State's Rich Mathematical Heritage to Get 'Faces'

Madhava of Sangamagrama, the founder of Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics, has already received his ‘face’. Now, the Science and Technology Museum here has commissioned an artist to create a portrait of Neelakanta Somayaji, another great mathematician of the school

Published: 03rd March 2014 10:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd March 2014 10:13 AM   |  A+A-


After their deaths, their names traversed the centuries on the strength of their discoveries. But now, two of the eminent figures of the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics, which flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries and is credited with many vital discoveries, no longer remain faceless names from the past. They are, in fact, being given ‘faces’ to match the names.

Madhava of Sangamagrama, the founder of this school, has already received his, courtesy the Madhava Ganitha Kendram which strives to popularise his discoveries. The Kerala State Science and Technology Museum (KSSTM) in Thiruvananthapuram has commissioned an artist to create a portrait of Neelakanta Somayaji, another great astronomer/mathematician of the school.

Both images are artist’s impressions of what the two men may have looked like, but both institutions have gone to great lengths to ensure that the portrait of Madhava, a 14th century mathematician, and that of Neelakanta Somayaji, who followed his footsteps, do not prove to be flops.

‘’The only clue Madhava gave of his family name and birthplace is in the 23rd shloka of ‘Venwaroha’, the only surviving work of his. Sangamagramam is Irinjalakuda and his descendants still live there. We used the earliest photographs they had of their ancestors to create an impression of Madhava using morphing,’’ said Madhava Ganitha Kendram secretary Vinod A.

The two-year-old Madhava Ganitha Kendram also presented eminent mathematician George Geevarghese Joseph with Madhava’s digital image at the end of a talk on the Kerala School in the city on Saturday.

A translite of Neelakanta Somayaji will rub shoulders with those of Johannes Kepler, Aryabhatta, Tycho Brahe and three other astronomers at the new Astronomy Gallery planned by KSSTM at its planetarium here. ‘’We have commissioned an artist to create a portrait of Somayaji. We have given him detailed instructions as to the features,’’ said KSSTM director Arul Jerald Prakash.

Today, even the western world acknowledges the contributions of the members of the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics, many of which predated that of their western counterparts including Isaac Newton. For instance, Madhava, who is believed to have lived from 1350 to 1425, discovered many of the principles that formed the basis of the calculus.

Neelakanta Somayaji lived from 1444 to 1545, according to the encyclopaedia of astronomy brought out by the State Institute of Encyclopaedic Publications. Among his numerous works, he has also documented two eclipses that he observed, one in 1467 and the other in 1501.

Other important members of the Kerala School include Jyeshtadeva, Thrikkandiyoor Achutha Pisharodi and Vadasseri Parameswaran Namboothiri.

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