A Tribute to Great Reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar on 201th Birthday

“We still remember this outstanding personality, even after two hundred years. He is famous for lots of reform, innovative work for Indian society. We know him as a Social reformer, Educational reformer, Sanskrit Pandit, writer, donor, and humanist. We try to feel his life in all aspects of Indian social, economical, political position (1800th century, British Government Period). This article is a tribute to great reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar on 200th birthday from us.”


“This boy is a very brilliant student, he will be an influential person in the future,” said Kalikanta to his father Thakurdas. You should take to him Calcutta (Kolkata) for higher study.

Though poor, Thakurdas agreed to Patshala’s teacher Kalikanta’s word to provide better education for Vidyasagar.


Socio-Political Background when Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born

The Third Anglo-Maratha War which ends with the defeat of Bajirao II and the end of the Maratha Empire, leaving the East India Company with control of almost the whole of India.

The battel of Palasy 1
Battle of Palasi

Forefathers & Family Background of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

The ancestral home of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was in the village of Banamalipur in the present-day Hooghly district of West Bengal.

His great-grandfather Bhubaneswar Vidyalankar was a famous Pandit of Banamalipur village & had five sons. His third son, Ramjay Tarkabhushan, the grandfather of Vidyasagar, married Durga Devi, the third daughter of the learned Pandit Umapati Tarkasiddhanta of Birsingha village. They had two sons & four daughters. The eldest son, Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay, is the father of Vidyasagar and the youngest was Kalidas.

The four daughters are named MangalaKamalaGobindamayi, and Annapurna. After the death of Bhubaneswar, Ramjoy left the village suddenly, informing no one to avoid the daily dispute regarding the property matter with his brothers and go for pilgrimage. After some days, Mrs Durgadevi came to live in her parental house at Birsingh as her stay became unbearable at the son-in-laws’ house. At that time, Thakurdas was just ten years old. Since then they are residents of Birsingh village.

  At the age of 23/24, they settled the marriage of Thakurdas with Bhagwati Devi, the second daughter of Ramkanta Chattopadhyay Ganga Devi. Due to the mental illness of her husband Ganga Devi was living with her father Panchanan Vidyabagish, a resident of West Patulgram in Khanakul Krishnanagar. Thakurdas & Bhagwati Devi had six sons & three daughters.Iswar Chandra was the elder one of them.

Early Life & Childhood of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

father mother 1
Father Thakur das Bandhyapadhya & mother Bhagawati Devi

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born on 26 September 1820 at Birsingha village in a poor Bengali Hindu Brahmin family 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.

Birthplace of Iswar chandra Vidyasagar
The birthplace of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Birsingha’ Village (Midnapore district )

 ‘The birthplace, Birsingha’ Village

Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay had the family name of Bandyopadhyay. So, his real name is Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay. His grandfather’s name was Ramjay and he told his son Thakurdas to give his grandson the family name of Ishwar Chandra.

Thakurdas admitted the boy to Kalikant Chattopadhyay from a nearby village. Kalikant Chattopadhyay was an enthusiastic young man. He set up a new school in Birsingh village on Ramjay’s initiative. Ishwar received his education there, which was the conventional Bengali education there.

When Iswar was little, he was naughty. He liked to climb trees and steal fruit from the neighbour’s garden. He also liked to play Kabbadi with his friends. But when Ramjay died, Thakurdas was told by Kalikant to take Ishwar to Calcutta for more education and teach him English because all that he needed in school had been taught.

 On the way to Calcutta

Vidyasagre way to Calcatta from a Movie
An image from a movie on Vidyasagar way to Calcutta (Kolkata)

So, in November 1828, he came to Calcutta with his father to do higher studies. Kalikanta and servant Anandaram Guti came too. It is said that on the way from Medinipur to Calcutta (60 miles) by walk, he saw English numbers on the milestone along the way and mastered them easily. They took refuge in a famous family in Barabazar area of Calcutta called Singha’s family. The head of this family was Jagaddurlav Singha.

Struggle & Education of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

On 1 June 1829 Iswar Chandra got into the Calcutta Government Sanskrit College. He was admitted to the third class of grammar. It is important to note that this Sanskrit College was established in 1824.

Ishwar Chandra was nine years old when he started college. A great event happened in the same year as another event. The Bengal Sati Regulation which banned the Sati practice in all jurisdictions of British India was passed on December 4, 1829, by Lord William Bentinck with the help of Raja Rammohan Roy.

Certificate of Isear Chandra Vidyasagar
 Certificate – ‘Vidyasagar

 

Ishwar Chandra was admitted to the English class of Sanskrit College in 1830. He received five rupees a month for his achievement in the annual exam and a grammar book. After three years of studying, he entered the poetry class at age twelve. In 1834, he won first place at an examination for literature. This class at that time had an excellent teacher. He was Pandit Jayagopal Tarkalankar. In 1834, a sixth-grade English student named Ishwar Chandra got a book worth Rs. 5 as a prize for his achievement in the annual examination. In the same year, he married Deenmoyi Devi, daughter of Shatrughan Bhattacharya of Khirpai village.

Ishwar Chandra passed the examination of the Hindu Law Committee. The title ‘Vidyasagar’ was first used with his name in a testimonial he received from the Law Committee on 16 May 1839 after passing this examination with due success.

Sanskrit College
 The Sanskrit College

 

                       Vidyasagar got an offer to become a district judge, but he refused it because his father asked him to. Vidyasagar also studied Vedanta with Professor Bachaspati.

Iswar Chandra’s life was hard during this period. He came to Calcutta from a very poor family. They had an income of just ten rupees every month and they lived in the Burrabazar area of Calcutta. Iswar Chandra walked for two miles to go to Sanskrit college, and he had to help with household chores after school hours and then study under gas street lamps at night so that they would not use too much oil for cooking the next day. Sometimes he did not have any food because he had no money left over from buying bread for breakfast or lunch.

Vidyasagars wife Deenamoyee devi
Vidyasagar’s  Wife ‘DEENAMOYEE DEVI’

ponder over his lessons.

Career of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

After he finished his education in 1841, at only 21 years old, Vidyasagar became Chief Scholar of the Bangla Department of Fort William College. They paid him 50 rupees per month. He held this position until 1846.

In 1846, he took a new job as the assistant secretary of Sanskrit College. He also opened a book store called Sanskrit Press Depository in 1847.

In April, the same year, his first book was published. It is based on a Hindi text called ‘Betal Panchchisi’. The first punctuation marks are used successfully in this text. He also set up a printing press called Sanskrit Yantra that he did with his friend Madan Mohan Tarkalankar.

He edited the text of the original book in a refined way using the text that was preserved in Krishnanagar Palace. The first printed book of Sanskrit Yantra Press is called Annadamangal. Vidyasagar’s job as an assistant secretary at Sanskrit College ended when he resigned on 16 July 1847 because he disagreed with Rasmoy Dutta.

                      Vidyasagar’s brother, Hara Chandra, died. He lived in Calcutta and he was 12 years old. He got cholera and died. Vidyasagar was very sad because his brother had only been in Calcutta for a short time before he got sick and died. So Vidyasagar didn’t eat much or sleep at night for several months after that happened. In 1849, he wrote the second part of the history of Bengal based on Marshman’s History of Bengal. On March 1 of the same year, he became head writer and treasurer at Fort William College with a monthly salary that was 80 rupees.

On November 14, 1873, his son was born. On December 4, he resigned from his job and on December 5th, he started his new job as Professor of Literature in Sanskrit College. Around the same time on January 5th 1851, he also became temporary secretary of the college.

On January 22, he was appointed the principal of the college with a salary of 150 rupees. He published a book called “Bodhodaya” in April. As the principal of Sanskrit College, he made many important reforms.

On 9 July, people of all castes could study at the Sanskrit College. The practice of taking a holiday on Sundays was introduced on July 26th. Before that, there was a holiday every time it was an ‘Ashtami’ or ‘Pratipada’ date.

Vidyasagar opened the doors of Sanskrit College to people of all castes. It was not a rule that an aristocratic Hindu child gets an opportunity to study in a Sanskrit college.

In 1853, he created a free school in his home village. In June 1853, Kalidasa’s Raghuvaṃśa and Bharabira, Skiratarjjuniyam was edited and published under him. In September of that year, Vidyasagar Mahasaya gave a report to the Education Parliament criticizing James R. Balantine’s report about the Sanskrit College in Varanasi.

In the same year, the first and second parts of his famous book Grammar Kaumudi were published. In the same year, the third part of Grammar Kaumudi and Shakuntala based on Kalidasa’s Abhigyansakuntalam was published.

In January 1855, the first book about widowhood was published. This is a new year for a country in Asia. The famous book for children was published in April of this year. In May, he won a new job with an additional monthly salary of Rs.200. In June, the second part of the book was published.

Vidyasagar also sent a petition to the British government in India to legalize widow marriage this year. He applied again on December 26 for the Multiple Marriage Prohibition Rules. The Fifth Bangabidyalaya was established on January 14, 1858, at Medinipur. In February he published “Kathamala” which is based on the story of Ishapas. On July 17, widow marriage became legal. His autobiography “Charitabali” was published on this day as well.

Calcutta University was established on January 24, 1858. Vidyasagar was nominated as a Fellow of the Board of Directors of the University. There were only six Indian members out of 39 in this association. From November 1857 to May 1858, Vidyasagar established 35 girls’ schools throughout South Bengal and the monthly expenses for these schools with 1300 students were 845 rupees.

                                     He quit being a principal on November 3, 1857. He left after an argument with the head of the school. At 39, he stopped working for the government. But they did not give him any kind of recognition or pension for the work he had done. After his grandmother died in Birsingha shortly after, his grandfather retired to a small village near Kolkata and lived there until his death in 1861.

On November 15, 1858, a weekly called Somprakash began publication. Behind the plan to publish this magazine was Vidyasagar. It was the first newspaper published to cover political issues. On September 29, 1959, he applied to the Governor of Bengal for a government grant for the expansion of mass education.

In 1860, he also resigned from the Board of Examiners. In the same year, on April 12th, his famous book ‘Sita’s Banabasa’ based on Bhavbhuti’s Uttar Ramcharita was published.

                                               In April 1861, he became the secretary of the Calcutta Training School. In December, he took over for Harishchandra Mukherjee after he died and made Krishnadas Pal the editor.

This year, Banabhatta’s Kadambari was published under him. Michael Dutta dedicated the self-written Birangana Kavya to him. In 1863, the government gave him an important job as inspector of a school for minor zamindars. This school is for 6-14 year olds who are zamindars and it was established in 1857

                       A book in Bengali was written this year. In 1864, the school was named the Calcutta Metropolitan Institution. On July 4 he became an honorary member of the Royal Asiatic Society of England

In 1866, Vidyasagar sent the Indian Executive Council a second time to abolish Polygamy. This year he published two volumes of his revised narrative book ‘Manjari’ and also Kalidasa’s Meghdootam.

Gopal Chandra Samajpati married his daughter Hemlata on July 18. In January 1870 Vidyasagar donated a thousand rupees to the science meeting of Dr.

Mahendralal Sarkar. Mother Bhagwati Devi died in Kashi on April 12, 1871.

He wanted a cooler climate, so he bought a house in Karmatar. Then he started school there. He also helped widows with an organization called Hindu Family Annuity Fund and established the Metropolitan College in January 1873. Today, this college is known as Vidyasagar College of Calcutta.

Social Reforms Works of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Widow Marriage

Vidyasagar was a great scholar of Sanskrit scriptures. He did not hesitate to adopt Western education and culture. Vidyasagar supported the women’s liberation movement. The injustice and oppression towards Hindu widows deeply hurt him. Citing Hindu scriptures, he showed that widow marriage is valid too.

On July 26, 1856, the government said that widow marriage were legal. But Vidyasagar did not stop there. He organized many widow weddings. They were hard to do because the conservative society of his time laughed at him and made fun of him for doing it.

The first widow’s wedding was held in Kolkata on December 6, at the house of Rajkrishna Bandyopadhyay, a friend of Vidyasagar. The groom was Ramdhan Tarkbagish, a student and professor of Sanskrit College. The bride was Kalimati, a twelve-year old widow from Palashdanga village in Burdwan district.

                                    In 1870, Narayan Chandra got married to Bhavasundari. He was 22 years old and she was 14 years old. Vidyasagar did not like the idea of a widow marrying again and so he struggled to get rid of that practice.

Education Reforms

This person made a social reform organization with his friends and well-wishers. He also changed the alphabet to make it simpler and created a new typeface for Bengali. People think he is the father of Bengali prose.

After the 1854 Charter of Education, the government decided that education was important for people in rural areas. Vidyasagar became an Assistant School Inspector and then a Principal of a Sanskrit College. In 1855 he established many schools called Bangabidyalayas in four districts of South Bengal.

The man established five schools in Nadia, Bangladesh between August and September. He also established five schools in Burdwan, Bangladesh between August and October. Between August and September, he also established five schools in the Hugli region. The final four were set up in the Midnapore district of India by October to December. Besides teaching at these schools, the man set up a different school for teachers to train at.

From November 1858 to May 1857, Vidyasagar established 35 girls’ schools in South Bengal. In January 1872, he started the Metropolitan Institution in Calcutta and Bhagwati Vidyalaya in his village Birsingha to keep his mother’s memory alive.

Vidyasagar wrote many educational books. He wrote Barnaporichay (Part 1, 1855) and Rijupath (Parts 1, 2 and 3, 1851-1852). He translated Hindi to Bengali – Betal Panchabingsati (1848), Sanskrit to Bengali – Shakuntala (1854), Sita’s Banbas (1860), Mahabharat’s Upakramanika (1860).‘Bamnakhanam‘ (1873); From English to Bengali ‘History of Bengal‘ (1848), ‘Biography‘ (1849), ‘Nitibodh‘ (1851), ‘Bodhadaya‘ (1851), ‘Kathamala‘ (1857), ‘Charitabali‘ (1857), ‘Bhrantibilas‘ ( 1861); English texts: ‘Poetic Selection‘, ‘Selection from Goldsmith‘, ‘Selection from English Literature‘; Original text written by him was ‘Ati alpo hoilo’ (1873); ‘Abar ati alpo hoilo’ (1873); ‘Ratnapariksha’ (1886); ‘Brajbilas’ (1884).

 Women- Education

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was the most important person for spreading women’s education in Bengal. He knew that it would not be possible to have progressed in Bengali society and culture without the advancement of women.

Vidyasagar and his friend John Drinkwater Bethune started the Hindu Girls’ School in Calcutta. The first Indian girls’ school in India. Vidyasagar was the secretary of this school. John Drinkwater Bethune died in August 1951. Vidyasagar was very sad for a long time after that.

In 1879, the school was renamed Bethune College. Kadambini Bose, the first person to graduate from Bethune School passed an examination in 1879 and wanted to go on for more education. One student, Kadambini Bose started studying there.

In 1857, he started a school for girls in Burdwan District. He also wanted to spread education among women in rural areas of Bengal. So he organized conferences about educating girls in different districts of Bengal. In November-December this year, he set up six schools for girls in Hooghly District and one in Burdwan District.

Another way for girls to go to school is what was done by Rammohan Roy. From January to May of the following year, he established thirteen more girls’ schools in Hugli, ten in Burdwan, three in Medinipur, and one in Nadia. He gave land or money to people if they would start a school and teach girls. By May 1857, Rammohan Roy had already established 35 schools with about 1300 students.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar Character & Incidents

                   Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a hard person who followed his own rules. He did not want to do anything that he didn’t agree with unless it was about what he wanted. He also liked to help children in need and people who were poor. He would never return to his home empty-handed if someone came at his door in a crisis. Many poor students used to study and eat at his expense. For being so generous, people started calling him Dayar Sagar (ocean of kindness).

             The following incidents in his life are enough to explain his character.

  1. In 1867, when there was a food crisis in Bengal due to the lack of crops, he set up a place where people could come and get food. In this village for six months, four to five hundred men and women came every day and got food, clothes, and medical treatment.

2. Some people in Britain studied at Fort William College. In order to get a job, they needed to learn Indian languages, like Bengali and Hindi. One day, Mr Marshall asked Vidyasagar if he could make the tests easier for them because they were struggling with it too much. But Vidyasagar said that he would quit his job if he did that but that he would not do anything unfair for the British students who were studying there.

3. Vidyasagar was not letting anyone in the school do anything wrong. His son-in-law Suryakumar Adhikari was a principal of the Metropolitan College. One day Vidyasagar noticed that there was a deficit of two or three thousand rupees. When he asks, the principal could not give any good reason. Vidyasagar said, “You don’t have to be the principal anymore.”

4. After he son started to do bad things, his father threw him away and said that he could not be his son anymore.

5. Vidyasagar was a promoter of widowhood and he disagreed with a widow in his area, but he was ignored by his brothers. He was so shocked that he told everyone not to marry widows.

6. The will of Vidyasagar has become a historical document. Vidyasagar did not assign anything to any religious institution, because he didn’t believe in religion. There is a list of relatives and non-relatives including childless mothers, widows, abandoned wives and many educational institutions and charitable clinics.

7. Narendranath Dutta was a student at the Metropolitan School. One day, he laughed with some other boys in the class. The teacher got angry and started to rub his ears. It blew in such a way that blood started flowing from Naren’s ears. At that moment when Naren was about to leave the class with the book, suddenly Vidyasagar appeared. Heard all the facts he said to the teacher – ‘I knew you were a man, now I see you are an animal.’

***

8. Once he went to meet the principal of Hindu College Kar-Saheb for work. The civilized gentleman, with his boot-wrapped legs on the table, welcomed him. A few days later, when Kar-saheb came to meet Vidyasagar at the Sanskrit College for business, Vidyasagar stretched out his foot on the table and talked to this arrogant English visitor.

9. In 1853, Vidyasagar set up a school. He made the school free for villagers to use. It also had a night school for sons of farmers and other people who work during the day. He paid for all of it, his own money that he had saved up.

The man paid 300 rupees to the teachers and 100 rupees for books for poor boys. He also bought furniture and books for the school.

The night and the girl schools cost him 40 or 45 rupees a month. Besides these schools, he established a place in his village where people who were poor could get free medical treatment from the doctor. It cost him 100 rupees each month to keep this place running. He paid for it all himself.

10. Vidyasagar had a lot of respect for his parents. He never believed in the traditional god system, where people worship gods. Instead, he thought that his parents were living gods. Especially he was very affectionate to his mother.

One day, while he was working at Fort William College, he was told that his brother’s wedding had been fixed. His mother asked him to go to Birsingha and be present there. He eagerly wanted to obey his mother’s command.

He asked for leave, but it was rejected by Mr. Marshall. So he talked to Mr. Marshall and said, “If you do not let me go back home, I will quit my job.” Then he gave him his resignation letter because he could not make his mother cry. And Mr. Marshall was very impressed by how much this person cared about making his mother happy and agreed to let him go back home after giving him the letter with a resignation on it.

This happened in July, which is the rainy season for India. Vidyasagar was walking when it started to rain. It was very cloudy. The river Damodar was very rough and strong. He jumped into the water without thinking about it first.

He swam across the river and reached the other side safely. He then kept going on his way with a running speed and finally got to the banks of the Dwarakeswar. But there was another problem that made it difficult for him. The river was as swollen and turbulent as the Damodar River, so he couldn’t find a boat to take him across. So, he had to go back into the water and swim across safely to reach home on this side of the water again.

In 1862, Michael Madhusudan Datta went to England to study the law and become a barrister. He was in great misery because his wife and children had also come with him. In 1864, he wrote a letter to Vidyasagar asking –

“I am going to a French jail, and my poor wife and children must seek shelter in a charitable. You are the only friend who can rescue me from the painful position”.

The letter moved Vidyasagar so much that he cried. He was embarrassed because he had nothing to give as a present. But he really wanted the person in the letter to have something. So, he looked for ways to get them something.

He raised a loan and sent 1500 rupees to France. Vidyasagar then found another place to show his natural benevolence, even though it was hard for him personally. He sent money to Madhusudan as well; he had to send 6,000 rupees to Europe on Michael’s account by several installments.

One evening, Vidyasagar went to watch the performance of the most popular actor, Girish Chandra Ghosh at Star Theatre. The play was about the actions of the British as they used to torture the poor Indians mercilessly. One particular captain was notorious. When it came to a certain point in the play where this captain was behaving most cruelly, the great scholar became furious. He stood up, took off his sandals, and threw them at the actor, who happened to be Girish Ghosh.

Immediately, Girish picked up Vidyasagar’s sandals and placed them on his head and on his heart saying, “Today I have reached the height of perfection in my performance. I am an Indian, but I am playing the role of a British captain. I have to become fully identified with his brutality and I have done it.”

last Life of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Vidyasagar prepared his will on 31 May 1875. On 26 February of the following year, he resigned as trustee of the Hindu Family Annuity Fund. Father Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay died in Kashi in April. During this time he built a house at Badurbagan in Calcutta. At present, the road adjoining this house is known as Vidyasagar Street and the entire assembly constituency is known as Vidyasagar.

Vidyasagar has been living in Badurbagan since 1877. This year he was honored by the Governor of Bengal. On 1 January 1880, Vidyasagar received the title of CIE. On 5 August 1882, Ramakrishna Paramahansa came to his house in Badurbagan. A historic conversation took place between the two.

                                      In 1883, Vidyasagar became a Fellow of the Punjab University. In March, Banabhatta’s Harshacharitam was published under his edition. In November 1884, he published Brajbilas, a book under the pseudonym ‘Kasyachit Upayukta Vaiposya’. Also published the book ‘Widow’s Marriage’ and ‘Hindu Dharmarakshini Sabha’ under the pseudonym ‘Kasyachit Tattvanveshinah’.

                                     In August 1885, he published a book called ‘Ratnapariksha’ under the pseudonym ‘Kasyachit upayukta vipo sahcharasya’. He published ‘Nishkritilabh Pryoas’ in April 1888, ‘Akhyan Manjari (second part) in June, and the first part of the anthology called ‘Padyasangraha’ in July. The selected bizarre collection of verses (with a title that is not translated into English) called ‘Shlokamanjari’ was published on 13 August 1988. His wife Deenamoyi Devi died on this day.

                                    Vidyasagar was very unhappy with his family members for various reasons. He quit Birsinga Village since he spent the last 20 years of his life there. The people in Jharkhand (formerly Karmatar) seemed to have forgotten about Vidyasagar after he left that area and came to Karmatar in 1873. He had set up a school for girls and adults, which he called Nandan Kanan, on the grounds of his house when he arrived in 1873.

He also opened a homeopathic clinic to provide some medical care to these tribal people who are not privileged.

                             After Vidyasagar died, his son sold the home to Mallick family from Kolkata. The Bengali Association of Bihar bought it in March 1974 before it was dismantled. After that, the Girls School opened and is named after Vidyasagar. The Free Homeopathic Clinic is helping people in this area. People take care of the house very well and it looks like when Vidyasagar lived there himself! One thing that they have there is a “Palanquin” which was used by Vidyasagar when he traveled around India.

                                   The government, in September of this year, named the Karmatand block in Jamtara as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar block. This was to honor the great social reformer on his birthday.

                                   Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, one of the founders of Bengal’s Renaissance, died on July 29, 1891. Doctors said he died because he had liver cancer. He is ranked eighth on a list from the BBC (2004) for the best Bengalis of all time. His statue is the last of four statues to be built by Vidyasagar Prakashik Parishad in Kolkata and installed on January 11, 1983. He was the second person to be honored with a statue in Kolkata after Mahatma Gandhi and the first of Bengali.

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