Combining spirituality and mathematics has not been a rare practice. From Isaac Newton who believed that mathematics exists in all creation to Aryabhatta who was not only a great scholar but also an ardent spiritualist, for the most of the history, science and religion have gone hand-in-hand.
One such individual who combined the life of a mathematician with that of a monk is Professor Mahan Mj of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai.
Prof Mahan Mj, more prominently known as Mahan Maharaj or Swami Vidyanathananda is an outstanding Indian mathematician and a reputed spiritualistic monk of the Ramakrishna Order.
Mahan Mj was born on 5th April 1968. He completed high school from St Xavier’s Collegiate School in Kolkata. He then joined IIT Kanpur where he opted for electrical engineering but soon shifted to mathematics as he knew that that’s where his interests lay.
He graduated from IIT Kanpur with a Masters in Mathematics in 1992 and then pursued PhD in the same subject from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, in 1997.
In Berkeley, Mahan started to read some of Swami Vivekananda’s writings. When he came to India after completing his education, he decided to become a monk. It took time to convince his parents, but eventually, they let him pursue his calling.
In an interview with LiveMint, he says, “It took six months to convince my parents, who were concerned, among other things, that I would not have a bank balance or family. During this period, I patiently worked at the Chennai Mathematical Institute.”
He was Professor of Mathematics and Dean of Research at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University till 2015 and joined the Ramakrishna Math In Kolkata.
He graduated monkhood in 2008, earning his saffron robe, all the while being a Professor at the Department of Mathematics at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University in Belur, West Bengal. He has contributed significantly to the world of Mathematical Sciences with his outstanding publications in the areas of ending lamination spaces and hyperbolic manifolds. The man who gave up earthly pleasures did not let religion interfere with science.
In an interview with NDTV, when asked about religion, Mahan replied: “I follow no organised religion. If you asked me one and put a gun to my head, I would probably say science.”
Mahan won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in 2011 which is one of India’s top prizes in the field of science. His continuous efforts in mathematics, where he has published more than 35 papers, landed him the prestigious Infosys Prize for Mathematical Sciences in 2015.
Prof Mahan Mj is determined to transform the way mathematics is taught in India through the establishment of a Fundamental Science Education Trust in Mumbai. In this regard, he has been collaborating with his friend, Rajesh Gopakumar, a theoretical physicist at the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, in Bengaluru, and two of his students.
The trust aims to promote innovative ideas in education, especially in Mathematics. Prof Mahan has also donated the prize money from his Infosys Prize worth Rs 65 lakhs for the establishment of the trust.
The monk who believes in the religion of science and its propagation is surely an inspiration to gather knowledge.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)