1883 - 1969

Breaking New Ground: Darashaw Nosherwan

Parzor Foundation

The Story of Geologist Extraordinaire D. N. Wadia

Darashaw Nosherwan Wadia devoted over 7 decades of his life to the study of geological sciences and is a widely regarded name in the field of Indian geology. He was the first Indian scientist with a non-European education to be appointed to the Geological Survey of India and later went on to establish the Institute of Himalayan Geology which now known as the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology.

Early life
D. N. Wadia was born on 23 October 1883 in the Wadia family- the shipbuilding Parsi family of Surat. His father, being a Stationmaster with the Indian Railways, was mostly posted to remote locations and young Dara spent his early years with his grandmother in Surat.

In 1894, eleven-year-old D. N. Wadia moved to Baroda with family and continued his education at Baroda High School. His elder brother Munchershaw had much to do with the younger brother’s love of learning. Darashaw received BSc degrees in Botany and Zoology (1903) and another in Botany and Geology (1905).

Geology being a new discipline was taught only at Calcutta and Madras, and he had to acquire most of his knowledge through self-study and field work. He also spent time studying the specimens in the Baroda Museum.

Early work
In 1907, Wadia was appointed Professor of Geology at the Prince of Wales College, Jammu. The college and the Principals he worked under supported him in the organisation of a dedicated Geology Department. In the 14 years that were spent in Jammu his interest in the Himalayas developed; surprisingly though, he also taught English Literature, notably Shakespeare to the students there. The college encouraged his work and he was able to gather data for his draft of Geology of India.     

The college also supported his fieldwork and all of Prof Wadia's holidays were spent studying the lesser Himalayas. Many rock and fossils were collected during these trips. It was also during this period that he discovered the famous tusk of the extinct animal Stegodon Ganesa.

During the early years of Prof. Wadia's career very limited geological literature was available, and only in the form of records and memoirs. While there were books by H.B. Medlicot, W.T.Blandford, R.D. Oldham, they needed to keep pace with the sudden boom in geological activities.
In 1919, Prof Wadia's Geology of India, was first published with his latest studies. The book has seen 6 editions and is still taught to Geology students the world over.

Multiple research papers were published. His explanation of the knee-bend or syntaxis in the mountains around Nanga Parbat is considered among his major contributions to Indian Geology. The range of his work was unprecedented and his investigations systematic. Even to date his principal findings hold merit.

He was appointed to the Geological Survey of India in 1921- the first Indian appointee without a European degree. Here he continued to build on his early work on Kashmir.

Prof. Wadia worked in Kashmir, Hazara, Gilgit and Nanga Parbat in the North Western Himalayas. He studied not only the rock formations but also their respective varying ages and the soil types in these regions.

In a memorandum to the Government of India he pointed out that, "the Himalayan mountain, the highest and the largest mountain system of the world has been too long neglected..."

The first memoir of his original findings was published in 1928, covering the Poonch area of the Middle and Lesser Himalayas. He surveyed and mapped out this virgin territory, while also working on an additional 2100 square miles of the Peidmont plateau in the adjacent Punjab region.

Prof Wadia went on to become a pioneer in the study of the Soil Sciences as well.

He wrote on the foundations of Indian soils and represented India at the Third International Congress of Soil Sciences at Oxford.

He spent two years as a palaeontologist at the British Museum, London. During these years, 1926-28, he also undertook field trips across Europe, and studied soil profiles.

Prof Wadia married Meher Medivala in Colombo in 1940 and she played a significant role in his life in the years to follow- she was often seen accompanying him on his field trips.

Prof Wadia discovered and collected many fossils and semi-precious stones on his field trips to various locations through his geological career.

A large part of Prof Wadia's rock collection is displayed at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun.

This Collection has been donated to the institute by his wife, Mrs. Meher Wadia.

Many of these were discovered during his years at the Atomic Minerals Division towards the later part of his career.

Recognition
1921-38: He was appointed Scientific Officer, Geological Survey of India (GSI)                  1938: Retired from GSI; appointed Government Mineralogist in Ceylon              1945: Appointed Advisor, Minerals, Government of India.                                    1946: Set up the Mineral Information Bureau    1948: Set up the Indian Bureau of Mines        1949: Joined the Atomic Energy Commission

Prof. Wadia served in the Geological Survey of India between 1921 and 1938, thereafter he was appointed as the Head of the Geological Survey Department of Ceylon.

His research during these years at the GSI has been invaluable to his contemporary scientific colleagues and continues to be of immense significance.

He was the first geologist to be made a National Professor by the Government of India.

Prof. Wadia delivered more than Sixteen Presidential Addresses. The first as early as 1921, when he joined the GSI.

He contributed to the joint conference held with the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1938, he contributed the paper "Progress of Science in India during the Last Twenty-Five Years."

The German Himalayan Expedition to Nanga Parbat was undertaken in May-July 1934. A team of 9 German mountaineers along with a group of scientists made up the team. It was after losing many from this team, that upon their return from the Himalayas the Germans met Dr. D.N. Wadia on 13 August, 1934.

This expedition to Nanga Parbat had been partly possible and greatly encouraged because of the geological surveys already conducted by Dr. Wadia. His report proved to be indispensable towards further geological and petrographical research.

It was in 1957, when he was serving as the Director of the Raw Materials Division at the Department of Atomic Energy, that Prof Wadia was elected to be a Fellow of the Royal Society for his "distinguished researches into the geological structure of the Himalayas."

Among his relatives was Ardeseer Cursetjee Wadia, naval architect and marine engineer- the first Indian to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1841. Years later, D.N. Wadia became the first Indian Geologist to become a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)

In 1984 the Postal Department of the Indian Government released a 100p. stamp showing a portrait of Prof. Wadia with the building of his Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun in the background.

Prof. Wadia received countless awards in his profession. Some of these included the Lyell Medal from the Geological Society, London, the Back Award from the Royal Asiatic Society and the Padma Bhushan from the Government of India. Photographs of these may be seen as part of the Wadia Collection at the Wadia Institute.

Impressions

"The Geologist, like the topographer and geographer, could not limit his investigation to the main route of the expedition, but to travel over the whole region..."

At all important places geological sections were made, from the valleys to the higher regions. It was important to climb high in order to recognise connexions which could not be seen from below; and the geologist on Naga Parbat must be a climber as well as a scientist." Peter Misch for The Himalayan Journal.

"In camp Wadia lived a simple life, and was a tireless walker and climber...[his] life was devoted to geology; and when he had become the doyen of Indian geologists he emphasised the role of geology in the building of a new India..."

"A quiet personality, with the courtesy of a bygone generation, his guidance in all matters was greatly missed when he passed away in his 86th year." W.D. West, friend and colleague, on Prof. Wadia

D.N. Wadia's field diaries are proof of his meticulous, organised and creative nature.

His attention to detail as can be seen from his geological sketches and here through his daily accounting methods- he maintained strict records at the last page of each diary on each of his field trips.

Piloo Nanavutty writes of him that he was "modest and unassuming...a man of few words, with an old world courtliness rarely seen today."

Dr S.K. Parcha, Scientist at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology shows Prof. Wadia's office bag, used by him for his last 19 years and calls him a "Man of Vision."

Rohinton K. Avasia in his chapter on the Pioneering Geologist writes, "Though he liked living well, he was simple in his tastes, hard-working and systematic. He was a rather hard taskmaster, yet considerate of his subordinates...

"Though a man of few words, he was comprehensive in conveying his ideas. In spite of a retiring disposition, he was capable of making or enjoying a joke. Such was his personality that whoever came in contact with him, could not help but regard him with great respect."

In June 1963, Prof Wadia organised the first Summer School on Himalayan Geology in Shimla. The success of the programme led to the acceptance of his idea of setting up an Institute dedicated to Himalayan Geology. This Institute began in Delhi University in 1968, and was renamed the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology after Prof Wadia's death in 1969. It functions from its permanent headquarters in Dehradun.

Supported by Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology
Credits: Story

Curation and Text Compilation by Kritika Mudgal for Parzor Foundation
Photography by Krish Bhalla for Parzor Foundation

Dr Shernaz Cama, Director, Parzor Foundation and the team acknowledge the contribution of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun as our Knowledge Partners. All material copyright is retained by the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology while the Intellectual Property Rights of this exhibition remain with Parzor Foundation.

We also thank the TIFR Archives for sharing Prof. Wadia's CV and a List of his Publications.

We thank Mr Rusi Sorabji of California for his guidance and inputs.

References:
https://www.himalayanclub.org/hj/07/4/ghimalayan-journalhimalayan-journal-7the-scientific-work-of-the-german-himalayan-expedition-to-nanga-parbat-1934/

http://scienceidea.in/2018/01/04/dr-d-n-wadia-1883-1969/

Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London
Vol. 12, No. 2 (Dec., 1957), pp. 237-241. Accessed via JSTOR.

Nanavutty, Piloo. The Parsis.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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