At 100, Lucknow’s Iconic Cradle of Wisdom continues to nurture beautiful minds

Arijit Bose

The sprawling 225 acre varsity campus boasts of over 1.5 lakh students across campuses and colleges. A striking landmark of the city that has churned out thinkers and revolutionaries alike, the Lucknow University stands tall as it turns 100…..

Seeds of the emergence of the prestigious Lucknow University were first sown post the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. The first Viceroy of India, CJ Canning as a mark of appreciation gifted a talluka to those who helped them. As Lord Canning breathed his last in 1862 in London, a handful of talukdars, 4500 miles away from London decided to start some educational institutions in order to please the British.

The initiative to kickstart the process of setting up the current Lucknow University was started by Raja Mahmudabad. Raja Saheb emphasized the need of a University in Awadh through an article in The Pioneer. This is where Sir Harcourt Butler was impressed. The decision was taken to setup the University in a meeting held in 1919.

Once this was done, the placing of the bill of letters in the Legislative Council on 12 August 1920, by Kunwar Maharaja Singh was passed on 8 October 1920. With efforts of Raja Mahmudabad and Jahangirabad a whopping Rs 30 lakh collection was collected which went as donation.

As the process to setup the largest residential university started, the drafting of a plan for a University was done at the government house. With a large number of taluqdars donating eight annas from their annual income, first to comeup was the Canning High School in Aminabad. Canning College came into existence on May 1 1864 in Hussainabad, inspired by the name of the late Viceroy. In the year of 1866, degree classes started with just eight students. For well over 30 years the Canning College remained in the Kaisar Bagh building, but this site was not suitable for the development of a big residential institution. From Amiruddaulah Park, Kaiserbagh, Lal Baradari and Badshah Bagh to finally Hasanganj, the foundation stone of the university was first laid in 1867 by Sir John Lawrence. With passage of time, Lucknow became home to the oldest residential university of India. The university came up in a span of over a period of 11 years. It got the varsity status on November 25 1920. Classes started at the varsity, eventually KKC and Karamat Hussain Girls Inter College were also brought under the university. The first VC, GN Chakravarti was appointed for a monthly remuneration of just Rs 3000 at the University.

It was first under the Calcutta University, then under Allahabad University. LU has been considered a broader amalgamation of KGMC, IT College and Canning College.

Over the years the Lucknow University saw noted faces helm important positions namely Radha Kamal Mukherjee, Radha Kumud Mukherjee, Wali Mohmmad, Nirmal Kumar Sidhanta, Birbal Sahni among others.

Two of India’s Presidents passed out of the corridors of LU namely Shankar Dayal Sharma and Zakir Hussain. Not only did they study there but they even experienced the first brush with politics here. The country’s third President Zakir Hussain, an economics student was a passout from the Christian College in Lucknow. He also was VC of Aligarh University and headed the University Education Commission. He happens to be a Bharat Ratna recipient.

Several noted political personalities were part of LU like Nek Ram Sharma, Robin Mitra, Satyadev Tripathi, Atul Anjan, Ravidas Mehrotra. Surjeet Singh Barnala, Dimple Yadav, Swati Singh, Shivpal Yadav and Harish Rawat. They all rose from the level of student leaders to national politics.

Journalist Vinod Mehta, ex SC Judge AS Anand, Anoop Jalota, renowned doctor Dr. Naresh Trehan and scientist Ritu Karidhal have brought much laurel to the varsity. The first two decades of the 20th century are often considered the time that laid the foundation for the future of the institution.

Lucknow University was also witness to a coming together of a PM, HRD Minister, Governor and CM all at one place for the silver jubilee celebrations. These were ex PM Jawahar Lal Nehru, along with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and Govind Ballabh Pant. The year of 1949 marked three convocation ceremonies all in a year.

Known for its history as a place for revolution, the likes of Chandrashekhar Azad and Sukhdev were part of the life that Lucknow University embodied. Sukhdev used to stay and study at the Tilak hostel. It doubled up as an important meeting point for Azad and Sukhdev. Sukhdev also spent significant time with fellow comrade Jagdish Chandra Rai on the campus.

Not just blue blooded revolutionaries, even the scholarly minds of the campus, time and again raised their voice against the oppression of the English. Increasing unrest within the campus had also led to brief spells of closure until further notice. Interestingly, 10 years before the dawn of freedom, in 1937, Jai Narayan Srivastava hoisted the tricolor in the Lucknow University himself. It was for the first time that such a thing was done in India along with his comrades in place of Union Jack.

The student body of the university upped the ante against the Simon Commission under the stewardship of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant. Pantji had to also face a batonblow for standing up for the cause. A memorial outside the Malviya hall still remains living testimony of the episode that transpired with Pandit Pant. As per latest numbers there are nearly 176 colleges that are associated with the Lucknow University.

Having an identity of its own, in 1958 LU saw now CMS founder, Jagdish Gandhi become the President of the Students’ Union in LU. In the event of the inauguration of the students’ union the presence of ex PM Indira Gandhi added a new chapter in the LU story.

Institutions like the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences, Ethnographic and Folk Culture Society, Regional Centre for Urban and Environmental Studies and the Giri Institute of Development Studies over the years have continued to add to the academic armour of the University. The first convocation of the university took place on 30 October 1922 in the KGMC campus announced by the then Chancellor Sir Harcourt Butler. Presiding over the awarding of the first honorary degree, the event under Butler marked a turning point where the academic tradition has continued till date.

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