Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: Life and Contributions

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Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

In Indian history, one name that outshines when we talk about education and social reform is that of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He played a significant role in transforming the educational scenarios of India during the 19th century. Moreover, Vidyasagar believed in high moral values and was a renowned scholar, writer, translator, philanthropist and entrepreneur. The blog explores the life and contributions of this visionary leader and the figure of the Bengal Renaissance. 

What was the Early Life and Education of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar?

Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay was born in 1820 in the eastern part of West Bengal. He came from a very humble family from the village of Birsingha presently known as Paschim Medinipur district. Moreover, his parents were Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and Bhagavati Devi. Additionally, Ishwar was an intelligent student and had an interest in getting knowledge from any source.

Furthermore, his passion for learning led him to Calcutta (now Kolkata). He joined the Sanskrit college as well as cleared the law examination. Later, at the early age of 21, he joined as the Department Head Teacher of Sanskrit at Fort Wiliam College in the year 1841. At the age of 14, as per the customs prevalent, he was married to Dinamani Devi and had a son named Narayan Chandra.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar simplified and rationalised the Bengali alphabet and wrote “Borno Porichoy”. These alphabets had remained unchanged since Charles Wilkins and PanchananKarmakar had cut the first Bengali type in 1780. In addition, the alphabet by Ishwar is still used to teach Bengali literature and to beginners of the language. He came to be known as “The Father of Bengali Prose.”

As a teacher, he shared the idea of learning the best of both Indian and Western philosophy. In the year 1850, he became the Principal of Sanskrit College and opened admissions for even non-brahmin students. He was the first person to introduce the admission and tuition fee in Bengal. It was the Sanskrit College which honoured and conferred him with the title of “Vidyasagar” for his contribution.

Fun Fact – “Vidyasar means Ocean of Knowledge”

What Social Ideas did Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar Support?

Apart from his literary work and modernising education, he propagated many social reforms. He was an ardent supporter of Women’s education and Widow Remarriage.

  1. Women’s Education – One of Vidyasagar’s contributions was his relentless support for the importance of Women’s Education. During his time, educating girls was considered a taboo in many parts of India. However, he diligently worked to empower Women and transform society. 

In 1849, he became secretary of an innovative girls’ school called Bethune School. This school was a result of the various movements that arose for women’s education in the 1840s and 1850s. He also helped organise 35 girl schools, many of which were running at the expense of Vidyasagar wherein he pointed out the importance of Girl Child Education.

  1. Widow Remarriage– Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a staunch believer in widows getting married again. He saw teen and pre-teen girls getting widowed and leading a life as misfortunes. To set an example he married his son to a widow. 

Supporting his movement he presented the Sanskrit texts and scriptures where widow remarriage was not considered a sin and was sanctioned. He also proved that polygamy was never endorsed. His agitations bore fruit when the Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act of 1856 was passed during the rule of the East India Company. Lord Dalhousie drafted the act and Lord Canning passed it before the Revolt of 1857.

Additionally, he tirelessly worked towards abolishing inhuman practices which were prevalent in those times such as polygamy, child marriage and the caste system.

Also Read: What are the Ancient Indian Languages?

What were the Intellectual Contributions of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar?

Apart from his linguistic work in “Borno Parichay”. Some Literary works by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar were: 

  1. For the Prohibition of Polygamy, he wrote “Bahubibaha” in 1871.
  2. On the lines of Widow Remarriage, he wrote “BidhabaBibaha” in 1855.
  3. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar also started the Bengali newspaper Shome Prakash in the year 1858.

Some more include Shakuntala, Sitar Banabash, Bangalar Itihash, Charitabali, Nitibodh, etc.

Also Read: My Experiments With Truth: Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi

What was the Impact of Ishwar Chandra’s Idea?

The impact of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s work can still be felt in India.

  1. His efforts to promote the importance of education in life, especially for women and bring them to live in equal parity was a forward-looking vision and impacted the education system significantly.  
  1. He worked for female emancipation and devoted his whole life to the specific cause of Widow Remarriage which was a great advancement of Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s idea of ascetic widowhood.
  1. Also, his work in Bengali teaching has become an integral part of Bengali education. 

Also Read: Social Reformist Jyotiba Phule: Biography, History, Facts

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar spent his later life staying with the Santhal Tribe and owing to ill health, he died at the age of 70. To honour him, the India Post issued stamps in 1970 and 1998. And in 2004, he was ranked at the 9th position in BBC’s Poll of Greatest Bengali of all time.

FAQs

Why is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar famous?

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is famous as he is a prominent figure in Indian history, and gained fame for his contributions to education and social reforms during the 19th century. He had an important part in advocating for the rights of women and worked towards the upliftment of the status of widows. Vidyasagar was a key figure in the introduction of the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856, which aimed to abolish the social stigma associated with widows remarrying.

What was the contribution of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar?

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar contributed to women’s education and society through the Widow Remarriage Act. Moreover, through his literary works.

Who gave the title Vidyasagar?

The title of Vidyasagar was given by the Sanskrit College which honoured him for his contribution to education, especially women’s education.

Which movement was started by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar?

The Widow Remarriage Act was the culmination of the Women’s Movement wherein widows were allowed to remarry. Supporting his movement he presented the Sanskrit texts and scriptures where widow remarriage was not considered a sin and was sanctioned.

What is the other name of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar?

The other name of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay.

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