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Shakuntala Devi: The Enigma

Shakuntala Devi was an enigma to many. It was difficult to understand her superhuman abilities with numbers. Truly gifted people have a way of being challenged again and again, most often to prove themselves. So, it was with Shakuntala Devi. She was challenged and tested, like a diamond she came shining through. Numbers was her core strength, but she was a bundle of energy and constantly explored other areas. Through her lifetime she became a writer, an astrologer, a teacher, a motivational speaker and even dabbled in politics. Besides, of course being a brilliant Mathematician from India. She spent her lifetime sharing her knowledge and touching lives in different ways with her gift. Here are some interesting facts about her:

A picture of Shakuntala Devi
Shakuntala Devi : The Enigma

Click here to read about the first female Mathematician of the world

She did not have any formal education

Born on 4th November 1929 in Bangalore, Karnataka, Shakuntala Devi is popularly known as the ‘Human Computer’. She did not have any formal education when she demonstrated her abilities at the University of Mysore at the age of 6. In all her work, she often focused on simplifying methods of calculations for students.

Her father worked in a circus

Her father worked in the circus as a lion tamer, magician, tightrope walker and a trapeze artist. It was her father who discovered her gift with numbers. After which, he left the circus and engaged her in road shows that gave the opportunity to display her aptitude with numbers.

Her talent took her around the world

It is not clear what circumstances took her to the UK in 1944, but she did travel there. From then, she constantly travelled displaying her talent around the world. She toured Europe and America often stunning them with her unusual abilities to solve complicated mathematical problems in seconds.

A picture of Shakuntala Devi
The Human Computer

She was constantly tested

In 1988, she was invited to the University of California, Berkeley, where Mr Arthur Jensen, a professor of educational psychology tested her. He gave her several tests on complicated math problems. Examples of the problems include calculating the cube roots of 61,629,875 and other difficult problems. It was reported that the solutions to the problems were provided even before the professor could note it down in his book. The results of the findings of this test were published in an academic journal called Intelligence.

In 1977 she was able to calculate the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds. The US Bureau of Standards had to write a special program for the UNIVAC 1101 computer to check if her answer was right. Of course, the time spent to write the programme took a longer time than the time spent to answer the question.

If you are a computer nerd and want to read more about the UNIVAC, click here.

At the Imperial College, London, in 1980, she was given the task of multiplying two 13-digit numbers. Which were randomly selected by a computer. The digits selected were 7,686,369,774,870 and 2,465,099,745,779. The answer was 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.) She was able to solve it in 28 seconds. This was the event that was recorded in The GBOR in 1982.

Writer Steven Smith said ‘’the result is so far superior to anything previously reported that it can only be described as unbelievable.’’

She proved the computer was wrong

In 1950, in an iconic interview with the BBC, the interviewer deemed her answer to a mathematical question to be incorrect. But he retracted his statement and acknowledged that the computer’s answer was wrong and Shakuntala Devi’s answer was right.

This famous incident was recreated in her biopic enacted by Vidya Balan. Watch it here.

She loved to share her knowledge

She published a book called Figuring: The Joy of Numbers in 1977 which gave explanations to the methods she used to do mental calculations. She also went to write many books which covered topics like maths, puzzles and astrology. She is said to have a few murder mysteries and short stories to her credit.

An audio interview with the world-renowned mathematician, Shakuntala Devi

She loved Astrology

She was fascinated with astrology and is said to have travelled the world giving Astrological Consultations to important people like Presidents, Prime Ministers, Top Business Tycoons and Movie Stars. All the required was the time of birth, the date of birth and birthplace and she would be able to answer 3 questions for her clients. She later wrote the book called Astrology for You based on her experience.

She Dabbled in Politics

In 1980, she entered politics as a candidate for Medak in Andhra Pradesh. Her Opponent was the iconic Mrs. Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India. She however was not as successful in politics. Mrs. Gandhi beat her to become the Prime Minister once again.


A movie was made on her life

After her death, a film called Shakuntala Devi was made on her life which starred veteran actress Vidya Balan in the lead role.

Watch the tailer of the entertaining movie here


We can help you improve your mental math abilities

This story has been presented to inspire children all over the world. Especially children who are intrigued by math and want to excel in the subject. To help children pursue their passion and to attain expertise in the subject, Learner Circle has designed an interesting program on Abacus. It is believed that learning Abacus facilitates the learning of arithmetic operations. It also helps to enhance mental calculations. In our interest and vision to provide a platform to help children in their early age development and to improve cognitive functions, this online course is available to children from all over the world. If you want to be like Shakuntala Devi, Learner Circle is here to help you. Please check out the website for a free demo.

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