Jayant Narlikar is an Indian astrophysicist, cosmologist and an emeritus professor at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, Maharashtra, India. He is known for his contribution towards the theory of gravitation, black holes, and the steady-state cosmology model. Jayant assisted Sir Fred Hoyle and together developed with him the conformal gravity theory, known as the Hoyle–Narlikar theory. It is based on the amalgamation of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and Mach’s principle.
Jayant Vishnu Narlikar was born on Tuesday, 19 July 1938 (age 85 years; as of 2023) in Kolhapur State, Bombay Presidency, British India (now Maharashtra, India). His zodiac sign is Cancer. Jayant completed his school education at Central Hindu Boys School. He pursued a BSc degree from Banaras Hindu University in 1957. In 1959, he went on to study at Cambridge University in Fitzwilliam College, from where he received a BA (Tripos) degree in mathematics and was the Senior Wrangler, a position given to those considered great intellectuals in Britain at Cambridge University. Jayant also won the Smith’s Prize in 1962 during his doctoral studies at Cambridge under the guidance of Fred Hoyle. Following which he worked under a fellowship at King’s College and pursued a master’s degree in astronomy and astrophysics in 1964.
Height (approx.): 5′ 7″
Weight (approx.): 65 kg
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Jayant was born to father, Vishnu Vasudev Narlikar, who was a mathematician and theoretical physicist who served as Professor and Head of the Department of Mathematics at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, after which he served as Chairman for the Rajasthan Public Service Commission and his mother, Sumati Narlikar, who was a Sanskrit scholar herself with an avid interest in English literature
Wife & Children
Jayant got married to Mangala Narlikar, who is also a mathematics researcher, a PhD holder and a professor. She died of cancer on 17 July 2023 in Pune, Maharashtra.
They have three daughters, Geeta, Girija and Leelavati. Geeta works in the field of science as a biomedical researcher at the University of California, San Francisco while Girija works as a Director of Engineering at Google and Leelavati is a Faculty member at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, Maharashtra. Jayant and Mangala are grandparents to five children.
Amrita Narlikar, the social sciences academic at Cambridge University is Jayant’s niece.
Academics and Research
After completing his doctoral, Jayant worked under the Berry Ramsey fellowship at Cambridge University and continued to work there until 1972. He also served as the founding staff member for Fred Hoyle’s Institute of Theoretical Astronomy in Cambridge from 1966 to 1972. In 1972, Jayant became a professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, India, where he led the Theoretical Astrophysics Group. Jayant was also a founding member of the World Cultural Council in 1981. Additionally, he also played an important role in establishing the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune in 1988, where he served as its Founder-Director. He is well known for his work in cosmology, especially for providing alternative models to the widely accepted theory of the Big Bang and was also the President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union from 1994 to 1997. His research involves various areas like Mach’s principle, quantum cosmology, and action-at-a-distance physics. Additionally, Jayant was also involved in a study that cultured microorganisms from the stratosphere. His biological studies of the collected samples led to the findings of live cells and bacteria. This introduced the possibility that the Earth is being bombarded by microorganisms and some of them might have seeded life on Earth. He also was appointed as the chairperson of The Advisory Group for Textbooks in Science and Mathematics. The textbook development committee was responsible for developing textbooks in Science and Mathematics all published under NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training).
Steady State Theory or Big Bang Theory’s alternative
The Big Bang Theory proposed by LeMaitre is the most commonly known and accepted theory on the origin of the universe. However, Jayant along with other astrophysicists like Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold and Herman Bondi countered the Big Bang Theory, proposing their own conclusions on the origin of the Universe in the Steady State Theory and the revised Quasi Steady State Theory in 1993.
Apart from his involvement and academics in the field of science, Jayant has also written stories and novels about science fiction. He wrote these stories in English, Hindi, and Marathi. Additionally, he plays a role as a consultant for creating science and math textbooks for the NCERT in India. A few of his books are mentioned below.
- Facts and Speculations in Cosmology, with G. Burbridge, Cambridge University Press 2008
- Current Issues in Cosmology, 2006
- A Different Approach to Cosmology: From a Static Universe through the Big Bang Towards Reality, 2005
- Fred Hoyle’s Universe, 2003
- Scientific Edge: The Indian Scientist from Vedic to Modern Times, 2003
- An Introduction to Cosmology, 2002
- A Different Approach to Cosmology, with G. Burbridge and Fred Hoyle, Cambridge University Press 2000
- Quasars and Active Galactic Nuclei: An Introduction, 1999
- From Black Clouds to Black Holes, 1996
- From Black Clouds to Black Holes (Third Edition), 2012
- Seven Wonders of the Cosmos, 1995
- Philosophy of Science: Perspectives from Natural and Social Sciences, 1992
- The extragalactic universe: An alternative view, with Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, published on 30 August 1990
- Highlights in Gravitation and Cosmology, 1989
- The Primeval Universe, 1988
- Violent Phenomena in the Universe, 1982
- The Lighter Side of Gravity, 1982
- Physics-Astronomy Frontier (co-author Sir Fred Hoyle), 1981
- The Structure of the Universe, 1977
- Creation of Matter and Anomalous Redshifts, 2002
- Absorber Theory of Radiation in Expanding Universes, 2002
- Akashashi Jadale Nate
- Nabhat Hasare Tare
- The Return of Vaman, 1990
- The Adventure
- The Comet
- Waman Parat Naa Aala
- Yakshanchi Denagi
- Antaralatil Bhasmasur
- Time Machinechi Kimaya
- Ujvya Sondecha Ganapati
- Par Nazar ke
- Vigyan, Manav Aur Brahmand.
- Hindi Ki Zimmedariyan
- Biita Hua Bhavishy
- Romanchak Vigyan Kathayen
- Bharat Ki Vigyan Yatra
Tolerance Debate Stand and Returning of Awards
In 2015, Jayant Narlikar showed his disagreement with writers who returned their Sahitya Akademi awards after the murder of MM Kalburgi. He believed that it was the government’s responsibility to maintain law and order, and people’s anger should be directed towards those in charge of it. He stated,
Incidents like this are indicative of the law and order situation for which the government and not Sahitya Akademi is ultimately responsible. So, the main burden of the public wrath should be directed at those responsible for maintaining law and order and not at the Sahitya Akademi,”
In a letter to Pranab Mukherjee, Narlikar emphasized that these awards are prestigious and should not be dragged into disputes. He also noted that the writers took a while to react to Kalburgi’s murder, which led to some of them giving their awards back to express their frustration with the institution’s lack of concern. He wrote,
Certainly, the Sahitya Akademi should express its shock in strong words for the above event. Its fellows and awardees should put pressure on the Akademi to come out with a strong condemnation of what is seen as suppression of free thinking. However, to sacrifice the Akademi awards in the above way does not seem to be appropriate. The awards carry a rare dignity reflecting their national character and so should remain above the fracas,” NDTV
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Padma Bhushan in 1965
- Rashtra Bhushan’ in 1981
- Padma Vibhushan in 2004
- Maharashtra Bhushan Award for the year 2010
- Bhatnagar Award
- M.P. Birla Award
- Prix Jules Janssen of the Société astronomique de France (French Astronomical Society)
- He holds membership in the Royal Astronomical Society of London.
- Jayant is a fellow of Indian National Science and Academics
- He is also a member of the Third World Academy of Sciences.
- Kalinga Prize by UNESCO for his contribution through his writings in 1966.
- Atmaram Award by Central Hindi Directorate in 1989
- Indira Gandhi Award of the Indian National Science Academy in 1990
- He also served on the Physical Sciences jury for the Infosys Prize in 2009
- Sahitya Akademi Award for his autobiography in Marathi titled Chaar Nagarantale Maze Vishwa in 2014
- He presided over the 94th Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan held at Nashik in January 2021
- During an interview, Jayant mentioned that he had to travel 18 days by boat to reach Cambridge for his higher education as air travel back then was quite expensive. Mint
- Jayant completed his four-year research course in Cambridge in three years.
- In 2019, to honour Jayant on his 80th birthday, as a part of Sahitya Akademi’s documentary project on writers of national repute, it announced a film to be made on Jayant called the Vaidyanyanik Saraswat, directed by Anil Zankar. Hindustan Times
- During an interview, Jayant recalled his time with Stephen Hawkin and playing tennis along with him in Cambridge. He said,
I remember playing a table tennis tournament and defeating Hawking in the finals. It was only around 1963-64 that Hawking began showing signs of his illness and he started needing a stick and a wheelchair.”
- Jayant did not enjoy attending events where people gathered in thousands. He preferred an audience of 100-200 at most. Mint
- During the 2015 Indian Science Congress Ancient Aircraft Controversy, Jayant reacted to the controversy by stating that it was good to be proud of ancient Indian science but scientists should not make claims about things they did not have proof of. In his words,
We can boast of things but it should be restricted to what we have proof of.”