(Last Updated on : 17/04/2012)
Sir Alexander Cunningham also known as the father of the Archaeological Survey of India was born on 23rd January in the year 1814. He was also an English archaeologist, army engineer, Scottish classical scholar and critic. Alexander Cunningham was born in Ayrshire in London to the Scottish poet Allan Cunningham who was a native of Dumfrieshire. At a tender age of 19 he joined the Bengal Engineers and spent the next 28 years of his life in the service of the British Government of the Indian subcontinent. After a distinguished career he retired as the major general in 1861.
Due to the scarcity of information very little is known about the life of Alexander Cunningham. It is believed that he completed his education at Leiden or Utrecht. He was appointed as the professor of civil law in the Edinburgh University through the influence of the son of the first duke o Queensberry. He is popular all over the globe for his edition of Horace in 1721 with notes, which are mostly critical. He also edited the works of Virgil and Phaedrus together with the Sententiae of Publilius Syrus and others. He also got engaged for a brief span of time in the preparation of an edition of the Pandects and also of a work on Christian evidences.
The association of Alexander Cunningham with the Indian subcontinent can be traced back to the times of British colonial rule in India. It was after his arrival in then capital of India, Calcutta that James Princep made a significant contribution to Indian Archaeology with some vital discoveries and also initiated him to study. Between the span of 1861 and 1885 he made several discoveries of inscriptions, coins, architecture and sculpture. His collection of rare Indian coins is displayed in the British Museum. In this process he laid the foundation of ancient Indian history and of the study of Indian epigraphy, art, numismatics and architecture. In fact he was regarded as a true pioneer and his most important contribution lay in identifying the long lost cities of India, one of the major being the city of Pundranagara in Bengal. He was also actively involved in the association with the excavation sites in India including Sarnath, Sanchi and Mahabodhi Temple. The names of the books written by him include: `Bhilsa Topes` which is a historical account of the Religion of Buddhism., `The Ancient Geography of India` of which only one volume was written, `Coins of Ancient India` and `The Book of Indian Eras`. The other work of Alexander Cunningham, which includes the work of restoring the Mahabodhi Temple, was completed by the pioneer of the revival of Buddhism in the land of India, Anagarika Dharmapala. He was also a great elucidator of the ancient Indian Geography. The sole performance on which his claim to be remembered by the posterity chiefly rests was the history of Britain which was originally composed in Latin but afterwards translated into English. His portrayal of characters is drawn with much judgment and discrimination and generally with impartiality. This great soul breathed his last on November 1893.