Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhay 1820-1891

By Sumitra Padmanabhan

Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar was a man of action and at the same time an embodiment of the ideal of Prajna (intellect) and Karuna (kindness). His strength of character became proverbial even during his lifetime. He was also a great social reformer and was primarily responsible for the Widow Re-marriage Act-XV of 1856. He also laid the foundation of modern Bengali prose and revolutionized the concept of education in his home State. He realized that if women are educated, children cannot be illiterate—a revolutionary idea in India in the early 19th century. Rabindranath Tagore said that he salutes Vidyasagar for his strength of character combined with his humane and kind heart. Ishwar Chandra was highly paid as a principal, but when he died, there was hardly any personal asset in his name. This simple man donated all the money he did not require for his daily use. The first remarriage of a young Hindu widow was arranged and supervised by Ishwarchandra in 1856.

HE WAS NO PREACHER.HE WAS A DOER. HE DID WHAT HE THOUGHT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. BUT NEVER SAID ‘DO AS I SAY’, LIKE RELIGIOUS LEADERS, VARIOUS SWAMIS AND GURUS WHO PREACH BUT DO NOT PRACTICE. EVEN VIVEKANANDA WAS NO EXCEPTION. HE THOUGHT WIDOW REMARRIAGE WAS SINFUL AND POPULARISED ANIMAL-SACRIFICE IN TEMPLES PATERONISED BY HIM.

SO, WE SHOULD RECOGNISE THE REAL PATH-BREAKING MODERN MIND, AND NOT BE CARRIED AWAY BY LOOKS AND BIG TALK.

Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhay was an eminent scholar and social reformer of 19th century Bengal. He came from a family of modest means. He went to the village school where everything was taught in Bengali. When he was still a lad, his father took him to Calcutta to learn more Sanskrit. A family friend advised the father to send the boy to a school where he could learn English because a knowledge of English used to get one a well-paying job. It enabled Ishwar Chandra to get a law degree.

Picture of SANSKRIT COLLEGE

Meanwhile, he mastered Sanskrit and a host of other subjects. Vidyasagar became a lecturer at Fort William College (established in 1800) when he was in his early twenties.

He taught brilliantly, and proposed to improve the curriculum there. Such boldness did not suit his senior (fellow Hindu) professor. Unpleasantness ensued; Vidyasagar resigned as lecturer, and took on a clerical job. Later on, he joined the famous Sanskrit College, and soon became its principal.

He argued against superstitions and Caste system prevailing with all its strength in 19th century Bengal, and ate freely with the so-called ‘untouchables’. He opened the doors of this exclusive college to non-Brahmins. This had never been done before in a Sanskrit school. Vidyasagar dedicated himself to innovations in education.

He pleaded for English as medium of instruction. And yet, Vidyasagar did not ignore his own beautiful Bangla. He introduced students to the curviform alphabet of his language with a simple book (Borno Porichoy) which is as popular today as when it was first published 150 years ago (in 1855). His simple and elegant writings have served as a model for later Bengali prose.

Even though his name contained ‘Ishwar’ he was non-religious, did not follow the Hindu rituals and customs practiced by the Brahmins of his time. He never preached, nor did he become a religious leader—which India always had in abundance. He showed  with his own life – that there are other more important things that needed to be done, than to be a pure, pious, practicing Brahmin (upper-caste Indians, who ruled the roost in those days).

Today’s Bengal as well as India has almost forgotten this hero. To bring the ‘Widow Remarriage Act’ as early as in 1856 was an immensely difficult task. It needed great perseverance and tenacity to fight the religious big-guns of those days. He did it. He did it quietly without pompous show but with a silent strength of character, He was a true successor of Rammohan Roy (born 48 years earlier). We can also compare him with Gandhi (born 49 years later) for his obstinate sense of purpose, among other things.

It is high time we Indians know our real heroes. Vidyasagar never became a poster-boy for Bengalis—probably because of his simple looks and un-assuming attitude. Neither did he have the divine beauty of Tagore with his high stature, elegant robe and white beard, nor did he sport saffron turban, special outfit and posture suitable for the calendar.

Indians and Bengalis alike are prone to hero-worshipping. A good calendar/poster image creates demigods – red, saffron, fizzy hair –all add up to creating a prominent image—good enough to worship.[ Of course Anna Hazare’s popularity was a welcome change].

Our call to all Indians, particularly Bengalis and more precisely all secular humanists is to celebrate 26th September, Vidyasagar’s 191st birthday as a very special day. His name should be pronounced in the same breath with that of Raja Rammohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore. We should know the real makers of modern India, and should not be enamored by self-proclaimed gurus who can only confuse us with their image and religious or semi-religious flavor.

A REAL HERO IS THE ONE WHO ACTS AND DOES NOT PREACH.

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11 Responses to “Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhay 1820-1891”

  1. RUDRANIL GHOSH 25 September 2011 at 7:42 PM #

    we r abt 2 celebrate 150 yrs birth centenary of swamiji but no effort is being made 2 celebrate achievements of 2 eminent social reformers..1)Isshar chandra vidyasagar 2)Raja ramoham roy…their solutions to the social problems ,that they introduced were far ahead of their times,most apt,and free of bizzare religious and spiritual practices.In a recent discussion on swamiji in a pvt beng. channel,the interviewer asked a RKM monk,”sir when swamiji went 2 america,he was asked that how can he say that hindu religion and india is gr8 when a practise like SATI is practised in India.Swamiji said , yes in my country the windows who want to practise SATI can do so”.To the RKM monk the interviewer asks,”instead of saying anything against SATI,swamiji replies this answer.y?did he support the practice of SATI”.Instead of objecting the practise of SATI,to my surprise the monk went on to justify the personal attitude of a widow towards SATI as if it’s a sacred act.Besides this swamiji had a bizzare attitute towards sex,widow re-marriage,purity of women as well as men,plus he advocated reading VEDANTA(the book wic among other things prescribes caste system).Yet we r worshipping him as god/guru.The govt. of india sanctions huge sum to RKM but nothing to glorify the lost heroes like Vidyasagar and Raja Ramohan Roy.It’s just like glorifying gandhi and forgetting Netaji.

  2. suman 25 September 2011 at 11:10 PM #

    good post.

  3. biplab das 26 September 2011 at 7:45 PM #

    সমাজ সুংস্কারের কাজ করা কালীন বিদ্যাসাগর একটি প্রতিজ্ঞাপত্র বানিয়েছিলেন। এই প্রতিজ্ঞাপত্রে তার পরিচিত ১২৫ জন স্বাক্ষর করেছিলেন।
    এটি ছিল- আমরা প্রতিজ্ঞা করছি যে, ১)কন্যাকে বিদ্যাশিক্ষা করাইব। ২) একাদশ বর্ষ না হইলে কন্যার বিবাহ দিব না। ৩)কুলিন, বংশজ , শোত্রিয় অথবা মৌলিক ইত্যাদি গননা না করিয়া স্বজাতীয় সৎপাত্রে কন্যা দান করিব। ৪)কন্যা বিধবা হইলে তাহার সম্মতি থাকিলে পূনরায় তাহার বিবাহ দিব। ৫) অষ্টাদশ বর্ষ না হইলে পুত্রের বিবাহ দিব না। ৬) এক স্ত্রী থাকিতে আর বিবাহ করিব না। ৭) যাহার এক স্ত্রী বিদ্যমান তাহাকে আর কন্যা দান করিব না। ভাবুন। এত বছর আগে তারা এতদুর অবধি ভাবতে পেরেছেন………………………আর গতকাল আমাদের শহরের এক সিপিএম লবির বুদ্ধিজীবি যিনি বংগীয় সম্প্রচার নামের একটি পত্রিকা সম্পাদনা করেন তিনি বললেন, বিদ্যাসাগর রা চেষ্টা না করলেও নাকি বহু বিবাহ, বাল্য বিবাহের মত অপকর্ম গুলো এমনি এমনিই সমাজের অগ্রগতির নিয়মে ঘুচে যেত।

  4. biplab das 26 September 2011 at 7:46 PM #

    সুমিত্রা দি কে ধন্যবাদ, এরকম অসাধারন তথ্য এবং এনালাইসিস পুর্ণ একটি লেখা পাঠকদের দেওয়ার জন্য।

  5. biplab das 27 September 2011 at 12:29 AM #

    sokoler uchit ei anobodya lekhati facebook , orkut er moto social site e share kore deoa. ami to diechi.

  6. SAIKAT:-)BIRBHUM 27 September 2011 at 1:02 AM #

    VIDYASAGARer kore jaua kajguli aj amader somajer adorsho path hoeche.kusongoskar,osikha ,jatpat somajke konodini agiye jete dey na .ekdin hoyto agami projonmo jatpat,kusongoskarke chure fele debe.

  7. Dr neha 27 September 2011 at 8:59 AM #

    Nice post

  8. suman 27 September 2011 at 1:05 PM #

    biplab dar lekha theke notun kore janlam.

  9. Madhusudan Mahato 25 October 2011 at 2:58 PM #

    Good post.

  10. Tiyasha 29 November 2012 at 12:28 PM #

    Very Poor Pictures. If you add more pictures I should be very pleased. You know na we students have lots of projects in which we have to stick pictures and write something about them.

    Regards,
    Tiyasha Dutta.

  11. Mrinal Devburman 11 February 2014 at 10:18 AM #

    Any idea about the last 18 years of Vidyasagar?


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