While writing about Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta said – “The genius and wisdom of an ancient sage, the energy of an Englishman and the heart of a Bengali mother”.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is considered as one of the pillars of renaissance in Bengal. He was a great social reformer, writer, educator and entrepreneur. He was the greatest among the leading social reformers of Bengal. His remarkable contribution towards education and changing the status of women in India brought radical changes in the society. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar strongly protested against polygamy, child-marriage and favored widow remarriage, and women’s education in India. Because of his contribution towards such issues, the Widow Remarriage Act was passed in 1856 legalizing the marriage of widows. He made significant effort to change Bengali prose and simplified Bengali typography into an alphabet. Because of his vast knowledge on different subjects especially in “Sanskrit”, the title “Vidyasagar” was given to him by Sanskrit College of Calcutta. Vidyasagar means an ocean of learning (“Vidya” means Learning & “Sagar” means Ocean).
Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyaya was born in Birsingha village of Midnapore district, in an orthodox family on 26th September 1820. His father Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and mother Bhagavati Devi were very religious. Their economic condition was not that stable and subsequently the childhood days of Vidyasagar were spent in abject poverty. After the completion of elementary education at the village school, his father took him to Calcutta (Kolkata). It is believed that Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar learned English numbers by following the mile-stones labels on his way to Calcutta at the age of eight.
In the year 1839, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar successfully cleared his Law examination. In 1841, at the age of twenty one years, Ishwar Chandra joined the Fort William College as a head of the Sanskrit department.
In 1834 when he was 14 years old he married Dinamani Devi. The couple had one son, Narayan Chandra.
Works and Contribution:
Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar has started many schools for the girls in order to enhance the girls’ education in the society. He dedicated his life to improve the condition of the woman and make them well-educated. He considered that educational reform was much more important than any other reform. He believed that the status of women, and all kinds of injustice and inequalities that they face could be changed only through education. He fought against all kinds of superstition that existed in the society.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar worked endlessly to provide equal education to all men and women irrespective of their caste, religion and gender. He allowed people from lower castes in his Sanskrit college that was meant only for upper caste men.
Being a kind hearted person he felt deeply for the sick, poor, and downtrodden. He used to donate money from his salary to the needy regularly. He also nursed sick people back to health, admitted students of so-called lower castes to his college, and cremated unclaimed bodies at the crematorium. Vidyasagar worked to uplift the status of women in India especially in his native Bengal. He was a social reformer and wanted to change the orthodox Hindu society from within. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar introduced the practice of widow remarriage and worked against polygamy.
Ishwar Chandra had written many books and thus enriched the Bengali education system to a great extent. Till date, the books written by him are read by all. He also reconstructed Bengali alphabet and reformed it into a typography of 12 vowels and 40 consonants.
He is best remembered for his relentless efforts in fighting the injustices meted out to women, especially widows. Moved by the plight of child widows, he persuaded the British Government to take action and pushed for it to pass The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856.
Vidya sagar was a scholar who worked to improve Bengali prose and grammar. He simplified the language and brought it within the folds of ordinary masses. Even today, His “Barno Porichoy” (বর্ণ পরিচয় ) is still a widely popular primer book for Bengali language study. His other notable works of the scholar are:
Betaal Panchabinsati (1847)
Bangala-r Itihaas (1848)
Bidhaba Bibaha Bishayak Prostab (1890)
Barna Parichay (1854)
Katha Mala (1856)
Sitar Bonobas (1860)
A bridge over the Hooghly River in West Bengal, which connects Howrah to Kolkata, is built to honor the master. It is named as “Vidyasagar Setu”. “Vidyasagar Street” is in Central Kolkata, which is named after him.
The state has a university named after him “Vidyasagar University” in West Midnapore. There is also a reputed college known as “Vidyasagar college” in Kolkata, after his name.
A fair named “Vidyasagar Mela” is held every year to propagate education and increase social awareness.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great scholar, academician and reformer passed away on 29 July, 1891 at the age of 70 years. After his death Rabindranath Tagore said – “One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!”
Impact on Bengal:
Vidyasagar, a person with humble personality but lived a life of complete determination and purpose to fulfill certain objectives, was to born to bring a change in the society. His strong protests against child marriage, polygamy, women’s right lead to transformation in the society. He gave up his life in the service of humanity. He worked his whole life to free man from the illusion of superstition and divisions in the name of caste, creed and sex. Only his strong will and determination made it possible for the British government to pass the Widow Remarriage Act 1856 making widow marriage legal in Bengal. After his death, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s home was sold by his son to the “Mallick family” of Kolkata, that was later purchased by the Bengali Association, Bihar on 29 March 1974. They maintained the house in its original form and also started the girl’s school and a free homeopathic clinic. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar truly brought reforms in the education system of Bengal by removing the pervading darkness.