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Manjul Bhargava extolls the music in mathematics

Author: Shubashree Desikan
Publication: The Hindu
Date: July 23, 2015
URL:   http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/manjul-bhargava-speaks-on-poetry-drummings-and-maths-at-iit-madras/article7457255.ece?homepage=true

In his lecture, titled, "Poetry, Drumming and Mathematics," Prof. Bhargava proceeded to explore the connection between these areas with examples from Sanskrit literature and by playing the Tabla.

“There was incredible math discovered by ancient poets when they were composing poetry. There is just a fine line between math and poetry, and while math is a science it is also an art,” said professor Manjul Bhargava, speaking on the eve of the 52nd convocation of IIT Madras.

In his lecture, titled, “Poetry, Drumming and Mathematics,” Prof. Bhargava proceeded to explore the connection between these areas with examples from Sanskrit literature and by playing the Tabla. The sequence of Fibonacci numbers, made famous by Dan Brown’s book, Da Vinci Code, had been known to Indians much earlier as made evident through the poetry of Hemachandra (c. 1050 AD), he said.

Pingal’s (500 BC) Meruprastar, is now known to us as Pascal’s triangle, in neglect of the fact that its discovery happened thousands of years before the French mathematician conceived of it. Whimsical composers of Sanskrit verse had also used nonsense words to code the rhythms of their compositions, and these had powerful mathematical structures, he said, pointing out the similarity of these to codes used in even NASA missions.

The mathematician ended his talk with a card trick which involved some crafty mathematics, too.

At a press meet held after his talk, Prof. Bhargava explained that he taught a math course for a whole semester at Princeton where the students could learn about the connection between art and math. “This way of learning, thinking and applying what you learn, and poetry, is more fun,” he said. About the repeated reference to mathematics built into poetry and music in his talk, he commented, “Music and math are similar in many ways. Both can be appreciated at several levels and have layers and depths to them.”

He also hoped that this way of thinking would eventually make its way into the curriculum and that teachers would adopt it and incorporate it in their classes. About the debate on the subject, he said, “While one side says everything was known to the ancients, there is a tendency on the other side to see nothing of value in these texts. There has to be a middle ground, a path of no extremes, and also an appreciation that tremendous amount has happened in the last fifty years. This is totally missing in the debate.”
 
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