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Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

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Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
(Sep 26, 1820-Jul 29, 1891  =  71 years)

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born in Bangaal in a poor Braahman family as Ishwar Chandra Bandhyopaadhyaaya on Sep 26, 1820 and was a key figure of Bangaal. He was born in a village Beersingh, in the District Pashchim Midnaapur of West Bangaal. His father's name was Thaakurdaas Bandhyopaadhyaaya and mother's name was Bhagvatee Devee. They were very poor. His father took him to Calcutta for more education. It is interesting to note that he learnt English numbers by reading mile stones while coming to Calcutta.

He was everything - philosopher, academic, educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, reformer, philanthropist. he simplified the Bangaalee prose significantly. he rationalized the Bangaalee alphabet and type since they were in fashion from 1780. He reconstructed the Bangaalee alphabet and reformed Bengali typography into an alphabet of twelve vowels and forty consonants. Vidyasagar contributed significantly to Bangaalee and Sanskrit literature.

He received the "Vidyasagar" title from Calcutta Sanskrit College, from where he graduated due to his his excellent performance in Sanskrit. He cleared all his examinations with excellence. He bagged all the prizes and scholarships for best performance. Evaluating his stupendous results in the above courses, the College Committee endowed Ishwar Chandra with the Honorific Title of Vidyasagar (Ocean of Knowledge) in 1839 when he became a Law Graduate. He passed his law degree in 1839 - at the age of 20. In 1841, at the age of 22, he joined Fort William College as the Head of the Sanskrit Department. In 1855 he became the principal of that college.

Vidyasagar as a Helper and a Reformer
In 1847 he and his one friend set a Sanskrit Press and depository, a print shop and a bookstore. In 1949 one of his colleagues resigned because he wanted the college to be a place for Braahman only while Vidyasagar wanted it for all castes. He always reflected and responded to distress calls of the poor, sufferings of the sick and injustice to humanity. While he was the student at Sanskrit College, he used his scholarship to cook Kheer to feed the poor and medicines for sick. When he started earning, he started giving a fixed sum of money to each of his joint family member, to needy neighbors, to village people. This he did even when he was unemployed and he had to borrow money from time to time.

Once the famous poet Michael Madhusudan Dattaa fell short of money because of his lavish life style in France, so he requested Vidyasagar to help him. he helped him by sending a large sum of money. He has described him - "He has the simplicity of an old Rishi, the energy of an Englishman, and the heart of a Bangaalee mother."

Vidyasagar in Calcutta and some other reformers in Bombay established girls' schools in their respective places during mid 19th century. He was for best education for both boys and girls. He felt that the money was not enough to ease the suffering of humanity, so he opened the doors of Sanskrit College even to lower caste students.

He also introduced the widow marriage in the society, and tried to stop elderly people's marriage to teenage girls to save the parents of teenage girls keeping them in the house unmarried. Such girls became widow soon and remained in the house as widow throughout their life. Their discipline as widow included a semi starvation diet, rigid and dangerous daily rituals of purity and cleanliness, hard domestic labor, and close restriction on their freedom to leave the house or be seen by strangers. Unable to tolerate this ill treatment, many of these girls would run away and turn to prostitution to support themselves. The economic prosperity and lavish lifestyles of the city made it possible for many of them to have quite successful careers once they had stepped out of the sanction of society. In 1853 it was estimated that Calcutta had a population of 12,718 prostitutes and public women. So he took the initiative and passed the Widow Remarriage Act XV of 1856.

Meeting With Ramakrishn
Once he met Ramakrishn Paramhans also. His meeting is described in "Gospel of Ramakrishna" also. Vidyasagar was himself liberal in his outlook even though he was born in an orthodox Hindu Braahman family. He was highly educated and influenced by Oriental thoughts and ideas. Ramakrishn in contrast did not have a formal education. According to the gospel, Ramakrishn discussed various topics including the world of duality and transcendental nature of Brahm, citing the parables of the salt doll, the wood cutter and the ant and the sugar hill, on discrimination between true and false knowledge, on different manifestations of God's power, on ego and suffering, on power of faith etc.

Sister Nivedita has written - "Swami Vivekananda called Vidyasagar "the hero of widow re­marriage, and of the abolition of polygamy."

After His Death
After his death, Rabindranath Tagore wrote about him - "One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!" he will be remembered by -
(1) Vidyasagar Setu - commonly known as Second Hoogly Bridge, it links Howara to Calcutta
(2) Vidyasagar Mela (fair) - dedicated to spread education, held annually in West Bangaal since 1994.
(3) Vidyasagar University and a College - University in Pashchim Midnapore, and college in Calcutta
(4) Vidyasagar Street - in Calcutta
(5) Vidyasagar Stadium - at Barasat, in Uttar 24 Paraganaa.

Some Events of Vidyasagar's Life
(1) I read this event in my primary class, that is how I remember his name, so I write it here.
He was roaming on a railway station, he came there with some purpose. The train came, a person got down and started calling, "Coolie, Coolie." Vidyasagar was nearby him at that time. As he lived a very simple life, he was looking like a very poor man. As he called, Vidyasagar looked at him. He also looked at Vidyasagar. Seeing his look, he thought he was a coolie, so he asked him - "Take me outside, this is my suitcase." For a moment Vidyasagar looked at him, then he lifted his suitcase, kept it on his shoulder and took it outside the station. The man gave him a small coin which he kept in his pocket - it was the earning of his labor. The then his friend came calling him  by name - "Vidyasagar, Where are you? I was looking you on the platform." The man knew Vidyasagar by his name only, although he had never seen him before. So as he came know that the man whom he asked to take his luggage outside the station was Vidyasagar, he immediately fell on his feet and asked for his forgiveness.

(2) One day when Vidyasagar went home from the Legislative Council, pondering over the question of whether or not to adopt English dress on such occasions. Suddenly someone came up to a fat Mogul who was proceeding homewards in leisurely and pompous fashion in front of him, with the news - "Sir, Your house is on fire. The Mogul went neither faster nor slower hearing this information, so the messenger contrived to express a discreet astonishment. Whereupon his master turned upon him angrily - "Wretch" he said, "Am I to abandon the gait of my ancestors, just because a few sticks happen to be burning." And Vidyasagar, walking behind, determined to stick to his Chaddar, Dhotee and sandals, not even adopting coat and slippers.

(3) Vidyasagar was a compassionate and a generous man. He had a mellifluous behavior even towards the people who belonged to the lowest societal stratum. There was a servant who used to do all the household chores in Vidyasagar's house. Vidyasagar always showed him affection and treated him like his family members.

One day, when Vidyasagar was descending the stairs of his house, he saw his servant sleeping on the staircase with a letter in his hand. Vidyasagar slowly took out the letter from his hand and read it and came to know about the bad news. Vidyasagar saw that the servant had a streak of tears on his face, perhaps he sobbed himself to sleep. Seeing his servant in this condition the feeling of sympathy evoked in Vidyasagar's heart. He went inside the room and brought a hand fan and started fanning his servant so that he could sleep comfortably.

At the same time, one of Vidyasagar's friend came there and seeing such a situation said astoundingly - "You are too much. How can you be engaged in the service of an ordinary servant whose salary is hardly seven-eight bucks?" Vidyasagar replied - "My father also used to earn only seven-eight bucks in a month. I remember one day while my father was returning home he fell unconscious on the road, and a passerby helped him with water. I am seeing the image of my late father in my servant."

Purity of heart is not only reflected through sweet words but also through the right conduct. An affectionate behavior towards one and all underscores generosity and dignity. Therefore, we must be kind and generous towards everyone.

(4) This incident happened during the later part of 1800s, in Bangaal when Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and his few friends were busy collecting
donations to start Calcutta University. One day Vidyasagar stopped at the door of the palace of Nawaab of Ayodhyaa. Nawaab was not exactly known to be a generous person and many people tried to dissuade Vidyasagar from taking this mission. But Vidyasagar met Nawab and presented his cause. On hearing Vidyasagar’s plea, Nawab got up, pulled one of his shoes and dropped in Vidyasagar’s bag as donation. Vidyasagar did not say a word. He simply got up, thanked Nawab and left.

Next day Vidyasagar organized auction of Nawaab’s shoe in front of his palace. Lots of Nawsab’s knights , Jaageerdaar, court members, who wanted to impress Nawaab started bidding. By the mid afternoon the shoe was sold for Rs 1000. Nawab, happy to hear that his shoe fetched Rs 1000, matched the auction money. He added his own Rs. 1000 as donation.

When the destiny dropped a shoe in his basket, Vidyasagar could have walked out furious, or he could have thrown the shoe on Nawaab as revenge of insult, or he could have got depressed and gone home crying that nobody is willing to give him donation and given up his efforts to raise donation for the university. But he did nothing of that sort. He remained focused on his main goal. He rose above his personal feelings, ego, and insecurities and exploited the situation creatively. He rose above his insecurities and exploited that of others around him. He took that shoe and converted it to the biggest donation to University of Calcutta. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar converted his on-face insult and resulting disappointment into a Rs. 2000 donation plus a pleased Nawab who could be of some assistance at some point later.

Later Calcutta University became a reality. It became a center of education for fine arts, social studies, science and technology. Throughout our life, we come across situations that will bring disappointment, anger, frustration, depression, but most of the times, there will be a way we can use this situation to our advantage if we remain calm and focused on our real objective, if we engage in introspection, and if we find a creative solution by thinking outside the box. Next time when your destiny hands over you a shoe when you were expecting treasures, take that as a challenge to your creativity, not as an insult to your ego. Next time you get a lemon, don’t make lemonade, try to convert it.
into a jackpot.

This story is famous with the name of Madan Mohan Malviya also.

His Works
The majority of his works, 32 in all, were directly or indirectly translations from Sanskrit, Hindi and English. These were mainly textbooks addressed to school students. His only independent scholarly study which remains obscure from the public, is "Sanskrit Bhasa O Sanskrit Sahitya Shastra Bisyak Prastab" (Propositions on Sanskrit Language and Literature, 1853). Although a textbook writer essentially, Vidyasagar is rated by the established writers of his own time as an artistic writer and inspiring educator. Bangalaa prose style took a new turn in his hands. According to critics, Vidyasagar inaugurated a new era for Bangalaa prose literature.

(1) Mahabharat Upakraminika (1843-44) - published in Tattwabodhini Patrika
(2) Betaal Panchabinsati (1847)
(3) Bangala-r Itihaas (1848)
(4) Jeebancharit (1850)
(5) Bodhadoy (1851)
(6) Upakramanika (1851)
(7) Shakuntala (1855)
(8) Bidhaba Bibaha Bishayak Prostab (1855)


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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/06
Updated on 01/22/13