Srinivasa Ramanujan was born on December 22, 1887 in Erode, a city in the Tamil Nadu state of India. His father, K. Srinivasa Iyengar was a clerk while his mother, Komalatammal performed as a singer, in a temple. Even though they belonged to the Brahmins who are known to be the highest caste of Hinduism, Ramanujan’s family was very poor.
At the age of 10, in 1897, Ramanujan attended the high school in Kumbakonam Town. There he discovered his intelligence in the field of mathematics and by his independent study of books from the school library; Ramanujan increased his knowledge and skills. At age of just 12 years, he had developed understanding of trigonometry and was able to solve cubic equations and arithmetic and geometric series as well.
Among all of the mathematical literature Ramanujan went through, a book by George Shoobridge Carr, titled as A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics, written in 1886, proved to be the primary medium that laid him onto the path of becoming a great mathematician. He got access to its copy in 1902 and in a short time he not only went through all of its theorems but also verified their results. He also rediscovered the work done by many famous mathematicians including Carl Friedrich Gauss and Leonhard Euler. In addition to this, many new theorems were also formulated by him.
Ramanujan completed his high school by the age of 17, in 1904. Due to his outstanding results, he was awarded scholarship for higher studies in the Government Arts College in Kumbakonam. But his inclination towards mathematics led to his failure in non-mathematical subjects and ultimately discontinuation of his scholarship. Ramanujan had to face the same situation in Pachaiyappa’s College, an affiliation of the University of Madras by losing his scholarship there.
When Ramanujan got married at the age of 22, in 1909, he got worried for his financial instability, but was still strong-willed to continue with his passion. He started independent research work in mathematics by getting enrolled in a college. He was supported by a government official and secretary of the Indian Mathematical Society, Ramachandra Rao.
In 1911, Ramanujan got his first publication with the assistance of Ramaswamy Aiyer, the founder of the Indian Mathematical Society, in the society’s journal only. This research was on Bernoulli Numbers, done independently by him in 1904. After about a year, Ramanujan started working in Madras at the Port Trust Office as a clerk alongside his research work.
After applying for British Universities in 1913, Ramanujan’s work got acknowledged by a prominent mathematician of the Cambridge University, Godfrey Harold Hardy who funded him for research in the University of Madras. In 1914, Ramanujan went to England to utilize his scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge and work in collaboration with G. H. Hardy and J. E. Littlewood. In 1916, Ramanujan got his Bachelors in Science degree and a year later he became a fellow of the British Royal Society.
Ramanujan has contributed a lot to mathematics in his short lifespan. This includes his independent works from India as well as the researches done under the mentorship of G. H. Hardy in England. Alongside his outstanding discoveries in continued fractions, divergent series, hypergeometric series, Reimann series and elliptic integrals, his advancements in partition of numbers are quite phenomenal. Ramanujan worked on properties of partition function and in collaboration with G. H. Hardy, developed the circular method to represent an integer in the form of its partitions. This led to many developments in analytic number theory by future mathematicians.
In 1917, Ramanujan got diagnosed with tuberculosis. He returned to India in 1919 and died in 1920, at the age of 32.
About three months before his death, Ramanujan wrote his last letter to Hardy, explaining his new discovery in mathematics; the Theta Function and its 17 identities. Later, many mathematicians worked on this function, proved the identities and found new ones too.
Even though Ramanujan had got many papers published in different journals during his life, much work remained unpublished. The notes that he left behind were studied by many mathematicians after him, who verified his discoveries, and found their potential applications.