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Radhanath Sikdar: A past we must preserve

He was the first person to calculate the height of Mount Everest, in 1852

Chandrima S. Bhattacharya | Published 22.03.21, 01:30 AM
Radhanath Sikdar — 1813-1870 , Mathematician

Radhanath Sikdar — 1813-1870 , Mathematician

Sourced by The Telegraph

Radhanath Sikdar was the first person to calculate the height of Mount Everest, in 1852.

The brilliant student of mathematics at Hindu College had mastered Newtonian mathematics and physics and invented a new way of drawing a common tangent to two circles when he was in his teens.

In 1831, surveyor-general of India George Everest was looking for a mathematician who had specialised in spherical trigonometry to join the Great Trigonometric Survey. Sikdar, at 19, was appointed in that post, as a “computor”. His salary was Rs 30 per month.

In 1851, Sikdar was promoted to the post of chief computor. In 1852, Everest’s successor Andrew Scott Waugh asked Sikdar to start measuring the height of mountains. Sikdar used data from six observations and calculated the height of Peak XV and stated that it was taller than Kanchenjungha, which was till then considered the highest mountain peak in the world. Peak XV came to be named after the previous surveyor-general, Everest. 

Sikdar calculated its height at exactly 29,000 feet, but Waugh added 2 feet to make it appear a more credible figure. The official height was announced in 1856, as 29,002 feet. A century later, in 1955, an Indian survey announced the height at 29,029 feet.

Sikdar was capable of exemplary moral courage. In 1843, he was fined Rs 200 by the British court for protesting the behaviour of a magistrate who had called survey department workers “paharee coolies”.

A Derozian, he flouted social and religious norms. He had refused to marry the young girl who had been chosen for him. He ate beef, claiming beef-eaters were never bullied. In 1854, along with fellow Derozian Peary Chand Mitra, Sikdar founded Masik Patrika, a Bengali journal for the education of women.

The German Philosophical Society made him a corresponding member in 1864, two years after his retirement. It was a great honour. But many were of the view that the world's highest peak should have been named after him.

Last updated on 22.03.21, 01:30 AM

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