Patna University, established at a time when not a single girl student was studying in any college of the newly-created province of Bihar, today completed 100 glorious years. It was on October 1, 1917 that the Patna University Act passed by the then Imperial Legislative Council, came into effect, turning the long-cherished dream of the province into a reality. The administration of the country’s seventh oldest university has lined up a host of events this year as part of the centenary celebration, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to formally launch later this month here. “It is matter of great pride that Patna University has completed 100 years. Though over the last few decades, its academic sheen has diminished, on this day we resolve to restore the glory of this famed institution, so that it shines for the next 100 years,” PU Vice-Chancellor Rash Bihari Prasad Singh said.
Since the establishment of the university is closely linked with the creation of the new province of Bihar in 1912, its story is also the story of modern Bihar, both being inspirational. Making reference to old records, Singh, himself an alumnus of the historic university, says, “Today, when we celebrate its centenary, we must look back as much as we look forward, and remember the milestones achieved by it to inspire the next generation.”
“In 1917, when PU was set up, not a single girl student was studying in any of the colleges of Bihar, not to speak of any separate institution of higher education for women in the state. In fact, the first girl student enrolled at the university, a few years after its establishment,” he told PTI. The university indeed scripted a new destiny for the province, shaping both academic and cultural life of the students, and in a short passage of time assumed the aura enjoyed by Oxford and Cambridge universities.
And the iconic buildings of the university, sitting handsomely on the banks of river Ganga, evoke a parallel with the famed British universities. Getting nostalgic about the university, Singh recalls, “Patna University used to have a rowing club and inter-college boat races were held in Ganga. Students, faculty and locals would line up the banks to see and cheer.”
The university is going through archival records to chronicle its journey. The demand for a separate university was made by some eminent people of the province, soon after the creation of the new province of Bihar and Orissa in 1912. In May 1913, the Patna University Committee was appointed with Robert Nathan as president and P C Tallents as secretary. The committee held its first meeting on July 16, 1913 and submitted its report in March 1914, according to the records of the university. But the province had to struggle for over three-and-a- half years, before their dream of having a seat of higher learning would be fulfilled. The process also faced a major roadblock as the Great War further retarded the progress towards that dream due to financial crunch.
The dream was finally realised on October 1, 1917 and J G Jennings became its first vice-chancellor, and university’s governing bodies — the Senate and the Syndicate — came into being in 1919. Jayashree Mishra, faculty at the university, says, “Though the university came into being in 1917, it had to wait for few more years to get its own campus. Initially, it functioned out of a wing of the Patna High Court (turned 100 last year). For, some time it was also housed in a colonial- era building, presently situated inside the Magadh Mahila College campus.”
The University Library was set up in 1919 and the iconic Wheeler Senate House, for which Raja Devki Nandan Prasad of Munger (district in Bihar) gave endowment, was built in 1926. For marking the centenary day, the university today held a function in the Wheeler Senate House, which along with other buildings of the university campus, would be lit up.
Ten colleges, including the over 150-year-old Patna College, once hailed as the ‘Oxford of the East’, the Patna Science College, the Patna Women’s College and the Patna Training College are part of the university. “When the prime minister arrives for the launch of the grand celebrations, that time, we would also illuminate all the college buildings too — Magadh Mahila College, Science College, Darbhanga House (housing PG department), besides the PU campus buildings,” the vice-chancellor said.
He said, the only six other universities in India, which have preceded the creation of PU are — Bombay University, Calcutta University, Madras University set up as Presidency universities in 1857; Allahabad University in 1887, and the Banaras Hindu University and the Mysore University in 1916. “Next year Osmania University will turn 100. Patna University is also the eight oldest university in the Indian subcontinent. During colonial era, a university was set up in Lahore for the province of Punjab in 1882, the fourth university of British India,” he said.
Incidentally, the site of the university, initially was chosen west of the New Capital Area, but the campus eventually came up in Bankipore area, close to the Dutch-era building of the Patna College. ‘The Biharee’, a leading journal of Bihar, had given full support to the demand for establishment of a university. It wrote, “We do so with the full knowledge that the university we shall get, will be equipped with all the improvements that have made the Calcutta University so distinctly enviable in the eyes of the other universities. “We want a university which should be similar to the Calcutta University.”