Before I talk to you about the wearing of the vermilion or sandal-paste forehead mark, I would like to tell you about two events. It will make things easier for you to understand. Both of them are historical facts.
In 1888, a person named Ramanuja was born in a poor Brahmin family in South India. He became a very famous mathematician. He could not study much, but still his genius in mathematics was unique. Many well-educated mathematicians had earned a name because of their training and guidance from others for a number of years. But Ramanuja was not even a matriculate and had had no training or guidance from anyone. Hence, those who know mathematics say that there has never been a greater mathematical genius than Ramanuja.
With great difficulty he got a clerical job, but very soon the news spread that he had an amazing talent for mathematics. Someone suggested that he write a letter to the famous mathematician, Professor Hardy of Cambridge University – he was the most eminent mathematician of those days. He did not write a letter, but solved two theorems of geometry and sent them to Professor Hardy. Hardy was astonished to receive them, and could not believe that someone so young could solve such theorems. He immediately wrote back to Ramanuja and invited him to come to England. When Hardy met him for the first time, he felt that he himself was like a child before Ramanuja in the field of mathematics. The genius and capabilities of Ramanuja were such that they could not have been due to mental powers because the intellect moves very slowly, thinking takes time, but Ramanuja did not take any time in responding to Hardy’s questions. No sooner was the problem written down on the blackboard or put to him verbally than Ramanuja began to reply, without any time gap for thinking. It was very difficult for the great mathematicians of the time to understand how it was happening. A problem which would take an eminent mathematician about six hours to solve – and then too he was not sure about his accuracy – Ramanuja would solve instantaneously, and unerringly.
It proved that Ramanuja was not replying through the medium of the mind. He was not very learned – he had actually failed in matriculation – and there were no other indications of intellectual ability, but in connection with mathematics he was superhuman. Something was happening that was beyond the human mind.
He died of tuberculosis when he was thirty-six. When he was in hospital, Hardy, along with two or three other mathematician friends, went to see him. As it happened, he parked his car in a place where Ramanuja could see its number plate. When Hardy entered Ramanuja’s room, he told Hardy that his number plate was unique: it had four special aspects to it. After that, Ramanuja died. It took Hardy six months to understand what Ramanuja meant, but he could only discover three of the four aspects. On his death he left a will that the research work on this number should continue, in order to discover the fourth aspect. Ramanuja had said there was a fourth, so there had to be. Twenty-two years after Hardy’s death, the fourth aspect was discovered. Ramanuja had been right.