13. SRINIVASA RAMANUJAN
A Traditional, Cultural & Meaningful Biography
PRIMARY SCHOOL YEARS

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PRONUNCIATION KEY


Primary School
Ramanujan was admitted to Kangeyan Elementary School in December, 1892. Komalathammal would apply oil to his head, hair and body; comb and plait his hair; decorate with some fresh flower, if available. His attire was a clean small towel around his waist, like a dothi, with a shirt on. Then, of course, came the bright 'Naamam' (Then Kalai - Southern style) on his forehead.

First in Class & First in Maths
Ramanujan was a bright child. He was serious with his studies and came first in class; he also scored the highest marks in mathematics. But he was shy and reserved; never went to play with other children. He used to sit behind the front window of his house, with his snacks and do his school-work and watch other children play.

Initiation
As Ramanujan was already 5 years of age, his father Srinivasan performed Ramanujan's Upanayanam. This happened in a Chatram in Devakottai while the family was returning from a religious trip to Rameswaram. Srinivasan also taught him Sandhya Vandhanam - twice-daily worship stipulated for every Brahmin at sandhi - time of 'meeting' of day and night - at sun-rise and sun-set. He also taught him a few other slokhas and sthothras

Tradition: Daily Worship
Every morning, Ramanujan would go to Sri Sarangapani Temple to worship Perumal and would do Saashtaanga Namaskaram to his mother (prostrate in front of her on the ground, so that the six parts of his body - two feet, two hands and two cheeks - touch the ground, in total submission) and get her blessings also. Ramanujan himself had told his (same-age, same class) friend Anantharaman that he prayed to Sri Namagiri Thaayaar of Naamakkal every morning.

Keerippillai (Baby Mongoose)
The days his mother did not make any snack, she had to buy something from the nearby 'petti kadai' (bunk-shop) for 1 'thambidi' - (paisa - in those days; 192 thambidis made a rupee), otherwise Ramanujan would cry rolling over on the floor. This 'agitation' earned him the nick-name, keerippillai (mongoose) by his grand-father. Ramanujan enjoyed pazhaiya saadham, (left-over rice, soaked in water) mixed with curd (fresh, thick yoghurt).

Zelous Student
While Ramanujan was in Class IV, he came first in the District Elementary School Examinations (November, 1897). But his good friend, K. Sarangapani, who later became a famous lawyer in Kumbakonam, came first in maths, scoring 43 out of 45 against Ramanujan's 42. Ramanujan was in tears and he could not understand how anyone else could score more than him in maths! So he declared, "Sarangapani was no more his friend." Sarangapani tried his best to reason with his good friend but without success. In the evening, Komalam advised Ramanujan not to blame his good friend but to work even harder and always score the first mark in maths. This pacified Ramanujan.

No Food in the House
One day, Ramanujan had to go to school with an empty stomach as there was no rice to cook in the house. He just drank three tumblers of water and went to school but did not return home in the afternoon. Komalam got very worried. After searching everywhere she went to his close friend Anantha Raman's house in Middle Street. On hearing the full story, Anantha Raman's mother was very disturbed; she gave two measures of rice to Komalam; she then sent Ananthu in search of his friend.

Solving Problem in Sleep
Ananthu failed to find Ramanujan in many places and finally went to Sri Sarangapani Perumal's temple. There was Ramanujan sleeping in the mantapam with his maths notebooks under his head as a pillow. He had worked maths all around him, on the floor with chalk. Ananthu was very happy and shook his friend. Ramanujan woke with a shock and said, "Ananthu! You have woken me up before I could complete the other half of the solution to the problem." Anantharaman quipped, "Hey! You are talking about doing sums. But you were not doing sums; you were in deep sleep. Did you dream of doing maths in your sleep? Come, let us go home."

"You remember the problem our maths teacher could not do in the class yesterday? I was doing the same sum in my dream and you have woken me up before I could finish it! Hold on! Let me write the first part of the solution that I did in the dream in my notebook." Ramanujan scribbled the 'half'-solution in his notebook.

I See the Half Unsolved Problem Only!
Now Ananthu took his friend to his Uncle's house in Pachchaiyappa Mudali Theru. His aunt spread the banana leaves for them both and served rice. While adding butter-milk - highly diluted curd (yoghurt), mami lamented, in an apologetic tone, "I do not have any side-dish for the rice." Ramanujan replied, "Mami! Not to worry; I do not need any side-dish. All my thought is in the un-finished problem that I was doing in my dream and so I am not hungry at all. Moreover I am not even aware of what you have served on the leaf; only that problem is visible to me! However mami served the banana (offered in the prayer to God in the house) rolled in (white) sugar. Ramanujan became very happy and contented.

Namagiri's Grace and Mother's Blessings!
One day the two friends were in the open terrace of Ananthu's house. Ananthu asked, "Ramanja! Your are solving big problems very easily. From where did you get such a skill and memory?" Ramanujan replied, "I pray to (Namakkal) Namagiri Thayar everyday. In addition, I do saashtaanga namaskaaram to my mother everyday before I go to school and get her blessings." This is the source of my skill and memory.

Daevathai Teaches in Dream!
Ramanujan continued, "Ananthu! You will not believe what I am going to tell you now. One day,

A brilliant Devathai came and taught me maths in my dream and disappeared.

From that day, whenever I set to do any problem, I 'see clearly' someone teaching me."

Ramanujan completed his Primary Education in 1897 and then joined the Kumbakonam Town High-School in 1898.