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Tribute to Notable Daivajna – Late Jagannath Shankar Shet.


This article is about an Indian Philanthropist, an Educationalist, Social Reformer, Greate Thinker,  from our Caste,  Late Jagannath Shankar Shet, who has contributed to the society before the Independence. 


Jaganath  "Nana"  Shunkerseth   (also  spelled  Jagannath  Shankarsett   and  Jagannath  Shankar  Shet)  (10 October 180031 July 1865), was an Indian Philanthropist and an Educationalist. He was born in 1800 in the wealthy Murkute family of Goldsmiths of the Daivadnya Caste in Mumbai (Bombay). Unlike his forefathers, he engaged in commerce and soon developed a reputation as a very reliable businessman. So high was his credit that Arabs, Afghans and other foreign merchants chose to place their treasures in his custody rather than with banks. He soon acquired a large fortune, much of which he donated to the public.  


Shunkerseth became an active leader in many arenas of Bombay life. Foreseeing the need for improvements in education, he became one of the founders of the School Society and the Native School of Mumbai, the first of its kind in Western India. The school went through a series of name changes: in 1824, it became the Bombay Native Institution, in 1840, the Board of Education, and in 1856 the name which continues to this day, the Elphinstone Educational Institution*   (“you can read the History about Elphinstone Educational Institution at the end of this Article with the Notable Alumni of this College”).    When the Students' Literary and Scientific Society first opened their girls' schools, Jaganath Shunkerseth contributed much of the necessary funds, despite strong opposition of some members of the Hindu community. Other educational projects he began include the English School, the Sanskrit Seminary, and the Sanskrit Library, all of which are located in Girgaum, South Mumbai.   


In 1845, along with Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy*,  Shri. Jagannath Shankar Shet formed the Indian Railway Association.  Eventually, the association was incorporated into the Great Indian Peninsula Railway*  and Jeejeebhoy and Shunkerseth became the only two Indians among the ten directors of the GIP railways. As a director, Shunkerseth participated in the very first train journey in India between Bombay and Thane, which took approximately 45 minutes.


*History of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy:  He is the 1st Baronet, variously spelled Qamsetji and Jeejeebhoy, Jejeebjoy, Qijibhai, lived from 15 July 1783 to14 April 1859 was an Indian merchant and philanthropist.


*History of The Great Indian Peninsula Railway:  This  was the predecessor to what is known as the Central Railway today.Its headquarters is based at Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai.


Jagannath Shanker Shet, Sir George Birdwood*  and  Dr Bhau Daji*  were instrumental in the some of the major reconstruction efforts of the city, beginning 1857.   The three gradually changed a town made up of a close network of streets into a spacious and airy city,  adorned with fine avenues and splendid buildings.


*History of Sir George Christopher Molesworth Birdwood:  He  lived from 1832-1917, an Anglo-Indian official and writer, son of General Christopher Birdwood, was born at Belgaum, in the Bombay  presidency, on the 8th of December 1832.


*History of   Dr Bhau Daji:  He was also known as Ramakrishna Vithal, lived from 1822-74, Hindu physician of Bombay, Sanskrit scholar and antiquary.  

Jagannath Shankar Shet became the first Indian to be nominated to the Legislative Council of Bombay under the XXTY 26 Act of 1861, and became a member of the Bombay Board of Education. He also was the first Indian member of the Asiatic Society of Bombay*   and is known to have endowed a school and donated land in Grant Road for a theatre.


*History of Asiatic Society of Bombay:   The Asiatic Society of Bombay is a public state library in the city of Mumbai, India. It was established in 1803 as "The Royal Asiatic Society, Bombay Branch. The society, founded by Sir James Mackintosh was known as the Literary Society of Bombay, and first met on November 26, 1830. It was later moved to the present Town Hall building which was built in 1804. The library is currently run on an annual grant by the state of Maharashtra.  (Sir James Mackintosh, lived from October 24, 1765 - May 30, 1832, a Scottish jurist, politician and historian, is said to have been one of the most cultured and catholic-minded men of his time .  His studies and sympathies embraced many interests. He was trained as a doctor and barrister, and worked also as a journalist, judge, administrator, professor, philosopher and politician.

Jagannath Shankar Shet’s  influence was used by  Sir John Malcolm*  to induce the Hindus  to acquiesce in the suppression of suttee or widow-burning, and his efforts also paid off after the Hindu community was granted a cremation ground at Sonapur (now Marine Lines).


*History of Sir John Malcolm:  He lived from May 2, 17691833, was a Scottish soldier, statesman, and historian, born at Burnfoot, Dumfriesshire on the 2nd of May, 1769.  In 1782 Sir John Malcolm entered the service of the East India Company; and a part of his success is to be ascribed to the zeal with which he applied himself at first to study the manners and languages of the east. Having distinguished himself at the siege of Seringapatam in 1792, he was appointed by Lord Cornwallis to the situation of Persian interpreter to an English force serving with a native prince. In 1795, on his return from a short visit to his native country, on account of his health, he performed some useful services in General Clarke’s expedition at the Cape of Good Hope, for which he received the thanks of the Madras government, and was appointed secretary to the commander-in-chief. He was employed in many important negotiations and held various distinguished posts, being Ambassador to Persia, Resident of Gwalior (1803-1804) and Governor of Bombay 1827-1830. He was the commander of the English Army which defeated the Holkars who ruled Indore at the Battle of Mahidpur in 1818. After defeating the Holkars he signed the Treaty of Mandsaur with them. It was under this treaty that the English were given the cantonment town of Mhow which is 23 km from Indore. He was the author of several valuable works regarded as authorities, viz., A History of Persia (1815), Memoir of Central India (1823), Political History of India from 1784 to 1823 (1826), and Life of Lord Clive – 1836.


Shri. Jagannath Shankar Shet  is known to have donated generously to Hindu temples. During the First War of Independence of 1857, the British suspected his involvement, but was acquitted due to lack of evidence. He died in Bombay on the 31 July, 1865. A year after his death a marble statue was erected at the Asiatic Society of Bombay. A road and chowk (Nana Chowk) are named after him in South Mumbai.


*History of Elphinstone College, Mumbai:  This is one of the oldest in the University of Mumbai system, being established in 1824 and formally constituted in 1835. It is named after Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay from 1819 to 1827. The college is located in the Kala Ghoda area of downtown Mumbai.  Sydenham College used to use the Elphinstone College premises at one time.


Notable Alumni of this College are:

  • Dr. B. R. Ambedkar - Social reformer & great leader
  • Kishori Amonkar - Artist & Musician
  • Madhav Apte - Cricketer & Industrialist
  • Homi J. Bhabha - Scientist & founder of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
  • R.G.Bhandarkar - Scholar & Social reformer
  • Varsha Bhosle – Writer
  • Khurshedji Rustamji Cama - Social Reformer & Specialist in Iranian Studies
  • Justice Y. V. Chandrachud - Justice & Social Reformer
  • N. G. Chandwadkar
  • Bhulabhai Desai - Renowned Attorney & Social Reformer
  • C. D. Deshmukh - Economist & former Indian Finance Minister
  • P. L. Deshpande - Writer, Actor, Diector & Music Director
  • Sanjay Dutt - Film Actor
  • Gopal Krishna Gokhale - Founder of Indian Freedom Movement and Indian Congress
  • Bhakti Barve-Inamdar - TV Newscaster & Film/Stage Actress
  • Dhondo Keshav Karve - "Maharshi", Educationist & Social Reformer
  • Madhav Mantri – Cricketer
  • Pherozeshah Mehta - Great Leader & Social Reformer
  • Jivanji Jamshedji Modi - Scholar of Zorastrian Studies & Social Reformer
  • Vijay Merchant - Cricketer, Cricket Comentrator & Industrialist
  • Dadabhai Naoroji - Leader in Indian freedom movement
  • Amol Palekar - Actor & Director
  • Dattu Phadkar – Cricketer
  • Mahadev Govind Ranade - Eminent Leader & Social Reformer
  • Deodatta V. Shenai-Khatkhate - Electronic Materials Scientist & Fellow of Maharashtra Academy of Sciences
  • Jamsedji Tata - Industrialist, Great Leader & Social Reformer
  • Kashinath Trimbak Telang - Social Reformer
  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak - 'Lokamanya", Father of Indian unrest & Indian freedom
  • Badruddin Tyabji - Barrister & Social Reformer
  • Professor B. M. Udgaonkar - Eminent Scientist & former President of Maharashtra Academy of Sciences
  • S. Vaidya - Educationist
  • Ajit Wadekar – Cricketer
  • Linda Wragg
  • David Woodman.
    K. Shrinath Shet (Anvekar), Udupi,
                  BE, M.Tech, Dip. Journalism, MISTE.
    Sr Lecturer in Engineering, Muscat,
    Sultanate of Oman.
    Mobile: 00968-92680317.