The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Vidyasagar, Iswar Chandra

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VIDYASAGAR, Iswar Chandra, Indian author, philanthropist and social reformer: b. in the autumn of 1820 at Birsinha in the district of Midnapur, Bengal, India; d. 30 July 1891. He was a Brahmin by birth. His father, the Kurdas Bandopadhya, was a poor man. When Iswar Chandra was nine years old, his father took him to Calcutta. They walked their way to the metropolis — such was their poverty. The boy was educated in the Sanskrit College, and in all examinations he used to be invariably at the top of his class. At this time, he suffered from extreme poverty. Quite often he was forced to go without even proper food and clothing. He received the title “Vidyasagar” (the ocean of learning) in 1840. Popularly, he is called in India, “Danver Sagar” — the ocean of kindness. His first work in Bengali prose, ‘Betal Pancha Bingshati,’ was published in 1847 and his ‘Sakoontala’ in 1835. But his masterpiece, ‘Sitar Banawbash’ (‘The Banishment of Sita’) was published in 1862. Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and Akshya Kumar Datta were the fathers of Bengali prose. Vidyasagar was appointed as the Head Pandit of the Fort William College in April 1841 and the first principal of the Sanskrit College in January 1851. Apart from his scholarship, Vidyasagar was well known as a social reformer. He was the originator of the movement for the remarriage of Hindu widows. He proved from Hindu scriptures that there was no injunction against such marriages. He published his ‘Remarriages of Hindu Widows’ in 1855. He was vehemently attacked by the orthodox Hindus. Even his life was threatened. In this fight against orthodoxy, he was supported by two prominent men, Prosonno Kumar Tagore and Ram Gopal Ghose. Ultimately, the Widow Remarriage Act was passed in 1856. The extreme poverty of his boyhood and early youth, instead of turning him into a miser, as is sometimes the case, made him a philanthropist. And it is as the benefactor of his people that the people of India cherish his memory. He gave away most of his income in charity. He supported scores of poor students and hundreds at poor widows and helped thousands of persons of all classes. To give higher education at a reasonable cost, Vidyasagar opened, in 1872, the Metropolitan College of Calcutta, entirely at his own expense, and the income from the college he used for the improvement of the institution. This college still stands in Calcutta as a living monument to the memory of this great man.