Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891), a scholar, writer, educationist, humanist pundit, social reformer and philanthropist, was born on September 26 in 1820 in a poor brahman family in a village in Medinipur. His father Thakur Das Bandhyay was a clerk at a shop in Kolkata.
Today marks the 197th birth anniversary of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Ishwar was sent to a village pathshala (primary) at the age of five, but three years later, in December 1828, he was brought to Kolkata, where he briefly attended a pathshala, and later was admitted to Sanskrit college in June 1829. An exceptionally brilliant student, he earned the title of Vidyasagar (an ocean of learning) by 1839. At the end of his studies, which included grammar, literature, rhetoric, Vedanta, jurisprudence, logic, astronomy, Hindu law and English, he was awarded a certificate of proficiency in these subjects.’
Soon after leaving Sanskrit College in December 1841, Vidyasagar started his teaching career as the head pundit in Bangla at Fort William College. As a Sanskrit pundit, was looking for a job at Sanskrit College, which he eventually got in April 1846 – the post of Assistant Secretary. He took his job seriously and wanted to improve the syllabus of the College, but faced obstacles from the conservative secretary, Rasamay Datta. Frustrated, he resigned his post in July 1847. In December 1850, he again joined Sanskrit College, this time, as its professor of Sanskrit literature, and, in the following month, became its Principal.
As Principal, he brought about a range of significant changes in affairs of the college. Previously only Brahman and Vaidya students were qualified to enrol in the college, but he opened its doors to all Hindus; introduced nominal tuition fees; changed weekly holiday from each 1st and 8th days of the moon (which varied according to the lunar calendar) to Sundays; and persuaded the government to accept the degree given by the College to be sufficient for competing for the post of deputy magistrate of the time. Ishwar Chandra revised the syllabus radically, and instead of teaching grammar and mathematics (including algebra) through Sanskrit alone, he began teaching these subjects through Bangla and English as well; and strengthened the English Department. He also made English a compulsory subject in view of the contemporary reality. While he also emphasised mare efficient teaching of Bangla, the teaching of philosophy received even a wider attention. He considered Sankhya and vedanta philosophy to be unacceptable, and, also, refused to include Berkeleyan or similar Western philosophy in the syllabus; in its place he suggested teaching Bacon’s philosophy and JS Mill’s logic.
Following the implementation of the Education Charter of Charles Wood (1854), which recommended expansion of education to rural areas, Vidyasagar was given, in addition to his work as the Principal of the College, the responsibility of the assistant inspector of schools in May 1855. He almost immediately started opening Bangla schools in four districts of Nadia, Bardhaman, Hugli and Medinipur; and, within a couple of years, set up altogether twenty schools. He also established a normal school’ for the training of teachers for these schools and founded a school in his own village, almost entirely with his own money.
One of his important contributions to education was the establishment of the Calcutta Metropolitan Institution. He took over the responsibility of running it and named it Hindu Metropolitan Institution in 1864.
Vidyasagar died a lonely man on 29 July 1891.