History and Heritage – Celebrating 56 years of IIT-M



Today marks the 56th year of the foundation of IIT Madras. In this Heritage Series of articles, we attempt to present the earliest stories of the campus and its residents. The first article in the series talks about early infrastructure on the campus and how the institute came into being.


“This institute is the beginning of the fulfillment of a dream”

– Prof. Humayun Kabir, 31st July 1959


The foundation stone. Currently preserved in the Heritage Centre,  a replica of this can be found in front of CLT
The foundation stone. Currently preserved in the Heritage Centre, a replica of this can be found in front of CLT


Even before our country attained its independence in 1947, the government was worried about the post-freedom scenario of engineering education in India. It rightly visualized the need for highly trained and qualified engineers to launch the new country onto the path of industrial development, to usher in much needed rapid economic progress of a society that was mind boggling in its complexity and diversity. With this thought process in mind, a 22 member committee was formed within the education department of India, with Sri Nalini Rajan Sarkar as chairman, and Dr. S.R Sen Gupta as its secretary.

The committee concluded that ‘’in view of the certainty of an appreciable increase in the demand for higher specialists in industry, a rapid expansion in the facilities of higher technical education is a pressing necessity ‘. The main recommendation of the committee was that, ‘not less that 4 technical institutions, in the north, south, east and west would be necessary to satisfy post war requirements’.

As a consequence of the recommendations set forth, the first IIT to be formally inaugurated was the IIT Kharagpur in 1951, closely followed by IIT Bombay  in the year 1958. It was only in the year of 1956, that the seed of IIT-M was first sown in Bonn, Germany, during the then Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Germany. The result, of this visit, followed by much deliberations and negotiations, was the inauguration of IIT – M on 31st July, 1959. It was mutually agreed between the two countries that:

  • A higher technological institute should be set up with the collaboration of the federal republic of Germany.
  • The organization of the institute should follow the example of IIT – Kharagpur.
  • Compulsory workshop training should be imparted to the students.
  • Five engineering departments , Civil , Mechanical , Electrical, Chemical and Metallurgical engineering should be set up, along with the department of humanities and sciences.
  • Design should be given the same importance as in German Technical universities.
  • Closest possible relationship should be established with industry and other research establishments.

The possibility of starting the new institute in the then Guindy Engineering College or other cities in the South was also considered, before it was finally decided to locate the institute at Madras, without anyattachment to any existing university. The Madras State Government, then headed by Chief Minster K Kamaraj came forward to offer a site adjacent to the Raj Bhavan, an area of 632 acres comprising of 300 acres of wooded land, a hundred acres of lakes, and irrigation lands and the rest belonging to Taramani village.

The untiring efforts of a vast number of players in the unfolding drama of the birth of the institute bore fruit on July 31st 1959, with Prof. Humayun Kabir , Union Minister of Scientific and Cultural affairs inaugurating the institute with a foundation stone laying ceremony held in the open space between the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) and the AC College of Technology(A.C. Tech) campuses. 


Dr.A.L. Mudaliar, the first Chairman of the Board of Governors and Prof. B Sengupto, the first Director. (Left to Right)
Dr.A.L. Mudaliar, the first Chairman of the Board of Governors and Prof. B Sengupto, the first Director. (Left to Right)


Without complete infrastructure at the time of start up, the institute administration was housed on the premises of CLRI campus while the classes commenced in  A.C. Tech. The library, possibly a place of utmost importance  and need those days, was setup in the 3rd floor of the A.C.Tech. The library remained in the A.C. college till August 1961 , after which it moved into the campus. Its new location was the Building Sciences Block (BSB), the earliest building on campus. In July 1967 , a new building (present day DoMS) was constructed for the library, which continued to house it for the next 33 years.


BSB - The first building on campus

Initially, there were no hostels on campus, and so, two hostels, one near Guindy and the other near Saidapet were found, which housed the students. Both the hostels were inaugurated on 20th July, 1959, just  two days before classes started. The first hostels to be built on campus, were the Cauvery and Krishna hostels, and Krishna hostel was the first hostel to be occupied, in the year 1960 . Shortly afterwards, Narmada and Tapti were also built in the years 1962- 1963 , followed by Ganga and Jamuna in the year 1965, followed by Alakananda in the same year and Mandakini in the year 1968. In the words of Roopesh Mathur, of one of the earliest batches,

 All IIT alumni have fond memories of our hostel days , those very formative years, spent …. Amongst the green , deer spotted ( with spotted deer ) environs of our alma mater. Long after we have clean forgotten the stuff we learnt in the classes, we who lived there , retain the memories of our salad days, and especially the year as a freshie. Who can forget the first day that he / she entered the hostel ?

In contrast to the institute zone and the staff quarters, which were carved out of the dense jungle forming a part of the government estate, the rest of the campus, especially hostel zone, was originally a barren wasteland lying outside Madras City limits. Over the years, however, the forest expanded into the originally barren land increasing the amount of vegetation and wildlife on campus.


The first hostels - Cauvery and Krishna
The first hostels – Cauvery and Krishna


In the words of Herr Von Heyden, a German official at the inauguration of the campus, “The Madras institute was being founded such that it would not only be technological in character, but it would also combine technological studies, humanities and social science.” Hailed as a “temple of learning , research centre from which discoveries would flow for the people of the world , seat of technical studies and humanities”, it was deemed to be no ordinary academic institution which was being welcomed into the world on the 31st of July, 1959. The history of the institute is proof enough that it certainly didn’t turn out to be one.

In the next few articles in the series, T5E will explore student life of the earlier batches and evolution of the campus over the years.

We are grateful to Kumaran Sathasivam, IIT-M alumnus and author of Campaschimes, for allowing us to use excerpts from the book and access the Heritage Centre for photographs. Campaschimes is a comprehensive and richly illustrated book on IIT-M’s history and in the editor’s opinion, it t is a must-read for anyone even remotely related to IIT-M


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