geological Survey of India.
Wadia’s work led to the understanding of
the geological history of the northwestern Kashmir. He gave a detailed
geological account of the terra-incognito that Chilas, Astor-Deosai
and Hazara districts were then. Against all difficulties Wadia succeeded
in the mapping of the geological structure and the rock and mineral
composition of the Nanga Parbat and adjoining portions of Chilas
in Gilgit district. The basic geological information on the Nanga
Parbat gathered by Wadia has become the basis for future research
on tectonics of the region.
Wadia developed his explanation of the ‘knee-bend’
(or syntaxial turn) of the Himalayan mountain chains around the
knot called Nanga Parbat. Wadia’s explanation differed from
the earlier interpretations. The regional Himalayan trend in the
Kashmiri PirPanjal is North-West to South-East. Further North-West
the trend becomes North-South and then makes knee-bend to make the
trend northeast-southeast in Hazara. This deeply inflexed knee-bend,
which is called the Hazara or Jhelam Syntaxis, is a spectacularly
unique orographic feature and which affects hundreds of kilometers
of the Himalayan mountain system. Earlier Edward Suess, the eminent
Swiss geologist, had suggested that the bend was a meeting or converging
point of two distinct mountain systems, the Himalayas and Hindukush.
Wadia gave a tectonic interpretation for the formation of the knee-bend.
He suggested that the bend was produced by a loop-like bending around
a central pivotal mass of the fold systems of Purana (older than
500 million years) and Carboniferous-Eocene (355 to 30 million years
old) rock groups of the Middle and Inner Himalayas. Wadia’s
explanations have been validated by more recent studies in structural
analysis, metamorphism and geochronological dating.
Wadia made important contributions on the geological
setting and economic minerals of limestones found as island-like
mass forms of older rocks amidst younger sedimentary rocks in the
Sub-Himalayan Tertiary belt of Jammu. He prepared detailed geological
map of the Dandili-Devgar hills in the Kotli area of Jammu region.
He demonstrated that tectonic deformation in this area is of very
recent origin and the topography is of very young in nature. Wadia
discovered the existence of vast reservoir of sulphide ores of copper,
nickel, lead and zinc.
In 1928, Wadia discovered a very well-preserved
skull of Actinodon from Gangamopteris beds of Lower Gondwana affinity.
The discovery of this skull, which was found in association with
fossil ganoid fish and pteridospermous plants, led to the fixing
of the age of an important geological rock formation in the Kashmir
Himalaya to the Permo-Carboniferous time (355 – 250 million
years). As noted earlier, Wadia had discovered bones Stegodon ganesa
Wadia’s contribution to the soil science
in India was very significant. It was Wadia who not only noted the
neglect of soil science in India but also showed the way for its
rectification by his own writings. In 1935 Wadia, jointly with M.
S. Krishnan and P. N. Mukherjee, published the first soil map of
India. This was published by the Geological Survey of India and
paved the way for later soil maps. Thus Wadia’s work had considerable
bearing on agricultural development in the country. He represented
India at the 3rd International Congress of Soil Science held at
Oxford in 1935 and also participated in an excursion arranged by
the Congress to study the soil profiles in England, Wales and Scotland.
Wadia also participated in the 2nd International
Congress of Carboniferous Stratigraphy at Heerlen in Holland.
One of his major contributions was his textbook
on geology for Indian students. The book was titled Geology of India
for Students and it was published by Macmillans in 1919. A book
on Indian geology was very much needed as there was no adequate
material on the subject. In 1887, the Geological Survey of India,
had published the work of the early pioneers of Indian geology,
H. B. Medlicott and W. T. Blanford. This was revised by R. D. Oldham
in 1893 and issued as the Manual of the Geology of India. (It may
be noted that R. D. Oldham was the first Director of Geological
Survey of India. Oldham had assumed his post in 1851).
However, this manual had gone out of print and
moreover it had become outdated, as more knowledge on the geology
had gathered. Wadia realized the acute need of a textbook on Indian
geology while he was teaching at the Prince of Wales College. Recalling
his experience Wadia wrote: “a lecturer in geology of students
preparing for the Punjab University examinations, I have constantly
experienced great difficulty in the teaching of the geology of India,
because of the absence of any modern adequate book on the subject.”
For writing the book he was greatly encouraged by Sir T. H. Holland,
FRS and C. C. Middlemiss. Wadia’s book, which proved to be
a classic on the subject, reached its sixth edition in 1966. Commenting
on the book, K. S. Valdya wrote: The erudite book he wrote—The
Geology of India— published in 1919 by the Macmillans, London,
distils his vast and intimate knowledge of the geology of the entire
Indian subcontinent, embracing Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar
and Sri Lanka. This classical work, which had six editions, made
him not only a celebrity but also a guru of countless generations
of students of geology all over the world.” R. D. West, former
Director, Geological Survey of India wrote: “Written, as are
all his contributions, in matchless, and in places Churchillian
style, it has had a profound influence on generations of students
of geology, attracting them where others might have repelled, and
stimulating them to take a keen interest in the subject of Indian
geology.” His other important publications were: Syntaxis
of North-Western Himalayas: Its Rocks, Tectonics and Orogeny (1931);
Geology of Nanga Parbat and Gilgit District (1932); Cretaceous Volcanic
Series in the Great Himalayan Range of Kashmir (1937); Structure
of the Himalayas and of the North Indian Foreland (1938); Minerals
and Metal Resources of India, United Nations Conference, New York
(1949) and World Mining and Metallurgical Congress, London (1949).
While working in the Geological Survey of India,
Wadia spent his study leave (in 1926-1927) at the British Museum,
where he worked on the vertebrate fossils collected from Potwar
and Kashmir. During this period he also visited geological institutions
in Germany, Austria and Czechslovakia and attended a course in Apline
geology at the University of Geneva. In 1935 he visited China, Japan
and USA and in 1937 he attended the International Geological Congress
held at Moscow where he presented his famous paper on the “Tectonic
Relations of the Himalayas with the North Indian Foreland.”
After his retirement from the Geological Survey
of India in 1938 he joined as the Government Mineralogist to the
Government of Sri Lanka (then Ceylone). This gave him an opportunity
to study the unique geology of an island in a stable continental
region. His studies included accurate geological maps of the island
and geological investigations concerning water supply, dam-sites
and other engineering projects. It was Wadia who first produced
the geological sketch map of Colombo. He showed four distinct units
of geological formations viz. intrusive granites and charnockites;
fundamental biotitegneiss of Vijayan series; laterite and laterite
earth; and Pleistocene and recent alluvial gravel and coastal deposits.
In 1945 Wadia was appointed the Geological Advisor
to the national government of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. He initiated
and formulated a mineral policy for the country. In 1963 the Government
of India made him the first National Professor in geology. The government
of India honoured him with the award of Padma Bhusan (1958).
In 1957 Wadia was elected a Fellow of the Royal
Society of London. Among other awards he received were: the Back
Award from the Royal Geographical Society (1934); the Lyell Medal
of the Geological Society of London ((1943); the Joy Kishen Gold
Medal of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science,
Calcutta (1944); the Jagadis Chandra Bose Memorial Medal from the
Royal Asiatic Society (1947); the Leopold von Buch Award of the
German Geological Society (1960); Khaitan Gold Medal of the Asiatic
Society (1964); the Sarvadhikari Gold Medal from Calcutta University
(1964). Wadia was also the recipient of the Meghnad Saha Medal of
the Indian National Science Academy and the P. N. Bose Memorial
Medal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He was awarded honorary
degrees by a number of Indian Universities. The Royal Asiatic Society
of Ceylon conferred upon him its Honorary Fellowship for his contributions
to geology of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He was a Commonwealth member
of the Geological Society of London; President of the National Institute
of Sciences of India (later renamed as Indian National Science Academy)
during 1946-47; President of the Geology Section of the Indian Science
Congress (1921 and 1938); General President of the Indian Science
Congress (1942 and 1943); President of the Calcutta Geographical
Society (1938); Inaugural President of Indian Society of Soil Sciences
(1949); President of the Geological Society of India (1951-52);
President of the Mining, Geological and Metallurgical Institute
of India (1951-52). President of Geographers’ Association
of India (1955); President of the XXII International Geological
Congress at Delhi (1964); President of the Engineering Geological
Society of India (1965-66) and President of the Geochemical Society
of India (1965-67). He was the Chairman of the Indian National committee
for Oceanic Research. He was a correspondent of the Geological Society
of America and an honorary member of the German Geological Society
and the Belgian Geological Society. Wadia died on June 15, 1969
at the age of 86.
For Further Reading
- Valdiya, K. S. D. N. wadia. Resonance, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 2-3,
- Thakur, V. C. Research Contributions of D. N. Wadia. Resonance,
Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 65-75, 2003.
- Dar, K. K. Darashaw Nosherwan Wadia in Biographical Memoirs
of Fellows of the Indian National Science Academy, Vo. 4, pp.
83- 100. New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1976.
- D. N. Wadia—A Biography (Booklet) published by Indian
Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun.
Dr. D. N. Wadia Commemorative Volume. Kolkata:
Mining, Geological and Metallurgical Institute, 1965.
West, R. D. “D. N. Wadia—An
Appreciation” in Dr. D. N. Wadia Commemorative Volume.
Kolkata: Mining, Geological and Metallurgical Institute, 1965.
Wadia, D. N. The Making of India—A
review of Some Aspects of the Geological Structure of India.
Presidential Address to the 29th Indian Science Congress. Reprinted
in The Shaping of Indian Science: Indian Science Congress Association,
Vol.1 (1914-47). Hyderabad: Universities Press (India) Pvt.Ltd,
Wadia, D. N. Minerals’ Share in the
War. Presidential Address to the 30th Indian Science Congress.
Reprinted in The Shaping of Indian Science: Indian Science Congress
Association, Vol.1 (1914- 47). Hyderabad: Universities Press
(India) Pvt.Ltd, 2003. D.N. Wadia with his friend’s (Source
Letters to the Editor
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