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From ‘Punjab University, Lahore’ to ‘Panjab University, Chandigarh’: A Difficult Journey

By Chaman Lal


The first ever University of India – the University of Calcutta was set up on 24 January, 1857. In the same year – on the 24th of July, 1857 – the University of Bombay was set up and a few months later – on the 5th of September 1857 – the University of Madras was set up.

The University of the Punjab at Lahore, India’s fourth university, was set up twenty-five years later on 14th October, 1882. But it was the first university, which expanded its scope from being just an examining university to both teaching and examining. The precursor to the Punjab University, Lahore was the setting up of a Government College in Lahore on 1st January 1864, as part of the British scheme of expanding higher education in India.

The Government College, Lahore was initially set up in Dhyan Singh haveli in Lahore. Later it was renamed as Lahore University College in 1869 and further as the Punjab University College, Lahore. There was a systematic campaign to upgrade the college to a university for thirteen long years before it was finally upgraded as the University of the Punjab on 14th October, 1882.

In between, the Lahore Oriental College was set up in 1870, which focused on Indian classic languages Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Punjabi, Hindi, etc. It is interesting to note that the Gurmukhi script was recognised by the Oriental College as early as 1877 and the Punjabi (Gurmukhi) department was opened at the Oriental College in 1879, which was renamed as the Punjabi Language and Culture department after the events of1947.

The Punjab Governor, Sir Charles Umpherston Aitchison, was appointed as the first Chancellor of the University. He in turn appointed Sir James Bradwood Lyall as the first Vice-Chancellor of the University. He was succeeded by Sir Baden Henry Powell. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, Professor of Arabic at King’s College, London was named the first Principal of Punjab University College, who later took over as the first Registrar of the University of the Punjab in 1882 and contributed immensely to University’s development. Mahindra College Patiala, set up in 1875, was the university’s first affiliate College, followed by St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, which was established in 1881.

The First Fellows/Senators of the University included Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Kashmir, Maharaja Rajinder Singh of Patiala, Raja Hira Singh of Nabha, Raja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthla, Raja Raghbir Singh of Jind, Nawab Mohd. Siddique Khan of Bahawalpur, Nawab Ibrahim Khan of Malerkotla, Raja Bikram Singh of Faridkot, Munshi Hukam Chand and Sodhi Hukam Singh among others.

It was after quarter of a century that first Indian Vice-Chancellor was appointed in 1907 – Sir P C Chatterjee. The most eminent Vice-Chancellor during the British period was the Oriental scholar, A C Woolner, Professor of Sanskrit, who served for eight years – 1928-36.

Apart from undivided Punjab, which was a huge state, the university also covered Delhi region till 1922, Jammu and Kashmir, Baluchistan, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), now known as Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, till 1947.

During the freedom struggle, the Punjab University, Lahore played a stellar role. From the calendar of 1932, one can read the Senate proceedings relating to 8th October 1930 incident in DAV College Lahore, when the police entered the campus and beat up a Professor and some students in his classroom. The context was that the Lahore Conspiracy case tribunal had announced its verdict on the 7th of October, condemning Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru to the gallows. On 8th October, there was a spontaneous protest of by students and teachers in Lahore. The police tried to suppress it by even entering classrooms. The University of the Punjab Senate protested and passed a strongly worded resolution that without the Principal’s consent, the police cannot enter the campus and condemned the police act! A stark contrast to our present times when university campuses have been taken over by political parties and the Vice-Chancellors are happy to toe the government line.

Post Partition – from Punjab University to Panjab* University

After partition, the Punjab University went through traumatic times, particularly in the Indian part of Punjab – East Punjab. It was agreed at the time of partition that examinations would be conducted by the University of the Punjab, Lahore on both sides. For this purpose, the Registrar (Examination) of the University, Madan Gopal Singh, who was in India at the time of partition, travelled to Lahore from Shimla, leaving a note for eminent artist Krishan Khanna’s father – ‘See you when I get back, that is, if I get back.’ He was murdered by his own personal assistant in his own office in the university!

Professor Brij Narayan, head of the Economics department and well-known progressive economist who had opted to stay back in Lahore, was similarly murdered in his office. So the long shadow of hatred destroyed the university’s humanist tradition and the nascent government in East Punjab was compelled to bring an ordinance to set up East Punjab University on 27th September 1947, which came into existence from 1st October, 1947. Sir Chandu Lal Trivedi, Governor of East Punjab, became its first Chancellor. The administrative offices of the University were in a Camp in Shimla and Justice Teja Singh was appointed Honorary Vice-Chancellor of the University from 8th February, 1948, which he continued to be till 31st March, 1949, when he was appointed the first Chief Justice of the PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union) High Court. The first convocation of the University was held on 5th March, 1949 in presence of the Deputy Prime Minister, Vallabh Bhai Patel. Justice Teja Singh was succeeded by G C Chatterjee for four months and then Dewan Anand Kumar for eight long years, followed by the legendary Amar Chand Joshi for another eight years. Incidentally, in the 134 year history of Panjab University, Justice Teja Singh is the only Sikh, who has served as the Vice Chancellor.

Since the campus and other structures of Punjab University remained in Lahore, the East Punjab University set up hurriedly, with administrative offices at Shimla initially, was initially in terrible shape. After some time, on the Punjab Chief Minister Gopi Chand Bhargava’s advice, the all administrative offices of East Punjab University shifted to Cantonment in Solan. The departments were also located in various places – the Department of Chemical Engineering was located in Delhi Polytechnic, Delhi; the Botany, Zoology and Chemistry departments were started in Khalsa College, Amritsar as was the Punjabi department. The agriculture college was also set up at Amritsar. The Government College at Hoshiarpur took care of many post-graduate departments like Economics, English, and Zoology and later became a regional centre of the University. It was at the university centre at Hoshiarpur, where Dr. Manmohan Singh created the record of securing the highest marks in M.A. Economics.

In the meantime, the Punjab Government decided to build its capital at Chandigarh and the university was allotted 306 acres of land in Sector 14 for its construction and bringing the whole university under one umbrella. The construction work of the university started in 1954 and from 1956, gradual shifting of the administrative wing started at Chandigarh in 1957. By 1960, most of the departments and other offices shifted to sector 14 campus of Panjab University at Chandigarh and Panjab University library was inaugurated by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on 23rd October, 1963. Later another sector, sector 25, was allotted to Panjab University Chandigarh, which now houses the Dental College and many more buildings including the Alumni hostel and office and residences.

Lahore and Chandigarh: the parallels today

Both universities which trace their origin to the original Punjab University have expanded a lot. The Punjab University, Lahore now has five campuses – two in Lahore and three outside Lahore – at Gujranwala, Jhelum, and Khanaspur. Its original location Govt. College Lahore has now turned into a full-fledged research-oriented university, named as the Government College University, Lahore. The Oriental College Lahore continues to be the pride of the University. Incidentally from 1983, a Hindi department now functions there with a Punjabi University (Patiala) Hindi department alumnus Shabnam Riaz in charge.

*While people think that the University of Lahore was spelled as PUNJAB and it was changed to PANJAB in Chandigarh to differentiate the two, that is not true. Both spellings were in use in pre-partition Punjab University records.

Gurcharn Singh Brar , ‘Roots of Panjab University and its Sports Archives (1882-1982)’, Unpublished manuscript.

Dr. Chaman Lal is a retired Professor from JNU, New Delhi and Alumnus/Fellow of Panjab University, Chandigarh.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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