Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, also known as Vidyasagar or Sagar, was born in 1820, at Birsing, a village in the district of Midnapur.
The word ‘Vidyasagar’ means the ‘Ocean of Learning’. It is a sort of degree given to a learned man. The title of Vidyasagar was given to many people; but only one person is known by this great title to all. He was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar of West Bengal.
Birth and Early life: Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born in 26th September, 1820 at the village of Birsingha in the district of Midnapur (West Bengal, India).
His father Thakur Das Bandyopadhyay was a poor Brahmin, but was able to give his son a liberal education. His father was a man of iron will. His strong will was inherited by Iswar Chandra.
The magnanimity of his mother Bhagabati Devi also influenced his activities throughout his life. Vidyasagar was for some time a student of the village pathsala.
Education: Vidyasagar had his early education in a village primary school where he made his mark as a boy of promise. In 1829, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was brought down to Calcutta (now Kolkata) and was admitted into the Sanskrit College. He continued his studies there for about eleven years.
He was a very diligent student and was highly devoted to his parents. He gave a proof of his sharp memory and power of understanding from the very start of his career. The professors who taught him were struck with his natural intelligence and sagacity. He secured many prizes and medals by virtue of his wonderful merit. He was a very earnest student and acquired proficiency in all the branches of Sanskrit even in his teens.
It is said that from evening until night he sat by the roadside to study with the help of a streetlight. He studied for a period of eleven years and distinguished himself as a very great scholar. As a reward for his scholastic attainments, he was given the title of ‘Vidyasagar’ or the Ocean of Learning, on the eve of his departure from the College.
Career: On leaving College, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar became the Head Pandit in the College of Fort William.
- In 1846, he was appointed Assistant Superintendent of the Sanskrit College in Kolkata, but he did not continue to hold that appointment for more than a year.
- Three years later he again came to Fort William as Head Clerk but in the course of the same year he was appointed a Professor in the Sanskrit College.
- In the year 1851, he was appointed Principal of the Sanskrit College, and while so employed he published several editions of Sanskrit works and a few translations from Sanskrit into Bengali.
- In 1855, he was appointed Inspector of Schools in the districts of Hooghly, Burdwan, Midnapur and Nadia. At this time, he reformed and improved the old Pathsalas by introducing a new method of teaching for the beginners and published several useful textbooks for schools. He afterwards retired from Government service, and during his leisure hours published several important Bengali books.
Contribution: The great fame of Vidyasagar did not rest on his scholarship, but on his great effects for the improvement of our country in many ways.
- Vidyasagar tried hard to improve the educational system of our country. He had a great zeal for removing illiteracy in our country. He established schools solely with the disinterested object of making education accessible even to a peasant with moderate means. He also advanced the cause of female education.
- Vidyasagar always took a fatherly interest, in the orphans and helpless people. He took special care to relieve the distress of the poor, comfort the unhappy, and encourage the virtuous. His heart was exceedingly tender, and he could not bear to see the sufferings or distress of his countrymen. There was no limit to his charity, and a large chunk of his income was spent on behalf of the poor and miserable.
- Vidyasagar rose to the pinnacle of glory as an educationist. He wrote a good many other books that helped the advancement of learning in those far-off days.
- He labored hard to improve the Bengali language. To make Bengali a medium of study for infant learners, he wrote some Bengali books for schoolchildren.
- He also translated some popular Sanskrit books into Bengali. He is justly regarded as the ‘Father of Modern Bengali Prose’. He is also regarded as the father of modern Bengali literature. The works written by him are regarded as the best models of modem Bengali literature.
- The destitute condition and miseries of girl-widows deeply affected his generous mind. He encouraged widow-remarriage, thus protesting against the social injustice done to the tender-aged widows of the country. His massive efforts in this regard ushered in the passage of the Widow Remarriage Act in 1856.
- He also worked hard to preach against polygamy.
- He was the founder of the Metropolitan College in Calcutta. The establishment of the Metropolitan Institution placed him in the forefront among the pioneers of English education in Bengal. The college is now known as Vidyasagar College. The college accommodate a large number of students. It sends large number of candidates to the University Examinations. There is another famous Vidyasagar College in Nabadwip Dham, the birthplace of Shri Gauranga.
A memorable person: There are many interesting stories of his life that astonish everybody for his great simplicity, love, and devotion. He was a man of bold spirit, but was very simple and sincere. Therefore, even the great European officers deeply admired and respected him. He was very plain in dress and habit.
The kindness of Vidyasagar’s mother, Bhagabati Devi was boundless. Vidyasagar followed the principle of his mother all through his life. Therefore, people called him Dayar Sagar Vidyasagar, the Ocean of kindness and learning.
His death: Vidyasagar died on 29th July, 1891. His death was deeply mourned by all. Even now, he is regarded as one of the greatest men of our country and his death anniversary is observed with great solemnity and reverence.