The Devi In Ramanujan's Dream: Because She Is 'The Mind Beyond Mind'
For Srinivasa Ramanujan, an equation "had no meaning unless it revealed the mind of god".
The 207th name of the goddess in Sri Lalitha Sahasranama is Manonmani, where she is the mind beyond the mind and the awakening that happens when awareness is raised to the highest possible state.
In the 2009 biopic of Charles Darwin, Creation, there is nothing mystical or mysterious. As Darwin uncovers one of the most fundamental processes of the universe, his psychological journey gets heavily infused with the conflict he has with the faith of his wife and the memories of his daughter.
Eventually though, it is his wife who gave him the final push to publish his famous On the Origin of Species. In a subtle, non-mystical way, the feminine plays a vital role in the movie adaptation of the book.
The intuitive component of our psyche is always feminine. The deeper we delve into our intuitive realms, the more sacred the feminine becomes. In societies where the divine feminine is not suppressed by cultures and dogmas, it manifests as the agency that delivers the genius his song or his equation.
In India, we have a long tradition of the goddesses appearing in the dreams or in a luminal experience of geniuses.
A well-attested tradition is that of Thiru Gnana Sambandar, who was given the milk of wisdom by Goddess Parvati. The songs with their supra-human mathematical precision of rhythm and meaning — entire poems written in the form of palindromes — show that Sambandar was a genius. Tradition, of course, attributes it to the divine milk.
In oral traditions about Kalidasa in northern India and Kalamega Kavi in the south, we see the goddess appearing in a subliminal realm that exists between dream and reality. She either writes the pranava mantra on the tongue, as in the Kalidasa story, or spits betel leaf juice into the mouth of the poet as in the case of poet Kalamega.
While Kalidasa is virtually the national poet of India, Kavi Kalamegam, known for his songs that are filled with extraordinary pun, satire, caustic humour and creativity par excellence, is well known in Tamil.
The same goes for the great humorist Tenali Raman. One should remember that Tenali Raman, despite the popular imagery of him being a clever court jester, was also a great composer of philosophical works.
Can we consider them all as myths of pre-modern times? Or is there a deeper, psychological-spiritual phenomenon involved here?
A recent phenomenon that still has implications for mathematics and theoretical physics should actually make us further investigate the event so consistently mentioned in Hindu traditions.
The discoveries of Srinivasa Ramanujan help theoretical physicists even today. In his dreams, Namagiri Thayar, the divine consort of Maha Vishnu in the temple at Namakkal — would appear and make him ‘see’ the equations and he would later commit them to paper.
One should remember that Ramanujan himself was a mathematical genius. He would struggle in his own unorthodox ways with theorems he taught himself. And as he would fall asleep, the goddess would appear and give him the intuitive push. So was it his own intuitive abilities which were taking the form of the goddess he knew so well because of his cultural conditioning?
There is more to it — some deeper resonances.
Physicist Michio Kaku has pointed out that Ramanujan's function also appears in string theory ‘miraculously’. This seems to have some kind of archetypal connection with ancient Sankhya Darshana. In an earlier essay, this connection has been explored. So, the number 24 appearing in Ramanujan’s papers and its deeper relation to certain approaches to the fundamental problems of the universe — make us pause and reconsider the intuition taking the form of the goddess.
What is at play may be something more fundamental than intuition. From Thiru Gnana Sambandar through Kalidasa, Kalamegam to Srinivasa Ramanujan, from Parvati to Kali to Namagiri Thayar — the phenomenon may be a doorway for us to get a glimpse into the incredible universe of the divine feminine — who perhaps may be the very substratum of all that exists in the phenomenal world of space and time, and names and forms of infinite variety.
Perhaps, we may get some more clues in the yogic-tantric psychology of Thirumoolar, a mystic of Shaiva Siddhanta tradition.
In the fourth tantra of his work Thirumanthiram — auspicious mantra — in the 1,107th verse, he states that Manonmani comes to one who is in divine slumber and pulls him close to her by her hand wearing beautiful, enchanting bangles, and then transfers her spittle into the person’s mouth, not asking them not to sleep anymore, thus performing a miracle.
Thirumanthiram further describes Manonmani, the form of the goddess who appears in the divine slumber of the seeker, in a later verse, as the one who is beyond words and mind and yet surrounded by the diversity of the devilish and ghoulish forms. To Shiva, she is at once his mother, daughter and wife. This is because in the primordial timeless time, Shakti brings forth Shiva — and becomes his mother. Shiva brings forth Shakti and she becomes his daughter and then Shakti and Shiva are in dynamic union in all existence and hence, she is his consort.
This primordial consciousness, both dynamic and the basic substratum, emerges in the awareness that is between the real and the dream state and reveals its secrets — poetic, mathematical, aesthetic and mystic.
In Sri Lalitha Sahasranama the 207th name of the goddess is Manonmani. She is variedly described. She is the mind beyond the mind. She is the awakening that happens when the awareness is raised to the highest possible state.
For Srinivasa Ramanujan, mathematics was not just a knowledge domain. He famously said that for him an equation has no meaning unless it reveals the mind of god.
In the Sri Vaishnava tradition from which he hailed, the god is of course Vishnu and seated in his heart is Lakshmi. The mind of god is the goddess. So, she visited him in his dream.
She revealed to him the equations — the thoughts, the vimarsa waves that arise in the luminous ocean of Brahman. This is, of course, mystic speculation. But if some day the yogic psychology becomes a serious tool to explore our inner realms, we, or others, will continue with this exploration.
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