SCIENTISTS, said CV Raman, are the salt of the earth and to them the humanity owes its existence and progress. Prof. Suri Bhagavantam belongs to such a rare tribe. This visionary scientist initiated independent India's stride in scientific progress particularly in defence sector.

Born in a well-to-do family in Akiripalli in Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, on 14th October 1909, his formal education ended with a B.Sc. in physics from Nizam College, Hyderabad. At a time when India was making a bold foray into scientific world on its own with several world-reckoning scientists, Bhagavantam could join the highly acclaimed Sir CV Raman laboratory at Calcutta with only B,Sc qualification.

The talent of the man speaks enough from the fact that he could do it only by virtue of his scientific temper and devotion to physics. Later, he went on to obtain the rest of qualifications by only research not academics. When Bhagavantam joined the Ramans, the great Raman effect research was almost in final stage. But he had a ringside view of it. Later, when Raman wanted to detect the spin of photon by studying rotational Raman scattering, he chose Bhagavantam as his collaborator. To Bhagavantam goes the credit for the first serious study of Raman spectrum of diamond. He narrated with a touch of his typical sense of humour, that how he guarded the diamond during experiments and how, when the results were reported by an abstracting service, the editor put four exclamation marks after the weight of the diamond to mean his bewilderment that a hard-up Indian physicist could have access to so rich a precious stone.

In 1933, when Raman proceeded to Indian Institute of Science, he wanted Bhagavantam as his assistant but bureaucratic roadblocks came in the way. He then recommended Bhagavantam to Andhra University, where he served with distinction for over a decade and a half in the department of Physics. He became head of the department at the age of 28 years and later, the principal of the Science College. It is said that on arrival, the guard, who mistook to him to be a student, did not allow the young staff member into faculty room. It was here; he took interest in group theory, which led him to co-author with Venkatrayudu, his classic 'Theory of Groups and its Physical Applications'. It is no hyperbole to say that a whole generation of scientists particularly spectroscopists has been brought up on this book.

In 1948, he was appointed as the first scientific liaison officer at Indian High Commission in London, which brought him in close contact with the then high commissioner VK Krishna Menon. On his return in 1949, he joined Osmania University as professor of Physics and became its vice-chancellor at the age of 42 years!
In 1957, Bhagvantam took up the reins of Indian Institute of Science at Banglore, as its director. Shortly, persuaded by Krishna Menon, he joined as the scientific advisor to the Minster of Defence.

His next assignment was director general, DRDO from where retired in 1969. It was during his stint as DRDO head for nine years that saw Bhagavantam contributed immensely to Indian defence system. His initiative led to setting up of laboratories for development of missiles, aircraft, aero engines, combat vehicles like tanks, electronic warfare systems, high explosives and under water weapons. The string of labs, established under his stewardship from Naval Science and Technology Laboratories (NSTL) Visakhaptanam to Leh and Tezpur, stand testimony to his vision. And he could do all these with meagre resources, poor infrastructure back up and ever choking red-tapeism by the white-collared babus. Encryption and decryption, war gaming and training of service officers in modern warfare technologies were the other disciplines, in which he created sound infrastructure.

The fierce zeal and stirring patriotism that moved Bhagavantam in his path can be guessed from an example. When Nobel laureate and "friend of India" Prof. PMS Blackett advised Pandit Nehru that DRDO should confine itself to development of subsystems and import substitution and not develop major systems for which India should depend on imports, it was Bhagavantam who ignored the advice and went ahead with his plan to make cynical West wake up and recognise India's scientific talent. Despite these administrative distractions, Bhagavantam had an impressive record of research papers and books published to his credit. When CV Raman, at a meeting in Madurai, remarked that Bhagavantam's administrative responsibilities came in the way for research, the latter strongly defended his stand and Raman embraced his disciple in warm appreciation of his point.

Bhagavantam was also a pioneer in a simple but effective method to measure elastic constants in crystals. Even his last few papers, which he penned post retirement, on group theory applied to magnetic crystals, are remarkable.

Post-retirement, he headed Committee On Science and Technology for Developing Countries. He died without a plaque of recognition from the government at Chennai in 1989.

24/7/2012 04:05:50 am

I have great admiration for Prof Bhavantham a teacher Scientist and GREAT VISIONARY ,but for him Indian talents in DRDO would not have come to limelight and saved the country from foreign lobbies.I have never seen him but he is my Dronacharya of all time great as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Sir..I am attracted with his academic credentials and scientific skills.With High Respects. s sathyamurthy from Chennai.


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