Mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan

Indian civilization dates back to thousands of years and it has had the reputation of giving the world some of the most advanced discoveries at a time when the rest of the world was still in discovering the meaning of civilization. Indian scholars have etched their names in history and their extraordinary genius is to be widely celebrated. It is certainly a matter of pride that we belong to a country and civilization that has given the world path breaking discoveries in almost all fields; be it education, literature, linguistics, grammar, astronomy, astrology, science or mathematics. Speaking of mathematics, we have had such geniuses right from Aryabhatta and Varahamihira to Srinivasa Ramanujan about whom we would be learning today.

With his parents

On the 22nd of December in the year 1887, K. Srinivasa Iyengar and Komalatammal were blessed with a son who would grow up to be a mathematical genius. Ramanujan made his inclination towards mathematics clear right from a young age when he spent most of his time solving mathematical equations in the temple mandapas instead of attending classes in his school. It would not be farfetched to say that he spent most of his time outside school than inside it. It is said that if he could not solve a mathematical problem he would seek solutions for the same in his dreams. His love for the subject was so intense that he failed to clear other subjects. Another instance which proves his love for the subject is when once his classmate Sarangapani scored marks more than him in maths; the latter stopped talking to the former. Childish as it may sound it also points out at Ramanujan’s intense love and deep inclination to always be on top as far as the subject was concerned. He could solve the most difficult mathematical equations and by the age of 13 he was discovering sophisticated theorems on his own. He had the habit of noting down his theorems and derivatives. It would be interesting to note that because paper was a precious commodity, he worked out the derivatives on a slate and only noted down important results and summaries in his notebook.

He was married to Janakiammal in 1909 and with the responsibilities of a family he began searching for a job to sustain his family. It was in pursuit of a job that he met V. Ramaswamy Aiyer, founder of Indian Mathematical Society. Aiyer worked in the revenue department where Ramanujan sought a job. When Ramanujan showed Aiyer his mathematics notebooks, the latter was awestruck and not inclined to stifling the genius of the young man Aiyer put him in touch with his mathematician friends in Madras. On 1st March 1912 he secured a job in the office of the Chief accountant of Madras Port Trust. He was encouraged in his mathematical pursuits by his boss Sir Francis Spring and his colleague Narayana Iyer.

His mentor G. H. Hardy

In January 1913, he wrote to G. H. Hardy, an English mathematician at the Cambridge University, who recognized some of Ramanujan’s formulae but believed the other works, sent in his manuscripts to be some sort of a fraud. However, going through the 9 page manuscript sent by Ramanujan, Hardy was convinced that Ramanujan’s theorems were true because it would be impossible for anyone to come up with them purely through one’s imagination. After much persuasion and permission from his mother, Ramanujan went to Cambridge in 1914. He had the distinction of being the 2nd Indian and one of the youngest members of the Royal Society and on 13th October 1918 he became the first Indian to be elected the Fellow of Trinity College. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and returned to Kumbakonam in 1919. He died at the young age of 32 in the year 1920.

His works in mathematics outlived him and continued to intrigue mathematicians long after his death. Here was a mathematical genius who had almost no formal training in the subject and mastered it on his own. He was a religious and devout Hindu and credited his discoveries to his family Goddess Mahalakshmi of Namagiri. He once said, “An equation for me has no meaning, unless it represents a thought of God.” His family home at Sarangapani Sannidhi Street in Kumbakonam has been converted into a museum. His birth anniversary on 22nd December is celebrated as National Mathematics Day. He was a genius who not only knew infinity but left a legacy that the mathematical world would be indebted to forever. It is worth mentioning here that Sweden and Germany conduct annual mathematical conference honouring the mathematical genius Ramanujan. We as Indians can take pride in the fact that centuries after Aryabhatta and Varahamihira, Ramanujan and his theories continue to rule the mathematical world.