Remembering the father of Indian statistics

His laudable achievements in the field of sampling surveys cannot be overlooked.
"He enjoyed statistics so much that he left physics and established deep fascination with data, figures, graphs and charts and their interpretation nowadays known as Data Science."
"He enjoyed statistics so much that he left physics and established deep fascination with data, figures, graphs and charts and their interpretation nowadays known as Data Science."Special arrangement


In commemoration of birth anniversary of Late Professor Prasantra Chandra Mahalanobis popularly known as father of Indian statistics, Statistics Day is being celebrated throughout India on 29th June every year both at the state as well as national level.

The main objective of the day is to create public awareness especially amongst the students and younger generation towards the importance of statistics.

The Day is celebrated by carrying out discussions, workshops, debates, deliberations and competitions to sensitize the masses including the academicians, statisticians, planners and civil society by emphasising the significance and crucial role of statistics in social and nation development.

The theme of National Statistics Day 2023 is “Alignment of State Indicators Frame work With National Indicators Frame work For Monitoring Sustainable Development Goals ”.To meet the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), open data has the potential to be a universal resource to help achieve and measure the SDGs.

Prasantra Chandra Mahalanobis was very much known as practical Statistician than a basic Statistician. He played a marvelous role in laying the foundations of a modern statistical system for India.

As an architect of development planning, he had framed the evolution of statistical studies as an important and indispensable aid for policy planning. Prasantra Chandra Mahalanobis was born at  Cornwallis Street Kolkata on 29th June 1893.

His father was  Probodh Chandra and mother Nirod bashini Probodh Chandra. He got married to Nirmal Kumari. They were of the Brahmo Samaj religion. Mahalanobis life had an influence of Rabindranath Tagore a famous Indian poet.

He secured B.Sc degree in physics in 1912 from Presidency College, Kolkata, India and completed Tripos in natural sciences in 1915 from King’s college. Srinivan Ramanujan (A legendary Indian mathematician and mathematical genius) was a close friend at Cambridge.

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was appointed as Professor of Physics at Presidency College, Kolkata in 1922, he began teaching physics but with statistical techniques. The attentiveness in statistics was there. Joining Department of Physics at Presidency College, Kolkata could not prevent him from statistics and applied statistics.

He enjoyed statistics so much that he left physics and established deep fascination with data, figures, graphs and charts and their interpretation nowadays known as Data Science.

In 1920 he met Nelson Annandale, Director of the Zoological survey of India and started  analysing anthropological measurements collected on the Anglo-Indians of Kolkata.

This work resulted in the publication of his first research paper in 1922. He invented D-Square (D2) statistics, which is best known as Mahalanobis distance Measure, and used it for explaining divergence in subjects and thereby resulted in grouping technique. This invention of D-Square (D2) statistics  brought him fame through out research world.

In crop-cutting surveys for estimation of agricultural yield are very much relevant today due to their design essence  and also form basic for designing of experiments. He has also significant contribution to sample survey. He introduced sample surveys in 1937 for estimating production and area under jute. His laudable achievements in the field of sampling surveys cannot be overlooked.

He thrived in demonstrating that most of the times survey results do exhibit a pattern analogous to the complete enumeration or census and that these surveys are cost efficient and consume less time and there by a success. Pilot surveys which were conceptualized and conducted by Professor Mahalanobis later on became the foundation for sequential sampling.  His contribution to Sampling brought him laurels and won him the Chairmanship of the United Nations Sub-commission on statistical sampling in 1947.

Over the years, other statisticians got associated with Professor Chandra Mahalanobis  and an Institute namely Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) was framed. He started publication of Sankhya, a well reputed statistical journal of the institute, in 1933 on the very  lines of Karl Pearson’s Biometrika. His continuous efforts made the Indian Statistical Institute an institution of academic and research excellence.

The Indian Statistical Institute thrived. In 1951 Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher inaugurated the main building. Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher (17 Feb 1890 – 29 July 1962) mostly known as father of statistics was evolutionary biologist, statistician and geneticist.

His contribution to statistics is unlimited. The Government of India also graced the accomplishments and achievements of the institute by passing the Indian Statistical Institute Act in 1959, thereby recognizing it as an institute of National importance and giving it the status of a Deemed University.

The father of world statistics Sir R. A. Fisher commented that “The Indian Statistical Institute has taken the lead in the original development of the technique of sample surveys, the most effective fact finding process available to the administration”.

After independence in 1947, it was felt that the statistical system needs to be revamped and rejuvenated to ensure the socio-economic development of the country at a much faster pace and speed. Professor Mahalanobis was honoured as the Honorary Statistical Advisor by the Government of India in 1949. The Central Statistical Unit was established under his  able guidance and management.

Later, in 1951 it became the Central Statistical Organization (CSO). The prime objective of this organization was to coordinate with various Central Ministries which were engaged in statistical activities.

Mahalanobis was India’s first agriculture Statistician, his most important contributions are related to large scale sample surveys and designing of experiments. On the recommendation of the National Income Committee, which was chaired by Professor Mahalanobis, a very famous institute - National Sample Survey (NSS) came into existence in 1950 with its mandate to capture data conducting socio-economic surveys in various fields.

Harold Hotelling wrote: “No technique of random sample has, so far as I can find, been developed in the United States or elsewhere, which can compare in accuracy with that described by Professor Mahalanobis”.

Professor Mahalanobis received many honours for his remarkable contribution in Statistics in India. He was awarded Weldon Medal and prize from Oxford University(1944).

Sir Deviprasad Sarvadhikari Gold Medal (1957). The Gold Medal from Czech Academy Sciences (1964) and the Durgaprasad Khaitan Gold Medal from the Asiatic Society (1968). He was President of the Indian Science Congress in 1950 and the President of International Statistical Institute in 1957.

He was elected a fellow of many societies and academics such as : the Royal Society of London (1945), the Econometrics Society, United States (1951), the Pakistan Statistical Association (1952), the Royal Statistical Society, U.K. (1954), the USSR Academy of sciences (1958) and the American Statistical Association (1961). He received Honourary degrees from the University of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1964, Sofia University (1961) and the University of Delhi (1964). In 1959, he was elected as Honourary Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. He received one of the highest civilian awards, the Padma Vibhushan from the Government of India.

Realizing the contribution of statistics it is highly significant that we celebrate the Statistics Day in honour of the reminiscence of Professor Mahalanobis which provides us a great opportunity not only for remembering Prof. P. C. Mahalanobis on his birth anniversary but also creating awareness in general among the masses and particularly among effervescing younger generations about importance and role of statistics and taking lessons from his outstanding contributions in the field of statistics and  planning.

As it is well established that statistics is the back bone of research and planning, the improvement and achievements in the statistical system will provide the researchers and policy makers and thinkers a genuine  planning formulation for the country on the sound scientific basis.

Tariq A. Raja, Professor and Head, Division of Agricultural Economics & Statistics, FoA, Wadura. He can be reached at:

Showkat Maqbool, Associate Professor, Division of Agricultural Economics & Statistics, FoA, Wadura and can be reached at:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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