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Table of Contents    
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 597-599

Prof. Raja Marthanda Varma- A fond remembrance

Department of Neurosurgery, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication3-May-2016

Correspondence Address:
Dwarakanath Srinivas
Department of Neurosurgery, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 27147194

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How to cite this article:
Somanna S, Srinivas D. Prof. Raja Marthanda Varma- A fond remembrance. Neurol India 2016;64:597-9

How to cite this URL:
Somanna S, Srinivas D. Prof. Raja Marthanda Varma- A fond remembrance. Neurol India [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Sep 28];64:597-9. Available from:

Dr. Raja Marthanda Varma (RMV; [Figure 1]) was born in 1921 in the Royal family of Mavelikkara with his mother, Aswathynaal Kutty Amma Thampuran, being the aunt of the then Maharani of Travancore. After graduating in medicine, he did his master's course at the University of Bristol followed by the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, becoming one of the first five neurosurgeons of India.
Figure 1: Professor Dr. Raja Marthanda Varma. (Photo credit: Mindscape and Landscape 2015)

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In the 1950's, psychosurgery, as pioneered by Egaz Moniz, was gaining popularity all over and at the All India Institute of Mental Health (AIIMH), Bangalore (the precursor of NIMHANS), the pioneering work in psychosurgery was done by Dr. MV Govindaswamy. Though a psychiatrist, he paved the way for the development of modern neurosurgery in this institute. He was instrumental in starting psychosurgery at the AIIMH. Soon realizing the confluence of the psychiatric and neurological sciences, he was instrumental in starting the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery [Figure 2]. Dr. RM Varma joined the Department as the first neurosurgeon and started neurosurgery at AIIMH. Prof GN Reddy, who had completed his DPM, was encouraged to train in Neurosurgery at Edinburgh, UK and returned to join the department in 1966. Till this time, Dr. Varma ran the department singlehandedly.
Figure 2: Dr. KS Mani and Dr. RM Varma who were instrumental in building the neurology and neurosurgery departments in 1957 and 1958, respectively. (Photo credit: Mindscape and Landscape 2015)

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Due to the combined and tireless efforts of these two pioneers, in extremely primitive and tough conditions, neurosurgery at NIMHANS rose to great heights. Initially the department was run in the old Mental hospital block with a common ward for both neurological and neurosurgical patients. The operation theater was a converted wing of the ward with modifications. There were no anesthetists and he had to request anesthetists from Victoria Hospital to help them. To his great luck, Dr. Ramachandra, the senior anesthetist in Victoria Hospital agreed to help. He used to come in the evenings after his day's work at Victoria hospital. The first surgery on a chronic subdural hematoma was performed on 7/1/1958 and the first vestibular schwannoma was operated on 29/1/2/1958. Fifteen surgeries were done in 1958, and the number of surgeries increased to 117 and 132 in the subsequent 2 years, respectively [Figure 3].[1],[2],[3],[4]
Figure 3: Dr. SK Ramachandra Rao with the AIIMH team at the lawns of the hospital in the early 1990s. Left to right: Dr. SK Ramachandra Rao; Dr. NN Sen, Department of Clinical Psychology; Dr. BD Punekar, Department of Biochemistry; Dr. NC Surya, Department of Psychiatry; Dr. KM Pillai, Department of Neuroradiology; Dr. KS Panikkar, Registrar; Dr. RM Varma, Department of Neurosurgery. (Photo credit: Mindscape and Landscape 2015)

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Prof RMV was a pioneer in many ways. He conceptualized and started a unique percutaneous chemothalamotomy for patients with tremors [Figure 4]. Known as the 'Varma's technique,' he used the percutaneous approach to Meckel's cave to reach the thalamus and chemically ablate it. This minimally invasive technique was performed under X-ray guidance and on an outpatient department basis. It produced dramatic results and was presented at the International Conference of Neurosurgeons at Copenhagen. Soon realizing the importance of expanding the department, he proposed the Neurocenter building for which work was started in 1965 and completed in 1973. His Excellency Sri VV Giri, the President of India, inaugurated it [Figure 5]. It had 80 inpatient beds, two modern operation theaters, and housed the then state–of-the-art neuroradiology section, blood bank, and other investigative facilities.
Figure 4: Dr. RM Varma showing the film on chemothalamotomy to Mr. BV Baliga, Speaker of the Mysore Assembly. Chemothalamotomy was a procedure innovated by Dr. Varma to help patients with  Parkinsonism More Details. (Photo credit: Mindscape and Landscape 2015)

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Figure 5: The Neuro Centre was inaugurated by the President of India, Mr. VV Giri on 30th December 1973. Front line left to right: Health Minister Mr. Siddaveerappa, Dr. RM Varma, and President of India, Mr. VV Giri. Between Dr. Varma and President Giri is Dr. GN Narayan Reddy, Professor of Neurosurgery and ex-Director of NIMHANS. (Photo credit: Mindscape and Landscape 2015)

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Meanwhile, Dr. RMV had become the director of the AIIMH in 1969 and held the post until 1974, when NIMHANS formally came into being (by amalgamation of the Mysore General Mental Hospital and the All India Institute of Mental Health). He was then appointed as the first Director of NIMHANS, a post which he held till 1979.

There have been multiple anecdotes about his devotion to duties. One of his close friends narrated such an incident. It appears that after a long time, Dr. Varma wanted to take his wife Dr. Malathi Varma for an outing and was driving in Bengaluru. On the way, he noticed a pedestrian being knocked down by a vehicle and the injured patient was rushed to NIMHANS. Dr. Varma drove back to the Institute telling his wife that he would just find out the condition of the patient and asked her to stay in the car itself. Once he was there, he found that the patient needed immediate surgery. After operation, it appears, he came out and asked one of his assistants to find out who was in the car, having completely forgotten the fact that he had brought his wife in the car.

He was married to Dr. Malathi Varma, and the couple has two sons. The elder one is Ravi Gopal Varma, also a medical doctor, and the younger one, Mr. Shashi Gopal Varma.

Dr. RM Varma was a gifted surgeon, relentless researcher, teacher par excellence, an able administrator and a visionary. He was a former Deputy Director General of Health Services. Among the multitude of awards conferred on him were the Padmashri in 1970, the Karnataka State Award on Rajyotsava Day (1969), Citizen Extraordinary of Bangalore Award (1967) and Sir Viswesvaraya Award (1998). He was also the Honorary Surgeon to the former President of India, Sri R Venkataraman. The Bangalore Neurological Society conducts the RM Varma Oration biannually in his honor. He also held the post of Professor Emeritus at NIMHANS till his death on March 10, 2015.

Journalist K. Balakrishnan, who profiled Dr. Varma for The Hindu in 2003, summed up the persona of this legendary doctor thus: “Multi-faceted would prove to be an inadequate definition to describe Dr. Varma. A gifted surgeon, relentless researcher, teacher par excellence, exceptional organiser, able and proven administrator, a practical visionary, adventurer, courageous, willing to venture into hitherto untrodden realms, philosopher, artist, a giant among men and above all, a self-effacing genuinely caring human being. Dr. Varma is all this and more. He best symbolises the concept of the ideal man who always aspires to better the lot of others without consideration to self.”[2]

It is no exaggeration to say, and it is true, that if NIMHANS enjoys an eminent position as one of Asia's best hospitals and one among the leading mental health and neurological sciences teaching hospitals in the world, it was because of the total dedication of Dr. Varma in setting up protocols for the functioning of the Institute.


The photographs being printed with this article are being taken from the book: Radhika P, Murthy P, Jain S. Mindscape and landscape-An illustrated history of NIMHANS, 2015 pp 1850-2014 and are being published with the kind permission of the authors and publishers of the book.

 » References Top

Radhika P, Murthy P, Jain S. Mindscape and Landscape – An Illustrated History of NIMHANS. Bangalore, NIMHANS publication; 2015. p. 1850-2014.  Back to cited text no. 1
Balakrishnan K. Man Over Mind. The Hindu; 27, March 2003. Available from: [Last retrieved on 2015 Jun 03].  Back to cited text no. 2
Bhat DI, Devi BI. History of Neurosurgery at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences: An epitome of steady growth. Neurol India 2015;63:91-5.  Back to cited text no. 4
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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5]


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