Chennai Presidency College and Maths genius Ramanujan

Presidency College, an arts and science college in the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India established as the Madras Preparatory School on October 15, 1840 during the British East India company rule, is a famous  old college.

It was  Lord Elphinstone, Governor of  Madras  who was  instrumental in establishing an educational institution in Madras (now Chennai) and chose Eyre Burton Powell, MA., C.S.I., a  Maths specialist from the University of Cambridge, as its first principal. As the arrival of Mr. Powell from England to Madras  got delayed and in his place, one  Mr Cooper, from the Hooghly College, Kolkata (Calcutta) carried on his duties. He and his staff  opened  Presidency School, a preparatory school, in a rented building in Egmore known as Edinburgh Home on 15 October. 1840. Cooper remained in the preparatory school for only a few months. Soon after Powell's  arrival, he returned to Calcutta to continue his educational services there. A  High School department  was opened in April 1841.The preparatory School was moved over to  Popham's Broadway in 1841. Later it became Presidency College.

Upon the founding of the University of Madras in 1857, Presidency College got its affiliation, a customary norm for every  higher institution.  It was in 1870  the college moved to its present location on Kamaraj Salai, opposite Marina Beach.

E. B. Powell, 1st Principal, Presidency College,Madras

Above image: E. B. Powell -  Educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Eyre Burton Powell CSI (1819 - 10 November 1904) played a critical role in the field of education in the Madras Presidency in various capacities.  He was the Director of Public Instruction for the Presidency in 1862 and held the post till 1875. .First principal of the Presidency college, Chennai, he died in November, 1904. He produced a galaxy of bright students and some  of them were  C. V. Runganada Sastri, a well known civil servant, Sir A. Seshayya Sastri, Dewan of Pudukkottai, Sir T. Madhava Rao, Dewan of Travancore and Indore  and V. Ramiengar. Dewan of Travancore ..............................

Eyre Burton Powell, who was the first principal of Presidency College, about 160 years ago, opened a Maths department with a modest ceremony.  It was here the Maths genius of Srinivasa Ramanujan was brought to light to the world of advanced maths science. Till then being very young and hailing from a modest family, Ramanujan was groping in the dark with no guide and mentor . P.V. Seshu Iyer, a well known  Maths professor at Government College, Kumbakonam, came to Presidency  on transfer  and his student, Ramanujan who could not pass the college examination in Kumbakonam, also came to Madras on Iyer's advice. 

Unmindful of his failure in academics,  Prof, Seshu Iyer gave Ramanujan full support for his original concepts. In 1911, his major work  was sent to the Journal of Indian Mathematical Society.  It was here between 1910 and 1915 with support from Prof. Iyer and Prof. E.W. Middlemast, Ramanujan tackled  the problems in Prof. Hardy's monograph, 'Orders of Infinity.' Only persons with exceptional maths skill could handle  such problems.  On  January 16, 1913, the results were sent to Prof. Hardy,  English Mathematician of high repute. Prof. G.H. Hardy was known for his achievements in Number theory and upon getting the results from Ramanujan, he  was taken aback and very much impressed by his original work. What surprised him was Ramanujan  had  no  formal training  whatsoever in western type of education with special reference to Maths.  Bye the by,  Hardy  himself was also a child prodigy in Maths, just like Ramanujan, when he was hardly two years old, he had  solved complex problems with considerable ease. No help or guidance whatsoever. 

About Ramanujan's  advancement in maths related research, the rest is history. He went to England to work with Prof. Hardy. who  enthusiastically  adopted and mentored  the self-taught Indian mathematical genius. Ramanujan ultimately had the unique distinction of getting  FRS, a rare distinction in those days for a person from the Indian subcontinent.  It is estimated that Ramanujan conjectured or proved over 3,000 theorems, identities and equations, properties of highly composite numbers, the partition function, etc, He identified several efficient and rapidly converging infinite series for the calculation of the value of π and they 've become basis for the fastest algorithms used by modern computers to compute π to ever increasing levelsA maths genius was discovered and Presidency college and the then honest and dedicated teachers provided him a unique opportunity.

His vegetarian diet coupled with poor eating habits and London's inclement winter weather impacted his health and forced him to  return to Kumbakonam,Tamil Nadu where he died at a young age of 32. In the realm of maths Ramanujan has left behind countless unsolved maths puzzles and the research will continue on them for  an eternity. 

Ramanujan's earliest  home,

Ramanujan's humble home, Kumbakonam, TN

Above images: Maths genus  Ramanujan's home in the temple city Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. Top: Earliest home where Ramanujan lived from his birth (22.12.1887) till he left for Madras City (Chennai), in 1905. 
Bottom: SASTRA, a Deemed University, Thanjavur.& Kumbakonam acquired it in March 2002. Later  it was declared as an international monument by the late Indian president Dr. Abdul Kalam. The Ramajuan center at Sastra university and this house in Kumbakonam are the legacy of the maths genius. That the state government since 1940s has done nothing to honor Ramanujan, the son of this soil is a deplorable fact. I am happy SASTRA is keeping  Ramanujan's legacy alive by naming its center at Kumbakonam after him.............................

The department of Mathematics, Madra University  produced lots of talents over a period of timeDecades later it became The Institute of Mathematical Sciences in January, 1962 and after a couple of years it moved over to the present location in  Taramani. 

Among the numerous well known old students, the following are worthy of mention:

G.H.Hardy and S. Ramanujan.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, FRS, Maths genius
K. M. Cariappa, first Commander-in-Chief of Defence Forces of independent India,
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar - Nobel laureate in Physics,
C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer, Legal luminary and Dewan of Travancore, Vice Chancellor of Annamalai univ. and Banarus Hindu University.
C. Rajagopalachari, Chief Minister of Madras
Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, Nobel laureate in Physics.
In his, “Men of Mathematics”, 

E. T. Bell in his, “Men of Mathematics”,writes of Ramanujan:    “When a truly great one like the Hindu Ramanujam arrives unexpectedly out of nowhere, even expert analysts hail him as a gift from heaven: his all but supernatural insight into apparently unrelated formulas reveals hidden trails leading from one territory into another, and the analysts have new tasks provided for them in clearing the trails."

Ramanujan’s birth anniversary comes every year on  December 22. It was in 2012 that then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared  December 22 as National Mathematics Day.

                                                    (Revised on April 20, 2023)