A foremost historian of modern India, Radhakumud Mukherjee, (1885-1963) had a brilliant academic career and obtained his PRS and Ph.D. degrees from Calcutta University. As an ardent nationalist, he was associated with the cause of national education during the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal.
In 1906 he was appointed Hem Chandra Basu Mallick Professor at the National Council of Education, Bengal, and the Bengal National College with Sri Aurobindo Ghose as its Principal. In 1916 he was appointed as the first Maharaja Sir Manindra Chandra Nandi Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture at the Benaras Hindu University. Then he joined the University of Mysore as the first Professor of History. Thereafter he became Professor and Head of the Department of History at the Lucknow University in 1921. After retirement, he was appointed Emeritus Professor of History in the same university.
Dr Radhakumud Mukherjee personified as an extraordinary blending of scholarship with political and social activities. He organised the Bengal Anti-Communal Award Committee as its Secretary with Poet Rabindranath Tagore as its President. He had also been a member of the opposition in the Bengal Legislative Council for six years (1937-43).
Having joined the Hindu Mahasabha he served it as the Vice-President for a number of years. He also presided over the Lahore session of All India Hindu Youth Conference. He had the foresight to assess the baneful designs of communalism in Indian politics. After Independence he became a member of the Rajya Sabha nominated by the President of India (1952-58).
Professor Mukherjee'sseminal work The History of Indian Shipping and Maritime Activity from the Earliest Time traces the history of the maritime activity of the Indians in all forms from the earliest times to the end of the Mughal period. The contents of the book have been placed under three sections:
i) Isolation and Intercourse,
ii) Evidence and
iii) Epochs, from the point of shipping and maritime activity of India.
Dr. Mukherjee mentions seven epochs; namely the pre-Mauryan epoch; the Mauryan epoch (BC 321-184); the Kushana period in the North and the Andhra period in the South; the period of Hindu imperialism in northern India under the Guptas and Harsha-Vardhana; the period of Hindu imperialism in southern India and the rise of the Cholas; the Mussalman (pre-Mughal) period and the period of Mughal monarchy from the 16th to the 18th century.
Mukerjee asserts, ?For full 30 centuries, India stood out as the very heart of the old world, and maintained her position as one of the foremost maritime countries.? He has explored the history of teeming ports and harbours of India, maritime regulations of the Mauryan epoch, the indigenous ship-building craft, the Indian classification of vessels and their build, the paramount part played by indigenous Indian shipping in the expansion of Indian commerce and colonization from the shores of Africa and Madagascar to the farthest reaches of Malaysia and the Eastern Archipelago; the auxiliary character of the foreign intermediaries, whether Greek, Arabian or Chinese, the sources of India's manufacturing supremacy for a thousand years in her advances in applied chemistry, etc.
(The author is retired Director, West Bengal State Archives.)