(Last Updated on : 10/08/2011)
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was one of the foremost figures of the Bengal renaissance
, whose scholarly contributions to Sanskrit and Bengali are equalled by the social reforms he affected on the milieu of his time. Though born impoverished, Vidyasagar grew up to be a highly influential polymath, an expert writer, philosopher, educator, publisher, reformer, philanthropist, academic, entrepreneur and activist, whose legacy is still honoured by Indians from all over the country. He is credited with the simplification and modernisation of Bengali prose, and the modernisation of the Bengali alphabet. His social reforms did much to rid the country of its rampant casteism, especially in the teaching of Sanskrit; and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was one of the earliest proponents of women`s rights; campaigning for widow remarriage and establishing schools for women.
Early Life of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born in a Kulin Brahmin
family at Birsingha in Midnapore district in the state of West Bengal
, on September 26th 1820. Vidyasagar spent his childhood in abject poverty. Vidyasagar commenced primary education at the village Pathshaala - an indigenous Indian school where language, grammar, arithmatic and other Shastras were taught to youngsters. His childhood was full of learning, as his father was a teacher of Sanskrit and wanted his son to follow his profession. Vidyasagar`s mother, Prabhabati Devi had a strong spiritual influence on him all his life.
In the year 1839, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar graduated in the law examination conducted by the Hindu Law Committee. On 29th December in 1841, Vidyasagar joined Fort William
College (FWC) as a Principal Lecturer (or Pundit). After a 5 year stint with the FWC, Vidyasagar joined the Sanskrit College as Assistant Secretary. Ishwar Chandra`s principles, determination and courage were unparallel in every detail. He never deviated from his goals in the face of all adversities. He knew not how to compromise on any matter of substance neither in fear nor for favour.
Career of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
At the age of 21, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar started his career as the head Pundit or Principal of the Fort William College, Calcutta (now Kolkata
). He joined Sanskrit College as a professor in 1850. In the following year, Vidyasagar became Principal of the College. Concurrently with his position in the Sanskrit College, the Government entrusted Vidyasagar with the added responsibility of Special Inspector of Schools for the districts of Hooghli, Bardhaman
, Midnapore and Nadia
, in the year in 1855. Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar was also an honorary office bearer of several organisations including the Asiatic Society
and Bethune Society. In 1858, he was made one of the first fellows of the University of Calcutta
. He received a certificate of Honours at the Imperial Assemblage in January 1877. He also received honours and felicitations from many social, cultural and scientific organisations. Towards the end of his life, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar spent 18 years in Karmatar (now in Jharkand) amongst the Santhal
tribals of the area, where he established a school for children and a night school for the adult villagers.
Vidyasagar was a tireless reformist throughout his career; on becoming the principal of Sanskrit College, he immediately opened the courses to all castes, whereas only Brahmins had been eligible until his decree. He was an early proponent of women`s rights. Observing that women had no educational avenues in India, he opened as many as 1200 schools for women. He proposed the widow remarriage act in 1856, and set up a Hindu Family Annuity Fund to support poor and impecunious widows.
Writings of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Vidyasagar was rated by writers of his own time as an artistic writer and inspiring educator. He gave a new direction to Bengali Prose. According to critics, Vidyasagar inaugurated a new era for Bengali literature. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar as a writer had consciously avoided the new but affected Prosody pursued by the Orientalists at Fort William College, the Pedantic and Obscurantist style of Ram Mohan Roy
and his followers, and the unrefined linguistic structure of the contemporary newspapers and periodicals.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar`s significant achievement was in laying down the foundation of modern Bengali Prose. It was rightly said by Swami Vivekananda about Vidyasagar, "There is not a man of my age in Northern India, on whom his shadow has not fallen." The scholar devoted most of the proceeds from his book sales to philanthropy.
Achievements of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was an achiever all his life. During his graduation he gained mastery in many Shastras or disciplines. He received all the awards and scholarships for best performance. Vidyasagar introduced widow remarriage to uplift the Hindu society.
Vidyasagar was a great reformer and thinker. Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar`s reforming mentality has found the most concrete expression in his socio-religious thoughts. In his writings, he raised questions about early marriage, polygamy, widow remarriage, and many other ills stifling social conditions of his time, and his contributions to Bengali literature are still remain relevant. India remains indebted to this great reformist, thinker and activist named Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar.