Founding the Indian Mathematical Society

In 1926 V Ramaswami Aiyar (1871-1936) gave the presidential address Genesis and History of Founding of the Society - Mathematical Reminiscences of the founding father himself to the Indian Mathematical Society. (See The Mathematics Student 80 (1-4) (2011), 239-263.) We give slightly modified extracts from his address below:

In 1893 I took the M.A. degree and, about August in the following year, I was a candidate for the Mysore Civil Service Examination but I failed. I then received an enquiry from Mr Bhabha, Inspector-General of Education in Mysore, asking if I could act as a Professor of Mathematics in the Central College, Bangalore, in place of Mr T R Venkataswami Naidu, who was taking a short leave. I was glad to accept the offer. This made me a colleague of Mr M T Naraniengar and we became intimate friends. We were both deeply interested in Mathematics and in a modest way Geometry was our forte and curves our fancy; we discussed nothing but mathematics. Rouse Ball's Mathematical Recreations and Essays had recently come out [published 1892] and contained a lot to interest us. After Mr Venkataswami Naidu rejoined duty, I continued to remain in Bangalore, meeting Mr M T Naraniengar frequently. We had a special affinity as both of us were old boys of the Cambridge College.

In 1895, Mathematics classes were started for the B.A. degree in the Maharaja's College, Mysore, and I was appointed to a permanent post on the staff of the college, as Lecturer in the subject. Mr J Weir was the principal of the college and Professor of Mathematics. Mr Weir arranged for me to be introduced as a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society and I felt very proud. [He became a member in December 1895.] The proceedings of the Society, which I received, gave me my first glimmer of hope that a Mathematical Society like the Edinburgh could, perhaps, be formed in India.

My service in Mysore did not continue long. I appeared for the Madras Civil Service Examination of 1895 and came out successfully. I joined the Madras Civil Service as a Deputy Collector at the end of 1895. [At the time he joined the Edinburgh Mathematical Society he was Probationary Deputy Collector in Trichinopoly, India.]

The year 1906, I think, is an important date in the intellectual history of the world. It was the year in which Einstein made his great discovery of the principle of relativity. It was also the year, probably, in which our own great mathematician, Ramanujan, unknown as yet, was making some of his discoveries. However that may be, there was a feeling in India that it was the time of large awakening. There was considerable political agitation then, owing to the partition of Bengal. But men also saw that, before India could become great, we needed advancement in many different directions. Our great countryman, Sir J N Tata, had these problems in mind and laid the foundation of a considerable industrial and intellectual advancement. But his great scheme of a Central Research Institute for India made no provision for mathematical advancement. One day I put to myself the question "Can I not be of some help in advancing the interests of Mathematics in India?" The spirit of the times made me think seriously about the question. I wanted to form a Mathematical Society which might be something like the Edinburgh Mathematical Society. I obtained the Calendars of the Madras and the Bombay Universities and made a list of all men who had taken the M.A. degree, or a first class in B.A., or doing work as Professors and Assistant Professors in various colleges. The list was very encouraging. There were men of distinction like Dastur, Sanjana, Apte and Paranjpye in the Bombay Presidency. There were men like Hanumantha Rao, my own teacher Swaminatha Aiyar, Ramchandra Rao, Naraniengar, Ramesham, Venkataswami Naidu, and so on in my Presidency. On perusal of the long list, it occurred to me that, if by some magic, I could only put all these names into a Society, then with Euclid, I might say, Q. E. F. (quod erat faciendum, what is required is now done). But I did not see my way for this magic. I was a Deputy Collector and not a Professor of a College who his fellow mathematicians would know. I sometimes thought that, if I were the great Asutosh Mukherji of Bengal, I could make a trumpet call, bringing all the mathematicians together at once. But I was unknown; and any call by me, I felt, would fall flat on the public ear. So, I was in a state of hesitation as to the action I should take.

In that year I saw a copy of the Quarterly Journal of Mathematics, sent to me by a friend. The matter which it contained was mostly beyond me but there was a little bit that delighted me. And I began to wonder how many such delightful bits, we in India, may be missing by not seeing the leading journals. This made me more eager than ever to try to form a Mathematical Society. At length came the Christmas Day of December 1906. I was put up in the village Chavidi, in Gooty Division, Anantpur District. Thinking calmly, I felt that God will prosper any earnest endeavour made in a selfless cause. I was able to see my plan clearly and I wrote a little letter asking friends to join and form a small Mathematical Society. The letter was simply conceived and had no ambitious programme. (Published in vol. XI of the journal of the Society; it is reproduced at the end of this article.) I sent copies of the letter to one friend after another and I received an abundant response during three months. Then, on the 4th of April 1907, I was able to announce in the Madras dailies that the Society was formed, with a strength of 20 members, under the name "The Indian Mathematical Club," and I became one of its Joint Secretaries along with Mr Naraniengar and I continued so until 1910

After the formation of our Society in 1907, I wrote to the leading mathematicians of Bengal (with copies of my original letter and letter of announcement) asking for their support. I got a prompt response from Professor Mahendra Nath Dey, but not from others. Professor Dey informed me that my letters to others had been received, but mathematicians of Bengal were considering the formation of a separate Society at Calcutta. I was feeling disappointed that Bengal did not join us. Before long, however, I received a kind letter from Sir Gurudas Banerjee, the eminent judge, as well as mathematician, acknowledging my letter, commending our action, and stating that they in Bengal preferred to have a Society formed in Calcutta itself, to gain our common objects the better, and that plans for this were ready. He said that India was such a vast country that there was ample room for both the Societies to function and he wished all prosperity to our endeavours. With such blessings from Sir Gurudas we were very glad to see our sister Society "The Calcutta Mathematical Society" come into existence in Calcutta in 1908, for promoting our common objects.

Sir, - I recently sent a proposal to some gentlemen interested in mathematics suggesting the formation of a small Mathematical Society. The proposal ran as follows: -

Sir, - I believe several friends interested in Mathematics have felt the present lack of facilities for seeing mathematical periodicals and books. This is a very great disadvantage we are suffering.

I propose therefore that a few friends may at once join and form a small Mathematical Society and subscribe for all the important Mathematical periodicals and, as far as possible, for all important books in Higher Mathematics.

We may call the Society "The Analytic Club" for the present, and have it in view to give it a broader basis with a suitable name by and by.

Our work immediately will be to obtain all the important periodicals and new books and circulate them to members. I shall be glad to undertake the duties of Secretary for the first year and do my best to promote the object in view.

If half a dozen members can be counted upon to join immediately and each subscribe Rs. 25/- per annum, we shall be able to make a good start. The Annual Subscription may perhaps be somewhat less, say, if a dozen members can be had; but even a dozen members paying Rs. 25/- per annum would not suffice to enable the Club to obtain the more important books appearing every year. I propose therefore that the subscription be Rs. 25/- per annum.

It appears to me necessary also that members should be prepared for a further sacrifice, and I propose that each member should send the journals and books he receives on to the next, and the last to the Secretary, at his own cost. This in effect would be to add about Rs. 5/- more to one's subscription. I hope friends interested in Mathematics will not consider this a too heavy sacrifice - at any rate initially, in giving the club a start.

Will you kindly write to me if you are in favour of the proposal? In case you are, I request you will send me your subscription of Rs. 25/- for 1907, as early as possible, so that we make a start at once.

This is only a tentative scheme and we may try it for a year and then introduce necessary changes.

I propose to consider the club formed as soon as three friends have agreed to the proposal, making with me four members. Thereafter, all business requiring determination by the Club can be done by circulation. Requesting the favour of an early reply,

I remain, Sir, Yours truly,

(Signed) V Ramaswami Aiyar.

In response to this proposal (which I was able to send only to a very limited number of persons) the under mentioned have written to me consenting to become members of the proposed Society:


1. R N Apte, M.A., L.L.B., F.R.A.S., Professor of Mathematics, Rajaram College, Kolhapur.

2. M V Arunachala Sastri, M.A., Assistant Professor, Nizam's College, Hyderabad.

3. K Chinnatambi Pillai, B.A., Assistant Professor, Christian College, Madras.

4. B Hanumanta Rao, B.A., Professor of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Madras.

5. D K Hardikar, B.A., Professor of Mathematics, Nizam's College, Hyderabad.

6. G Kasturiranga Aiyangar, M.A., Lecturer, Maharaja College, Mysore.

7. B Krishnamachari, M.A., Assistant Superintendent, Accountant General's Office, Madras.

8. A V Kuttikrishna Menon, M.A., Teacher's College, Saidapet.

9. V Madhava Rao, M.A., Professor of Mathematics, Maharaja's College, Vizianagaram.

10. M T Narayana Aiyangar, M.A., Professor of Mathematics, Central College, Bangalore.

11. R P Paranjpye, B.Sc., M.A., Principal and Professor of Mathematics, Fergusson College, Poona.

12. R Ramachandra Rao, B.A., Collector of Kurnool.

13. K J Sanjana, M.A., Principal and Professor of Mathematics, Samaldas College, Bhavnagar, Kathiawar.

14. P V Seshu Aiyar, M.A., Lecturer, Government College, Kumbhakonam.

15. S P Singaravelu Mudaliar, B.A., Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Christian College, Madras.

16. R Swaminatha Aiyar, B.A., Treasury Deputy Collector, Coimbatore.

17. T R Venkataswami Nayudu, B.A., Professor of Mathematics, Maharaja's College, Mysore.

18. K Krishnan Nayar, B.A., B.C.E., District Board Engineer, Mangalore.

19. S A Subramania Aiyar, B.A., B.C.E., Executive Engineer, Madras P. W. D., Madanapalli.

With me, it makes 20 members.
I beg to declare on behalf of all those that have joined, that the Society is now formed, under the proposed name "The Analytic Club" for the time being; and I shall be its Secretary provisionally.

My thanks are due to the gentlemen who have joined, for the support they have given me in starting the club. The membership has already exceeded my modest anticipations, and many more, I think, will be joining. This renders some changes and a better organization at once necessary. I shall soon be submitting to members proposals for a simple constitution for the Society according to which the affairs of the Society will be managed by a committee consisting of a President, a few office bearers and some additional members. From the support that I have received in this respect also, I feel we shall have a Committee giving the greatest possible confidence.

Our Library should preferably be in a place which is a good centre for posting to all India. In this respect, Poona is, next to Bombay, the most central place for all India. Further, I am glad to be able to mention that Prof Paranjpye will be willing to take charge of the Library, provision being made for the discharge of purely mechanical work through Assistant Librarians. By voting Poona as our centre, we Madrassees will convince the rest of India that we do not look at the matter from a purely provincial point of view.

JOC/EFR February 2018

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