Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is considered as one of the pillars of Bengal renaissance. In other words, he managed to continue the reforms movement that was started by Raja Rammohan Roy. Vidyasagar was a well-known writer, intellectual and above all a staunch follower of humanity. He brought a revolution in the education system of Bengal. In his book, “Barno-Porichoy” (Introduction to the letter), Vidyasagar refined the Bengali language and made it accessible to the common strata of the society. The title ‘Vidyasagar’ (ocean of knowledge) was given to him due to his vast knowledge in almost all the subjects. Poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta while writing about Ishwar Chandra said: “The genius and wisdom of an ancient sage, the energy of an Englishman and the heart of a Bengali mother”.
Life & Education
Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyaya, was born in Birsingha village of Midnapore district, West Bengal. His father Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and mother Bhagavati Devi were very religious persons. 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 years.
Ishwar Chandra was a brilliant student. His quest for knowledge was so intense that he used to study on 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.
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.
After five years, in 1946, Vidyasagar left Fort William College and join 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 into a serious altercation between Ishwar Chandra and College Secretary Rasomoy Dutta. Following this, Vidyasagar resigned from Sanskrit College and rejoined Fort William College but as a head clerk.
A kind-hearted Ishwar
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar would start crying in distress whenever he saw poor and weak people lying on the footpath and street. He used to spend a part of his scholarships and salary for the welfare of those poor people. He would also buy medicine for the sick.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar initiated the concept of widow remarriage and raised concern for the abolition of child-marriage and polygamy. He also opened the doors of the colleges and other educational institutions to lower caste students, which was earlier reserved only for the Brahmins. For his immense generosity and kind-heartedness, people started addressing him as “Dayar Sagar” (ocean of kindness).
Nawab’s shoe donation
One day, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and his few friends decided to collect donations to form Calcutta University. He traveled across Bengal and neighboring states asking people to donate for the foundation. While doing so, one day he reached outside the palace of an influential King. After hearing his plea the King, pulled one of his shoes and dropped into Vidyasagar’s bag as donation. Vidyasagar thanked Nawab and left.
The very next day Vidyasagar organized an auction of the Nawab’s shoe and earned Rs. 1000. The Nawab after hearing that his shoe has fetched so much amount of money, he himself gave a similar amount of money as donation.
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!”