Born: 26 September, 1820
Died: 29 July, 1890
Chandra Vidyasagar is considered as one of the pillars of Bengal
renaissance. In other words, he managed to continue the reforms movement
that was started by Raja Rammohan Roy. Vidyasagar was a well-known
writer, intellectual and above all a staunch follower of humanity. He
brought a revolution in the education system of Bengal. In his book, "Barno-Porichoy"
(Introduction to the letter), Vidyasagar refined the Bengali language
and made it accessible to the common strata of the society. The title
'Vidyasagar' (ocean of knowledge) was given to him due to his vast
knowledge in almost all the subjects. Poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta
while writing about Ishwar Chandra said: "The genius and wisdom of
an ancient sage, the energy of an Englishman and the heart of a Bengali
Life & Education
Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyaya, was born in Birsingha village of
Midnapore district, West Bengal. His father Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and
mother Bhagavati Devi were very religious persons. Their economic
condition was not that stable and subsequently the childhood days of
Vidyasagar were spent in abject poverty. After the completion of
elementary education at the village school, his father took him to
Calcutta (Kolkata). It is believed that Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
learned English numbers by following the mile-stones labels on his way
to Calcutta at the age of eight years.
Ishwar Chandra was a brilliant student. His quest for knowledge was so
intense that he used to study on street light as it was not possible for
him to afford a gas lamp at home. He cleared all the examinations with
excellence and in quick succession. He was rewarded with a number of
scholarships for his academic performance. To support himself and the
family Ishwar Chandra also took a part-time job of teaching at
In the year 1839, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar successfully cleared his
Law examination. In 1841, at the age of twenty one years, Ishwar Chandra
joined the Fort William College as a head of the Sanskrit department.
After five years, in 1946, Vidyasagar left Fort William College and
join the Sanskrit College as 'Assistant Secretary'. In the first year of
service, Ishwar Chandra recommended a number of changes to the existing
education system. This report resulted into a serious altercation
between Ishwar Chandra and College Secretary Rasomoy Dutta. Following
this, Vidyasagar resigned from Sanskrit College and rejoined Fort
William College but as a head clerk.
A kind-hearted Ishwar
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar would start crying in distress whenever he
saw poor and weak people lying on the footpath and street. He used to
spend a part of his scholarships and salary for the welfare of those
poor people. He would also buy medicine for the sick.
Chandra Vidyasagar initiated the concept of widow remarriage and raised
concern for the abolition of child-marriage and polygamy. He also opened
the doors of the colleges and other educational institutions to lower
caste students, which was earlier reserved only for the Brahmins. For
his immense generosity and kind-heartedness, people started addressing
him as "Dayar Sagar" (ocean of kindness).
Nawab's shoe donation
One day, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and his few friends decided to
collect donations to form Calcutta University. He traveled across Bengal
and neighboring states asking people to donate for the foundation. While
doing so, one day he reached outside the palace of an influential King.
After hearing his plea the King, pulled one of his shoes and dropped
into Vidyasagar's bag as donation. Vidyasagar thanked Nawab and left.
The very next day Vidyasagar organized an auction of the Nawab's shoe
and earned Rs. 1000. The Nawab after hearing that his shoe has fetched
so much amount of money, he himself gave a similar amount of money as
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great scholar, academician and reformer
passed away on 29 July, 1891 at the age of 70 years. After his death
Rabindranath Tagore said, "One wonders how God, in the process of
producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!"