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Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis\ (born June 29 1893, died June 28, 1972) was an Indian scientist and applied statistician. He is best known for his Mahalanobis distance, a statistical measure. He did pioneering work on anthropometric variation in India. He founded the Indian Statistical Institute, and contributed to large scale sample surveys.

P.C. Mahalanobis

His father, Prabodh Chandra, was an active member of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. His mother, Nirodbasini, belonged to a family of considerable academic achievements. He graduated in Physics in 1912 and completed Tripos at King's college, Cambridge. He then returned to Calcutta.

Inspired by the Biometrika and mentored by Acharya Brojendranath Seal he started his statistical work. Initially he worked on analyzing university exam results, anthropometric measurements on Anglo-Indians of Calcutta and some metrological problems. He also worked as a meteorologist for some time. In 1924, when he was working on the probable error of results of agricultural experiments, he met R.A.Fisher, with whom he established a life-long friendship. He also worked on schemes to prevent floods.

His most important contributions are related to large scale sample surveys. He introduced the concept of pilot surveys and advocated the usefulness of sampling methods. He founded the Indian Statistical Institute on 17 December, 1931.

In later life, he contributed prominently to newly independent India's five-year plans staring from the second. He developed the basic model employed in the second and later plans and with colleagues at his Institute played a key role in developing the required statistical infrastructure.

He also had an abiding interest in cultural pursuits and served as secreatry to Rabindranath Tagore, particulartly during the latter's foreign travels, and also his university Visva-Bharati, for some time.


  1. Weldon Medal from Oxford University (1944)
  2. Fellow of the Royal Society, London (1945)
  3. Honorary President, International Statistical Institute (1957)
  4. Padma Vibhushan (1968)

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