Jayant Narlikar was born on July 19, 1938 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra and received his early education in the campus of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), where his father Vishnu Vasudeva Narlikar was Professor and Head of the Mathematics Department.
His mother Sumati Narlikar was a Sanskrit scholar. After a brilliant career in school and college, Narlikar got his B.Sc. degree in 1957. He went to Cambridge for higher studies, becoming a Wrangler and Tyson Medallist in the Mathematical Tripos. He got his Cambridge degrees in mathematics: B.A.(1960), Ph.D. (1963),M.A. (1964) and Sc.D. (1976), but specialized in astronomy and astrophysics. He distinguished himself at Cambridge with the Smith's Prize in 1962 and the Adams Prize in 1967.
He later stayed on at Cambridge till 1972, as Fellow of King's College (1963-72) and Founder Staff Member of the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy (1966-72). During this period he laid the foundations of his research work in cosmology and astrophysics in collaboration with his mentor Fred Hoyle. Narlikar returned to India to join the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (1972-1989) where under his charge the Theoretical Astrophysics Group acquired international standing.