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Prof Mahan Maharaj – The ‘mathematical’ monk

While we read about the various communal violence events caused by religious beliefs one man has adopted Mathematics as his religion. Prof. Mahan Maharaj, a winner of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in 2011. He has utilised math to attain spirituality. In the past, many other great mathematicians like Isaac Newton, and Aryabhatta believed that math exists in all forms. Mahan MJ alias Mahan Maharaj or Swami Vidyanathananda had the same belief and practised math and spirituality hand in hand. In an interview with Live Mint, he said that getting enlightened as a monk was a slow process and it took him some time. He is currently a professor of mathematics at the prestigious Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

Prof Mahan MJ is a guest teacher at many IITs, Prof Mahan MJ has been a significant member of the world of mathematical sciences and has contributed with many prominent publications in the areas of ending lamination spaces and hyperbolic manifolds. He further added at the University of Berkley, California whilst pursuing his PhD he felt like his purpose in life was to help others and be of service to society and this probably could be the reason that made him embark on the journey of monkhood. He further stated that for him being a mathematician is not that far removed from being a monk, reports LiveMint.

“I got introduced to Euclid’s geometry in Class VI. That sparked off an interest in maths. But because of peer pressure and social conditioning in Class XII, I opted for electrical engineering during IIT. But, soon I realised it was not my cup of tea. I had decided to switch to maths towards the middle of the third semester. I don’t think my parents were fully convinced, but they let me go ahead,” he said while speaking to LiveMint. After graduating from IIT Kanpur with a Master in Mathematics in 1992, he pursued PhD in the same subject from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, in 1997. The introduction to spirituality While Mahan was in Berkeley, he started to read some of Swami Vivekananda’s writings which inclined him toward spirituality. He says it took him some time to convince his parents, but eventually, they let him pursue his calling. “I just wanted to do the math. But when I was at Berkeley University, I decided to become a monk,” said ‘Mathematician monk’ Swami Vidyanathananda.

After returning to India, Swami announced his desire to become a monk and to attain it, in 1988 he joined Ramakrishna Mission. However, he continued to teach and research mathematics. “It took another six months to convince my parents, who were concerned about me for not having a bank balance or family. During this period, I patiently worked at the Chennai Mathematical Institute. I joined the Chennai Math (a branch of the Ramakrishna Mission),” he added. Math is my religion In 1998, Swami got his official status of being a monk while he was contributing as a Professor at the Department of Mathematics at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University in Bengaluru, Karnataka. In 2011, he won one of India’s top prizes in the field of science, the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award. He has also published many books and at least 35 papers. He has also won Infosys Prize for Mathematical Sciences in 2015, for his contributions in the field. However, the monk does not believe in any religion. While talking to NDTV, he once said, “I follow no organised religion. If you asked me one and put a gun to my head, I would probably say science.” Prof Mahan Ji calls himself apolitical and says “Science is by nature apolitical”. The monk who likes to play with abstract recurring shapes during his free time is determined to transform the way mathematics is taught in India through the establishment of a Fundamental Science Education Trust in Mumbai. He also wants to set up a charitable trust to teach fundamental science to the underprivileged.