Upendra Nath Brahmachari was a leading medical practitioner of India
of his time. His monumental discovery of Urea Stibamine, an organic
antimonial compound, played a crucial role in the treatment of and
campaign against Kala-Azar. His “Treatise on Kala-azar”
is a premier work on the subject. As a teacher and educationist
his work was of a high order. He was associated with almost all
the known scientific and literary organizations at Kolkata. He had
an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He had large private collection
of books, which included not only scientific works but also literary
works. Brahmachari was a remarkable personality.
Upendra Nath Brahmachari was born in Jamalpore,
in the Monghyr district of Bihar to Dr. Nilmony Brahmachari and
Smt. Sourav Sundari Devi. His official date of birth was June 07,
1875. However it has been reported that Brahmachari, in his later
life mentioned his actual date of birth 19 December, 1873. In those
days Jamalpore was an important railway town of the then East Indian
Railways. His father was a medical man and served the East India
Railways at Jamalpore. As a physician he was very successful. Dr.
Nilmony’s name was a household word at Jamalpore. He was a
highly respected figure in both the European and Indian communities.
After his retirement from the services of the railways Dr. Nilmony
became a Municipal Commissioner and an Honorary Magistrate of Jamalpore.
The title Brhamachari has a little history. A person
who lives a life of celibacy is called Brahmachari. It was Keshav
Bharati who had initiated Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu into Sanyas.
Keshav Baharati himself had taken Sanyas under the Bharati sect
of Sri Shankaracharya. Thus he had no descendants of his own. Keshav’s
elder brother Gopal had taken deeksha from him. Gopal renounced
his family title of Mukhopadhyaya and became known as Gopal Bharati
Brahmachari Thakur. Brahmachari’s ancestors were descendants
of Gopal Bharati Brahmachari, he being in the ninth line of descent.
Brahmachari had his early education at the Eastern
Railways Boys’ High School at Jamalpore. After passing his
Entrance Examination from Jamalpore with credit, Brahmachari joined
the Hooghly College, from where he passed his BA in 1893, with Honours
in Mathematics and Chemistry. In those days it was possible for
a student to appear in two honours subjects. Brahmachari stood first
in order of merit in Mathematics in his BA examination and awarded
the Thwyates Medal. Though Brahmachari loved Mathematics deeply
and had shown great proficiency in the subject, he decided to join
the Calcutta Medical College and the Presidency College at Kolkata
(then Calcutta) for studying Medicine and Chemistry respectively.
He passed his M.A. degree with First Class in Chemistry from the
Presidency College in 1894.
He was taught chemistry by Sir Alexander Pedler
and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray. Brahmachari was greatly influenced
by Acharya Ray. Brahmachari also pursued his medical career with
equal diligence. He obtained his L.M.S degree in 1899 and in the
next year he took the MB degree. In his MB Examination Brahmachari
stood First in Medicine and in Surgery and for which he was awarded
Goodeve and McLeod Medals. In 1902 he obtained the MD degree of
the Calcutta University. In those days it was a rare distinction.
He also obtained Ph.D. degree of the Calcutta University for his
researches in Physiology. His thesis was titled Studies in Haemolysis,
a work, which even today is considered an important piece of work
on physiological and physiochemical properties of the Red Blood
After a firm grounding in Mathematics, Chemistry,
Physiology and modern Medicine, Brahmachari joined the Provincial
Medical Service in September 1899. For a brief period he worked
as the House Physician in the Ward of the First Physician Sir Gerald
Bomford’s. Sir Bomford was highly impressed with young Brahmachari’s
urge for carrying out research and his strong sense of duties. Bomford
got Brahmachari appointed as Teacher of Physiology and Materia Medica
and Physician in Dacca Medical School in November 1901. He spent
about four years at Dacca. During this short period he had established
himself as an excellent teacher, a medical practitioner and a consultant.
He also did researches with Sir Neil Campbell, Superintendent of
the Medical School. After coming back to Kolkata in 1905, Brahmachari
joined the Campbell Medical School (now renamed as Nil Ratan Sarkar
Medical College and Hospital) as the Teacher of Medicine and First
Physician. The most important part of his life was spent at the
Campbell Medical School, where he spent 20 years. In 1923 Brahmachari
joined the Medical College, Kolkata as Additional Physician. It
may be noted here that Brahmachari and Lt. Col. K. K. Chatterjee
were the first two Provincial Medical Service men outside Indian
Medical service cadre, to get appointments in the Medical College.
Lt. Col. Chatterjee had joined as Additional Surgeon. Brahmachari
retired from the Government Service at the Medical College in 1927.
After retirement from the Government service Brahmachari joined
the Carmichael Medical College as Professor of Tropical Diseases.
He also served the National Medical Institute as In-charge of its
Tropical Disease Ward. He also became the Head of the Department
of Biochemistry and Hony. Professor of Biochemistry at the University
College of Science, Kolkata.
Brahmachari’s most outstanding research contribution
was in the field of conquest of Kala-Azar (a Hindi term for black
fever), a protozoal infection in both children and adults. The disease
Kala-azar (Visceral leishmaniasis) was described by William Leishman
and Charles Donovan in 1903. Kala-azar is also known as Leishman-Donovan
infection. Kala-azar is an infectious disease of South Asian and
Mediterranean countries. The protozoan parasite that causes the
disease is called Leishmania donovani. The disease is transmitted
by sand flies and it is characterised by an enlarged spleen and
liver, irregular fever, anemia etc. Though various forms of treatment
were in vogue but they did not help to reduce the death rate. In
1913, a Brazilian doctor named Vianna reported to have cured the
South American form of Kala-azar by the intra-venous administration
of tartar emetic (potassium salt of antimonyl tartrate). Then in
1915 Christina and Cortina of Sicily also recorded the successful
use of tartrate emetic in infantile Kala-azar. Rogers in Calcutta
also obtained favourable results in 1915, by the intra-venous use
of tartar emetic. However, physicians soon found that there were
serious disadvantages in the prolonged use of tartar emetic intravenously.
Brahmachari decided to improve the results over tartar emetic by
using the sodium salt of antimonyl tartrate instead of the potassium
salt. By doing this Brahmachari thought that he would avoid the
depressant action of potassium and so he would get better results.
He did get better results and used sodium antimonyl tartrate for
years. It was found later that prolonged use of the sodium salt
had also disadvantages. Brahmachari started using metallic antimony—first
as fine powder and then as colloidal antimony. Both forms of antimony
used by Brahmachari gave good results but they had the following
i. They were not readily available.
ii. As they could not be stored for a long time they had to be prepared
afresh every time.
iii. The method of their preparation was tedious.
iv. The technique of their intravenous administration was quite
Seeing these disadvantages Brahmachari continued
his search for a more efficient means of treatment of Kala-azar.
Around this time Ehrlich was successful in treating sleeping sickness
by using atoxyl or sodium salt of para-arsanilic acid. Brahmachari
decided to replace arsenic of atoxyl by antimony and then use this
compound for treatment of Kalaazar. Antimony was the causative agent
and both arsenic and antimony belong to the same group of the Periodic
Table. There were other people who were working on the similar idea.
Towards the end of 1919 Brahmachari received a grant from the Indian
Research Fund Association for conducting further research into the
treatment of the disease. He carried out his research work in a
small ill-equipped room in the Campbell Hospital. He did not have
even simple facilities like a gas burner, a water tap or an electric
bulb. Working under such adverse conditions Brahmachari discovered
a potent agent against Kala-azar, which he named Urea Stibamine.
It was the urea salt of para-amino-phenyl stibnic acid. Recalling
the moment of his important discovery he later wrote: “I recall
with joy that memorable night in the banished from India and other
parts of the world where it occurs. That will be happiest and proudest
day of my life if it falls to my lot to see it.”
Urea Stibamine was a great success in treating
Kalaazar. In 1932, Col. H. E. Short, Director, Kala-azar Commission,
appointed by the Government of India stated: “We found Urea
Stibamine an eminently safe and reliable drug and in seven years
we treated some thousands of cases of Kala-azar and saw thousands
more treated in treatment centers. The acute fulminating type characteristic
of the peak period of an epidemic responds to treatment extraordinarily
promptly and with an almost dramatic cessation of fever, diminution
in the size of spleen and return to normal condition of health.”
Today the incidence of Kala-azar has drastically reduced in India
and other parts of the world. There are occasional or sporadic cases
here and there. Today Kalaazar persists only in very poor and remote
Though mostly known for his brilliant work on Kala-azar,
Brahmachari worked on other diseases like Malaria, Black- Water
Fever, Cerebrospinal Meningitis, Diabetes, Filariasis, Influenza,
Leprosy, and Syphilis. He published about 150 research papers. Brahmachari
was the first to discover the presence of Qurtartan Fever in Kolkata
and Dhaka. This disease was considered to be very rare. Crombie,
the President of the Indian Medical Congress (1894) stated in his
Presidential Address that he had met only one case in his whole
experience in India. Brahmachari, after a most exhaustive and critical
survey of the vast literature on the Old Burdwan Fever, concluded
that the disease was a combination of two diseases namely malaria
and Kala-azar. He published his conclusion in his paper, “On
the nature of the epidemic fever in Lower Bengal commonly known
as Burdwan Fever” published in the Indian Medical Gazette
in 1911. Brahmachari had shown that in Black-water Fever the largest
amount of haemolysis occurred in the liver during the active stage
of the disease. He also prepared an antihaemolytic solution of quinine
for treatment of cases of black-water fever whose blood showed the
presence of malarial parasites. In his Presidential Address to the
Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1930 Brahmachari said: “When
I recall to my mind that I had the privilege of teaching and examining
many hundreds of medical students in Medicine, and remember the
raw and restive youths to whom I lectured, and then look around
and see the resulting product, I feel with Sir Ernest Rutherford
that a transformation has occurred that is much more wonderful than
the transformation of radium and must have involved much more energy
in the process…India, the seat of earliest civilization of
man, is regaining the healthy state that she must have enjoyed in
the days of old. Diseases which for many centuries were considered
incurable and destroyed millions of human lives in India, are now
losing their terrors.” Brahmachari was actively connected
in various spheres in the University of Calcutta for nearly 40 years.
He was Fellow of the Calcutta University since the beginning of
the Universities Act 1904. He was a member of the Senate, the Calcutta
Campbell Hospital at Sealdah where after a very hard day’s
work I found at about 10 o’clock in a little room with a smoky
dimly burning lantern that the results of my experiments were up
to my expectations. But I did not know then that providence had
put into my hands a wondrous thing and that this little thing would
save the lives of millions of fellowmen.
I shall never forget that room where Urea Stibamine
was discovered. The room where I had to labour for months without
a gas point or a water tap and where I had to remain contented with
an old kerosene lamp for my work at night. The room still remains
but the signs of a laboratory in it have completely disappeared.
To me it will ever remain a place of pilgrimage where the first
light of Urea Stimamine dawned upon my mind.
To-day Urea Stibamine stands pre-eminent in the
treatment of Kala-azar in India and as a powerful prophylactic against
the disease. And it is a matter of supreme satisfaction to me that
the treatment evolved out of my research has removed the terrors
of this distressing disease. It may be hoped that before long the
disease will be completely Syndicate and Boards of Studies of Medicine
and of Science of the Calcutta University. He was also the Dean
of the Faculty of the Medicine (1938) and Dean of Faculty of Science
(1938-40). He was a Active Member in the Rules Revision Committee
responsible for framing the University Regulations from the beginning
of the Universities Act 1904.
Around 1924, Brahmachari had established a research
institute in his own residence in Cornwallis Street, Kolkata. This
institute was later converted into a Partnership concern with his
sons Phanindra Nath and Nirmal Kumar. Under his guidance the Institute
did remarkably well both in the fields of research and manufacture.
Unfortunately the institute stopped functioning in 1963 and the
nation lost a legacy of one of its great sons.
Brahmachari took keen interest in humanitarian
and cultural activities. He played an important part in the formation
of a Blood Bank at Calcutta. He was the Chairman of the Blood Transfusion
Service of Bengal. He was the Vice President of the St. John Ambulance
Association of the Bengal branch and also its President. He was
the Chairman of the Managing Body of the Indian Red Cross Society
of the Bengal Branch. In fact he happened to be its first Indian
Chairman. He was a member of the Sanitary Board of Bengal. He was
the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Indian Museum.
He was a charitable person. He made generous donations.
Among the public institutions which received donations from Brahmachari
are: The Indian Red Cross Society, The Blood Bank at Kolkata, the
University of Calcutta, the Jadavpur Tuberculosis Sanatorium, the
Central Glass and Ceram