Amarnatha Jha: A Quintessential English Gent, an Exemplary Teacher, Respected Vice Chancellor

Ashoka pays rich tributes to an exemplary teacher, an outstanding scholar, and an able administrator Prof. Amarnatha Jha, on his 63rd death anniversary, on Sept 2 (Saturday). He was Vice Chancellor of Allahabad University for three terms and that of Banaras Hindu University. He seemed to convey the impression of a snobbish quintessential English gent but almost everyone knew that underneath the gruff exterior was a deeply caring human being. A Different Truths exclusive.

“Teacher and God are standing before me, whom to pay my obeisance, / I will bow to you my teacher who guided me to God” ~ Kabir

I must confess that my impressions of Professor Amaranatha Jha owe their provenance to hearsay. I have never had the good fortune of having studied at the Allahabad University and was literally a toddler when he left this world on the 2nd of September, 1955. 

Harivanshrai Bachchan

My late father was an Allahabad University alumnus. He continuously used to come up with anecdotes about his very remarkable Vice Chancellor as did one of his closest friends Professor Hemendra Saxena, for many years a Professor of English at the same University. Later on, I learned an awful lot about this remarkable human being from my teacher, Mr. Pratap Narain Chaubey, who used to hold him in veneration. In between, I had been able to peruse Harivanshrai Bachchan’s autobiography in which he devoted several pages to adumbrate his Vice Chancellor who in those days was regarded as the best teacher of English in India. The awe he used to inspire was captured in his description of the few days he stayed with him in his house. No one was allowed to laugh and meals were a sombre affair. He recalled that once he left the house as his guest and managed to reach the adjoining street, he burst out into laughter for a few minutes.

Outwardly, Dr. Jha always seemed to convey the impression of a snobbish quintessential English gent but almost everyone knew that underneath the gruff exterior was a deeply caring human being. It was widely known that no student who reached out to him for an assistance of any form returned disappointed. 

In my nearly four decades in the academia all over the world, I have come across good Vice Chancellors and bad Vice Chancellors. But from what I have been able to gather from people who either knew him as a teacher or an academic administrator, I cannot recall any chief executive of a university who has made this deep and lasting an impression. 

Sir Ganganath Jha

Dr. Jha was a Maithili Brahmin by birth. His father, Sir Ganganath Jha, was a renowned Sanskrit scholar, who became the Vice Chancellor of Allahabad University just before his son. Dr. Jha was appointed a full professor of English at a remarkably young age of twenty. I must state here that Nietzsche’s appointment as a professor of philosophy at 25, while regarded extraordinary, had not impressed me as much as it should have because I had been hearing anecdotes of another professor of English who had achieved a similar designation at a much younger age.

Within a very short time, he acquired a stellar reputation as a teacher of English literature. He succeeded in mentoring several students who acquired reputations as stalwarts in every field. He was amongst the first scholars from India to be elected a Fellow of the British Academy, the foremost British honour in humanities. Small wonder, he was the automatic choice for the Vice Chancellor’s position, when his father relinquished the position in 1938. 

He remained in this position for three terms and his era is generally described as the golden period of the Allahabad University. Every faculty managed to attract the very best minds. Professor Meghnad Saha and Professor K.S. Krishnan left a lasting legacy in the department of physics through their monumental research. But it was the faculty of humanities that brought the institution an enviable reputation not just in the country but all over the globe. The departments of history, political science, Hindi, and English had the benefit of foremost scholars of that era. Professor Tara Chand, Professor Ishwari Prasad, Professor Banarsi Prasad Saxena, Professor Beni Prasad, Professor R. Tripathi etc., etc. The University also managed to procure services of Raghupati Sahai ‘Firaq’, an English teacher, who used to write poetry in Urdu and Harivanshrai Bachchan, another lecturer in English who used to poetize in Hindi. Allahabad had become a Mecca of learning and the credit should rightfully go to this remarkable Vice Chancellor.

He left the University on completion of his third term to succeed Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan as the Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University and later on joined the Public Service Commission but his heart always remained in teaching and mentoring students. His untimely demise at the young age of 59 came as a major shock to his protégés worldwide. 


“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” ~ Henry Brooks Adams

Let us pay tributes to this archetypical teacher on his 63rd death anniversary.

©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Photos from the Internet

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