Sir Nilratan Sircar’s greatness lay not merely in the fact that for more than forty years he occupied a unique place among the foremost Indian physicians, but there was hardly any activity in Bengal calculated to advance the cultural, educational, economic and industrial regeneration of the people in which he was not involved. A patriot and nationalist to the core of his heart. He lived to inspire generations of fellow workers with his lofty idealism. He was born on 1st October 1861 at Natra, near Diamond Harbour, though the family hails from Jessore. His father’s name was Nanda Lal Sircar. In 1864 their ancestral house was destroyed by a cyclone when the family migrated to Jaynagar, the home of his maternal grand father. He was very much attached to his mother who died after a painful illness and almost without any medical aid. This made a deep impression on his young mind. He resolved to study medicine and devote his life in the alleviation of human suffering. In 1876 he passed Entrance Examination from Jaynagar High School. His father decided to move to Calcutta in search of higher education for his sons, even though the family was in dire financial distress.
In Calcutta Nilratan got admission into the Campbell Medical School and carried on with his studies with great difficulty. He worked as a school teacher in and outside Calcutta for several years before and after qualifying for the vernacular diploma in 1879 .During these years his brilliant results attracted the attention of the principal of the Campbell Medical School, who took a personal interest in shaping his career by helping him in every way to make it possible for him to continue with his studies. He passed LMP from Campbell Medical School in 1881.
He graduated from the Metropolitan Institution and joined the Medical College in 1885, where he was admitted into the third year class in consideration of his brilliant work at Campbell Medical School. His work at medical College was equally brilliant and some of the professors and many eminent men of that time followed his career with great interest and later became his intimate friends. After obtaining his medical degree he took up service and when he was the House Surgeon at Mayo Hospital, took his MA and MD degrees in the same year (1889).
From 1890 onwards started the most important period of his life. About this time he left service and started to practise independently. His success in the medical profession from the beginning was phenomenal. His professional skill, his practical outlook and power of coping with emergencies, the care and attention he devoted to his patients and above all, the confidence which he inspired in them obtained for him immediate and wide recognition.
He belonged to that galaxy of great men who were born in about the same time as he was. Inspired by the ideals of Raja Rammohan Roy they all worked ceaselessly to place India firmly on the road to progress. Among his friends and intimates were great many persons such as, Rabindra nath Tagore. Jagadish Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, C. R. Das, Srinivasa Sastri, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, Ramananda Chatterjee, P. C. Roy, Sorojini Naidu, Subhas Chandra Bose and many others. He was an ardent nationalist and joined wholeheartedly the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal in 1905. He was an idealist and also an infatigable worker and believed he could on his own serve his country by working incessantly and giving generously for the benefit of his people and the country. When Dr. Sircar began practice, the position of the Indian doctors was considered inferior to that of their English counterparts. This state of affair hurt his national pride and he started an organised movement against it till this country.
When Dr. Sircar began practice, the position of the Indian doctors was considered inferior to that of their English counterparts. This state of affair hurt his national pride and he started an organised movement against it till this discrepency was removed. Also at this time medical colleges and schools were run entirely by the Government. To rectify this he worked for the gradual development of independent medical schools such as, Calcutta Medical School and College of Physicians & Surgeons, which were finally amalgamated into Carmichael Medical College. The great regard which Lord Carmichael had for Dr. Sircar was largely instrumental in obtaining the affiliation of the College to Calcutta University. He was President of the Indian Medical Association for years, the Calcutta Medical Club which he started, Chittaranjan Seva Sadan, Chittaranjan Hospital, Jadavpur Tuberculosis Hospital. He was also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Indian Medical Association. As educationist he believed in a balanced growth of humanities, arts and sciences. He was instrumental in creation of College of Engineering & Technology at Jadavpur which has now been given the status of a deemed University.He was knighted by the British in 1918.
Dr. Sircar was elected as a Fellow of Calcutta University in 1893. He was its Vice Chancellor from 1919 to 1921. He was Dean of the Faculties of Medicine and Science for many years. Later he unanimously was elected President of the Post Graduate Councils of Arts (1924-29) and of Science (1924-42). He was elected delegate to represent the Calcutta University at the English Universities Conference at London in 1920 on which occasion he received the honorary degrees of DCL (Doctorate of Civil Law) of Oxford University and LLD (Doctorate Legislative Law) of Edinburgh University. He was a Trustee and Prodhan of Visva Bharati, a Trustee and member of the Governing Body of Bose Institute, President of Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science from 1939-41 and also a trustee of Indian Museum. He was the pioneer in organising the reunion for the Ex-students’ of Campbell Medical School in 1933. He was elected as the first President of the Reunion Committee in the same year and since then the reunion is being celebrated every year with great enthusiasm.
Dr. Sircar was an idealist who believed that industrial regeneration of India was necessary in order to make her great and her people prosperous. To achieve this, he invested a large amount of money and started tea industry, then soap manufacturing industry and tanning of leather industry. His pioneering work was in connection with the successful manufacture of soap and tanning leather. The National Soap Factory won Viceroy’s gold medal for the good quality of its soap. His tannery industry yielded a great deal of profit initially. But after the First World War the trade suffered a great setback.
Towards the end of his life he had to face failing health and financial worries. The death of wife in August 1939 was a severe blow to him and in January 1940 he had a stroke. The end came at Giridhi on 18th May 1943. He was born poor and died poor. The princely income that he earned in between, was all spent in the service of his countrymen.