The Institute

The Vision at the 'Founding Moment'

The vision, which underlay the setting up of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, can be reconstructed from the speeches delivered by the founding fathers during the inauguration of the Institute on 20 October 1965. Before the commencement of the inaugural ceremonies, the guests had been given a booklet which contained a 'brief outline' by the Director of the Institute, Professor Niharranjan Ray, of 'whatthis Institute is and what it aspires to be'. In his own words the Institute would aim at 'providing opportunities for such meeting of minds and commerce of ideas as are likely to extend our horizons of knowledge and wisdom and add new dimensions to our life and thought'

The sixties were proving to be turbulent for India. The country which had hardly recovered from a devastating war was experiencing food insecurity because of the uncertainties in the domain of agriculture, and had all its energies focused on the task of national integration. In the midst of these uncertain times, the shadow of which was felt at the time of the inaugural ceremony, the Institute was set up. Dr. Zakir Husain, Vice-President of the Republic and the President of the Society highlighted the fact that: … 'this Institute brought into being at a time of such stress and strain in the life of our people, is a token of our earnestness of how we prize and try to cherish human values. It is also an earnest of our faith in man's quest for peace even in the midst of destructions of war and his pursuit of truth in the midst of the frightful distractions of actual living'.

This idea was stated in great detail by the President of India, Professor SarvepalliRadhakrishnan in his inaugural address: 'The greatest event of our age is the meeting of cultures, meeting of civilizations, meeting of different points of view, making us understand that we should not adhere to any one kind of single faith, but respect diversity of belief. That is what we should attempt to do. The iron curtain, so to say, which divided one culture from another, has broken down. It is good that we recognize and emphasize the need of man to regard other people, their cultures, their beliefs etc. to be more or less on the same level as our own cultures and our own civilizations. It is not a sign of weakening faith; it is a sign of increasing maturity. If man is unable to look upon other people's cultures with sympathy and if he is not able to co-operate with them, then it only shows immaturity on the part of the human individual. We need co-operation, not conflict. It requires great courage in such difficult days as the present to speak of peace and co-operation. It is more easy to talk of enemies, of conflict and war. We should try to resist that temptation. Our attempt should always be to co-operate, to bring together people, to establish friendship and have some kind of a right world in which we can live together in happiness, harmony and friendship. Let us therefore realize that this increasing maturity should express itself in this capacity to understand what other points of view are'. What was said in 1965 rings equally true today in 2008. This is the special mandate of the Institute to be a place where deep reflection on the human condition can be pursued free from fear.

Sri M.C. Chagla, Union Minister of Education and the Chairman of the Governing Body, emphasized the significance of the fact, that, 'while our security is threatened and our integrity is threatened, we should still be thinking of inaugurating an institute of this character'. The Institute, upon which such high hopes were centered, was in Chagla's words, 'a unique institution in many ways': 'in the first instance because in a palace which was the symbol of imperialism and of viceregal splendour, we are now going to have a symbol of scholarship and research'. It was also 'unique in another sense that this institution, unlike other educational institutions, will have no curricula, no courses of studies, no faculties, no examinations, and will confer no degrees. We want to create here an atmosphere of real research and scholarship where people can come, discourse with each other and carry on the work of expanding the horizons of knowledge'.

The 'founding moment' recognized the need to encourage a conversation between explorations in science and technology and exploration in the humanities. As Chagla put it: 'But in this pursuit, we must pause from time to time and, if I might put it this way, hold out our hands to the stars'.

Again it was left to the philosopher President to explore this idea in detail: 'There has been a steady progress so far as our practical life is concerned. The bullock-cart gave place to the bicycle, the bicycle to the automobile. But that has not resulted in the de-humanization of man, because man's consciousness itself responded to these technical creations in an adequate way. But when these technical creations become spectacular, over-whelming, there is a danger that it may give rise to some kind of lack of equilibrium. It is that which we should avoid. Science and technology - there are people who indulge in them, the greatest brains of the world today are devoted to the production of nuclear weapons, trying to devise instruments of mass torture and extermination of culture. But that has nothing to do with the machines or the weapons which we are using. It has everything to do with the kind of man. The tragedy today lies in the fact that man knows what is right, but is defeated by circumstances and is unable to bring it about. That is the essence of human tragedy today. We have developed all these weapons. We have developed enormous instruments for the elevation of the human spirit, for the improvement of culture. But why are we not using them for those purposes? The mistake is in the inadequacy of human nature. That is why, I think, the stress on Humanities which you are laying, will correct this one-sidedness of our culture, this deficiency in our equipment, and enable us to expand our consciousness, to transcend, to make us understand clearly what is it we are attempting to do'.

Another very significant point spelt out in the vision of the Institute was the principle of intellectual freedom, and the leading members of the government of the day fully supported such an idea. Dr. Zakir Husain expressed the hope that the Institute would, 'grow into a site of free enquiry, of disciplined intellectual activity, both critical and constructive, where the illimitable freedom of the mind is respected and nurtured, and where excellence in all its aspects is the guiding star'.

It perhaps needs to be mentioned that the Institute was being opened during a period which had witnessed governmental attempts to limit intellectual autonomy in many parts of the World. In this context, it was a matter of great significance, that the Director of the Institute would make a strong plea for intellectual freedom in the presence of the Head of State and the leading members of his government. In the words of Professor Niharranjan Ray: 'This Institute is the only one of its kind in India, the first experiment, if I may be allowed to say so, in an altogether new direction in the field of higher learning and research, and if we want it to succeed, creatively speaking, we must be assured of two things: (a) complete academic freedom; and (b) relative freedom from financial worries. Higher learning and research ….. does not want to be interfered with, and an intellectual and seeker of truth who can be made to wait on the pleasures of others, is not certainly worth his salt'.

As is evident from their speeches, the Head of State and his ministers were in complete accord with such a view. In the years that followed the IIAS grew into this vision.