Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
|Born||Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyay|
26 September 1820
Birsingha, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now in West Bengal, India)
|Died||29 July 1891 (aged 70)|
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now Kolkata, West Bengal, India)
|Occupation||Writer, philosopher, scholar, educator, translator, publisher, reformer, philanthropist|
|Alma mater||Sanskrit College (1828-1839)|
|Literary movement||Bengal Renaissance|
|Children||Narayan Chandra Bandyopadhyaya|
|Relatives||Thakurdas Bandyopadhya (father)|
Bhagabati Devi (mother)
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar CIE (26 September 1820 – 29 July 1891), born Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay (Ishshor Chôndro Bôndopaddhae), was a Bengali polymath from the Indian subcontinent, and a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance. He was a philosopher, academic educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer and philanthropist. His efforts to simplify and modernize Bengali prose were significant. He also rationalized and simplified the Bengali alphabet and type, which had remained unchanged since Charles Wilkins and Panchanan Karmakar had cut the first (wooden) Bengali type in 1780.
He was the most prominent campaigner for Hindu widow remarriage and petitioned Legislative council despite severe opposition and a counter petition against the proposal with nearly four times more signatures by Radhakanta Deb and the Dharma Sabha. But Lord Dalhousie personally finalised the bill despite the opposition and it being considered a flagrant breach of Hindu customs as prevalent then and the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856 was passed.
He received the title "Vidyasagar" (in Sanskrit Vidya means knowledge and Sagar means ocean, i.e., Ocean of Knowledge) from Sanskrit College, Calcutta (from where he graduated), due to his excellent performance in Sanskrit studies and philosophy. Noted Cambridge mathematician Anil Kumar Gain founded Vidyasagar University, named in his honour.
Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay was born in a Bengali Hindu Brahmin family to Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and Bhagavati Devi at Birsingha village in Hooghly district; later, the village was added to Midnapore district which is in the Ghatal subdivision of Paschim Midnapore district in current day West Bengal on 26 September 1820. At the age of 9, he went to Calcutta and started living in Bhagabat Charan's house in Burrabazar, where Thakurdas had already been staying for some years. Ishwar felt at ease amidst Bhagabat's large family and settled down comfortably in no time. Bhagabat's youngest daughter Raimoni's motherly and affectionate feelings towards Ishwar touched him deeply and had a strong influence on his later revolutionary work towards the upliftment of women's status in India.
His quest for knowledge was so intense that he used to study under a street light as it was not possible for him to afford a gas lamp at home He cleared all the examinations with excellence and in quick succession.He was rewarded with a number of scholarships for his academic performance. To support himself and the family, Ishwar Chandra also took a part-time job of teaching at Jorashanko. Ishwar Chandra joined the Sanskrit College, Calcutta and studied there for twelve long years and passed out of the college in 1841 qualifying in Sanskrit Grammar, Literature, Dialectics [Alankara Shastra], Vedanta, Smriti and Astronomy As was the custom then Ishwar Chandra married at the age of fourteen. His wife was Dinamani Devi. Narayan Chandra Bandyopadhyaya was their only son.
In the year 1839, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar successfully cleared his law examination. In 1841, at the age of twenty one years, Ishwar Chandra joined Fort William College as head of the Sanskrit department.
After five years, in 1846, Vidyasagar left Fort William College and joined the Sanskrit College as 'Assistant Secretary'. In the first year of service, Ishwar Chandra recommended a number of changes to the existing education system. This report resulted in a serious altercation between Ishwar Chandra and College Secretary Rasomoy Dutta. In 1849, he against the advice of Rasomoy Dutta, resigned from Sanskrit College and rejoined Fort William College as a head clerk.
He resided at what is known today as Vidyasagar Smriti Mandir at 36 Vidysagar Street in North Kolkata.
Vidyasagar established Barisha High School in Kolkata in 1856 by Amulya Ambati, the reformer.
Vidyasagar championed the upliftment of the status of women in India, particularly in his native Bengal. Unlike some other reformers who sought to set up alternative societies or systems, he sought to transform society from within.
With support from people like Akshay Kumar Dutta, Vidyasagar introduced the practice of widow remarriages to mainstream Hindu society. The prevailing custom of Kulin Brahmin polygamy allowed elderly men — sometimes on their deathbeds — to marry teenage or prepubescent girls, supposedly to spare their parents the shame of having an unmarried girl attain puberty in their house. After such marriages, these girls would usually be left behind in their parental homes, especially if they were subsequently widowed. These included a semi-starvation, hard domestic labour and close restriction on their freedom of leaving the house or being seen by strangers.
Unable to tolerate the ill-treatment, many of these girls would run away and turn to prostitution to support themselves. Ironically, the economic prosperity and lavish lifestyles of the city made it possible for many of them to have successful careers once they stepped out of the sanction of society and into the demi-monde. In 1853 it was estimated that Calcutta had a population of 12,718 prostitutes and public women. Many widows had to shave their heads and don white saris, supposedly to discourage attention from men. They led a deplorable life, something Vidyasagar thought was unfair and sought to change.
He reconstructed the Bengali alphabet and simplified Bengali typography into an alphabet (actually abugida) of twelve vowels and forty consonants, eliminating the Sanskrit phonemes ৠ (re), and ঔ (ḹ) and a few punctuation marks, while adding three new letters, ড় (ṛô), ঢ় (ṛhô), and য় (yô), to reflect contemporary pronunciation. Vidyasagar also removed ৱ (wô) although native, as it had merged with ব (bô) in his own dialect (The distinction still exists in eastern dialects even though the letter does not). He contributed significantly to Bengali and Sanskrit literature, with one of his works, Bôrṇô Pôrichôy ("Character Identification"), being considered a classic.
Vidyasagar was liberal in his outlook even though he was born in an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family. Also, he was highly educated and influenced by Oriental thoughts and ideas. Ramakrishna in contrast, did not have a formal education. Yet they had a nice relation between them. When Ramakrishna met Vidyasagar, he praised Vidyasagar as the ocean of wisdom. Vidyasagar joked that Ramkrishna should have collected some amount of salty water of that sea. But, Ramakrishna, with profound humbleness & respect, replied that the water of general sea might be salty, but not the water of the sea of wisdom.
After death, he is remembered in many ways, some of them include:
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar spent the last 18 to 20 years of his life among the Santhals at Nandan Kanan, Karmatar in the District of Jamtara, Jharkhand. The station Karmatar has been renamed as "Vidyasagar' railway station" in his honour.
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|Wikisource has the text of a 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.|