Today is the 200th birth anniversary of the late Sanskrit scholar, writer, educator, social reformer and philanthropist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Bangla Academy will organise a programme to commemorate the life and works of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar at Abdul Karim Sahityabisharad Hall on Sunday.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born on September 26, 1820 in the village of Birsingha, Medinipur district of West Bengal, India.
At the age of five, Ishwar Chandra was admitted to a village school. In 1828, he was admitted to a school in Kolkata and later to Sanskrit College in 1829. He was a very talented student and by 1839 he had obtained the title of Vidyasagar. Later, he studied grammar, literature, rhetoric, Vedanta, justice, logic, astronomy, Hindu law and English at the Sanskrit College for two years.
Shortly after leaving the Sanskrit College in December 1841, he became the chief scholar of Bengali at Fort William College. In April 1848 he became the assistant secretary of the Sanskrit College. Due to the conservative attitude of the teachers of the college, he resigned from the Sanskrit College in July 1847, and in January 1849 he was appointed the head writer and treasurer of Fort William College. In December 1850, he became a professor of literature at the Sanskrit College and the following month became the principal of the college.
As principal he made many reforms. Earlier, only Brahmin and Vaidya students had the right to study in this college, but he opened the doors of the college to all classes of Hindus.
Besides modernisation of Sanskrit College and establishing girls’ schools, his most important contribution in the field of education was to compose and publish textbooks. Until the publication of Barnaparichay (1851), there was no such standard textbook for the students. The standard of his caste identity was so high that from the time of its publication till half a century ago, this book was read by all in Bengal.
Bodhoday (1851), Kathamala (1856), Charitabali (1856) and Jibancharita (1859) were also equally successful.
Before the books Sanskrit Byakaraner Upakramanika and Barnaparichay, there were no Sanskrit grammar books in Bengali. The four-volume of Byakaran-Kaumudi (1853-63) is also a historical contribution of Vidyasagar to Bengali grammar.
He realised that society and the country will never prosper unless old values are revoked and family changes are brought about. To make an end of old values, he started a movement to introduce widow marriage, ban polygamy and child marriage, and expand women’s education. Vidyasagar and his friends, arranging the marriage of a widow in the face of conservative protests and severe obstruction, started the widow remarriage system in 1856.
Vidyasagar’s noted works are Betalpanchabingshati, Shakuntala, Sitar Banabas, Bhrantibilas, Brajabilas, Ratnapariksha, Prabhati Sambhashan, Jiban-Charita, Shabdamanjari, Poetical Selections, Selection from English Literature and others.
Vidyasagar passed away on July 29, 1891 at the age of 70 in Kolkata.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Literature