With the help of Bidhan Chandra Roy (chief minister of West Bengal), Indian educationalists Humayun Kabir and Jogendra Singh formed a committee in 1946 to consider the creation of higher technical institutions "for post-war industrial development of India." This was followed by the creation of a 22-member committee headed by Nalini Ranjan Sarkar. In its interim report, the Sarkar Committee recommended the establishment of higher technical institutions in India, along the lines of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and consulting from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign along with affiliated secondary institutions. The report urged that work should start with the speedy establishment of major institutions in the four-quarters of the country with the ones in the east and the west to be set up immediately.
On the grounds that West Bengal had the highest concentration of industries at the time, Roy persuaded Jawaharlal Nehru (India's first prime minister) to establish the first institute in West Bengal. The first Indian Institute of Technology was thus established in May 1950 as the Eastern Higher Technical Institute.It was located in Esplanade East, Calcutta, and in September 1950 shifted to its permanent campus at Hijli, Kharagpur 120 kilometres south-west of Calcutta. Hijli had been used as a detention camp during the British colonial rule in India, to keep Indian freedom fighters captive.
IIT Kharagpur is the 3rd oldest technical institute in the state after IIEST Shibpur (1856) and Jadavpur University (established as Bengal technical institute in 1906) When the first session started in August 1951, there were 224 students and 42 teachers in the ten departments of the institute. The classrooms, laboratories and the administrative office were housed in the historic building of the Hijli Detention Camp (now known as Shaheed Bhawan), where political revolutionaries were imprisoned during the British rule. The office building had served as the headquarters of the Bomber Command of the U.S. 20th Air Force during World War II. To honour Bidhan Chandra Roy, the area in front of the main building is named Bidhan Chowk.
The name "Indian Institute of Technology" was adopted before the formal inauguration of the institute on 18 August 1951 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. On 15 September 1956, the Parliament of India passed the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) Act declaring it an Institute of National Importance. Prime Minister Nehru, in the first convocation address of IIT Kharagpur in 1956, said: “ Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India's urges, India's future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India. ” The Shaheed Bhawan was converted to a museum in 1990. The Srinivasa Ramanujan Complex was incorporated as another academic complex of the institute with Takshashila starting operation in 2002, Vikramshila in 2003 and Nalanda in 2012.
The motto of IIT Kharagpur is "Yoga Karmashu Kaushalam" (योगः कर्मसु कौशलम् in Sanskrit). The motto literally translates to "Excellence in action is Yoga" essentially implying that doing your work well is (true) yoga. It is sourced to Sri Krishna's discourse to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2 verse 50. This quote in its larger context of Gita urges man to acquire equanimity because such a soul endowed with the mind of equanimity allows him to shed the effects of his good and evil deeds in this world itself. Equanimity is the source of perfection in Karmic endeavours while leading to Salvation.