Burjorji J. Padshah

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Burjorji Jamaspji Padshah

Burjorji Jamaspji Padshah (May 7, 1864 - June 20, 1941) was a Parsi Fellow of the Elphinstone College of Bombay, and an early member of the Theosophical Society. He was a notable citizen in the worlds of education, science, and industry, and was said to be a major influence on the Indian pioneer industrialist, Mr. Jamsetiji N. Tata (1839-1904), who founded the Tata Group, India's biggest conglomerate company. He joined the Theosophical Society as a young man, but while he soon lost interest in study of Theosophy, his life exemplified the practice of Theosophical principles.

He was the younger brother of Sorabji J. Padshah.[1]

Early years

Burjorji J. Padshah was born in Bombay on May 7, 1864, as the fourth son of Jamaspji Padshah in a highly talented family. He went to the Elphinstone College of Bombay and graduated in 1884, placing First in his Class, with honors including the Cobden Medal in Political Economy. His mother wanted him to enter the Indian Civil Service as his elder brothers had done but Burjorji followed another track, studying Theosophy.[2] His brother Pestonji became a lawyer, studying in London along with Mohandas K. Gandhi, who was later influenced by Pestonji's love for his native country and language.[3]

Theosophical involvement

Mr. Padshah joined the Indian Section of the Theosophical Society around 1883, as a young man of 19.[4]

In 1884, with the money he inherited from his father, the 20-year-old Mr. Padshah accompanied the Founders of the Society – Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott – to Europe, along with Mohini M. Chatterji, and Babula.[5] They departed on February 20, 1884, sailing for Marseilles, then visited Nice and Paris before arriving in London.[6] He and Mohini were successful in representing their culture to European society:

The success of our Theosophical Mission to Europe has been very largely helped by the philosophical conversation of our brother Babu Mohini M. Chatterji. He has interest all with whom he has been brought into contact. Several times he has by invitation visited the University of Cambridge to discuss Oriental Philosophy with the 'Dons,' while in London his company has been sought by a great number of the cleverest men of the day.

Our younger brother, Mr. B. J. Padshah, has also done excellent service in a similar way, having been brought into relations with some leading men.[7]

Padshah participated in slate-writing experiments with Mr. Davey, a medium.[8][9] After the Hodgson Report, however, he suffered a crisis of faith. It seems that this was part of his probation. Mme. Blavatsky wrote to Mr. Sinnett:

Poor Padshah! All his efforts, struggles, his sacred vows — all, all gone because his fifth principle is so developed and drags him to Cambridge, while his sixth is dormant, half blind and is unable to FEEL the Master. Poor Boy! why can't people separate wretched me from the Masters, why not despise, spurn me, spew me out from their mouth but remain true and loyal to TRUTH incarnate. I do feel sad for those who are good and yet fall off.[10]

Poor, poor Padshah — he is lost! There's a trial for him! What next? Why if those are their proofs, then they are worthy indeed of being noticed! . . . Only write to poor Padshah a kind letter. Tell him he is ruining all his prospects — his young life for ever; by not withstanding and having the best of his probationary trial. He has cut his hair and now he is cutting the last blade of grass under his feet. I do feel such a pity for the poor good boy. He is so honest -- so earnest![11]

Advanced education and professorship

He finally left the Society and went to Cambridge for the study of higher mathematics. There, he studied under Henry Sidgwick, the English utilitarian philosopher and economist. He remained a total abstainer, a non-smoker and a vegetarian, showing great concern for animal welfare. Padshah became a professor and vice-principal at Dayaram Jethmal College, Sindh, joining the faculty within a month after the school's opening in 1887. One of his students wrote:

Professor Padshah, B. A., as erudite a Professor in Logic, Political Economy and History, as he was in Mathematics, Science and English, whose all round completeness and extent of learning was wonderful, taught me and others Logic and Moral Philosophy and I believe Bacon’s Advancement of Learning in my Second B. A. course subsequently. His extraordinary abilities failed to receive recognition and he resigned; but we, who have received our education under him, can never fail to remember the sea of knowledge he opened to us in every subject that he touched.[12]

Padshah was not married at that time: afterwards he married the widow of his brother Pestonji who practised as a lawyer in Karachi along with Assanmal Tejbhandas Ojha. Prof. Padshah married long after he had left Sind College as a protest against his claims being ignored to the acting Principalship of the College when Dr. Jackson went on leave. Padshah was a man of independent and advanced views, and was very popular with the public, but he had his idiosynacrasies. He would not go in a carriage driven by horses, he would go either on a cycle or on foot. He used to go on a tricycle, while coolies carried his luggage. Padshah was a vegetarian, but he took eggs, and was once tempted to eat a roe or as he called it “fish-egg.”[13]

During 1891-92 the professor helped to found the Lord Reay Memorial Library and the Victoria Laboratory, and in 1893 established the College Amateur Dramatic Society.[14]

Career with the Tata Group

Padshah left the college in 1896 and took up work with the Tata Group, a conglomerate based in Bombay (now Mumbai). He worked with Jamsetji Tata, and later with his sons Dorab (1859-1932) and Ratan (1871-1918) Tata in establishing an iron and steel plant, textile mills, a hydroelectric plant, an insurance company, and oil mills. His friendship with Mr. Jamsetji N. Tata began in Padshah's childhood and extended until Tata's death in 1904. In 1898, "Mr. Tata procured for him the first automobile to appear in India, one driven by steam."[15][16]

The Tata family and Padshah believed in promoting the economic development of India, based on new educational opportunities that they supported energetically.

Indian Institute of Science

Jamsetji Tata had a vision for scientific and technical education in India in a new research institute that he financed:

To plan the new university, Tata turned to his former ward and newly-employed associate, B. J. Padshah (1864-1941). Padshah toured scientific and medical research institutions, universities, and industries throughout the world for 18 months (1896-8) to gather information needed to plan an institution suited to the proposed Tata endowment. He visited institutions in England, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland (and probably Australia, Japan, Java, and the United States and other European countries), where he recorded the advice of scholars, scientists and university leaders. He returned to Bombay during the summer of 1898 with a ‘sheaf of reports’ and drafted the outline of the provisional scheme for an ‘Institute of Scientific Research for India’. The outline, along with reprints from Bombay newspapers describing the scheme, was sent to friends from whom he had sought advice and to prospective members of the provisional committee that Tata would form in Bombay to plan and promote the project.[17]

Johns Hopkins University was taken as a model of an institution that would emphasize research and the teaching of postgraduate students, so that it would not compete directly with existing Indian universities. Several years of negotiations ensued, as the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, considered the plan presented by the Tata family and Padshah. Finally, in June 1911, the Institute opened in Bangalore, and has since become a highly regarded and prestigious institution of learning.

Padshah Plan for TISCO

The Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO) was established with the construction of an iron and steel plant at Sakchi (Bihar State) in 1911. The plant was constructed by an American firm, and had the capacity to pour 260,000 tons per year. It made a significant contribution to the British war effort during the First World War, and soon was expanded five-fold. All the operating engineers and advisors were brought in from abroad, revealing a need to develop a domestic supply of qualified workers. In order to "Indianize" the steel industry, the Tatas proposed to build a facility to train steel experts. Burjorji Padshah negotiated with regional and imperial governments for several years. Eventually the provincial government of Bihar and Orissa agreed to help fund a technical school to train foremen and assistant superintendents in a two-year course on metallurgy and related subjects, with 22 weeks of practical experience at TISCO. In 1921, they opened a technical institute at the Tata steel works in Jamshedpur. By 1937, "all European and American experts had been replaced by Indians, many of whom received their initial training in metallurgy at the Institute, and in American and British institutions with the support of TISCO scholarships.[18]

Later years

In 1931 Padshah left the Tata Group, and began touring round the globe. His passport described his occupation as "Traveller". During his last ten years, he is known to have spent time in England, New York, Australia, Cuba, South Africa, Hawai'i, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Germany, Indonesia, and Kenya.

He passed away in Bombay on June 20, 1941, at the age of 77.


In December 1941 an obituary was published in The Theosophist stating the following, in part:

He had greatly the quality of wholehearted enthusiasm, caring nothing for jeers at his eccentricities of behaviour, for he brooked no compromise with ideals. Thus, having become convinced of the wrongs suffered by animals under human exploitation, he went so far as to refuse to wear leather foot-wear of any kind, taking great trouble to get substitutes. Still to more personal inconvenience, he would not ride in a horse-drawn vehicle, but would trudge long distances on foot, until his friend Mr. Tata procured for him the first automobile to appear in India, one driven by steam. . . .

All testify to the purity – almost asceticism – of his life, and that he was ceaselessly occupied in well-doing, serving his country and his brother man in a truly Theosophical spirit.[19]

A biographical article at TATA Central Archives stated:

Modest by temperament and absolutely impervious to all ordinary human attractions such as the collection of money or the desire for distinction, he lived a simple, natural and selfless life. His existence was really an embodiment of the principle of “plain living and high thinking.” He never cared for reward or appreciation. He pursued learning and acquired culture for their own sake, and ceaselessly did all he could, according to his own ideas, for the advancement of his country and the good of humanity.[20]

Additional resources


  • Burjorji Jamaspji Padshah at TATA Central Archives
  • P. Balaram on Burjorji Padshah's Role in Creating and Shaping IISc at Nanopolitan Blog
  • Sebaly, K. P. "The Tatas and university reform in India, 1898‐1914." History of Education 14 no.2 (1985), 117–136.
  • Sebaly, K. P. "Tata Steel and higher technical education in India: The Padshah Plan, 1916–21." History of Education 17 no. 4 (1988), 309–320.
  • Balaram, P. "The Indian Institute of Science: Reflections on a Century." Current Science 96 no. 10 (May, 2009), 1404-1411.


  • Kostecka, Keith. Morris William Travers- A Lifetime of Achievement. Discusses Padshah's part in establishing the Indian Institute of Science. Xlibris Corporation, 2011.

Archival records


  1. K. J. B. Wadia, Fifty Years of Theosophy in Bombay (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1931), 5.
  2. See Burjorji Jamaspji Padsha at TATA Central Archives
  3. Mohandas K. Gandhi. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Beacon Press, 1993), 177-178.
  4. H.V., "Obituary - BJ Padshah," The Theosophist 63:3 (December, 1941), 226-227.
  5. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves Third Series (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 73.
  6. C. Jinarajadasa, editor. The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925), 222.
  7. "Personal Items" The Theosophist 5 no. 60 (September, 1884), 131.
  8. E. J. Dingwell, "Magic and Mediumship" Psychic Research Quarterly 1 no.3 (January, 1921), 214-215.
  9. See also publications of the Society for Psychical Research, 1885-1887.
  10. A. Trevor Barker, The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett Letter No. XLIX, (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1973), 120.
  11. A. Trevor Barker, The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett Letter No. LIV, (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1973), 130-131.
  12. The Golden Jubilee Book of the Dayaram Jethmal Sindh College, Karachi (1887-1937) (Karachi: Educational Printing Press, 1939), 56.
  13. Ibid, 57-58.
  14. Ibid, 128.
  15. H. V., "The Passing of Prominent Theosophists" The Theosophist 63 no.3 (December 1941), 226-227.
  16. Four steam cars were in Bombay in 1898, owned by Mr. Tata and other Parsis. See "The First Wheels Roll into India".
  17. Kim P. Sebaly, "The Tatas and University Reform" History of Education 14 no. 2 (1985),119.
  18. Kim P. Sebaly, "Tata Steel and High Technical Education in India" History of Education 17 no. 4 (1988), 309-320.
  19. H.V., "Obituary - BJ Padshah," The Theosophist 63:3 (December, 1941), 226-227.
  20. Burjorji Jamaspji Padsha at TATA Central Archives