Speech by Her Excellency The President of India, Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil at the Inauguration of the International Congress of Mathematicians 2010
Hyderabad, 19th August 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to inaugurate the International Congress of Mathematicians, which has a history of over a hundred years, in this beautiful city of Hyderabad. This Conference convened every four years, under the aegis of the International Mathematical Union, is an opportunity for Mathematicians from all over the world to discuss developments and advances in this discipline.
First of all, I would like to congratulate the Prize winners. I wish the young Fields Medallists and the Nevanlinna Prize Winner many more years of high mathematical achievement. Those who have been conferred the Gauss Prize and the Chern Prize deserve, apart from our congratulations, our deep appreciation for the service they have rendered to human progress through their profound mathematical work.
To be here, in the midst of outstanding mathematical scholars is an exhilarating experience. Though, I must confess that I am no mathematician, but belonging to a country that has a rich mathematical heritage, and where it has been accorded a primary position among intellectual pursuits, I feel proud that this Conference is being held here. India’s engagement with mathematics goes back some three thousand years. An ancient Sanskrit verse states:
Like the crest of the peacock and the jewel of the serpent,
Mathematics stands at the helm of all sciences.
Mathematics appears to have acquired an independent identity as an intellectual discipline early in human history. India has been at the forefront in contributing to innovations in arithmetic, algebra and geometry at different periods. The Pythagoras Theorem finds a place in Baudhayana Sulva Sutra, a work dating back to 8th Century BC. The concept of zero or shunya originated from India. Pierre-Simon La Place, a French mathematician said in the 19th Century that, “it is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by the means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position, as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea.” The contributions of Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta to the development of Algebra and Astronomy in the 6th and 7th Centuries are well recognised. In the 12th Century there was Bhaskaracharya. His work ‘Leelavati’ was the main source in medieval India for learning algebra and arithmetic. The book formulates mathematical problems in verse form addressed to Leelavati, Bhaskara’s daughter. It was through scholars from the Middle East that renaissance Europe became acquainted with these Indian developments. However, until the last Century, the West seems to have been unaware of Madhava, a mathematician of the 15th Century who anticipated the essentials of Calculus. It is only in recent years that the work of the ‘Kerala School’ has attracted considerable attention from historians of mathematics.
After a somewhat dormant period of almost half a millennium, revival of mathematical activity in India was triggered by the advent of the extraordinary figure of Srinivasa Ramanujan in the early 20th Century. Ramanujan’s achievements were a source of inspiration for succeeding generations. I hope that, in the midst of your busy schedule, you get an opportunity to see the play titled “A Disappearing Number”, being staged during the course of this Conference. It has, I am informed, references to the relationship between Ramanujan and G.H. Hardy, his Cambridge Professor.
Ever since our independence, India has recognised the importance of science as a vehicle for human progress. Mathematics, the language of science and its advancement, is an integral part of India’s science policy. Mathematics is a science, but nevertheless stands a little apart from other sciences. Yet, it is mathematical intervention that decisively confers the label ’science’ to any intellectual discipline. Mathematics, hence, permeates all sciences. Mathematics has had a big role in the development of Computer Science and Information Technology. There are myriad applications of mathematics in technology; and the mathematics used there is reaching higher and higher levels of sophistication. It is hard, for example, to conceive of any aircraft, any robot, or any future technology to be produced without a high level of mathematical precision. In recent years, the influence of mathematics in other fields has also grown enormously. Economics and social sciences, once impervious to mathematics, are coming increasingly under its influence. The need for understanding mathematics is necessary in all walks of life – whether engineers or scientists, or those working in the world of industry, finance or social sciences. Its role in other human endeavours apart, we also recognise the profound cultural dimension that the study of mathematics has. There is an aesthetic component to its pursuit and it inculcates the habit of rational thought and promotes what our first visionary Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called “scientific temper”. It is important that studies of mathematics are promoted amongst the young generation.
The International Mathematical Union, under whose auspices, the Mathematical Congress is being held for the last 50 years has, I am told, initiated many programmes for the promotion of mathematics in developing countries. I wish them great success in such initiatives. I am also happy that mathematicians from India have been contributing to the work of the IMU and for hosting this Conference.
I congratulate all those who have extended support to the Conference. The Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India in particular have made this event – the ICM – possible. I understand that many individuals and corporate entities have also extended generous support. My congratulations go also to the University of Hyderabad, its Vice Chancellor and its Mathematics Faculty in particular, for their role in the organisation of this event.
I extend a warm welcome to all the delegates who have assembled here. To the foreign delegates who have come here, I extend a cordial welcome to India. Many of you, I hope, will find time to savour the rich cultural heritage of our country. The organisers have planned some programmes that would give you glimpses of our country’s rich cultural heritage. One interesting event is where Viswanathan Anand, the current World Chess Champion is going to play simultaneously against 40 mathematicians. Chess is a game of movements and strategy. It will now be facing the combined calculated moves of mathematics. I wish you all good luck in this challenge!
In conclusion, I wish you all a very fruitful meeting professionally. This is a great opportunity for the mathematical community to interact. I once again wish the Congress great success.