Prof. Mahan Mj, prominently known as Mahan Maharaj or Swami Vidyanathananda, is an outstanding Indian mathematician and a reputed spiritualistic monk of the Ramakrishna order. His austere lifestyle is a perfect blend of religion and scientific quest. He has made noteworthy contributions in hyperbolic geometry, low-dimensional topology, geometric group theory and complex geometry. His work is considered as a major
milestone in Thurston's program, initiated almost forty years ago. He has also authored a book Maps on boundaries of hyperbolic metric spaces. In 2011, he was awarded the most prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award and in 2015, he won the Infosys Prize in the recognition of his stellar work in the field of Mathematical Sciences. Currently, he is a Professor of Mathematics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai.
There are no shortcuts. One has to work hard and think hard and let the rest
take care of itself."
Prof. Mahan Mj completed his elementary and secondary education from St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Kolkata. After securing an All India Rank of 67 in the JEE main, he joined the electrical engineering program at IIT Kanpur but soon switched to Mathematics. After completing his masters in the subject in 1992, he went on to pursue Ph.D. in the same discipline from the University of California, Berkeley under the guidance of Prof. Andrew Casson. He has been the recipient of the Earle C. Anthony Fellowship, U.C. Berkeley, 1992-1993, and the prestigious Sloan Fellowship, 1996-1997. He earned his doctorate in 1997 and shortly afterwards joined the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai in 1998 for a short span. That very year, he joined the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur, upon being highly influenced by the life and work of the Vedantic philosopher Ramakrishna Paramahansa.
His initial name at the Ramakrishna Mission was Brahmachari BrahmaChaitanya which was later renamed as Swami Vidyanathananda when he became a monk in 2008 receiving a saffron robe. Though he renounced the mundane world to become a monk, he continued to research and teach in mathematics. He also served as the Professor of Mathematics and Dean of Research at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University till 2015. He has contributed significantly to the world of Mathematical Sciences with his outstanding publications in the areas of ending lamination spaces and hyperbolic manifolds. Prof. Mahan Mj, a polyglot with a mastery in English, Hindi and Bengali, likes to travel all over the world connecting with mathematicians and lecturing students.
Prof. Mahan Mj, one of the brightest mathematicians of his times, finds no contradiction in being a monk and concurrently doing research in geometric topology. On being asked in an interview that how he combines his life in a monastic order with that of a researcher he said, "I am very much a part of the math community and my uniform has got nothing to do with it."He enjoys being a monk as much as he enjoys his mathematics. Being a true mathematician, he is quite concerned about the current condition of mathematics education in the Indian universities. He believes that the curriculum followed in India to teach students particularly at the undergraduate level encourages only rote learning. Dissatisfied with the current mathematics pedagogy, he once stated, "Whatever creative edge that the students have is systematically blunted by this very dated educational system." He firmly believes that innovative thinking is quite essential for research activities and academic excellence.
Prof. Mahan Mj endeavors to transform the way mathematics is taught in India. He is setting up a Fundamental Science Education Trust in Mumbai along with his friend, Rajesh Gopakumar, who is a theoretical physicist at the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Bangalore, and two of his students. The main motive of the trust is to promote innovative ideas in education, especially in Mathematics field. Prof. Mj has donated his Infosys prize money worth Rs. 65 Lakhs for the establishment of the trust.
Achievements and Honors
Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in Mathematical Sciences, 2011.