The name of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is a legend in West Bengal, a province of India under the British rule.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born on 26 September 1820 Birsingha in the district of Midnapore in West Bengal. His father Thakurda Bandophadhyay was a spirited man of a poor Brahmin family and his mother Bhagabati Debi was a generous lady.
Student Life: Though poor, Thakurdas provided his son with a good education. At first, Ishwar Chandra studied in the village pathshala. At the age of eight, his father took him to Kolkata. There he got his son admitted to Sanskrit College. After his studies for eleven years there, he became a great scholar. And for this, he was awarded the title of Vidyasagar i.e. the Ocean of Learning.
Career: When he came out successfully from the Sanskrit College, he was appointed Head Pandit of the Fort William College. Afterwards, he became a Professor of the Sanskrit College. He was soon promoted to the post of the Principal of the same college. However, he resigned his post resulting in the difference of opinion with the Secretary of the college and was finally appointed an Inspector of Schools. As Inspector of Schools, he helped in establishing many primary and secondary schools and introduced improved methods of teaching.
But though holding a lucrative post under the government, he never sacrificed his dignity and independence. His views came into conflict with a young English civilian who happened to be the Director of Public Instruction. Rather than give up his views, he resigned his post. It was a heavy financial loss to him at the time, but no prospect of hardship deterred him from doing what he considered right to do.
A Lover of Learning: Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a great lover of learning. He did much for the spread of education among the people. For this purpose, he established many schools, especially girls’ schools for spreading education among the womenfolk. Though an erudite Sanskrit Pandit, Vidyasagar tried his best to encourage English education in the country. In furtherance of his efforts in the cause of English education, he founded the Metropolitan Institution in Calcutta, which was one of the best colleges of Bengal and is now named after him.
He was an authority on Sanskrit language and literature. His Sanskrit grammar (Vyakaran Koumudi) and commentaries have done much to place Sanskrit within the easy reach of every earnest student.
Contribution to Literature: His contributions to the cause of education are immense. He wrote many books for students and for the general public. His ‘Barna Parichaya’ for the elementary learning of the mother tongue has become a legend. Through this interesting and useful book, he educated the little boys and girls of the country. He also wrote many books for the standardization of Bengali language and literature. Some of these books are Betal Panchabingsati, Shakuntala, Sitar Barnabas and Bhrantibilas (a creative translation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors).
He may be rightly styled the Father of Modern Bengali prose’. Before his time, a Bengali prose writer never tried to achieve elegance or a refined style. It was not until he began to write that a great movement became palpable creating clarity, melody and dignity to express in Bengali prose the complex thoughts and the most delicate shades of ideas.
Social Reform: In the sphere of social reform, Vidyasagar worked long and with vigour. He was a strong advocate of widow remarriage in spite of fierce opposition from the orthodox section of the society. He also championed the cause of female education in Bengal. All his work was actuated solely by his largehearted sympathy and unselfish enthusiasm for the welfare of his country.
Kindness: Vidyasagar was not only an ocean of learning, but he was also an ocean of benevolence. The large income derived from the royalty of his books was spent mainly on charity. Hundreds of destitute families were supported and hundreds of poor students were educated at his expense. Numerous were the widows and orphans he took under his care. Even Michael Madhusudan Dutta, the great Bengali poet, received help from him in his distress. Madhusudan called him Karunasagar — the ‘Ocean of Kindness’.
Death: Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar spent the last phase of his self-determined life at Karmatarh in Santhal Pargana (now in Jharkhand) among the tribal people. He breathed his last and belonged to the ages on 29 July 1891. The whole nation bitterly mourned his loss. His blameless life, his undaunted spirit and his widespread kindness and sympathy have forever endeared his name to his countrymen. His life is a great lesson to all.