Girindrasekhar Bose: The Father of Psychoanalysis in India

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    Mental health issues are still taboo in large parts of India, where afflictions of the mind carry a stigma and people in need of psychological help are looked upon askance. And, yet, exactly a century ago, Dr Sigmund Freud, one of the world’s greatest mental health experts and the father of psychoanalysis, wrote: “The most interesting item of news in the psycho-world is the foundation of the local group in Calcutta, led by Dr G Bose, a Professor Extraordinary.

    Dr Freud wrote this in a letter to Lou Andreas-Salome, the Russian-born psychoanalyst, essayist and thinker, in March 1922, and it was a reference to the Bengali physician-cum-psychoanalyst who helped lay the foundations of mental health services in India.

    The Calcutta-born Girindrasekhar Bose (1887 –1953) was an extraordinary man. He was a doctor who chose to qualify as a psychoanalyst at a time when psychotherapy was nowhere on the horizon in the subcontinent. He was a pioneer in many ways.

    Bose was the first to earn a doctorate in psychology from an Indian university; he was the first Freudian psychoanalyst in the non-Western world; and the founder of the first psychoanalysis society in India – the Indian Psychoanalytical Society – and its first president. He also regularly exchanged ideas, notes and photographs with Austrian neurologist and father of psychoanalysis, Dr Sigmund Freud.

    According to psychoanalytic theory, the unconscious mind plays a defining role in our lives, and by analysing the interplay of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind, repressed fears and conflicts can be treated.

    Bose pioneered psychoanalysis in India and laid the foundation of the Indian Psychoanalytical Society on 26th January 1922. It was a move welcomed by Freud and reputed scholar Earnest Jones. The logo of this society depicts a combined image of Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati, symbolising the bisexuality of human beings(Ardhanarishvara:half-male and half-female). The head office of the society is still 14 Parsibagan Lane, the Calcutta residence of the Bose family.

    Who Was Girindrasekhar Bose?

    Girindrasekhar Bose came from an illustrious family. His father was Chandrasekhar Bose, the Dewan of the Raja of Darbhanga. His elder brother Rajsekharwas a writer and, together, the four Bose brothers set up a club named Utkendra Samiti, which they ran out of their sprawling mansion.

    Many great artists, journalists, litterateurs, doctors and scientists visited Utkendra Samitievery week and held discussions on various subjects including literature and psychology, accompanied by tea, rasgulla, and chess and cards for entertainment.

    After Bose earned an MBBS degree from Calcutta Medical College in 1910, he studied psychology in the newly opened Department of Psychology at Calcutta University. After obtaining a Master’s degree in psychology in 1917, he became a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Calcutta University.

    Bose went on to obtain a D.Sc. degree in 1921 for his thesis on ‘The Concepts of Repression’. It was the first doctorate degree in psychology at an Indian university. After reading his doctoral thesis, Freud would remark, "It was a great and pleasant surprise that the first book on a psychoanalytic subject which came to us from that part of the world (India)."

    During the early 1920s, Bose introduced a course in psychoanalysis for post-graduate students in psychology at Calcutta University. He also started a training programme in psychoanalysis in the 1930s. It was a prestigious course and people from outside Bengal came here for analytical training. In 1938, he headed the Department of Applied Psychology at Calcutta University, when a separate department was introduced.

    Early Mental Health Services In India

    It’s a term we no longer use but a European Lunatic Asylum was set up by the colonial British in Bhowanipore in Calcutta for European and Anglo-Indian people. It was established in the late 18th century and constituted the first mental health service in India.

    However, the institution was shut down after the Ranchi European Lunatic Asylum (now Central Institute of Psychiatry, Ranchi) was established on 17th May 1918. Lt-Col Owen Berkeley-Hill initiated the Indian Association for Mental Hygiene at around the same time. The sustained efforts of Berkeley-Hill and Girindrasekhar Bosehelped drive mental health services in India.

    Bose went a step further and, to enhance the standard of treatment and care, he set up the General Hospital Psychiatric Unit at the Carmichael Medical College (now R G Kar Medical College, Kolkata). Opened on 1st May 1933, it was the first-ever Psychiatric Outpatient Department (OPD)in India.

    The second such Psychiatric OPD was established five years later, by Dr KR Masani at the J J Hospital in Bombay in 1938. The Psychiatric OPD at the Medical College Hospital, Calcutta, was started in 1939.

    Bose took another radical step and set up a private nursing home and clinic on 5th February 1940, at Bediadanga Road, in Tiljala, near Ballygunge. The land was gifted by his brother Rajsekhar and the nursing home was managed by the Indian Psychoanalytical Society before it attained mental hospital status under the Lunacy Act in 1952. It was renamed Lumbini Park Mental Hospital.

    In 1942, when Bengali rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam fell seriously ill and gradually began losing his power of speech, he was admitted to Lumbini Park Mental Hospital(then a nursing home) under the supervision of Girindrasekhar. The hospital was finally taken over by the West Bengal government in the 1980s.

    Bose also set up a training school (Bodhayana) for the education of mentally retarded children in 1949. It followed the principles of psychoanalysis. It later became a residential home named Bodhipith.

    Bose’s Academic Contributions
    Apart from being a pioneer in mental health services in India, Bose made a remarkable contribution to academic research. He authored more than 40 scholarly articles along with several books in Bengali and English. His book Swapna (Dream) was an attempt to introduce Freud and the psychoanalytical process in a vernacular language. English psychologist and statistician, Charles Edward Spearman, critically acclaimed Bose’s article on 'Illusion' in his well-known book Psychology Down the Ages (1937).

    Bose added an Indian perspective to Freudian psychoanalysis. He tried to describe the ancient Indian scriptures and psychoanalytical views by mutual restriction. His deep interest in ancient Sanskrit texts resulted in the publication of works such as Purana Prabesh (Introduction to Purana Shastras), Patanjali Yogasutra, and Bhagawat Gita etc. He tried to synthesize thoughts of Indian scriptures(India’s sacred texts and epics) with analytical ones. He also wrote books for children. One such book, titled Lal-kalo (Red and Black), published in 1930, made quite an impression on readers. Bose held the chair of President of the Psychology Section of the Indian Science Congress for two terms (1933, 1938).

    Till his death in 1953 at the age of 66, Bose created a ‘psychology movement’ in India and laid the foundation of a mental health network that would go on to help millions of Indians suffering from mental health issues.

    Bose’s wife Indrumati Bose donated the Bose-Freud letters to the Freud Archives in London in 1963 on the request of Anna Freud, the youngest child of Sigmund Freud. In 1970, the Girindra Sekhar Clinic was opened, to provide psychiatric and psychoanalytical services to mentally ill persons for an affordable fee. The road leading to the Lumbini Park Mental Hospital at Ballygunj is also named after him. The legacy of Dr GirindrasekharBose lives on in the field that he pioneered.

    - Acknowledgement

    Many thanks to ShirsankarBasu, a cognitive science research scholar of Jadavpur University, Kolkata, for providing valuable inputs.


    Sk Abdul Amin is a research scholar at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He is also a heritage enthusiast, travel writer and photographer. Quaint book-corners and street food joints are his favourite spots.

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