‘Peaking’ of a Name
In 1847, when it was first located and recorded, the corresponding officer failed to find its name. Hence, the survey team termed is as Peak ‘b’ and later as Peak XV. Everyone in the team was willing to go for its local name, as it was the norm, but failed due to the hostile behavior of the local community.
The particular object that has not found its name in standard records for a long time is the object most sought after in the later time. It is the tallest point on the earth that man can reach on foot. Yes, Peak XV is the initial official name for Mount Everest when Andrew Waugh, then Surveyor General of British Survey of India and his team failed to collect its local name.
Last May 2013, the first ever Everest summit has completed glorious 60 years. It was one of the few incidents in the history of mankind that has proven the spirit and power of human will power. That victory has led numerous summits to the tallest peak in the world. More recently, two proud Assamese youth reached the peak of pride for the first time in history.
However, the discovery and naming of the peak was not at all easy. Even after its discovery, it was not known as the tallest peak of the world. According to the legend, one fine day in 1852, head computor of Survey of India, Babu Radhanath Shikdar rushed into the office of Andrew Waugh and claimed that he had discovered the tallest peak on the earth. Babu Radhanath Shikdar was a great mathematician who was appointed by George Everest in Survey of India. A graduate from Hindu College, Kolkata, he was considered as the greatest mathematician of his time. First appointed as a computor, he went on to become the Head computor and later the superintendent of Indian Meteorological Department. According to George Everest, “No European or Native can match his ability and in Europe also, there will be a few who can challenge Babu Shikdar”. He was assigned to the job of calculating the height of the snow-clad mountains seen from Darjeeling. While doing his job, he made such innovations to the surveying equipments that were extensively used by the Survey of India till the break of modern tools. He compiled the data from six different observations and made the earlier comments to Andrew Waugh. In his report to the Surveyor General, he proved that Peak XV is the tallest peak in the world. However, Waugh was very cautious to announce it hastily before authenticating it himself from other source. It was a while, when he was convinced of Peak XV’s supremacy and announced it as the tallest peak of the world in 1856. But, Babu Shikdar was almost forgotten in the process. The talent and ability of this great man can be proved by the fact that the measurement (29000 feet) he made was exceptionally close to the value measured by modern techniques i.e. 29035 feet.
Now, the problem arises with the Naming the peak. Waugh’s predecessor George Everest was very strict to the rule that each peak discovered should be named after local names. But Waugh made an exception. During his exploration, Waugh was unable to find Peak XV’s local name. As mentioned earlier, the local communities are very hostile to the survey team. During that age, the entry of the white-skinned foreigners was prohibited in Tibet and Nepal. They even did not want to talk about the Peak XV as they regard it as very sacred. The Tibetan name for the peak is Chomolungma which means Goddess Mother of the World and Nepalese name for the same is Sagarmatha. Nepalese as well as Tibetan treat it as their deity and did not agree to share any information with the surveying team. As a result, Andrew Waugh ended up without having the local name for Peak XV and hence decided to name it after his predecessor Sir George Everest.
Sir George Everest, perhaps, was born to survey the land. He is one of the greatest surveyors of all the time. He had taken leadership of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India during the first half of 19th century which mapped the entire Indian Sub-continent. It was a survey first of its own kind. Up to that time, any point on the surface of the earth was determined by astronomical observations. The process was lengthy and sometimes less accurate. The process of triogonometrical survey was based on spherical trigonometry. The formula was simple, if the distance between two points is known and an angle from a third point is measured, then the rest of the angles can be calculated. The angles were measured by an instrument called Theodolite. It was a kind of telescope which was mounted in such a fashion that it can be rotated horizontally or vertically. The initial surveying process by theodolite was a bit tough. Everest, while he was in England due to his ill health, took the pain to improve the instrument. He made certain improvements to the instrument. Everest was the master mind behind the completion of survey on the Himalayan region of India which lasted several decades. He was a geographer who dedicated almost all his life in studying methods of cartography and improvement of the surveying techniques.
After Waugh proposed his name to be used for Peak XV, Sir Everest protested it. He followed the rule of naming of every geographical object after its local name strictly in his whole life. He argued that it would be against the rule to name the highest peak after a mortal man. He also said that his name will be difficult to pronounce and write in native languages. But all his protests were overlooked and finally Royal Geographical Society adopted Peak XV as Mt. Everest. Today, by any name, it is the highest peak of the world, standing tall memorizing Sir Everest and mathematical ability of Babu Radhanath Shikdar.
N.B.- This article is published in Horizon, Assam Tribune, a English daily from Guwahati, Assam, on 18 July 2013
‘Peaking’ of a Name