Physics in Perspective

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 146–178 | Cite as

C. V. Raman and Colonial Physics: Acoustics and the Quantum



Presenting the social and historical context of Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, this paper clarifies the nature and development of his work in early twentieth-century colonial India. Raman’s early fascination with acoustics became the basis of his later insights into the nature of the light quantum. His work on light scattering played an important role in the experimental verification of quantum mechanics. In general, Raman’s worldview corrects certain Orientalist stereotypes about scientific practice in Asia.


Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman Raman effect Quantum theory Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science Indian Institute of Science Physics in India Orientalism 


Speaking on the radio for the Indian public, Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (1888–1970) remarked:

I think it will be readily conceded that the pursuit of science derives its motive power from what is essentially a creative urge … In doing this, the man of science, like the exponents of other forms of art, subjects himself to a rigorous discipline, the rules of which he has laid down for himself and which he calls logic … Intellectual beauty is indeed the highest kind of beauty. Science, in other words, is a fusion of man’s aesthetic and intellectual functions devoted to the representation of nature. It is therefore the highest form of creative art.1

Raman was a first generation bhadralok1 scientist whose experiments at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) in Calcutta from 1922 onward led to his ground-breaking discovery in 1928 of the Raman effect, the frequency-altering scattering of light by atomic systems for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1930, the first “non-Western” scientist to be so honored.2 This historic achievement in the sphere of science served as an important political symbol and a catalyst for Indian strivings for independence. Though Raman manifested a variety of national consciousness that was different than his colleagues Satyendranath Bose and Meghnad Saha, his remark shows his scientific worldview, which integrated concepts of artistic and intellectual beauty. Like the changing patterns on a kaleidoscope, Raman’s intellectual interests in science also showed a gradual change, covering a broad spectrum.

As was also the case for his mentor, the physicist and plant physiologist Jagadish Chandra Bose, Raman’s major research interests changed over the years: acoustics (1909–1920), optics and scattering of light (1920–1930), ultrasonic diffraction and the application of Brillouin scattering to liquids and Raman scattering to crystals (1930–1940), diamonds and vibrations of crystal lattices (1940–1950), optics of minerals (1950–1960), and thereafter the physiology of vision. In the course of his academic career, Raman published more than four hundred and eighty research papers (as a single author and coauthored), many of which appeared in the Indian Journal of Physics, which he founded in 1928. He also trained a large number of research students, many of whom went on to hold important portfolios in administration, academia, and politics.

Because Raman’s early life up to 1928 and the reception of his work has been discussed by Rajinder Singh some years ago in this journal, the present paper is a social history of how Raman established himself as a key figure of Indian science in the early twentieth century, especially how he sought meaningful connections between a modern scientific worldview and the indigenous knowledge of India, combining his attachment to European science with local intellectual traditions into a particular brand of Indian modernity.3 Specifically, I will explore the events that led to the discovery of the Raman effect by Raman and Kariamanikam Srinivasa Krishnan at the IACS in Calcutta in February 1928. I shall argue that, though the Raman effect has generally been seen as providing a strong evidence for the quantum nature of light, he himself was initially a staunch supporter of the classical wave theory. Raman’s faith in the wave theory, I suggest, came from his initial interest in the physics behind several Indian musical instruments. This study will also put Raman’s work in the context of the alternate dispersion theories, especially those of Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, Paul Drude, Peter Debye, Arnold Sommerfeld, Charles Galton Darwin, Karl Herzfeld, Adolf Smekal, as well as scattering experiments by Rudolf Ladenburg and Fritz Reiche, culminating with the dispersion theory of Hendrik A. Kramers.4

Raman scattering played an important role in the experimental verification of the quantum dispersion theory of Kramers, which formed a conceptual “bridge” between Niels Bohr’s and Arnold Sommerfeld’s “old quantum theory” and Werner Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics. The scattering experiments of Russian physicists Leonid Issakovich Mandelstam and Grigory Landsberg, done at around the same time in 1928 as Raman, are also analyzed in this context. Finally, this paper breaks from the tradition of hagiographic writings5 on Raman and argues that because he had strong networks in the international scientific community, he became better known and more popular in India than Satyendranath Bose or Meghnad Saha. The life trajectory of Raman also shows the multilayered nature of Indian science and the subtleties that surround any consideration of science and nationalism in early twentieth century India.6 This becomes especially evident when Raman’s intellectual style is compared to those of Bose and Saha.

Biographical Comments

Born to a middle class bhadralok Brahmin family on November 7, 1888, in Tiruchirapalli in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, Raman was the second of eight children. His father, R. Chandrasekaran Aiyar, accepted the post of lecturer in mathematics and physics at the A. V. N. College in Vizagapatam when Raman was aged three. Aiyar also excelled in playing Indian musical instruments. After receiving the first rank2 in his bachelor’s degree in 1901, Raman was advised by his teachers to go to England to compete for the Indian Civil Service (ICS) examination. When he failed the medical examination and the door to England was closed, he felt relieved and remarked: “I shall always be grateful to this man,” the medical officer.7 It can be inferred from this remark that either Raman was very much attached to his country and did not want to serve the British in the ICS or perhaps had already developed academic interests.

Raman returned to Presidency College in Madras to do his masters’ degree in physics, during which he attended very few lectures and devoted most of his time to independent research focusing mostly on Indian musical instruments. In 1906, he published a short paper in the British Philosophical Magazine that analyzed the phenomenon of oblique diffraction using the wave theory of light.8 Having carefully studied the double-slit diffraction pattern produced when light is normally incident at the slits, Raman wondered what would happen when light struck the slits obliquely. He came to the conclusion that when the incident angle was very close to a right angle, the diffraction bands were no longer symmetric, as they would have been in the case of normal incidence. He then performed simple experiments to verify his conclusions. As Raman recalled later, he was able to pursue such research because attending lectures was not mandatory.

After completing his masters’ degree in January 1907, Raman went to Calcutta in eastern India, where he joined the Financial Civil Service as assistant accountant general. Though wanting to pursue a research career in physics, Raman saw the utility of being in the administrative service. Such opportunities in administration were open only to the British and those Indians who held British university degrees, which Raman did not have. To pursue a research career in future and make a living during the intervening period, he had to join the government service after passing its entrance exam. Raman remarked, “I took one look at all the candidates who had assembled there and I knew I was going to stand first,” as he indeed went on to do.9 His self-confidence, a marked trait of his character, turned out to be well-founded in this case. Meanwhile, Raman also married a South Indian woman named Lokasundari, a bhadramahila.3

Raman established contacts with the IACS,which had been founded in 1876 by a noted Bengali bhadralok intellectual Mahendra Lal Sircar, a well-known medical practitioner and philanthropist. Sircar saw scientific expertise and research as important yardsticks for national awakening.10 Because Calcutta offered more job opportunities than other provinces, Raman decided to move there in 1907, which coincided with the rise of the nationalist movement in the city following the partition of Bengal by the British in 1905.11 From 1907 until 1917, Raman spent his days in the government office working as an assistant accountant and devoted his mornings and nights to science. In this period as part-time clerk and part-time researcher, Raman read Hermann von Helmholtz’s The Sensations of Tone, which had been translated into English by Alexander Ellis in 1885.12 Raman considered Helmholtz the most inspirational scientific figure; The Sensations of Tone greatly influenced his intellectual outlook.13 Helmholtz’s work was presented in a lucid form especially for the convenience of music students and dealt with sound as a sensation, offering many insights that apparently were unclear to Raman, such as that “harmony and quality of tone differ only in degree” or that “the scale best adapted to melody is not adapted to harmony.”14 Wanting to explore the ramifications of Helmholtzian wave theories and interested in the aesthetics of art and science, Raman decided to investigate the acoustics of Indian musical instruments and check for himself whether the Helmholtzian doctrines of scale, harmony, and melody worked for them, though he had difficulty in getting access to proper laboratory facilities.

In 1909, Raman was promoted to the rank of currency officer in seemingly far-away Rangoon. Frustrated by the lack of scientific equipment, he turned to the theory governing the Indian musical instrument ectara and wrote a theoretical paper that was accepted by the Journal of the Indian Math Club.15 Using basic wave theory, Raman calculated the periodic variation of tension when the vibrating wire has both ends fixed. Raman determined that the pitch of the ectara’s note was twice the frequency of oscillations of the wire and then verified the result experimentally. Likewise, Raman studied other musical instruments: the violin, sitar, tambura, and the veena, analyzed their frequency response and found the dependence of the production of various frequencies on the bowing pressure, the normal modes of vibration, and various harmonics.

Raman’s early fascination with acoustics became the basis for his later insights into the nature of light. His attachment to the wave theory stemmed from his initial interests in the physics behind Indian musical instruments like the ectara. Raman remarked about music, stringed instruments, and culture in ancient India:

Music, both vocal and instrumental, undoubtedly played an important part in the cultural life of ancient India. Sanskrit literature, both secular and religious, makes numerous references to instruments of various kinds, and it is, I believe, generally held by archaeologists that some of the earliest mentions of such instruments to be found anywhere are those contained in the ancient Sanskrit works. Certain it is that at a very early period in the history of the country, the Hindus were acquainted with the use of stringed instruments excited by plucking or bowing, with the transverse form of the flute, with wind and reed instruments of different types and with percussion instruments.16

Speaking about percussion instruments as a wave theorist, Raman appreciated the vibrations of a circular stretched membrane and especially the myriad overtones that are excited to produce a discordant effect. Raman noted that, though many European percussion instruments are basically non-musical but can be tolerated in large orchestras, Indian percussion instruments have varied, subtle acoustic properties that drew him to delve deeper into Indian music.17

Raman published thirty scientific papers during this period in such journals as the Journal of the Indian Math Club, Nature, Philosophical Magazine, and Physical Review.18 As a consequence, he was offered the Palit Professorship of Physics at Calcutta University in 1917 by Ashutosh Mukherjee, the Vice Chancellor. Though Raman’s new position came with a considerably lower salary than his job as an accountant, he accepted it. Now he could devote more time to teaching and research at Calcutta University and to experimental work at the IACS. Ramaseshan, a student of Raman, noted that: “5.30 a.m. Raman goes to the Association. Returns at 9.45 a.m., bathes, gulps his food in haste and leaves for office, invariably by taxi [horse-drawn carriage] so that he might not be late. At 5 p.m., Raman goes directly to the Association [IACS] on the way back from work. Home at 9.30 or 10 p.m. Sundays, whole day at the Association.”19

During that period, Raman also developed the odd habit of wearing a headband, though these were not customary in South India. Headbands or turbans, as they are popularly called in India, are worn by people from the north, especially the state of Punjab, parts of Rajasthan, and also the Kathiawari region in Gujarat in the west. M. S. Swaminathan, one of Raman’s contemporaries, recalled Raman’s ready wit when someone asked him why he wore a turban. “Oh, if I did not wear one, my head will swell. You all praise me so much and I need a turban to contain my ego.”20 This story is yet another indication of Raman’s eagerness to be different. For Raman, the turban symbolized “Indianness” or a distinctiveness that made him look different from his colleagues, both Indian and non-Indian (figure 1).
Fig. 1

Raman wearing his turban. Credit: Raman Research Institute

En Route to the Raman Effect

From “isolated” Rangoon, Raman was glad to get a transfer to Calcutta, where he joined the up-and-coming IACS in 1911. Raman’s travels involved sea voyages during which he spent considerable time pondering the sea and its colors. At the IACS, Raman wanted to diversify his research portfolio, for which making the transition from wave acoustics to optics made sense. The diversity of Raman’s interests in optics ranged from the visualizations of the sea to astronomical optics. For example, he studied Saturn and gave two lectures on his observations of the interference fringes and diffraction patterns of two light sources using the wave theory of light. In 1912, Raman helped mount a telescope on the small wooden observatory on the roof of the IACS and then studied Jupiter’s surface: “I think the problem of scattering of light by a planetary body is not altogether an easy one and there may be room for further investigations here.”21

Hence, Raman’s initial interests in acoustics and his research on the ectara and Indian percussion instruments, using the wave theory, served as the background for his later interests in light scattering at the IACS. As G. N. Ramachandran noted,

The study of acoustics is intimately connected with the study of vibrations and waves, and it is not surprising that Raman’s interests passed from his early love for acoustics on to a life-long devotion to optics, the other great domain of classical wave mechanics. In fact, if one may talk of a unifying trend in the scientific work of Raman, it may be said to reside in the study of wave phenomena.22

While Raman was working in Calcutta at the IACS, he had only one assistant, Ashutosh Dey (another bhadralok), who helped him set up and carry out experiments. In the wake of the partition of Bengal, many Indians sought education as part of the general movement for national improvement. The distinguished educator Ashutosh Mukherjee played an important role in this crucial period. Mukherjee’s efforts led philanthropists like Taraknath Palit, Rashbehari Ghosh, the Maharaja of Darbhanga, and the Maharaja of Khaira to open the University College of Science (UCS) and subsequently endow chairs to be held by Indian scientists. Raman made a name for himself in acoustics and astronomical optics; he became a stalwart in the institutional milieu of the IACS. Despite that, he was not the best choice for Mukherjee, compared to Jagadish Chandra Bose, who already established himself as a celebrated scientist and a physics professor at Presidency College in Calcutta.

Raman’s position at the UCS also entailed teaching, which he longed to do.23 He got involved in a conflict with scientists from Bengal like J. C. Bose, who wrote to the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University complaining that Raman was offering increased salaries to lure away J. C. Bose’s research assistants.24 These grievances against Raman were part of a larger problem in the history of Indian science, the regionalism that identified him as a South Indian attempting to make his way in Bengal (figure 2).
Fig. 2

Raman’s lone assistant at IACS: Ashutosh Dey. Credit: Raman Research Institute

In 1914, Raman accepted appointment as Sir Taraknath Palit Professor of Physics at Calcutta University.25 Consequently, he resigned from his government position, but due to the requirements of the Palit endowment could not join immediately. The colonial government intervened, reluctant to fund endowed chairs in India occupied by native Indians. By 1917, however, Raman was already the Palit Professor. With a well-equipped lab and research grants to build instruments, Raman started a new chapter in his life in optics and light scattering. He also gained access to the labs at IACS, where he had worked part-time when was a financial clerk. A research group was beginning to grow around Raman in Calcutta. As he earned nationwide fame for his research and teaching prowess in Calcutta at UCS and IACS, several students came and joined his group from South India (University of Madras), which included his key collaborator Kariamanikam Srinivasa Krishnan and also K. R. Ramanathan, L.A. Ramdas, K. S. Rao, Sunderaraman, V. S. Tamma, Y. Venkataramayya, A. Ananthakrishnan, S. Bhagavantam, A. S. Ganesan, C. Ramaswamy, S. S. M. Rao, S. Paramasivan, N. S. Nagendra Nath, C. S. Venkateswaran and S. Venkateswaran, who became Raman’s research assistants.26 Most of them, like Raman, not coincidentally were South Indians, showing the pervasiveness of regional favoritism in Indian science during the early twentieth century.

While at the IACS, Raman came into conflict with Meghnad Saha, beginning in 1917, when Raman attempted to limit the membership of IACS only to South Indians, creating problems for the Institute and other senior members like J. C. Bose, Kedareswar Banerjee, Panchanon Das, and Manindra Nath Mitra, who were not from the South.27 As leader of this group opposing Raman, Saha expressed his annoyance on several occasions regarding Raman’s regionalistic favoritism and was also apprehensive that Raman could jeopardize the future prospects of Saha’s students. Thus, he advised Pratap K. Kichlu, an upcoming scientist from North India: “When you submit [your] thesis for [the] DSc … the examiners ought to be Professor [Ralph H.] Fowler, Lord Rayleigh, and myself. Do not allow Raman or [John W.] Nicholson to be put in…”28

Raman also came into conflict with the eminent Bengali mathematician D. N. Mallik over an interpretation of Fermat’s Law in optics that Mallik published in 1913.29 Raman objected “that this statement of Dr. Mallik is most seriously in error.”30 He advised that “Dr. Mallik should read Huyghens’ own statement of the case in his original treatises on Light … [Mallik’s] assumption is wholly unnecessary and leads to results which are quite meaningless.”31 This episode suggests Raman’s grasp in theoretical optics in his early days as a scientist, quite well read in classical optics including the works of Huygens. On the personal level, this conflict shows the commanding and dismissive tone Raman took towards a senior Indian (Bengali) colleague like Mallik. While this incident shows Raman’s fearlessness, it can also be interpreted as a growing regionalistic trend in his personality even as a young man.

Though showing his mastery over theoretical topics in classical optics, Raman wasted no time in planning an experimental research program. Now having a good number of assistants, Raman consolidated his research program in Calcutta by building instruments and probing the subtleties of wave optics to understand the molecular basis of the macroscopic phenomenon of refraction. In 1919, he began developing an interest in the molecular diffraction of light. With B. B. Ray, Raman published a paper on a light scattering problem in which a beam of light was sent through a solution in which sulphur suspension particles were formed. Here a counterintuitive phenomenon was observed: The intensity of the transmitted light decreased as the solution became gradually turbid, as seems intuitively understandable, but with further passage of time there was a gradual reappearance of transmitted light passing through the suspension.32 Raman tried to explain this apparently strange phenomenon with the help of Fresnel and Huygens wave theory by arguing that the reappearance of transmitted light occurs when the growth in size of the suspension particles lead to forward scattering and interference in the forward direction. These studies formed the background for Raman’s later researches into light scattering.

In 1921, Raman had his first opportunity to visit England and attend the University Congress at Oxford as a representative of Calcutta University. When Raman was transferred to Rangoon early in his life, he took a sea voyage during which he pondered the optics of the sea in relation to his research experiences in music and acoustics. On his return voyage from England, Raman further contemplated the sea’s color.33 Explaining it was a natural outgrowth of Raman’s initial interest in beauty, aesthetics, and the connections between art and science. In 1899, Lord Rayleigh had explained the blue color of the sky by giving a scattering formula for a gas, arguing further that the sea was blue because it reflected the color of the sky.34 Rayleigh scattering involved scattered radiation having the same frequency as the incident radiation. After having himself taken a long sea voyage, Rayleigh argued that

the much admired dark blue of the deep sea has nothing to do with the colour of water, but is simply the blue of the sky seen by reflection. When the heavens are overcast the water looks grey and leaden; and even when the clouding is partial, the sea appears grey under the clouds, though elsewhere it may show colour. It is remarkable that a fact so easy of observation is unknown to many even of those who have written from a scientific point of view.35

From his own experience, Rayleigh’s explanation of the color of the sea seemed discordant to Raman, who noted that

observations made in this way in the deeper waters of the Mediterranean and Red seas showed that the color, so far from being impoverished by suppression of sky-reflection, was wonderfully improved thereby … It was abundantly clear from the observations that the blue color of the deep seas is a distinct phenomenon in itself, and not merely an effect due to reflected sky-light … The question is: What is it that diffracts the light and makes its passage visible? An interesting possibility that should be considered is that the diffracting particles may, at least in part, be the molecules of the water themselves.36

His reasoning also relied on the Einstein–Smoluchowski formula (1910) that explained critical opalescence, the strong scattering of light by a medium near a phase transition.4 Einstein’s key insight was that the phenomena of critical opalescence and the blue color of the sky, though not related to each other, were both due to density fluctuations caused by the molecular constitution of matter.37

What happened to light scattering when the medium was not close to a phase transition? How should one understand light scattering from solids? These and similar problems attracted Raman and his associates. In 1922, Raman combined his observations with photometric determinations of Matthew Luckiesh to argue that molecular scattering of light in seawater explained its color, which then led him to study light scattering in liquids and thence to the discovery of the Raman effect.38 In his work on light scattering in liquids, Raman studied density fluctuations in a fluid and also the non-spherical nature of the molecules constituting the fluid. Performing experiments at the IACS with his collaborators, Raman found that scattering from transparent liquids always contained some radiation of frequency lower than that of the incident light, now called Raman scattering.39 Thus, Raman’s interests in light scattering from a liquid (1919–1927) culminated in the celebrated Raman effect.40

Building an International Image

Though Raman had a special fondness for India, his network of patrons led him to think beyond the nation. As soon as he had a well-equipped laboratory with logistical support and a research group, he started planning international trips. Even while starting out as Palit Professor at UCS, he visited London to attend a scientific meeting in 1924, now better placed than in 1921, when he was still building up his reputation. He could travel undisturbed while his research groups back home worked on the problems he had set for them. Receiving an invitation to attend a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) in Canada, Raman’s travels took him to North America for the first time.

In August 1924, he was in Toronto giving talks on his research at IACS on light scattering. After his Canadian sojourn, he went to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for its centenary celebrations. Robert Millikan invited him to visit Caltech, where he stayed for three months. Here Raman remarked to astrophysicist Svein Rosseland that his immediate scientific goal was to “make a great discovery and receive the Nobel Prize.”41 After leaving California, he visited Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, returning to Calcutta in March 1925.

The 1920s were a very fertile period for the development of physics on a transnational scale. In late 1922, Arthur Holly Compton calculated that (unlike in classical electromagnetism) a quantum of radiation undergoes a discrete change in wavelength when it experiences a billiard-ball collision with an electron at rest in an atom, which his X-ray scattering experiments confirmed.42 This phenomenon provided an experimental proof for quanta and convinced most physicists of the reality of light quanta. Yet these results were not universally accepted. The Harvard physicist William Duane, for instance, expressed doubts regarding Compton’s results at the BAAS meeting in Toronto in 1924 that Raman attended.43 Speaking at this meeting, Duane apparently in the end conceded to Compton, according to the ambiguous account published in Nature, (figure 3):
Fig. 3

Raman with Compton in the center. Credit: Raman Research Institute

Duane found that, with his apparatus, he was unable to find evidence for the existence of the effects observed by Compton. Compton, on the other hand, could not repeat satisfactorily Duane’s experiments. Each observer investigated the apparatus used by the other and convinced himself of its trustworthiness … Duane found to his surprise that, in addition to the effects he had previously observed, a new peak appeared in approximately the position observed by Compton … Prof. Raman made an eloquent appeal against a too hasty abandonment of the classical theory of scattering … The fundamental difference between the two theories remain; Duane uses only the well-established quantum energy equation, while Compton in addition introduces the idea of conservation of momentum in the interaction between radiator [sic] and matter.44

At this meeting, Raman took Compton to task: “Compton, you’re a very good debater, but the truth isn’t in you.” This can be taken as evidence that Raman was unmoved by Compton’s arguments and continued to believe in waves.45 Though he tried to downplay the Compton effect and its conceptual significance, Compton’s insights at the Toronto debate were very much present in Raman’s work on light scattering, which he conceptualized as an optical analogue of the Compton effect, remarking that its real significance as a “twin brother to the Compton effect” was clear to him by 1927.46 Compton himself remarked “that it was probably the Toronto debate that led him to discover the Raman effect two years later.”47

In 1927, Ramanathan observed that when sunlight passed through a scattering medium, a small fraction of light scattered with a change of frequency. All of Raman’s collaborators agreed that the mechanism producing the modified radiation was fluorescence primarily due to impurities in the scattering liquids (such as benzene or glycene) acting as scattering centers. Attempts were made to purify the material by distillation, yet the frequency-shifted radiation persisted. Ramanathan called this radiation “feeble fluorescence,” though it was polarized, whereas fluorescent radiation is not.48 Furthermore, Raman performed experiments to study this “feeble fluorescence,” entailing a spectroscopic study that failed due to a lack of a sufficiently powerful light source. Hence, his research group repeated these experiments in more detail from February 5–28, 1928 and concluded that what Ramanathan called “feeble fluorescence” was not fluorescence at all, but a form of modified scattering.49

An obstacle in the way of speedy progress of Raman’s scattering experiments was the feebleness of his primary light source, sunlight filtered to select the parts of the spectrum to be analyzed. Though a monochromatic source was needed to isolate the frequency-shifted scattering, the introduction of any optical element such as a prism or a phase retarder might have made the signal weaker. To improve the intensity of the incident light, Raman acquired a seven-inch refracting telescope, which in tandem with a lens with a small focal length could condense a beam of sunlight into a high-intensity pencil of light. Using this, Raman and his associates began to analyze the “feeble fluorescence” in early 1928.50

Explaining the Effect

The theoretical explanation of the Raman effect followed its experimental discovery. According to current understanding, the Raman effect occurs when light quanta of a certain frequency collides with the molecules of the liquid, either giving up some energy or collecting some energy from it. The scattered radiation includes both quanta of the same frequency as the incident light (Rayleigh scattering), along with quanta of lower frequencies (Stokes terms) or higher frequencies (anti-Stokes terms), illustrated in figures 4, 5 and 6. At the time, the transitions with unchanged frequency were called “coherent,” those with changed frequencies “incoherent.”5
Fig. 4

Raman scattering. Credit: Andor Technology Ltd

Fig. 5

Energy level diagram showing Rayleigh and Raman (Stokes and anti-Stokes) scattering. The ground state and the excited states are shown as bands between which transitions are made. Credit: Andor Technology Ltd

Fig. 6

Comparison of Rayleigh with Raman spectrum with its Stokes and anti-Stokes lines. Credit: Andor Technology Ltd

The Rayleigh transition arises because of the polarizability of the molecule, involving an excitation from the ground state to the excited state and a subsequent de-excitation back to the original ground state, resulting in scattered radiation of the same frequency as the incident one. Changes in polarizability (electric dipole moment) during molecular motions are responsible for the Stokes and anti-Stokes line and hence the Raman effect. The Stokes transition can be explained by saying that there is an excitation at a particular frequency from the ground state and a subsequent de-excitation to a state of lower frequency (increased wavelength) than the initial. This implies that the scattered photon has a lower energy than of the incident photon, as proposed by Adolf Smekal in 1923.51

Smekal was a firm believer in Einstein’s light quantum and suggested a corpuscular theory of dispersion. Smekal explained the anti-Stokes radiation by noting that the exciting transition is already from an excited state, so that the subsequent de-excitation is at a higher frequency and hence higher energy by the relation E = hν. Because the transition starts out from a state in which sufficient vibrationally excited molecules might not be present, the anti-Stokes line is therefore weaker than the Stokes line (figure 6).52 Classically, the Raman effect can be viewed as a perturbation of the molecule’s electric field; the frequency shifts of the scattered light give a measure of the rotational or vibrational frequencies of the molecule.

The newspaper announcement regarding the discovery of the Raman effect appeared on February 28, 1928 (figure 7) and also mentioned the Compton effect as a radical breakthrough for light quanta.53 Though Raman was influenced by Compton’s work, as we have seen earlier, he tried to downplay its “revolutionary” aspect, especially in the verification of light-quantum in the Toronto debate. In fact, when Krishnan informed Raman in 1927 that Compton had been awarded the Nobel Prize, Raman remarked “If this is true of X-rays, it must be true of light too … We must pursue it and we are on the right lines. It must and shall be found. The Nobel Prize must be won.”54 As I will argue, the meanings of light quanta were quite different in India than in Europe; Raman’s interpretive lens disclosed a manifest ambiguity whether his effect can be explained semiclassically using continuous wave theory or only using discontinuous light quanta.
Fig. 7

First newspaper announcement of the discovery of the Raman effect. Credit: Raman Research Institute

Raman Effect and Quantum Physics

How did Raman account for his effect? In February 1928, he noted that X-ray Compton scattering without change of frequency corresponded to the average state of atoms and molecules, while the frequency-changing scattering represented fluctuations. Likewise, in the case of visible light there correspond two types of scattering, one based on the normal optical properties of atoms and molecules and the other representing the effect of fluctuations. Hence, light scattering in general is a confluence of thermodynamics, molecular physics, and the wave theory of radiation.55

As argued above, Raman’s predilection for the wave theory may have come from his early association with Indian musical instruments. Raman also re-derived the Compton shift in 1928 using classical theory, analogizing it to the Doppler effect, another example of Raman’s faith in the wave theory. There is, however, some ambivalence in his understanding of this novel effect, reflected in his remark on March 16, 1928, at a lecture in Bangalore. In quite a cavalier fashion, Raman at this lecture tried to explain the effect using light quanta and seemed to be aware of the theoretical underpinnings as “contemplated in the Kramers–Heisenberg theory of dispersion.”56

Here, Raman seems to mean a light quantum as a quantity of energy in the form of classical radiation, as Bohr also seems to imply in his 1913 paper.57 Even so, Raman’s remark really does not mean that he subscribed to the notion of the light quantum. There is some disagreement about this in the extant sources. Rajinder Singh says, “Well before Raman discovered the Raman effect, he accepted the quantum nature of light.”58 However, Abha Sur claims that “Raman himself was a quintessential classical physicist certainly in his training and even more so in his outlook.”59 Above all, this disagreement raises larger questions about the Raman effect’s connections to the experimental verification of the new formalisms of quantum mechanics that were emerging in Europe.60

Quantum Dispersion and Matrix Mechanics: The Place of the Raman Effect in the History of Quantum Physics

During the mid-1920s, physicists were grappling with the Rayleigh-like coherent terms in the scattered radiation in old quantum theory.61 In the classical Lorentz–Drude picture of dispersion, an electromagnetic wave of frequency ν strikes a one-dimensional simple harmonic oscillator with resonant frequency ν0. What happens next depends on whether or not ν is close to ν0. As long as ν is far removed from ν0, one is in the regime of so-called normal dispersion; close to ν0, one is in the regime of anomalous dispersion.

In 1915, Peter Debye and Arnold Sommerfeld proposed a dispersion formula similar to the classical Lorentz–Drude formula in the context of Bohr’s new quantum model of the atom. The resonances in the Sommerfeld–Debye formula are at the orbital frequencies in the Bohr atom, yet the experimental data clearly showed that these resonances should be at the radiation frequencies of the light, which, in the Bohr model, differ sharply from the orbital frequencies of the atom. In the early 1920s, several alternative dispersion theories addressed this problem. In 1922, using light quanta, Charles Galton Darwin introduced a damping mechanism and argued that, though light from a single atom would have the orbital frequency, the interference of an ensemble of waves led to scattered light waves having the radiation frequency.62 Unfortunately, conservation of energy only held statistically in his model. Furthermore, Bohr pointed out that Darwin’s theory failed for low-intensity light.

Meanwhile, Karl Herzfeld had suggested a mechanism for obtaining non-coherent scattered radiation.63 Using light quanta, Herzfeld argued that the stationary states allowed by the quantum conditions were not the only permissible ones. Besides these, there were orbits of all sizes and shapes corresponding to all values of the constants of integration, which resulted in a “diffuse quantization” with indeterminate energy values. This was a variant of the work by Bohr and Sommerfeld and their quantization condition. Hence, the orbits not obeying the quantum conditions were assumed to have a very small a priori probability, so that electrons could remain in them for about a femtosecond.64

In 1923, Smekal described a new type of quantum transition from scattering monochromatic radiation from atoms, which he called “translational quantum transitions.”65 He argued that there existed a certain probability per unit time that the atom struck by the radiation frequency ν1 passed from the state m to the state n and changed its velocity of translation along with a change of frequency. Smekal noted that, “because of the change in direction of the radiation effected by them [i.e., by the translational quantum transitions], we shall speak in the case about normal dispersion (m = n) and about anomalous dispersion (m ≠ n).”66 Note that Smekal used the terms “normal dispersion” and “anomalous dispersion” in an idiosyncratic way and that the distinction he made is usually labeled coherent versus non-coherent. Smekal’s view opposed that held by Niels Bohr, who was a stubborn supporter of the wave nature of radiation. This became important for the later development of dispersion theory by Kramers and Heisenberg in 1925 and later in 1928 when Raman and his associates made their discovery. It is however, unknown when (if at all) Raman became aware of Smekal’s work, and how he responded to it. It can be inferred that Raman’s complete faith in wave theories and natural distrust of the light quantum could have led him to ignore Smekal’s work.

Subsequently, Smekal’s paper was often quoted in the literature as indicating a prediction of the Raman effect.67 Ramdas, one of Raman’s students at IACS, commented in 1928 that Smekal’s paper did not appear to have been noticed by any experimental physicist working in the field of light scattering, including the group working under Raman.68 But Ramdas also noted that Kramers and Heisenberg took notice of Smekal’s idea and developed them in their 1925 treatment of the quantum theory of scattering.69 Kramers and Heisenberg, like Raman, used only the wave theory of light and the experiments on dispersion by Rudolf Ladenburg and Fritz Reiche at Breslau.70 Schrödinger remarked that the existence of this “remarkable kind of secondary radiation … has not been demonstrated experimentally.”71 The main object of Kramers and Heisenberg’s paper was to account for the non-coherent scattering suggested by Smekal without taking recourse to light quanta and using only the wave theory.72 The Kramers–Heisenberg paper was also the first systematic exposition of the new theory for coherent scattering Kramers had presented in 1924.

The theory of dispersion by Kramers and Heisenberg replaced the unsatisfactory Sommerfeld–Debye theory using Einstein’s 1916 theory of emission and absorption, Bohr’s correspondence principle, and the work of Ladenburg and Reiche.73 Ladenburg’s main contribution was to recognize that the oscillator strengths corresponding to various transitions could all be interpreted in terms of transition probabilities, as given by Einstein’s 1916 theory.74 For the excited state, one needed two terms, which Kramers later derived. Ladenburg replaced the numbers of oscillators in the classical Lorentz–Drude formula by transition probabilities in the Bohr atom given by Einstein’s emission and absorption coefficients.75 Ladenburg’s extensive experiments since 1908 on dispersion in gases had convinced him that the resonances of the dispersion formula had to be at the radiation frequencies, even though he and Reiche saw no way of deriving this result from quantum theory.

In 1924, Kramers finally accomplished this task on the basis of Bohr’s correspondence principle. Kramers found that the formula suggested by Ladenburg needed to be supplemented by a second term, which would only contribute appreciably to the dispersion if a substantial fraction of the atoms were in an excited state. In the late 1920s, Ladenburg and his collaborators tried unsuccessfully to verify experimentally this second term in the Kramers dispersion formula, which the Raman effect then confirmed. As the physicist Francis Low puts it,

Raman found that light scattered by certain substances may have a slightly changed color from the original light beam. This effect is hard to account for according to nineteenth century physics, whereas it may be definitely predicted on the basis of the new quantum theory, of which it is therefore an important experimental confirmation.76

In essence, Raman did associate his findings of light scattering with Kramers’ dispersion formula. Krishnan’s personal diary recorded the exchange of views between Raman and his associates before the discovery of the Raman effect. The diary entry on February 7, 1928 reveals that Raman was overjoyed by his experimental findings that morning and also realized how the modified scattering corroborated the Kramers–Heisenberg effect.77

Hence, it is evident that Raman was aware of the work of Kramers and Heisenberg. There is no evidence that Raman was aware of Smekal’s theoretical insights in the early 1920s. Rajinder Singh, however, has argued both ways. In an earlier paper, he argued that Raman used Kramers’ theory to interpret the experimental results, but later Singh argued that Raman was unaware of the work of Kramers and Heisenberg and remarks “none of this theoretical work (of Kramers and Heisenberg) … exerted a direct influence on the discovery of the Raman effect.”78 This apparent uncertainty whether or not Raman was aware of earlier theoretical work feeds into bigger questions of originality and recognition in the history of science. While Raman might very well have been aware of the earlier work of Kramers, as the diaries of Krishnan reveal, he tried to build an image that showed the converse, especially in pursuit of the Nobel Prize.

Landsberg and Mandelstam’s Simultaneous Discovery and the Nobel Prize of 1930

Often physicists and historians refer to the Nobel Prize as an index of a research program’s success and modernity. It has been recently argued that, as opposed to the physics of principles (espoused by Einstein, Planck, and Bohr), the physics of problems as practiced by the Sommerfeld school could make a strong claim to have been the most successful research program for theoretical physics in the twentieth century because at least eight Nobel laureates were associated with it.79

The Nobel Prize is commonly seen as the final authority to assess the success or failure of a research program. This is, however, a highly reductionist view. According to Robert Friedman, this stereotype overlooks the politics and the hidden agendas associated with the prize. Friedman shows in his “Politics of Excellence” how simplistic such stereotypical claims are about the Nobel Prize: “Without understanding the limitations and weaknesses of the process, the recipients were afforded instant prestige as part of the Nobel cult.”80 Behind the Nobel Prize given to Raman were factors that corroborate Friedman’s argument in this case.

Though the Raman effect was discovered in Calcutta on February 28, 1928, this very phenomenon was also discovered in Moscow on February 21. There, a group of Russian physicists including Grigory Samuilovich Landsberg and Leonid Isaakovich Mandelstam had been working on similar scattering experiments to those of Raman.81 Unlike Raman, Landsberg and Mandelstam used quartz as their scattering medium. Quartz was not as easy to find as benzene or the other aromatic compounds that Raman used.

The basic motivation for Landsberg was the work by R. J. Strutt (the fourth Baron Rayleigh), who studied light scattering in quartz and concluded that what he had observed was not light scattered from quartz molecules but light reflected from false scattering centers. Landsberg took up this task of studying molecular light scattering in a real crystal and proposed a criterion for the differentiation of scattered light and reflected light from false scattering centers. Mandelstam theoretically calculated the change in the light frequency; they published their results on July 13, 1928.82

Landsberg and Mandelstam argued that the non-Rayleigh modified scattering terms were due to the interaction between the light and infrared molecular vibrations. Immanuil L. Fabelinskii, a student of Mandelstam, reports that the first observations of his mentors were on February 21, 1928, a week before those of Raman and his collaborators. Landsberg and Mandelstam, however, published their work on July 13, 1928, a few months after their discovery. Apparently the main reason for the delay was that Gurevich, a relative of Mandelstam, was arrested and sentenced to death. As a consequence, Mandelstam took a break from research to mitigate the death sentence. In the end, he succeeded in reversing the death sentence; instead, Gurevich was exiled to the city of Vyatka. Hence, Gurevich’s life was saved at the expense of the publication of the innovative work of Mandelstam and Landsberg.83

Mandelstam wrote to physicist Orest Khvolson: “We first noted the appearance of the new lines on February 21, 1928. On a negative from an experiment of February 23–24 (exposure time 15 h) the new lines were clearly visible.”84 Fabelinskii argues that Landsberg and Mandelstam reported their discovery at the beginning of August 1928 at the sixth Congress of the Association of Russian Physicists. Twenty-one of the four hundred participants at the Congress were foreign scientists, including Born, Brillouin, Darwin, Debye, Dirac, Phol, Pringsheim, Philip Frank, and Scheel. Darwin wrote, “Perhaps the most interesting work is that of Prof. Mandelstam and Landsberg. The latter described how they had independently discovered Raman’s phenomenon, the scattering of light with changed frequency.”85 Commenting on the identical nature of Raman’s discovery and that of Landsberg and Mandelstam, Born clarified that these discoveries were made “independently and nearly simultaneously” on February 20, 1928. Such identical yet separate nature of discoveries, Born thought, showed the transnational nature of science at that time.86 In fact, two students of Raman, A. Jayaraman and A. V. Ramdas, on his centenary wrote about this simultaneous discovery as independently discovered by Landsberg and Mandelstam in calcite and quartz crystals.87 Though Mandelstam and Landsberg saw the novel scattering phenomenon a week before Raman, the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 went to the latter. One may try to find out the reasons behind such an episode.

There were twenty-one nominations for the Nobel Prize in 1930 and Raman was proposed ten times either as a single candidate or jointly with his collaborators.88 Because Raman established contacts with scientists in Germany, England, France, Sweden, and North America, he was better known internationally than Mandelstam and Landsberg. M. Siegbahn and C. W. Oseen, both members of the Nobel physics committee in 1930, knew Raman personally. An interesting exchange of letters in 1928–1929 between Raman and Niels Bohr summarizes the story. In a letter to Bohr in 1928, Raman remarked:

The great kindness you have shown me in the past encourages me to make a request of a personal character. As you know, my work on the new radiation effect has been received with enthusiasm in scientific circles, and I feel sure that if you give your influential support, the Nobel Committee for physics may recommend that the award for 1930 may go to India for the first time. The proposal for the award has to reach the Nobel Committee before 31 January 1930. I have greatly hesitated in writing to you about this, and it is only because I felt sure that you sympathise with the scientific aspirations of India that I have ventured to do so.89

As a matter of fact, Bohr was influenced by Raman’s letter and extended his support for him through his nomination, which played a key role in Raman getting the prize (figure 8).
Fig. 8

Raman (second from right) with Niels Bohr to Raman’s left. The others from the left are George Gamow, Thomas Lauritsen, T. B. Rasmussen, and Oskar Klein. Credit: Niels Bohr Archive

Arnold Sommerfeld was also visiting India in 1928, which coincided with Raman’s explorations in light scattering.90 Sommerfeld repeated Raman’s experiments at the IACS and verified them. Through Sommerfeld, his colleagues in Munich and Berlin came to be aware of Raman’s work. Strangely enough, the names of Mandelstam and Landsberg did not even figure in the Nobel acceptance speech of Raman in 1930, though he refers twice to Bohr, who played an important role in the prize process.91 The previous quotation also shows Raman’s fondness for classical wave theories, of which Bohr was a radical supporter.

Given Raman’s fondness for classical wave theories, had he eventually accepted the quantum, it would have been a hesitant acceptance with the disclaimer that classical theories were more fundamental so that, in the case of large quantum numbers, according to Bohr’s correspondence principle quantum calculations had to agree with classical calculations. Though the new quantum mechanics of the the mid-1920s was mostly a German phenomenon, its leading exponents, such as Arnold Sommerfeld, were keenly interested in Raman’s works in light scattering.

Sommerfeld and the Reception of Raman’s Work in Germany: Orientalism and Science

Sommerfeld was a great admirer and supporter of Indian physicists and their work. He was attracted to J. C. Bose’s work in electrophysiology, Saha’s work on stellar spectra, Satyendranath Bose’s work on quantum statistics, and Raman’s work on light scattering. The Zeitschrift für Physik was the channel through which Sommerfeld gained familiarity with the work of Indian physicists. Sommerfeld requested Saha to give a lecture in Munich in 1921, and Saha obliged. Raman, along with Saha, invited Sommerfeld to visit India and give lectures at the University of Calcutta. Sommerfeld visited India in 1928 after the discovery of the Raman effect and gave talks mostly on atomic structure and wave mechanics in Calcutta. While in India, Sommerfeld wrote an article that praised modern Indian science and equated its quality to that of Europe and America. Sommerfeld expressed special admiration for the discovery by Raman and for Saha’s work in astrophysics.92

The Raman effect, however, did not get a good reception within certain sections of the German physics community. Göttingen physicist Otto Blumenthal, Georg Goos at the University of Jena, and Richard Gans were all skeptical about Raman’s work. Gans in particular had a negative view about Indian scientists, writing to Sommerfeld from Jena on May 14, 1928: “Do you think that Raman’s work on the optical Compton effect in liquids is reliable? To repeat the experiment is not a big task and most probably we are going to do it. The sharpness of the scattered lines in liquids seems doubtful to me.”93 Goos based his ideas on an unsuccessful repetition of the Raman effect at the University of Munich. As Singh noted, “Gans had a negative opinion about Indian scientists … and had a skeptical attitude towards the quality of publications by Indian physicists … and also told Sommerfeld that Indian physicists are not reliable.”94

On June 9, 1928, Sommerfeld wrote to Joos that “in my opinion Raman is correct and important. He writes to me, that the difference between the lines is exactly equal to the infra-red frequencies of the molecules under consideration.”95 Thus, Sommerfeld’s response to Indian science provides an alternate perspective that reconstructed the socio-scientific image of India as not exclusively spiritual but also scientific. Following Raman, one can infer that Indian science did not follow the Western trajectory to modernity, but an alternate path that encompassed ideas about the human spirit, the virtues of human endeavor and achievement, and a search for truth for its own sake. Raman himself thought that

in my case strangely enough it was not the love of science, nor the love of Nature, but an abstract idealization, the belief in the value of the Human Spirit and the virtue of Human Endeavor and Achievement. When I read Edwin Arnold’s classic The Light of Asia, I was moved by the story of the Buddha’s great renunciation, of his search for truth, and of his final enlightenment. It showed me that the capacity for renunciation in the pursuit of exalted aims is the very essence of human greatness.96

This is striking because Raman was moved by a Western account of Oriental wisdom, showing the contradictory nature of his personality; he seemed to have developed an aversion for the British and yet was fond of other Europeans like Sommerfeld and Arnold (British though he was). Raman’s quotation and his scientific work also puts in question certain stereotypes opposing “Oriental” to Western thought.

If, as Singh asserts, Gans was prejudiced against Indian scientists, the controversy among German physicists about Raman’s work may have involved their various preconceptions about “Oriental” science.97 In my view, the defining characteristic of Raman was that, even though he was a major harbinger of modernity in Indian society, he tended to reject the Oriental stereotypes in the West that would separate and oppose modern science to traditional Oriental knowledge. Upon his return to Calcutta after receiving the Nobel Prize, Lady Raman remarked about her husband, “he has sought to dispel the notions in Europe that India was rather too ‘Spiritual’.”98 Raman’s interests in Indian classical musical instruments shows how he was bound to Indian tradition, yet his light scattering experiments advanced the most modern European science.

Raman vacillated between tradition and modernity, but his characteristic approach combined them. Before his discovery of the Raman effect in 1928, he re-derived the Compton scattering wavelength using wave theory. Raman’s attitudes about the traditional and the modern were ambivalent, even contradictory. His apparently strange outlook espoused a methodology that broke away from negative stereotypes about “Oriental” science and instead adopted a variant of what Richard G. Fox has called “affirmative orientalism.”99 By this, Fox suggests that Orientalist narratives were appropriated by Indian intellectuals and applied in such a way as to undercut the colonialist agenda. Hence, such narratives did not operate in straightforward and orderly fashions but illustrate some of the ambiguities of colonial physics in early twentieth century India.

Raman’s extensive institutional, personal, and pedagogical networks were similar to those of Western scientists, yet he developed them while working in a colonized, non-Western nation. Then too, in contrast to Orientalistic assumptions of Eastern inferiority, several Western scientists such as Sommerfeld helped reconfigure myths about the East by highlighting the scientific achievements of Raman and other scientists of his generation who were working in the Orient. Sommerfeld convinced his colleagues in Germany of the authenticity of Raman’s works, especially after his visit to India. Sommerfeld’s India visit paved the way for several collaborations between physicists at the University of Calcutta and Sommerfeld’s Munich school. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, a graduate student in Calcutta University was awarded the Zeiss scholarship by the Deutsche Akademie to do research at Munich. Several Indian students from Calcutta studied at the University of Munich under the guidance of Sommerfeld, Walther Gerlach, Thierfelder, and Schmauss, the noted meteorologist. Sommerfeld received the honorary degree DSc from the University of Calcutta in 1928.100

Raman himself visited Munich as a Nobel Laureate in 1930. In 1934, when he became the director of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Sommerfeld recommended one of his students named Ludwig Hopf, who happened to be a Jewish refugee, to teach at the IISc. Raman’s endeavor was instrumental in the creation of a special readership in theoretical physics at IISc from October 1935 to March 1936, which went to the Jewish scientist Max Born, seeking refuge after his dismissal from the University of Göttingen.101

Between Nationalism and Regionalism

Robert Anderson has argued that, while the national scientific community was developing during the 1930s, communications among Indian scientists of different regions increased considerably. Researchers were interacting with each other frequently on a regional and national basis, travel by train was slightly easier and more frequent, the postal and telegraphic system was improving, and opportunities arose for both status and power that were not just local in character.102

In this way, Indian science started having a conglomeration of scientists from different regions that went beyond the confines of regionalism. On the other hand, regionalism played an important role in the IACS when Raman started roping in South Indian scholars, notwithstanding the availability of qualified local candidates. While at the IACS, Raman had occasional disagreements with Saha on the issue of regionalism6 in particular. As a result, scientists led by Saha expressed their objections to this abject regionalism. Raman had conflicts with Western scientists as well. In the 1930s and 1940s, he was involved in a controversy concerning crystal dynamics with Max Born, a leading physicist in Europe, which led Born to remark “Raman is a very able physicist, full of enthusiasm … There is really no other Indian physicist who is of his rank…. [His] European intensity alone would be enough to make Raman suspicious to the average Indian professor.”103

It is, however, debatable whether Raman was a nationalist, but his personality had a peculiar brand of sensitivity for his nation that can be seen from his exchanges with some of the institutions and colleagues in the West. Speaking at the convocation address to the students of Benaras Hindu University in 1926, Raman remarked about his speeches while he was in Europe and emphasized the importance of traditional centers of Indian learning like Kashi7 and its concomitant institutional set-up there as the “living embodiment of the aspirations of new India.”104 Most importantly, Raman emphasized that the university should aim not to “grow bookworms” but “to train men to serve their country.”105

On May 15, 1924 Raman was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society of London. According to Kameshwar Wali, about 1967 Raman became unhappy about an article published in the London Times about the Nobel Laureate Fellows of the Royal Society, which did not mention his name. Raman blamed the omission on the Society and wrote to P. M. S. Blackett, the president of the Society at that time, saying that unless he would be given a satisfactory explanation for this omission, he would resign, which he did in March 1968 after Blackett’s response.106 Rajinder Singh, however, argues that there was no communication between Blackett and Raman and there was also no such list of Fellows of the Royal Society who won a Nobel Prize published in the London Times between 1967 and 1968. Singh concludes, “Raman’s resignation remains a mystery.”107

Though this is an apparently strange episode, Raman had developed a special sensitivity regarding his nation, a sense of national identity not atypical of scientists in late colonial India. In an undated quote on how he felt having received the Nobel Prize, Raman remarked:

When the Nobel award was announced I saw it as a personal triumph, an achievement for me and my collaborators—a recognition for a very remarkable discovery, for reaching the goal I had pursued for seven years. But when I sat in that crowded hall and I saw the sea of faces surrounding me, and I, the only Indian, in my turban and closed coat, it dawned on me that I was really representing my people and my country. I felt truly humble when I received the Prize from King Gustav; it was a moment of great emotion but I could restrain myself. Then I turned round and saw the British Union Jack under which I had been sitting and it was then that I realized that my poor country, India, did not even have a flag of her own—and it was this that triggered off my complete breakdown.108

Examining Raman’s character closely, however, one can conclude that Raman’s nationalist inclinations about colonial India might have been a reason behind this feeling. Hence, this act of Raman’s resignation can also be viewed as a protest against a seemingly “discriminatory” act on the part of the British. There is other evidence, though, which shows that Raman was a difficult person to get along with and also quite arrogant, which added a peculiar dimension to his character. Fabelinskii describes a personal incident in 1957, when Raman had visited Moscow to receive the Lenin Peace Prize. Lecturing on the theory of solids, and getting distracted by a remark by L. D. Landau, Raman started “shouting, stamping his feet, swinging his arms, insulting Landau and talking rot.” At that point, Landau left the lecture hall, to the utter astonishment of everyone present.109

Furthermore, when C. G. Darwin expressed skepticism during a visit to Raman’s laboratories in 1935, Raman remarked, “It is far easier to straighten the tail of a dog than to try to convince an Englishman of the correctness of [one’s] theories.”110 As Raman pursued modern science in a colonial environment under the British Raj, he might have developed a feeling of cynicism and a lack of fondness towards the English in particular, as also revealed by his wearing a turban to show his defiance towards colonial rule. Yet despite such occasional disagreements and seemingly quarrelsome behavior, one should not be hasty to categorize Raman as “abhadra” or ungentlemanly. These odd episodes, in my judgment, do not outweigh his success in his early days as a scientist at the IACS, where he successfully built a group of early-career scholars leading to his Nobel prize–winning work, and his later move to Bangalore at the Indian Institute of Science and the Raman Research Institute.


Raman showed a fondness for his nation that is harder to classify as “nationalist” compared to the sentiments of Satyendranath Bose and Saha.111 His nationalistic sentiments were expressed through his emotions while accepting the Nobel Prize in 1930 and his later resignation from the Royal Society; his symbolic gestures like wearing an indigenous headgear projected an attitude that was nationalist but not staunchly anticolonial.112

Interestingly, his world-view resonated with those of the German Helmholtz, the Briton Rayleigh, and the Dane Bohr. Raman combined European science, such as the classical wave theories of Huygens, Fresnel, Helmholtz, and Rayleigh, with local intellectual traditions of Indian music, fusing them into a specific brand of Indian modernity that emerged in the case of the Raman effect. His early fascination with acoustics became the basis of his later insights into the nature of light, especially his ardent support for the wave theory of light and his ambivalent outlook towards the quantum.

The career trajectory of Raman also shows the multilayered and multidimensional nature of Indian science. Not all Indian scientists thought alike, and there were occasional disagreements between Raman and J. C. Bose, Saha, and Mallik and even with Western scientists like Born and Compton. I consider these differences as regionalism (on a local and global scale): the regional prioritizing of traditions, personal networks, and solidarities. In spite of utilizing plenty of opportunities available for scientific research and teaching at the Calcutta University and the IACS, Raman never identified himself as a scientist from Bengal. Most of his associates were from South India, so that when he was offered a position at the IISc in Bangalore in 1931, he was quick to take it and leave his established position in Calcutta.

This paper also locates the Raman effect in the history of quantum mechanics by putting his work on the dispersion of light in the context of the alternative dispersion theories of Lorentz–Drude, Debye–Sommerfeld, C. G. Darwin, Herzfeld, Smekal, and the scattering experiments by Ladenburg and Reiche, culminating in the dispersion theory of Kramers and Heisenberg. Raman scattering played an important role in the verification of quantum mechanics by confirming experimentally the second term of the Kramers–Heisenberg dispersion formula.

Scientific image-building was also a matter of concern for Raman. For this purpose, he made educational pilgrimages to Europe and North America where he developed a dialogue with his Western colleagues such as Compton, Millikan, Rosseland, Bohr, and Sommerfeld. These apparently scientific internationalist gestures helped Raman win the Nobel Prize in 1930, though the Russian physicists Mandelstam and Landsberg observed the novel scattering mechanism before Raman.

Finally, Raman’s world-view reconfigured Orientalist stereotypes by presenting his interest in science as a pursuit of truth for aesthetic and intellectual satisfaction. More generally, science in India did not follow the Western trajectory to modernity, but opened up an alternative path that encompassed ideas about modernity along with Indian tradition.


  1. 1.

    A Bengali term denoting a well-mannered and educated man.

  2. 2.

    Comparable to receiving first-class honours in Britain at that time.

  3. 3.

    Female analogue of a bhadralok.

  4. 4.

    Approaching the critical point in a phase transition, such as between gas and liquid states, the sizes of the gas and liquid regions begin to fluctuate; when the density fluctuations become comparable to the wavelength of impinging light, incoming light is scattered and the previously transparent fluid appears cloudy (opalescent).

  5. 5.

    Note that the usage of the word “coherent” in the 1920s was slightly different than the current use of the term, which refers more specifically to phase coherence.

  6. 6.

    By regionalism is meant the regional prioritizing of ideas and agency, which is not racial or religious in this context but more in the line of lobbying for recognition in a regionally dependent way.

  7. 7.

    A north Indian city also called Benaras on the banks of the river Ganges.



I thank David Cassidy, Alexei Kojevnikov, Michel Janssen, Robert Brain, Sean Quinlan, Daniel Kennefick, John Crepeau, Peter Pesic, Robert Crease, and Alexei Pesic for suggestions and comments about this paper and mentoring help in general. Thanks also goes to D. C. V. Mallik, Rajinder Singh, and Meera B. M. at the Raman Research Institute, and Felicity Pors at the Niels Bohr Archive for giving me access to the pictures used here. I acknowledge the support of the Office of Research and Economic Development at the University of Idaho.


  1. 1.
    C.V. Raman, New Physics: Talks on Aspects of Science. (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1951), 135–142.Google Scholar
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  3. 3.
    Rajinder Singh, “C. V. Raman and the Discovery of the Raman Effect,” Physics in Perspective 4 (2002), 399–420Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Peter Debye, “Die Konstitution des Wasserstoff-molekuls,” Sitzungsberichte der mathematisch-physikalischen Klasse der Königlichen Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu München (1915), 1–26. See also, Paul Drude, Lehrbuch der Optik (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1900), English transl.: The Theory of Optics. trans. C. R. Mann and R. A. Millikan (New York: Longmans, Green, 1902); Arnold Sommerfeld, “Die Drudesche Dispersionstheorie vom Standpunkte des Bohrschen Modelles und die Konstitution von H2, O2, and N2,” Annalen der Physik 53 (1917), 497–550; K. F. Herzfeld, “Versuch einer quantenhaften Deutung der Dispersion,” Zeitschrift für Physik 23 (1924), 341–360; A. Smekal, “Zur Quantentheorie der Dispersion,” Die Naturwissenschaften 11 (1923), 873–875; R. Ladenburg, “Die quantentheoretische Dispersionsformel und ihre experimentelle Prüfung,” Die Naturwissenschaften 14 (1926), 1208–1213; F. Reiche, and W. Thomas “Uber die Zahl der Dispersionselektronen, die einem station¨aren Zustand zugeordnet sind,” Zeitschrift für Physik 34 (1925), 510–525; H. A. Kramers, and W. Heisenberg, “Über die Streuung von Strahlung durch Atome,” Zeitschrift für Physik 31 (1925) 681–707, translated in B. L. van der Waerden, ed., Sources of Quantum Mechanics (New York: Dover, 1968), 223–252.Google Scholar
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    G. Venkataraman, Journey into Light: Life and Science of C. V Raman (New Delhi: Penguin Books India Ltd., 1986); S. Ramaseshan, C. V. Raman: A Pictorial Biography. (Bangalore: The Indian Academy of Sciences, 1988); Singh, “Raman and the Discovery of the Raman Effect” (ref. 3); Uma Parameswaran C. V. Raman: A Biography (New Delhi: Penguin Books 2011).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Pratik Chakrabarty, Western Science in Modern India: Metropolitan Methods, Colonial Practices (Delhi, Permanent Black, 2004), 180–210. Chakrabarty argues that science and nationalism blended into a single project in early twentieth-century India, especially as seen in the works of Jagadish Chandra Bose, who was a mentor of Raman in Calcutta.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Venkataraman, Journey into Light (ref. 5), 3.Google Scholar
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    IACS Archives (see, accessed April 26, 2014). Sircar also established the Calcutta Journal of Medicine in 1868 and was an influential populariser of Indian science. See Gyan Prakash, Another Reason (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 59.
  11. 11.
    Calcutta was the capital of British India from 1772 to 1911, when, because of the revolutionary campaigns in the city, the capital was shifted to Delhi in the north.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    A thoroughly revised and corrected edition, rendered conformable to the fourth and last German edition of 1877, with numerous additional notes, and a new additional appendix bringing down information to 1885 especially adapted to the use of musical students. The partition of Bengal did not have any sustained impact on Raman; nothing in the archives shows otherwise. It can be inferred that because Raman was from South India, far from Bengal, his response was not atypical of South Indians.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Raman, Books That Have Influenced Me: A Symposium (Madras: G. A. Natesan & Co., 1947), 21–29.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Hermann von Helmholtz, On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music, trans. Alexander J. Ellis (London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1885), 481–484.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Raman, “The Ectara,” Journal of the Indian Math Club, 1909, 170–175.Google Scholar
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    Sir Ashutosh Mookherji Silver Jubilee Volume (Calcutta: Calcutta University Press, 1922), 2:179.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 180–185.Google Scholar
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© Springer Basel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA

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