Sunday, 26 June 2011


By Jennifer Mayo-Deman, Goldsmith University, London.  I was invited to a social gethering where I first met Prof Rao. I met him again at the Indian Ballet organised by his daughter, a choreographer and Prof. of Nutrition at Buffalo Univ. to raise funds for Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad. I was surprised to notice, Prof Rao, though a statistician, was also overseeing the choreography. I attended his son’s wedding in Pittsburgh. Since then I lost contact with him as he moved to Penn State Univ. I travelled around the World with my husband.   
Kapila: Samkhya Darshan
Being one of the oldest civilizations in the world India has a long standing history of scholarships and her people have made significant contribution in shaping world thinking in every facet of life. Indian philosophy is considered as the world's oldest philosophical tradition, and has witnessed the longest most continuous development. SAMKHYA (Enumeration) philosophy highlighted the dualism of matter (PRAKRITI) and soul (PURUSHA) (Kapila: 700 BC). Although Plato (429BC) is considered as the founding father of western philosophy when western philosophy really started shaping up, thousands years before him India had already developed the materialistic School of thoughts, which did not hypothesize the existence of God. SAMKHYA is the oldest of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophy. In modern western philosophy the duality reflects in Kantian theistic conviction on the nature of human conscience, in Hegel on the nature of human knowledge about the consciousness and in Marx in dialectical materialism and the theory of matter as wave and particles in Quantum physics. The concepts of reality in Buddhism surprisingly parallel to quantum physics.
Arya Bhatt 
Given a very strong tradition of Indian minds India has produced many foremost philosophers, statesmen, mathematicians and scientists right from Valmiki (8000 BC), Charvak (Kapila: 700BC), Chanakya (283-350, BC), Arya Bhatt (5th AD), Bhaskaracharya (1114-1185 A.D.). The most fundamental contribution of ancient India in mathematics is the invention of decimal system of enumeration, including the invention of zero. Lancelot Hogbern in his book ‘Mathematics for the Millions’, says: “There has been no more revolutionary contribution than the one which the Hindus (Indians) made when they invented Zero.” William James summaries Indian traditions a follows:
From the Vedas (ancient Indian scriptures) we learn a practical art of surgery, medicine, music, house building under which mechanized art is included. They are encyclopedia of every aspect of life, culture, religion, science, ethics, law, cosmology and meteorology.”
Similarly, Prof. O.M. Mathew in Bhavan’s Journal iterated as follows:
“Numerals are found in the 3rd Century BC. This knowledge traveled to Europe and West. In Arab countries even now numerals are known as HINDSE: from India. La’place, the French mathematician and physicist, wrote during Napoleon’s time, “It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols”.                                                        Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein, father of modern physics and Nobel Laureate in Physics said,
“We owe a lot to the Indians who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made”.
In view of above comments we pause briefly and outline historical development of science and mathematics in ancient India.
II. Ancient India Millennia Continuum – Biblical Origin to Pre-Renaissance Period
The biblical origin of the Indian civilization is traced back to thousands of years before the discovery of Indus valley civilization (5000, BC). In 8000 BC Gunpowder was known as AURBAGNI, being the invention of Aurba, the preceptor of Sagara and the ancestor of Lord Rama as have been described in the work NITICHINTAMANI. The 5500 years old sample of writing unearthed at Harappa is Vedic writing (Science Reporter, June 1999). The concept of democratic set up of Government, based on elections, originated in India. Rig Veda States “the republic elects you as a king. Kingship may fall away by your bad conduct.” Atharva Veda. “Let all be of one purpose and mind under a common leadership in a spirit of fellowship.
Sanskrit is believed to be World’s first language comprising 63 sounds and letters in its alphabets. Russian alphabet has 35 letter, Spanish has 35, Persian has 31, English has 26, Latin and Hebrew have 20 each. Sanskrit is the mother of all the European Languages and is also considered as the most suitable language for computer software (A Report in Forbes Magazine, July 1987).
The largest numbers the Greeks and Romans used were 106, whereas Hindus used numbers as big as 1053 with specific names as early as 5000 BC during the Vedic period. Even today, the largest used number is Tera 1012. The Vedic era’s emphasis on nature led to one of the world’s earliest classification system plants and vegetation what is now known as Botany. IN 3000BC, The world AYAS occurs in the four Vedas which denotes iron. The brick work of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro excavations show that people of ancient India (2500 BC) possessed knowledge of Geometry. Excavation at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro shows India was adopting advanced house building and most mechanized town planning techniques, including two stadium and water management system in the year 2500 BC.
According to Dr. Thomas Arya, a German writer, “The weights used by the Indus valley (2500 BC) followed a binary system and measurement based on the decimal system.” Pierre La’place said, “How grateful we should be to Hindus who discovered the great decimal systems. Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine known to human beings and is world’s best codified system. Charka, the father of medicine consolidated Ayurveda 2500 years ago. Today Ayurveda is fast regaining its rightful place throughout the world.                                                                                                                                          
The world’s first university was established in Takshashila in 700 BC. Here more than 10,500 students from all over world studied more than 60 subjects. The University of Nalanda built in the 4th century BC was one of the greatest achievements of ancient India in the field of education. The Chinese scholar Kiuen Tsang also studied here. Modern plastic surgery owes its origin to India.
According to the Limca Book of Records, plastic surgery was done by Sushruta, an Indian physician of the 4th Century BC. Ashoka Pillar (An Emperor of Maurya Dynasty, 232-304) at Mehrauli, New Delhi and another iron pillar in Karnataka stand proof of India’s metallurgical heritage (A study published in the magazine ‘The Current Science’). The copper and bronze artifacts dates back to Indus Valley civilization (2500 BC) according to treatise RASARATNAKAR, zinc was made in around 50 BC at Zawar in Rajasthan (India).
The value of “pi” was first calculated by Budhayana and he explained the concept of what is known as the Pythagorean Theorem. He discovered this in the 6th century long before the European mathematicians.
Chemistry known as Rassayan Shastra was invented in India. Elphinstone wrote in his book ‘History of India’. They (ancient Indians) knew how to prepare the sulphate of copper, zinc and iron and carbonates of lead and iron.” RASAVIDYA or Indian alchemy made its appearance around 5th century A.D. (National Science Centre. New Delhi). Brahmagupta was the first mathematician to treat Zero (0) as a number and showed its mathematical operations.
The knowledge of the motion of heavenly bodies was discovered by Aryabhatta (499 AD) Latadeva (505 AD) and Brahmagupta (628 AD), for calculating the timing of eclipses. In ‘Surya Sidhanta’ Latadeva, talked about the earth’s axis and called it SUMERU. “That the earth is a sphere and it rotates on its own axis”, was known to Varahamihira and other Indian astronomers much before Copernicus published this theory (Jewish Encyclopedia). Arya Bhatta also formulated the rules for finding the area of a ‘triangle’, which led to the origin of Trigonometry. In his book ‘Sidhanta Shiromani’ Bhaskaracharya (5th Century AD) mentions about force of attraction resembling the law of gravity, discovered centuries later by Newton and calculated the time taken by the earth to orbit the sun hundreds of years before the western astronomers. Time taken by earth to orbit the sun was mentioned: 365.258756484 days (Jewish Encyclopedia). P. Johnstone said, “Gravitation was known to the Hindus (Indians) before the birth of Newton. The system of blood circulation was discovered by them centuries before Harvey heard of.” Quadratic equations were discovered by Sridharacharya in India in the 11th century.                              Ramanujan-Mathematician
Art of navigation: The art of navigation was born in the river Sindh (India) 600 years ago. The very world ‘Navigation’ is derived from Sanskrit ‘Nou’ (Boat) and ‘Gati’ (Speed).
After this period, unfortunately India was repeatedly raided by Turks, Huns, Mughals, and other rulers and there was a lull in scientific research. India almost missed the Industrial revolution and Renaissance period. Before Ramanujan, the only noteworthy mathematician was Sawai Jai Singh II, who founded the present city of Jaipur in 1727 A.D. This Hindu king was a great patron of mathematicians and astronomers.
Sir CV Raman-Spectral Analysis                JC Bose - Nobel Laureate.

In the 20th Century India resurrected from the lull and a generation of great mathematicians and top scientists emerged like, J. C Bose, S.N. Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray, S. Ramanujan, C.V. Raman, Meghnad Shah, S. N Bose, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, Homi J. Bhabha, S. Chandrasekhar, Vikram Sarabhai, S.N. Roy, Prof. Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Shreeram Shankar Abhyankar Shreeram, D. D. Kosambi, K. Chandrasekharan, G. N. Ramachandran, M. K. Vainu Bappu, among others Times of India of 31 December 1988 chose Professor C.R. Rao as one of the 10 top scientists of India; some of them already got the Noble Prize (see,
Madame Curie -Doubl Nobel Laureate
Unfortunately, this was a period of time in which very few women were present in the international arena of science - the Madam Curie, Barbara McClintock, Rosalind Franklin, Joan Robinson being some of the more famous exceptions. This was also a period of time in which due to sex discrimination in access to educational opportunities was very stark. Through this period of time most women did not have access to institutions of higher learning and laboratories, which prevented and completely isolated them from participation in the scientific revolution. Particularly, this was true in India due to repeated invasions and then subjugation by Mughal and British. As proverbial saying goes, “Talent needs opportunity.” No doubts, women have made significant contribution in science careers over the past 40 years.
 A well known historian, Arnold Toynbee predicted:
"At the close of this century, the world would be dominated by the West, but that in the 21st century 'India will conquer ...”   Similarly, Mark Twain said,
“India is the cradle of the human race, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Most valuable and the most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”
III. CR RAO: A Legacy Continuum - Why No Nobel or Bharat Ratan?
Professor Rao is one of this century's foremost statisticians, entered statistics quite by chance and went on to become a household name in the field. Today, he is a living legend who has transcended not just statistics, but has had profound influence on other disciplines which have far reaching implications for fields varying from economics, econometrics, genetics, anthropology, agronomy, geology, national planning, demography, biometry, biology to medicine. In fact, like love his life has many splendorous dimensions including photography, dance choreography, cooking and charitable work. To put in the language of Richard Feynman, a pioneer of modern quantum theory, like objects Prof Rao does not have a single defined history. In other words, he is a living example of nanotechnology, which means he does not have just one history but every possible history. Prof Rao’s brilliance cannot be described by common sense, as common sense is based upon direct observation on everyday’s walk of life, but the voluminous knowledge he created could not be obtained through direct observation and setting up a Museum of Statistics in Hyderabad confirms to this fact. He was not only instrumental in establishing 5 ISIs in India during his tenure but he has also institutionalized statistics as a ‘freestanding’ discipline across the world. It would be an underestimation if we say that there is hardly any good department of Statistics and Mathematics in the world where Professor Rao would not have either one of his students or a colleague who has worked or met with him.
In 1980s when Prof Rao was a Carnegie Mellon Professor and University Professor  (people with exceptional achievements are given) at the University of Pittsburgh I was an Administrator in Economics Department. Although another well known Professor Krishnahya was also in the Statistics Department its rating was improved tremendously after Prof Rao joined the Department. In fact the Statistics Department was rated amongst the top 5 departments in the United States.
While one might be tempted to say that Prof C.R. Rao moves along the boundaries of science, it is perhaps more accurate to say that the boundaries of science move with him. His well known work which is known as Cramer-Rao Bound has appeared in Quantum Physics under the technical term Quantum Cramer-Rao Bound. The same Cramer-Rao Bound is today the industry standard for noise reduction in electronic sound equipment and in signal attraction in cryptography. B. Roy Friedan of University of Arizona and others used the concept of Information (a concept whose use was extensively studied by R.A. Fisher and Prof C.R. Rao) in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and other sciences .
Professor CR Rao was born on September 10, 1920, in India. At the age of 15 he won the prize instituted by the Nobel Laureate C. V. Raman to be given to the one who scores the highest score in a competitive examination in Physics. In Cambridge he worked with R. A. Fisher, the father of modern statistics, in his Anthropological Museum and Fisher agreed to be his supervisor in case he wished to submit his work in the museum for Ph.D. degree. Fisher agreed, provided he spent some time in his genetic lab where he was mapping the chromosomes of mice. He worked in Fisher’s lab and produced some papers on linkage studies published in Journal of Heredity. He received the Ph.D. degree of Cambridge University in 1948 by thesis based on the work done in the museum and the senior doctorate Sc.D. degree of Cambridge University a few years later by peer review of published work. He published two articles in Econometrica in 1947. Rao’s entry and success in statistics is a tale of two cities Calcutta and Cambridge.  CR Rao with John Nash
In 1949, he was appointed as Professor and Head of the Division of Research and Training School (RTS), unusual for someone to be made a professor at the young age of 29. He was made Director of RTS in 1968 and Director of ISI in 1972 and Jawaharlal Nehru professor in 1976. He continued his association with ISI till his retirement in 1980. During the period of 40 years of service at the ISI he developed a variety of theoretical and applied courses in statistics and introduced B. Stat, M. Stat and Ph.D. degree programs. His first research scholar, D. Basu was perhaps the first one to receive a Ph. D degree in theoretical statistics in India. Some of his famous students are, D. Basu, S. R. V. S. Varadhan, Abel Prize laureate, V. S. Varadarajan, K. R. Parthasarathy, S. Peddada, J.S. Rao, and T. E. S. Raghavan to mention some and several of them have gone on to become world leaders of research in their areas of specialization. He is an inspiring role model for statisticians as well as students from all disciplines.               CR Rao and John Nash
Professor Rao thought Von Newman & Morgenstern (1944) book made an important contribution to economics and the authors would get a Nobel Prize one day. That book inspired Professor Rao to develop research in game theory at the Indian Statistical Institute. He encouraged two of his research students, T. Parthasarathy (1967) and T.E.S. Raghavan (1968), to choose game theory based on the book by Neumann and Morgenstern as their thesis topics when Game theory had not emerged as an institution even in the US. Both of them are well known game theorists and made valuable contributions to game theory.  Professor Rao continued to maintain interest in Game theory even when he was a University Professor of Statistics at the University of Pittsburgh.  Many
well known Game theorists invited him to serve as an external member for their PhD students.
In the introduction to the book, Glimpses of India’s Statistical Heritage, the editors Ghosh, Mitra and Pathasarathy say the following:
"As the Head of the Research and Training School of the Indian Statistical Institute during 1949-1960, he single-handedly created an international team of young statisticians, economists and mathematicians who are currently holding prominent positions in several universities all over the world. Thanks to the well known Cramer-Rao Bound and Rao-Blackwellization, he is a house-hold name in the family of statisticians and now electrical engineers too".
R. A. Fisher, the father of modern statistics mentioned in his speech delivered at the ISI on 12 Feb 1963:
"For its (ISI) educational programs, the institute needs leaders of mathematical thought like Professor Rao who can uphold and maintain the high place in the world opinion that Indians have already won".
He received a Ph.D. under Prof R. A Fisher and was awarded a Sc.D. on his published work from the University of Cambridge. Prof C R Rao supervised and produced over 50 PhD who in turn produced about 250 PhDs. He is the author of 14 books and about 350 research papers of which some published in Econometric journals. Three of his books have been translated into several European and Chinese and Japanese languages. In fact, Science Citation index rated his research with very high impact factor. A reviewer of his book on the Linear Statistical inference and Its Applications, 1972 John Wiley, NY said, “It was one of the most widely cited books after the Bible”. Prof Rao has been awarded 32 honorary doctorates from 18 countries from 7 continents. Hence, Rao is an institution unto himself. Late Prof DeGroot of Carnegie Mellon University devoted an entire issue of the journal Statistical Science Vol. 2 No. 1986, A Brief Biography and Application of C. R. Prof Rao With a Biography of his Books & Papers by Simon Puntanen and George P H Styan, in Linear Algebra and Its Application 1996.) One may also see the 71 pages long interview of CR published in Econometric Reviews by Anil Berra (Econometric Theory, 19: 331-400 Cambridge University Press).

CR Rao with George Bush                    CR Rao with Manmohan Singh
United States has a culture of publish or perish and there is widely held belief that most academics are spent up force at the age of 40. In fact, universities rarely hire people after age of 40. Professor came to US at the age of 60 after 40 years of service at ISI and served as University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh for 10 years. He was headhunted by the Penn State University and was appointed as the first Eberly Professor of Statistics with over million grants and worked for another 20 years. He established a Center for Multivariate Analysis there which attracted scholars from all over the world to do Collaborative research. Free from administrative work, he was very prolific in research work during his stay in US. He is still active at the age of 90 participating in academic activities. Prof Rao was not a typical immigrant as most immigrants want to stay in America and assimilated in to the melting pot, instead he maintained his unique identity and with his academic profile and contributions he demonstrated that America wanted him more than he wanted America. In 2002 US President George Bush honored Prof Rao with the prestigious National Medal of Science and called him “prophet of new age”, for his pioneer contribution to the foundations of statistical theory and multivariate statistical methodology and their application, enriching the physical, biological, mathematical, economics and engineering sciences”. This year Professor C.R. Rao has been awarded the highest award, India Science Gold Medal by Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minster of India and recently the Royal Statistical Society has awarded Professor Rao the highest award, Guy Medal in Gold, ever given to a non European since 1895 when the Royal Statistical Society as found.
Rao has served as president of five statistical societies: (1) Indian Econometric Society, (2) International Biometric Society, (3) Institute of Mathematical Statistics, (4) International Statistical Institute, and (5) the Forum for Interdisciplinary Mathematics. He was elected as one of the Eleven Life Fellows of King’s College, Cambridge (only 11 at a time), a Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of Econometric Society, Jawaharlal Nehru Professor in 1984, National Professor India, Member of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. The Government of India awarded him the Padma Vibhushan, a high civilian award and made him its sixth National Professor, in recognition of his contribution to the cause of furthering knowledge. Hence, Rao is an institution unto himself and not only a pride of India but resurrection of the Great Indian intellectual tradition leaving the lasting impact on generations. I was fortunate to meet with him after so many years.
Academia is at loss why there has been no Nobel Prize for Prof Rao or a Bharat Ratna. Gandhi was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize five times but was denied on somewhat pretext although Martin Luther King Jr, John Hume and Desmond Tutu got on Gandhian principles. Hopefully, that mistake will not be repeated this time. 

Author Interests: Indian Religion, Films
School of Oriental and African Studies

Acknowledgement:  I am grateful to Dr Suresh Deman for helping me organise the material and also for providing thoughtful comments.  


NewsViews on Racism said...

Since I read the article Prof CR Rao's niece Dr Kishori pointed to that there is an oversight of a reference to a great female mathematician Leelavati. I briefly googled her and found that she was the daughter of Bhaskaracharya and the daughter-in-law of Indian mathematician Varaha Mihira.

As the legend goes in order to save the face of her great mathematician father-in-law LEELAVATI, who herself was a great & gifted mathematician including astrologer, amputed her tongue, before dictating the great sutras (formulas) relating to Mathematics & astrology. The formulas yet now followed in every corner of the country as LEELAVATI SUTRA

According to a 1587 translation by Fyzi (an Arab translator). A famed astronomer and astrologer, Bhaskara foresaw that his daughter would not be married and live happily if she is not wedded at an auspicious moment. To find the moment, he constructed a device - a cup with a small hole in its bottom that was placed in a vessel filled with water. The auspicious moment would be when the cup that would sink having slowly filled-up. As fate would have it, on the wedding day, a pearl from Leelavati's dress fell into the cup and blocked the hole and the auspicious moment passed without her getting married. 'Bhaskara then wrote Leelavati to console and detract his grief stricken daughter to whom he taught the mathematical techniques.

He named his seminal work, BHASKARA'S LEELAVATI - A MATHEMATICALTREATISE (1114-1193 C.E.) after her name although some believe that she was the real author of the Leelavati (means beautiful.

T. Krishna Kumar said...

Jennifer and Suresh,

It is a well-written article. It should be circulated widely. I suggest that you send it to Current Science, a Journal published by the Indian Association for the Advancement of Science, Indian Institute of Science.
Krishna T. Kumar