K.D. Naegamvālā: The Founder of the First Astrophysical Observatory in India

  • S. M. Razaullah Ansari
Conference paper
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings book series (ASSSP, volume 54)


Kavāsjī Dādābhāi Naegamvālā was born in 1857, and belonged to an illustrious family of Parsi contractors. He was educated at Elphinstone College in Bombay, where he studied for B.A. and M.A. before being appointed a Lecturer at the College in 1882. Six years later he shifted to the College of Science in Poona, as their founding Professor of Astrophysics, and in 1900 became the Director of the new Takhtasinghji Observatory in Poona. He remained at the College until his retirement in 1912, and the Observatory was then closed and its astronomical instruments transferred to Kodaikanal Observatory. Naegamvālā died in 1938.

In this paper I relate briefly the tremendous efforts of Naegamvālā to educate himself in ‘celestial spectroscopy and astronomical physics’, first with the aid of Father Lafont (Calcutta) and later at European observatories in Rome, Potsdam and South Kensington, before he established India’s first astrophysical observatory in Poona. For this he procured what, at the time, was the most modern astronomical equipment in India. In his endeavours, Naegamvālā was helped in particular by the Astronomer Royal, Sir William Christie. I then end this paper by examining Naegamvālā’s observations of the 1898 total solar eclipse. This paper is based largely on archival records and family papers (I had the privilege to meet Nowrojee in 1976 at Poona, when he was in his mid-80s. I was also fortunate then to meet Professor Naegamvālā’s grand-daughter, Dr. Silloo M. Vacha, grandson, Mr. J.P. Naegamvala, and the mother of Dr. Vacha, who were very kind in letting me study the Family Papers, containing Professor Naegamvālā’s publications, hand-written drafts and typescripts. They are referred to here as ‘Family Papers’. Records concerning Professor Naegamvālā’s work and Takhtasingji Observatory are extant also in the Maharashtra Government Archives (Mumbai) and in the Education Department (1882–1899), which I refer to here simply as ‘Bombay Archives’ (and then cite the No. and the Year).).



I am grateful to late Mr. P.S. Laurie of the Royal Observatory Archives at Herstmonceux Castle; to the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society and the India Office (London); and to the National Archives of India (New Delhi) and the Maharashtra Government Archives (Mumbai), for permission to consult their records. I am also grateful to Dr. S.M. Vacha, the granddaughter of Professor Naegamwālā, and to other family members, for kindly providing me with photocopies of family records. I am also indebted to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Bonn) for financial support, which made it possible for me to access original sources in England.

Last, but not least, I thank Professor Wayne Orchiston for his help to finalise this paper for publication, and I acknowledge the magnanimity shown by Professor Mayank Vahia for accommodating my private difficulties. I am also grateful to Ms. Anitta Camilya (India) for her enormous patience and understanding.


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Copyright information

© Hindustan Book Agency 2018 and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. M. Razaullah Ansari
    • 1
  1. 1.Physics DepartmentAligarh Muslim UniversityAligarhIndia

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