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||Educator and social reformer|
|Alma mater||Sanskrit College (1828-1839)|
|Literary movement||Bengal Renaissance|
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar CIE (26 September 1820 – 29 July 1891), born Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay (Ishshor Chôndro Bôndopaddhae), was a Bengali educator and social reformer from the Indian subcontinent. His efforts to simplify and modernise Bengali prose were significant. He also rationalised 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 is considered the "father of Bengali prose".
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 Dinamayee Devi. Narayan Chandra Bandyopadhyaya was their only son.
In the year 1839, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar successfully cleared his Sanskrit 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.
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.
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 12,700 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.
The Wood’s despatch of 1854—considered the Magna Carta of Indian education—adopted a new policy towards 'mass education'. Hitherto the official focus was on the upper classes of population for education. Dubbed the 'Downward Filtration Theory', this implied that education always filters down from the upper classes of the society to the common masses.
In 1859, the government’s education policy reiterated "the spread of vernacular elementary instruction among the lower orders". Upon this, Vidyasagar addressed a letter, dated 29 September 1859, to John Peter Grant, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, underlining his perception:
An impression appears to have gained ground, both here and in England, that enough has been done for the education of the higher classes and that attention should now be directed towards the education of the masses... An enquiry into the matter will, however, show a very different state of things. As the best, if not the only practicable means of promoting education in Bengal, the Government should, in my humble opinion, confine itself to the education of the higher classes on a comprehensive scale.
The words "higher classes" in Bengali parlance do not entail anything but caste which bestows or withdraws the privilege of education on a person by birth. Thus, Vidyasagar explicitly advocated for confining education to "higher classes".
Earlier in 1854, Vidyasagar had scoffed at the admission of a wealthy man from the goldsmith caste of Bengal in the Sanskrit College, Calcutta. His argument was that "in the scale of castes, the class (goldsmith or Subarnabanik) stands very low". Notably, Sanjib Chattopadhyay, a biographer of Vidyasagar, revealed that Ishwar Chandra started his primary education in a school established and maintained by Shibcharan Mallick, a rich man of goldsmith caste in Calcutta.
Vidyasagar came to Karmatar in 1873 and spent more than 18 years of his life here. He had set up a girls’ school and a night school for adults on the premises of his house, which he called Nandan Kanan. He also opened a free Homeopathy clinic to provide some medical care to these unprivileged tribal people.
After his death the Nandan Kanan, the abode of Vidyasagar was sold by his son to Mallick family of Kolkata. Before Nandan Kanan could be dismantled Bengali Association Bihar on 29 March 1974 purchased it by money collected by house to house contribution of one rupee each. The Girls School has been restarted, named after Vidyasagar. The Free Homeopathic Clinic is serving local population. The house of Vidyasagar has been maintained in the original shape. The most prized property is the 141 year old ‘Palanquin’ used by Vidyasagar himself.
An official release quote of Jharkhand's former Chief Minister Raghubar Das:
"Jamtara's Karmatand prakhand (block) was the 'karma bhumi' (workplace) of social reformer and strong supporter of women's education Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Now the block will be known as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar prakhand"
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:
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