Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa

Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa 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

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

Though I had heard a lot about the reputation of Dr. Mathura Das 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…”

Humble Beginnings

(Male patients being removed after operations)
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When Dr. Mathra Das was a student of Medical School, Lahore; he saw Dr. Hari Ram the head of the Eye Department training a junior in eye disease and this inspired him to specialize in Eye Disease. Upon completion of the course and getting his diploma in 1901 he was appointed the Sub-assistant Surgeon at Jandiala district, Sialkot on plague duty.
On 1st of January 1903 he took charge of Civil Dispensary, Moga but since it was situated on the main road from Ferozpur to Ludhiana and was at a distance from Moga village and there was a jungle in between; very few patients would come. Looking to improve the numbers, he sought permission from the Deputy Commissioner of Ferozpur to keep one table, almirah and some medicines at Moga village itself where he would like to see the village patients daily in the evening in addition to his morning duty at the dispensary. Once permission was granted he started going to Moga village on his bicycle in the evenings to see the patients there. This method worked and the number of patients started increasing. In 1903, he did three cataract operations and in 1904 the number rose to 43. He was giving free food and also paying conveyance charges to poor patients to go back to their villages.

Invented Eye Technique for Cataract Removal

(Eye Camp in Dalmia Nagar Bihar )

In 1905, Dr Mathra Das met Col. Smith who was also performing Cataract operations in Jullandhar. Col. Smith was to deliver lecture on his technique of Cataract extraction at a Medical Conference in 1909 held in Bombay. His technique was not popular within the medical community and he was anxious that someone else should also speak in support of his technique also. So he invited Dr. Mathra Das to Jullandhar to work with him for sometime and speak in support of his technique of operation at the Medical Conference in Bombay, and Dr. Mathra Das obliged. In 1920, Col. Smith retired and left for England with a promise that he would send his son, who was studying in Medical College in England to train under Dr Mathra Das in Moga, after he completed his course.
The 1920’s was a peak period of Dr. Mathra Das’s campaign against cataract. He would hold camps and perform hundreds of surgeries daily. He invented his own technique of removing the Cataract in 1921, which he didn’t seek to get published in any Medical Journal. His fame grew and it was common for doctors both of Indian and foreign origin; to come to Moga to train under him. He had made a rule for these doctors, that after training for sometime, the Indian doctors were allowed to do one eye operation daily and foreign doctors were allowed three eye operations daily. It was also a practice that these doctors would take a group photograph with Dr. Mathra Das before going back to their countries after completing their training.

In 1925, Col. Smith returned to Moga with his son for training and they stayed as personal guests of Dr. Mathra Das. Out of respect for Col. Smith and their past relationship, Dr Mathra Das allowed his son to perform five eye operations daily when he completed his training. However, Col. Smith suggested that out of the daily total number of eye operations half of the lot should be given to his son and other half may be divided among other doctors. When Dr, Mathra Das didn’t agree to this the Smiths went back to England. Upon their return they got published in the Medical Journal of England and of America the new technique of operation for removal of cataract, claiming that Col. Smith had invented this technique.

But the medical community was a close knit community even back then; and when the American Dr Bull who had been to Moga for training in 1922, saw this Journal, he immediately wrote to the Editor of the Medical Journal that he had already seen this technique of cataract operation in 1922 at Moga and this was the technique of Dr Mathra Das of Moga (India). He also informed Dr. Mathra Das about this and group photographs of the doctors who came for training in 1925 served as proof of timeline since they had both Col. Smith and his son with Dr. Mathra Das. And Dr Bull had visited in 1922, years before that and learnt the same technique from Dr Mathra Das then. In this way the Smiths claim was proved unworthy and Dr. Mathra Das was recognised the world over as the creator of this path breaking new eye surgery technique for the removal of cataract and was published in Medical Journals in England and America, something that he hadn’t originally aspired towards.  

On 1st of January 1903 he took charge of Civil Dispensary, Moga but since it was situated on the main road from Ferozpur to Ludhiana and was at a distance from Moga village and there was a jungle in between; very few patients would come. Looking to improve the numbers, he sought permission from the Deputy Commissioner of Ferozpur to keep one table, almirah and some medicines at Moga village itself where he would like to see the village patients daily in the evening in addition to his morning duty at the dispensary. Once permission was granted he started going to Moga village on his bicycle in the evenings to see the patients there. This method worked and the number of patients started increasing. In 1903, he did three cataract operations and in 1904 the number rose to 43. He was giving free food and also paying conveyance charges to poor patients to go back to their villages.

Birth of a Philanthropist

( Dr. Mathradas with male volunteers)
“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.”
“In 1903, I did three cataract operations and in 1904 the number rose to 43. I started going to see the patients on my bicycle in the surrounding village also and telling the people that whosoever are suffering from eye disease may come to me at Moga and I will treat them free. I was giving free food and also paying conveyance charges to poor patients to go back to their villages.”

From this humble start, Dr. Mathra Das went on to conduct over half a million surgeries in his lifetime and continued to operate till the age of 92. He had a mission against cataract and he helped innumerable people gain eyesight through numerous charitable camps held in various cities of India, mainly Srinagar, Moga, Delhi and Darbhanga.

He touched many lives; there is hardly any family particularly in Punjab and north India, whom he had not touched the life of the senior generation. He operated on the Rajmata of Bikaner and was awarded the Swarn Mahatsav by the Maharaja of Bikaner. He operated on the Rajmata of Kashmir and upon being offered a reward, he replied “koi apni mata se bhi paise leta hai kya” and refused any compensation. He was held in great regard by the Maharaja of Kashmir and went on to hold free eye camps there.

He was a great promoter of education, and sponsored the expenses for many children’s higher education. He established numerous educational institutes and a hospital in Moga, which are still functioning successfully till this day. He was a principled man, lived by the teachings of the Geeta and believed in work (karma) and never accepted anything offered in return for his help.

Birth of an Educationist

( Members of Sanitation Committee)
Dr. Mathra Das recognised the need for medial care and started the Dayanand Mathradas Hospital in Moga in 1927. The hospital was named The Civil Hospital, Moga by the government later. The hospital had humble beginnings as it was started by Dr. Mathra Das in his own property where he resided. Until recently the structure of Dr.Mathra Das’s old house was still standing in the hospital complex and has been turned into a new ward a few years ago. In 2004 the hospital was renamed Mathra Das Civil Hospital and a statue of Dr. Mathra Das was put at its entrance in honour of his memory as the founder.
He was a firm believer that education was imperative for children and promoted education for the girl child fiercely. He started the Arya Putri Pathshala, the first all girls school of its kind in 1919 in Moga. Following this he established many educational institutes such as Mathra Das Anglo Sanskrit (MDAS) Sr. Secondary School in 1919; Dayanand Mathra Das College (DM College) in 1940 for higher education; DM College of Education in 1953 for teachers training (B.Ed); Dayanand Nanakchand School (DN Model School) in his father’s name in 1964.

All these educational institutes are currently still functioning successfully in Moga due to the efforts, hard work and foresight of this great man.

Messiah of Modern Moga

(Feeling happy – Sight restored)
Dr. Mathra Das started his career in Moga at the young age of 21. Over the years he embraced Moga as his hometown and was instrumental in its development from a village into a bustling town. He was the President of the Municipal Committee of Moga and held the post from 1924 till 1940. He led the planning team that decided on the layout of roads/ plots/ shops etc of the “New Town” area of Moga. He also planned the sewer system of the city. He established many educational institutes and a hospital in Moga which are successfully functioning till this day. For all his contribution towards the development of Moga, he is known as the Messiah of Modern Moga.

It was Dr. Mathra Das’s Moga and it can not be separated from each other. Whatever he has done for Moga one can not forget easily. He was a good planner. Whatever Moga is today it is because of Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa.
Master Jodh Singh – Retired Govt. Teacher, Moga


“Dr. Mathra Das Pahwa was the maker of Moga and did a lot for the town. Moga is cooperation now once it was a village, then Tahsil and the district.”
Sathi Vijay Kumar – Ex MLA, Moga

Awards and Recognition

The early twenties marked the peak of Dr. Mathra Das’s whirl wind campaign against cataract. He conducted over half a million surgeries in his lifetime, creating a record of 750 operations in a single day; which made him the world’s greatest eye operator and won him epithets such as Netra Dev (God of Eyes). He has been honoured with many awards for his service to society, such as:

1954 — Padma Shri
1946 — Khilat Fakhra awarded by Maharaja Narendra Bahadur
1932 — Kesari Hind
1924 — Kesari Hind (Gold Medal)
1921 — Rai Bahadur
1919 — Rai Sahib
1912 — Kesari Hind (Silver Medal)
Swarn Mahatsav awarded by the Maharaja of Bikaner

Milestone

OCTOBER 9, 1880
BORN AT HAFIZABAD

1901
JOINED SERVICE

1903
JOINED IN MOGA

1903
STARTED EYE WORK FOR THE FIRST TIME

1912
KESARI HIND SILVER MEDAL.

1915
APPOINTED AS ASST. SURGEON

1919
MATHRA DAS ANGLO SANSKRIT SCHOOL STARTED

1919
ARYA PUTRI PATHSHALA STARTED

1919
RAI SAHIB

1921
RAI BAHADUR

1924
KESARI HIND GOLD MEDAL

1924 - 1940
PRESIDENT, MUNICIPAL COMMITTEE, MOGA,

1925 - 1935
VICEROY’S HONORARY ASST. SURGEON

1927
MOGA HOSPITAL NAMED M.D. HOSPITAL

1930 - 1936
MEMBER, DISTRICT BOARD, FEROZPORE

1931
OFFICIATING CIVIL SURGEON, FEROZPORE

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 ASSOCIATION.

1940
D.M. COLLEGE, MOGA STARTED

1940 - 1946
MEMBER, SWAMI DAYANAD TRUST, AJMEER

1942
MEMBER, PUNJAB STATE MEDICAL FACULTY

1946
MAHARAJA RAJENDRA BAHADUR AWARDED HIM BY KHILAT FAKHRA

1946 - 1947
VICE-PRESIDENT, PUNJAB MEDICAL COUNCIL.

1953
D M COLLEGE OF EDUCATION STARTED

1954
PADMA SHRI

1964
DN MODEL SR SECONDARY SCHOOL STARTED

1972
DR. PAHWA LEAVES FOR HIS HEAVENLY ABODE.

OCTOBER 9, 1880
BORN AT HAFIZABAD

1901
JOINED SERVICE

1903
JOINED IN MOGA

1903
STARTED EYE WORK FOR THE FIRST TIME

1912
KESARI HIND SILVER MEDAL.

1915
APPOINTED AS ASST. SURGEON

1919
MATHRA DAS ANGLO SANSKRIT SCHOOL STARTED

1919
ARYA PUTRI PATHSHALA STARTED

1919
RAI SAHIB


1921
RAI BAHADUR

1924
KESARI HIND GOLD MEDAL

1924 - 1940
PRESIDENT, MUNICIPAL COMMITTEE, MOGA,

1925 - 1935
VICEROY’S HONORARY ASST. SURGEON

1927
MOGA HOSPITAL NAMED M.D. HOSPITAL

1930 - 1936
MEMBER, DISTRICT BOARD, FEROZPORE

1931
OFFICIATING CIVIL SURGEON, FEROZPORE

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 ASSOCIATION.

1940
D.M. COLLEGE, MOGA STARTED

1940 - 1946
MEMBER, SWAMI DAYANAD TRUST, AJMEER

1942
MEMBER, PUNJAB STATE MEDICAL FACULTY

1946
MAHARAJA RAJENDRA BAHADUR AWARDED HIM BY KHILAT FAKHRA

1946 - 1947
VICE-PRESIDENT, PUNJAB MEDICAL COUNCIL.

1953
D M COLLEGE OF EDUCATION STARTED

1954
PADMA SHRI

1964
DN MODEL SR SECONDARY SCHOOL STARTED

1972
DR. PAHWA LEAVES FOR HIS HEAVENLY ABODE.