Famed Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan’s birth anniversary on December 22 is celebrated as National Mathematics Day in India. Born in 1887 in Erode, Tamil Nadu, the story of Ramanujan’s tryst with mathematics is one of the most engaging tales read, depicted and performed through various works of art. Dev Patel-starrer ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ (2015) was the latest tribute to the mathematics wizard by the popular cinema.
We bring you 10 facts which you probably didn’t know about the Mozart of Mathematics.
1. He was born in 1887 in Erode, located in Tamil Nadu.
Ramanujan was born to K. Srinivasa Iyengar, who worked as a clerk in a sari shop and Komalatammal on December 22, 1887. Their family house in Kumbakonam is now a museum.
All siblings of Ramanujan died in infancy. In 1889, he contracted smallpox however, unlike thousands in the Thanjavur district, who died from the disease that year, he recovered.
After his paternal grandfather died, Ramanujan was sent to his maternal grandparent’s house and was enrolled in a school there. He didn’t like his school and avoided attending. His family enlisted a local constable to make sure he attended school.
4. Child Prodigy
By age 11, he had exhausted the mathematical knowledge of two college students who were lodgers at his home. He was later lent a book on advanced trigonometry written by S. L. Loney. He completely mastered this book by the age of 13 and discovered sophisticated theorems on his own. He used to complete his mathematics exam in just half of the allotted time.
When he was 16, Ramanujan obtained from a friend a library-loaned copy of A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics by G. S. Carr, which was a collection of 5,000 theorems. Ramanujan reportedly studied the contents of the book in detail and this book is generally acknowledged as a key element in awakening the genius of Ramanujan.
At 17, Ramanujan had developed Bernoulli numbers and calculated Euler’s constant up to 15 decimal places.
5. He got married on July 14, 1909.
He was married to Janaki Ammal who was 9-year-old at that time.
6. He is recognised as one of the greatest mathematicians of his time, but Srinivasa Ramanujan had almost no formal training in math.
As he was a mathematical wizard he was awarded a scholarship to study at Government Arts College, Kumbakonam. However, as he was on keen on studying mathematics, he couldn’t focus on other subjects and failed most of them thus losing his scholarship.
Many of his mathematical discoveries were based on pure intuition – but most of them were later proved to be true.
7. Enter G. H. Hardy
After seeing a copy of Hardy’s book Orders of Infinity in 1913, Ramanujan wrote to him and enclosed a long list of unproved theorems. As a first class mathematician, Hardy was used to getting prank letters from people who boasted of finding something new in the field. However, Ramanujan’s letter made him take a closer look at his theorems related to infinite series, number theory and improper integrals.
Hardy invited Ramanujan to Cambridge however, he refused to leave India to go to a foreign land because of his Brahmin upbringing and parent’s opposition. However, he later agreed as his mother got a vivid dream in which their family goddess Namagiri commanded her to ‘to stand no longer between her son and the fulfilment of his life’s purpose’. Ramanujan credited his acumen to his family goddess, Mahalakshmi of Namakkal. He looked to her for inspiration in his work, and claimed to dream of blood drops that symbolized her male consort, Narasimha, after which he would receive visions of scrolls of complex mathematical content unfolding before his eyes. He often said, "An equation for me has no meaning, unless it represents a thought of God."
8. He was the second Indian to be inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society
He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1918, becoming the second Indian to do so, following Ardaseer Cursetjee in 1841, and at age 31 he was one of the youngest Fellows in the history of the Royal Society. On 13 October 1918, he became the first Indian to be elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Srinivasa Ramanujan (centre) with other scientists at Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.
9. According to reports, Ramanujan used to jot down his ideas in notebooks, in green ink.
One of the notebooks, known as the ‘lost notebook’, was discovered in the Trinity College library by mathematician George Andrews in 1976, and was later published as a book.
It was 1914 and the War was in full swing. Consequently, England was cut short of the customary Indian comestibles that formed a staple diet of the Brahmin mathematician. However, Ramanujan maintained his dietary discipline with rigidity even if it meant the inadequate intake of food. This, along with erratic research hours carved the way to the breaking of his health gradually.
The cultural difference eventually took a toll on his health. He was diagnosed with severe vitamin deficiency and TB. He then returned to India in 1919 and died the following year, at a young age of 32.