# Dr, Panchanan Mitra: A brief outline of his work and life - by Sanjay Mitra, 25th July 2019

‘The purpose of Anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences’ as referred by Great American Anthropologist and folklorist Ruth Benedict.
In today's world, anthropology is more important than ever – as Anthropology in Digital Form explains and understands the existence of facts, attitudes, representation that has been part of our living and thinking. When we talk about ‘Ethnography’ extensively or when I have to deliver a sales pitch on the same subject line, since ‘Ethnography’ is so much related to Customer experience, I feel honored inside being Grandson of Dr.Mitra and I salute him for bringing Theory to Life Through Field Study – for the first time in India.  

Dr, Panchanan Mitra was born in Calcutta at 143, Raja Rajendra Lal Mitra Road, (named after the elder brother of his grandfather, Raja Rajendralal Mitra LLD.,C,I,E.) on May 24, 1892,third issue (eldest surviving son of Udayendralala Mitra(1858-1915)and Jog Maya Devi (died June 1893). His ancestor Janmenjay Mitra was a reputed Urdu poet and Vaishnav Kavi.

Janmenjay Mitra was the grandson of Raja Pitambar Mitra, who himself was a great Vaishnav poet other than a mighty warrior. Raia Pitambar Mitra died (as reported to me )at Vrindavan as a great Vaishnavism devotee of Balaram.

Dr. Mitra was a brilliant boy at school, passed entrance examination from Narikeldanga High School in First Division in 1907, and become intimately known to Sir Gurudas Banerjee who was for the long-time patron of that school. He passed Intermediate Examination in Arts from Bangabasi College in 1910 in First Division. Took B A. Degree from Ripon College, Calcutta having stood First in First Class in English 1912, and obtained Abinash Chandra Gold Medal for original essay writing. He took his M.A. degree from Presidency College in 1914 with great credit and was highly spoken of by principal James, Prof. Holmes, Sterling, P,C Ghosh and others such as Principal Ramendra Sundar Trivedi- Prof. Janaki Nath Bhattacharyya, etc.
He became a professor of English at Bangabasi College in 1915, worked there till 1918 and endeared himself to both students and colleagues by his erudition lecturing abilities and encouragement to sports. He had an immense thirst for knowledge and obtained Premchand Roychand Scholarship on thesis bearing on primitive(prehistoric)Arts and crafts in India.He had visited Mohenjo-Daro and other prehistoric sites to entrench his thirst.

In 1916 he married Nirmala, youngest daughter of Dr. Bepin Behari Ghosh, a friend of Swami Vivekananda and a physician to Sm. Sarada Devi and Swami Sivananda, Jogananda,& other monks.In 1919 he joined Calcutta University as a lecturer in Ancient Indian History and Culture. He became the first professor of Anthropology when Anthropology department was established in 1920. In 1923 he published his book Prehistoric India embodying his valuable researches in Anthropology, about this time he worked as Assistant Curator of Archaeology Section of Indian Museum. He was mainly responsible for the arrangement of the prehistoric gallery of the Museum.

Dr. Mitra was an honorary magistrate in Calcutta (1919-24) but gave up the position at the call of Non-co-operation movement. In 1924 he was elected as a counselor of Calcutta Corporation as a nominee of Swarajist Party and worked under the mayoralty of Deshbannhu Chittaranjan Das. Under the direction of Deshbandhu he presented the scheme of free primary education introduced by Calcutta Corporation.

In 1929 at the invitation of Prof. Gregory, Director of the Bishop Museum of Honolulu he went to Hawaii, Olea, Kanau, Samoa, Tavuenio. Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand and other islands in Polynesia and studied in situ Indian Elements in Polynesian culture.

The result of his studies was personified in his monograph Indian elements in Polynesian culture, which was published as a memoir of the Bishop Museum of Honolulu. He then proceeded to New Haven (U.S.A.)to make further studies in his subject and was admitted to the Ph.D. degree of the Yale University on a thesis entitled, Historical investigation into the methods and research conception in American Anthropology. He was the first Indian to obtain Ph. D from Yale University. He had been to many such islands in Pacific islands where no such Indian before him had set forth earlier.
In Yale University, he worked under the directions of Prof.Dr.Clark Wissler. No other Indian before him had carried investigations on American Anthropology in an American University. He became a fellow of the American School of Pre-history and traveled with its director McCurry to France and Spain visiting the famous sites at Altamira, Castello, Niamux and other places and returned via London to India in Aug 1930. He had awarded Bishop Museum fellowship by Yale. After Returning to Kolkata, he became head of the Department of Anthropology.

Dr.Mitra was president of Anthropological society of Calcutta University, a member of American Anthropological Association and a fellow of Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. He was an Associate Member of American Museum of Natural History and American Natural Geo- Graphical society.

Dr. Mitra presided over the Anthropology section of Indian Science Congress in 1933 and was also president of Anthropogenesis section, Indian Population Congress 1936. Some of Dr. Mitra, outstanding works are Pre-Historic India (1923), History of American Anthropology (1930) and Indopolynesian memoirs (Published B.P.Bishop Museum 1933). He read a paper entitled cultural affinities between Indian and Polynesia at Indian Museum in 1931. He contributed a large number of papers to various journals and publications including Encyclopaedia Italiana. Dr.Mitra was deeply religious and in collaboration with Sri Krishna Chandra Singha Satyasrayee he wrote several works on Ancient Hindu Religion and Philosophy. Published from Himaitpur, Pabna).

Prof.A.Z.Kroeber of University of California remarked "History of American Anthropology’ will be useful both to working Anthropologists and to students following the subjects in the University the details seem accurate and we expect to utilize it in our teaching.' 
A great social worker he founded many institutions and connected with educational and cultural institutions of his birthplace till his death. A great and impressive lecturer he was greatly respected by his students many of whom became great anthropologists themselves. Name of Late Prof.Nirmal Kumar Bose, Director General of Anthropological Survey of India may be recalled.
At Hawaii, Dr.Mitra met W.C.Smith of Hawaii University noted writer of the book 'Ao Nagas'and on his request he gave a short speech on Indian evolutionary ideas of religions .
21st March 1929. He delivered lectures at University of Hawaii, Honolulu,12th April, 25th April,2nd May and 9th May 1929. He delivered talks at Hilo(Hawaii)on 16th May 1929, and on 17th May 1929 and 18th May he talked at Olea.He spoke at Auckland University College on Indian History and cultureHe talked at Victoria College, Wellington,12th August 1929

Activities of Dr.Mitra were reported in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

22nd July 1929. On 23rd July 1929, he spoke at Higher Thought Temple. At San Francisco, he was met by Gnaneswarananda and Swami Dayananda of R.K.Misson(New York and San Francisco).
He talked at Vedanta Society Hall San Francisco on 1t September 1929 on Massage of India and 8th on Indian culture in the Pacific.Few months before his death on 25th July 1936, he led a batch of students to Manipur and some inaccessible regions of Nagaland. The premature death of this eminent anthropologist was mourned by all.

Dr. Panchanan Mitra passed away on 25 July 1936. This write up is dedicated to the life and work of the Anthropologist Dr. Panchanan Mitra, a small token of gratitude from a Grandson to a Grandfather.


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  3. I am working on the history of anthropology in India. How can I get in touch with you? My email id is

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  5. Great tribute from a grandson to his grandfather.
    Really feel proud to know about him.