The beginnings of meteorology in India can be traced to ancient times. Early philosophical writings of the 3000 B.C. era, such as the Upanishadas, contain serious discussion about the processes of cloud formation and rain and the seasonal cycles caused by the movement of earth round the sun. Varahamihira's classical work, the Brihatsamhita, written around 500 A.D., provides a clear evidence that a deep knowledge of atmospheric processes existed even in those times. It was understood that rains come from the sun (AdityatJayateVrishti) and that good rainfall in the rainy season was the key to bountiful agriculture and food for the people. Kautilya'sArthashastra contains records of scientific measurements of rainfall and its application to the country's revenue and relief work. Kalidasa in his epic, 'Meghdoot', written around the seventh century, even mentions the date of onset of the monsoon over central India and traces the path of the monsoon clouds.
A disastrous tropical cyclone struck Calcutta in 1864 and this was followed by failures of the monsoon rains in 1866 and 1871. In the year 1875, the Government of India established the India Meteorological Department, bringing all meteorological work in the country under a central authority. Mr. H. F. Blanford was appointed Meteorological Reporter to the Government of India.The first Director General of Observatories was Sir John Eliot who was appointed in May 1889 at Calcutta headquarters. The headquarters of IMD were later shifted to Simla, then to Poona (now Pune) and finally to New Delhi.
Very early in the history of IMD, the importance of the publication of scientific results had been recognised. Blanford introduced the publication of the "Memoirs of the IMD" and himself authored several of them. His work on the rainfall of India is unsurpassable in clarity of thought and content. In view of the importance of foreshadowing monsoon seasonal rainfall for the agricultural economy of the country, Blanford initiated the system of Long Range Forecasting (LRF). The system of LRF of monsoon rains went through several evolutionary phases and eminent pioneers like Sir J. Eliot and Sir Gilbert Walker (Both Directors-General of Observatories) and generations of Indian researchers have made their contributions to this scientific effort. To Sir Gilbert Walker also goes the credit of linking the monsoon with global meteorological situations and his discovery of the so-called Southern Oscillation phenomenon. Swings of the Southern Oscillation were later linked by J. Bjerknes with the EI Nino in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and Bjerknes also coined the term "Walker circulation" for describing the east west vertical circulation in the equatorial plane in honour of Walker. Blanford had recognized the need for inducting young Indians in IMD and the first two Indians LalaRuchi Ram Sahni (Father of Professor BirbalSahni) and LalaHemraj joined IMD in 1884 and 1886 respectively. The Indianisation of IMD was accelerated under Walker, soon after World War I, and further boosted by Sir C.W.B. Normand (Director-General during 1928 to 1944). Normand was succeeded by Dr. S.K. Banerji as the first Indian DGO in 1944. During these years, many Indian scientists joined IMD and they took IMD to greater heights themselves in the post-independence era.
From a modest beginning in 1875, IMD has progressively expanded its infrastructure for meteorological observations, communications, forecasting and weather services and it has achieved a parallel scientific growth. IMD has always used contemporary technology. In the telegraph age, it made extensive use of weather telegrams for collecting observational data and sending warnings. Later IMD became the first organisation in India to have a message switching computer for supporting its global data exchange. One of the first few electronic computers introduced in the country was provided to IMD for scientific applications in meteorology. India was the first developing country in the world to have its own geostationary satellite, INSAT, for continuous weather monitoring of this part of the globe and particularly for cyclone warning. IMD has continuously ventured into new areas of application and service, and steadily built upon its infra-structure in its history of 125 years. It has simultaneously nurtured the growth of meteorology and atmospheric science in India. Today, meteorology in India is poised at the threshold of an exciting future.