Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891)
One of the key figures of the Bengal Renaissance, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a writer, academician, translator, philosopher and reformer. Vidyasagar made immense contribution to Bengali prose as he simplified and modernized Bengali prose. He also rationalized and simplified the Bengali alphabet and type.Born as Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyay to the couple Thakurdas Bandopadhyay and Bhagavati Devi, he received the title of ‘Vidyasagar’ from the Calcutta Sanskrit College because of his outstanding performance in Sanskrit studies and philosophy.
Life of Vidyasagar
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born on 26th September, 1820 at Birsingha village in the Ghatal subdivision of Pashim Midnapore District to the couple Thakurdas Bandopadhyay and Bhagavati Devi. Vidyasagar joined a local school administered by a person named Kalikanta Chattopadhyay at the age of five where he studied for the next three years. He then went to Calcutta for higher studies and started living at Bhagabat Charan’s residence in Burrabazar. Being a brilliant student and determined to acquire more knowledge, he passed all his examinations with flying colors. Thereafter, he took a part –time teaching job at Jorashanko to support himself and his family.
Vidyasagar pursued law and cleared his Law Examination in 1839. He joined the Fort William College as Head of the Department of Sanskrit in 1841. In 1846, he joined the Sanskrit College in the post of Assistant Secretary and later in 1849 he again joined the college as a professor of literature. He then went on to become the principal of the college in 1851 and in 1855 was made the special inspector of schools. But due to some disagreement with the college Secretary, Rasamoy Dutta, Vidyasagar finally resigned and rejoined Fort William as a head clerk. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar died on 29th July, 1891 at Calcutta, West Bengal.
Vidyasagar as a social reformer
Apart from being in the education sector, Vidyasagar along with other reformers of the period set up schools for girls in Bombay, present day Mumbai. Previously girls were forbidden from attending schools which he strongly fought for in order to bring a change in the orthodox society. He believed that girls had equal rights along with boys to be educated and gain knowledge and skills to be able to lead an independent life. Everybody should receive quality education regardless of their caste or sex. As a social reformer, Vidyasagar too followed the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and dedicated himself in the work of the common people. He helped the poor and the needy, ate together with the untouchables, opened the doors of education to all and worked hard for the upliftment of women. He later introduced the practice of widow remarriage in the orthodox Hindu society.
Vidyasagar as a literary figure
Vidyasagar was a philosopher, writer, academician, translator, entrepreneur and reformer. He was one man with many roles as if the Creator had used all his skills to create a gem like Vidyasagar. Rabindranath Tagore describes him as ‘One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man’. Some of his books are Betaal Panchabinsati (1847), Jeebancharit (1850), Bodhadoy (1851) and Shakuntala (1855). He has also reconstructed the Bengali alphabet and reform Bengali typography into an alphabet of 12 vowels and 40 consonants. Iswar Chandra's 'Barna Porichoy' is still considered a classic. His contribution to Bengali and Sanskrit literature is immense.
Honour to Vidyasagar
In his honor, Vidyasagar Mela has been held annually in West Bengal since 1994. The fair aims to spread education and create social awareness among the people. Vidyasagar University situated at Midnapore and a college located at Kolkata is dedicated to this great legend. The Paschimbanga State Government has established a stadium after his name at Barasat.