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Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj: The Monk Mathematician

Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj: The Monk Mathematician

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Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj

Join us as we take you through the inspiring journey of Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj, who has been awarded the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for Mathematics. We share his remarkable contributions to hyperbolic geometry and topology, and his unique blend of academic excellence and spiritual dedication as a monk of the Ramakrishna Mission.

In a remarkable intersection of spirituality and academia, Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj, also known as Mahan Mitra, has been honored with this year’s Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for Mathematics, India’s highest scientific accolade. This prestigious award, named after the founder of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), is given in recognition of significant and outstanding contributions to science and technology in India. The accolade includes a citation, a plaque, and a cash prize of Rs. five lakhs, along with a monthly stipend of Rs. 15,000 until the recipient reaches the age of 65.

Mahan Maharaj, a 45-year-old monk of the Ramakrishna Mission order, has dedicated nearly two decades to advancing the fields of hyperbolic geometry and topology. His journey from a student of electrical engineering to a revered mathematician and spiritual teacher is both inspiring and extraordinary.

Early Life and Education

Born Mahan Mitra, he completed his schooling at St. Xavier’s Collegiate School in Kolkata, where he was an exemplary student. After excelling in the IIT-JEE, he joined the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur to study electrical engineering. However, it wasn’t long before he realized his true passion lay in mathematics. This epiphany led him to switch his field of study, a decision that would shape his future career.

After obtaining his MSc, Mahan Mitra pursued further studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed his PhD. His work during this period laid the groundwork for his future contributions to mathematics, particularly in the study of geometrical spaces.

A Spiritual Calling

Upon returning to India, Mahan Mitra made a life-changing decision to renounce worldly pursuits and embrace a monastic life. He joined the Ramakrishna Mission in 1998, adopting the monastic name Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj. Despite his spiritual commitments, he continued to pursue his passion for mathematics, integrating his academic and spiritual lives.

Academic Contributions

Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj has been a faculty member at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University, where he teaches MSc and PhD students. His work in hyperbolic geometry and topology has earned him significant recognition in the mathematical community. These fields explore the properties of geometrical spaces that remain unchanged under stretching, pulling, or twisting, a concept that has profound implications in both theoretical and applied mathematics.

“Maharaj has been exploring properties of geometrical spaces that do not change when they are stretched or pulled or twisted,” explains Harish Seshadri, a mathematician at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, who has collaborated with him on a forthcoming research paper.

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Recognition and Impact

The announcement of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award has brought widespread acclaim to Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj. The Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University has been inundated with phone calls and media inquiries, highlighting the broad interest in this unique scholar-monk.

Swami Atmapriyananda, the vice-chancellor of the university, expressed immense pride in the award, viewing it as a tribute to the vision of Swami Vivekananda. “This is a joyful day for us,” he said. Swami Vivekananda envisioned an institution that would blend ancient Indian wisdom with cutting-edge research in the natural and humanistic sciences, and Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj’s achievements embody this vision.

Conclusion

Swami Vidyanandaji Mahan Maharaj’s receipt of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award is a testament to his extraordinary contributions to mathematics and his unique integration of scientific inquiry with spiritual practice. His journey from a promising young student to a celebrated mathematician and revered monk exemplifies the profound impact of following one’s true calling, bridging the worlds of intellect and spirituality.

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