About Padma Shri, Rai Bahadur Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa (1880 – 1972)

Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa (1880-1972), was a renowned eye surgeon and had worked tirelessly in the field of vision, more so, for cataract surgery, free of cost.

Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa is remembered by all those who knew him during his lifetime and all of us who are discovering the wealth of his humanity as the creator of modern Moga and a ray of light to all those whose sight he restored.

A specialist of eye ailments, he conducted over half a million surgeries in his life time, continuing to operate till the age of 92 years.
He helped innumerable people to gain their eye sight through numerous charitable eye camps he held in various cities in India, mainly in Moga, Punjab; Beawar, Rajasthan; Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, Darbhanga, Bihar, Delhi and many other places.

He created a record by conducting 750 operations in a single day. He established the Civil Hospital in Moga (1927), which is now known as the Mathra Das Civil Hospital.

Apart from the Hospital, he also laid the foundation of many education institutions which are running in his name today; viz Arya Putri Pathsahala, MDAS – High School 1919 (Sr. Sec. School), DM College of Education (1926), Moga & many other similar reputed institutions.

9th October 1880 Born at Hafizabad
1901 Joined Service
1st January 1903 Joined in Moga
1903 Started Eye Work for the first time
1st January 1912 Kesari Hind Silver Medal.
1915 Appointed as Asst. Surgeon
1919 Moga High School
1st January 1919 Rai Sahib
1st January 1921 Rai Bahadur
1st January 1924 Kesari Hind Gold Medal
1924-1940 President, Municipal Committee, Moga
1925-1935 Viceroy’s Honorary Asst. Surgeon
1926 Moga intermediate College
1927 Moga Hospital Named M.D. Hospital
1930-1936 Member,District Board, Ferozpore
1931 Officiating Civil Surgeon, Ferozpore
1st January 1932 Awarded Kesari Hind again
1933 Officiating Civil Surgeon
1935 Retired as Civil Surgeon
1936-1937 Member,District Board, Lahore
1936-1937 Member,Punjab Medical Council
1939 President, N.W.R. Doctors Assocaition.
1940 Moga Degree College ( D.M. College, Moga)
1940-1946 Member, Swami Dayanad Trust, Ajmeer
1942 Member, Punjab State Medical Faculty
1946 Maharaja Rajendra Bahadur awarded him by Khilat Fakhra
1946-47 Vice-President, Punjab Medical Council.
1954 Padma Shri
1972 Dr. Pahwa leaves for his heavenly abode.

His life in his Own words

“When I was student of Medical School, Lahore, and Col. Perry who was incharge of Eye Department went on leave and Dr. Hari Ram was appointed in his place. Dr. Hari Ram was training one Dr Jagan Nath in Eye Disease during his appointment.

This inspired me to specialize in Eye Disease after completing the course.

In 1901 after getting diploma of L.M.P. I joined Govt. service and was appointed as Sub-Assistant Surgeon at Jandiala District, Sialkot on Plague Duty.
After that once while walking in Anarkali, Lahore, I entered chemist shop of M/s. Jai Singh & Sons and saw some old Eye instrument which some Civil Surgeon sent to the chemist for sale. I purchased those instruments for Rs. 8/-only.

Till the end of December 1902, I was posted at different places.

On 1st of January 1903 I took charge of Civil Dispensary, Moga which was situated on main road from Ferozpur to Ludhiana and it was at a distance of two miles from Moga village. As the dispensary was at long distance and there was Jungle all in between very few patients were coming.

On seeing the patients record of previous years it was noticed that the attendance of patients during the previous years was higher than when I became the Incharge of the dispensary. When Civil Surgeon came for inspection of the dispensary and enquired about the cause of fall in number of patients, I replied that the health of people of the area have improved and this is the cause of fall of attendance.

The actual cause of difference was that the previous Incharge was entering fictious names of the patients in the register to show higher attendance which I did not like at all.

I started thinking of ways and means of improving the number of patients. After some time of this incidence Deputy Commissioner of Ferozpur came to Moga on tour and I sought his permission to keep one table, almirah and some medicines at Moga village itself where I would like to see the village patients there daily in the evening in addition to my morning duty at dispensary.

The permission was granted and I started to go to Moga village on bicycle in the evening to see the patients there. This method worked and the number of attendance started improving and also the fame of my dispensary.

Once a poor women came to me and requested me to see her ailing son at her residence, I agreed and went to see her son and prescribe the medicine. She paid me official fee of Rs.2/- by mortgaging her Thali (plate). When I came to know this fact later on, I felt it very much and decided not to charge any fee official or un-official at all from the residents of Moga.

I started going to see the patients on bicycle in the surrounding villages and telling the people that whosoever are suffering from eye disease may come to me at Moga and I will treat them free.

In 1903, I did three cataract operations and in 1904 the number rose to 43. I was giving free food and also paying conveyance charges to poor patients to go back to their villages. Whatever I was charging from rich people I was distributing among the poor. In this way my work started improving immensely and also my fame.

In 1905, Civil Surgeon of Ferozpur came to Moga and saw me performing eye operation. He was pleased to see and suggested that I should go to Jullandhar for sometime with Col. Smith who was Civil Surgeon of Jullandhar and also doing Eye operation.

After some time I went to Jullandhar in connection with some other engagement and met Col. Smith and was saw his technique of performing Cataract operation.

His technique in medical community was not popular. Medical Conference was to be held in 1909 in Bombay and Col. Smith was to deliver lecture on his technique of Cataract extraction.

As his technique was not considered best, he was anxious that someone else should also speak in support of his technique in Medical Conference at Bombay, so he invited me to Jullandhar to work with him for sometime and speak in support of his technique of operation in Medical Conference at Bombay. I obliged him by doing this.

In 1920, when Col. Smith was leaving India for England after retirement from service he told me that “his one son is studying in Medical College in England and he would like to bring him to me at Moga for training after he complete his course”.

In 1921, I invented my own technique of removing the Cataract, but I did not publish in any Medical Journal.

In 1925, Col. Smith brought his son to me at Moga for his training in Eye Operation and they stayed at Moga as my guests. I told Col. Smith about rule I had made for the Doctors who were coming to me for training. According to that rule after training for sometime, I was allowing them to do one Eye Operation daily to the Doctors of Indian origin and three Eye Operations to the Foreign Doctors. But I told Col. Smith that I had a great respect for him, therefore, I would allow his son, five Eye Operations daily.

After a few Days Col. Smith talked to me and suggested that out of daily total number of Eye operation half of the lot may be given to his son for operation and other half may be divided among other Doctors to which I did not agree and he went back to England.

In 1925, Col. Smith also saw my technique of Cataract Operation, which I invented in 1921 (but I did not got published in any journal), when he came to Moga with his son. After going back to England, he got published in Medical Journal of England and America. My technique of operation in his own name claiming that he had invented this technique of Cataract Operation.

When the American Doctor Bull Who had been to me at Moga for training in 1922 saw this Journal, he was surprised to see and immediately wrote to the Editor of Medical Journal that he had already seen this technique of cataract operation in 1922 at Moga and this is the technique of Doctor Mathra Dass of Moga (India). He also informed me about all this.

In those days it was practice that the Doctors who were coming to me for training of operation were having group photograph with me before going back to their countries after completing their training.

In this way the group photograph of the Doctors who came in 1925 were taken before Col. Smith went back, Col. Smith and his son both were in that group photograph with me. To drive home my point I sent a copy of that 1925 group photograph to Doctor Bull in America and wrote him that the technique published in the Medical Journal in the name of Col. Smith was mine and he had learnt it from me.



The year in which construction of new Hospital started 1908
Year in which Hospital was completed 1909
Year in which new method of Hard Cataract Extraction invented 1921
Year in which Doctor Bull visited 1922
Year and date in which I was transferred to Sheikhupura 8.6.1395
Date of Retirement 14.9.1035

How I came in contact with his Highness of Kashmir

In 1916 His Highness issued invitation by telegram. Have been visiting the state regularly from 1916 to 1925

Did not visit Srinagar from 1918 to 1920 but only to Jammu.

His Highness requested me in 1917 and then in 1925 again to accept the appointment as Eye Surgeon to the state.

Rewards & Recognition

S. No Awards Year
1 Padma Shri 1954
2 Kesari Hind (Gold) 1924
3 Rai Bahadur 1921
4 Rai Sahib 1919
5 Kesari Hind 1912
6 Swarn Mahtsav (Medal From Maharaja Bikaner)

Quotes on Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa

V. V. Giri ( Message from President V.V. Giri on the death of Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa)

“I am deeply sorry to learn of the passing away of one of our most eminent eye surgeons, Dr. Mathura Dass Pahwa. By his expertise in the science of healing and his deftness in performing operations on mass scale, he has acquired a legendary renown which will continue to inspire many others engaged in this humanitarian cause. His complete dedication is visible from the fact that even at the ripe age of 91 he was performing operations for the benefit of the poor ………………….”

Mr. Khushant Singh ( Extracted from article “Survival Kit” Decan Harald, Date : 28-04-2002)

Dr Mathra Das Pahwa was the most sought after physician of Lahore in the years before Partition. More than his skills as a doctor it was his perpetual cheerfulness which taught his patients to look at the sunnier side of life. Among his closest friends was Rai Bahadur Ishwas Das, Registrar of Punjab University (grandfather of Justice B.N Kripal of the Supreme Court), who usually took a very melancholic view of the world. I often ran into Dr Mathra Das in Iswar Das’ home. After assuring Ishwar Das that there was nothing wrong with him, he would recite his favourite couplet in Urdu:
Meyrey Yaar, patang uraya kar
Kat jaee to gham na Khaaya kar

(My Friend, always fly your kite high in the sky
If, by chance, its string is cut and falls apart

Do not let it get you down, do not take it to heart.) ……………..”

Mahatma Gandhi ( From Harijansevak, Date : 17-2-42)

“Though I had heard a lot about the reputation of Dr. Mathuradas of Moga. I had never had occasion to witness any of his famous operations for cataract, until I saw them in Wardha last month. He came specially at the invitation of Jamnalalji, and with his assistants restored eyes to about three hundred people who had been blinded by cataract.

These mass operations have been described as a yajna (sacrifice). And yajna it certainly is, as any act of selfless service is a sacrifice. This yajna began some years ago in the Bhagavad Bhakti Ashram at Rewari, which Jamnalalji was closely connected. He therefore invited the doctor this time to Wardha. I bowed to Dr. Mathuradas in admiration for his unerring and quick surgical hand. He performed operations at the rate of one in a minute. There was scarcely a mishap. Thousands thus get back their eyes free, as he charges no fee to the poor………………………”

R.S. Dutt (Indian Express Saturday Spectrum article “The legend that was Dr. Mathra Das” Date: 11-04-87)

“………….Moga, which is now a sub-division in Faridkot district of Punjab was perhaps not even a sub tehsil in those days. But its fame spread the world over because of Dr. Mathra Das patients from all over the Indian sub-continent came to moga for treatment of eye ailments. Qualified eye-surgeons not only from other parts of the country, but from European countries, the USA. etc. came to him for training……………”

V.S. Nanda ( Span, September – 1968 “Two dedicated healers of the blind”)

Some Fifty years ago a doctor in the little known Punjab town of Moga began to attract public attention as one of the country’s great ophthalmic surgeons who was restoring the precious gift of eyesight to thoushands of people. He was Dr. Mathura Das, then a member of the Provincial medical service and attached to the civil hospital in Moga.

As the surgeon’s reputation spread, patients flocked to Moga for eye operations and improvised sheds were added to the small hospital , year after year , to accommodate their increasing numbers. Many Indian Doctors and Foreign Specialists also came to watch Dr. Mathra Das at work and learn something of his methods and technique………………….”

His Work

Padma Shri, Rai Bahadur (Late) Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa (1880-1972) was known as the messiah of modern Moga. He started his career as a hospital assistant at Moga at the age of 21. He conducted over half a million surgeries in his life time, continuing to operate till the age of 92 years. He created a record by conducting 750 operations in a single day. He helped innumerable people gain their eye sight through numerous charitable eye camps he held in various cities of India. The early twenties marked the peak of this eye wizard’s whirl-wind campaign against cataract, which made him the world’s greatest eye operator and won for him epithets such as Netra-Dev (God of the eyes). He has been honoured with many awards viz. the Padam Shri (1954), title of Rai Bahadur (1921), Kesari Hind- Gold Medal (1924), Kesari Hind- Silver Medal (1912) etc. for his services to the society.

He also started many education institutions in Moga viz Arya Putri Pathsala, MDAS – High School 1919 (Sr. Sec. School), DM College of Education (1926), Moga which still function in his name.

Statement showing the number of selected operations performed by R. B. Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa during the last 63 years