Saturday, 2 July 2011


Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (26 September 1820 – 29 July 1891), was an Indian Bengali polymath and a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance. Vidyasagar was a philosopher, academic, educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer, and philanthropist. His efforts to simplify and modernize Bangla prose were significant. He also rationalized and simplified the Bengali alphabet and type, which had remained unchanged since Charles Wilkins and Panchanan Karmakar had cut the first wooden Bangla type fonts in 1780.

He received the title "Vidyasagar" ("Ocean of learning" or "Ocean of knowledge") from the Calcutta Sanskrit College (where he graduated), due to his excellent performance in Sanskrit studies and philosophy. In Sanskrit, Vidya means knowledge or learning and Sagar means ocean or sea. This title was mainly given for his vast knowledge in all subjects which was compared to the vastness of the ocean.

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. Here he was to join a local pathshala 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. In the 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 sit well with a 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 casteism, and ate freely with the so-called untouchables. He opened the doors of this exclusive college to non-dwijas. 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 Porichoi) which is as popular today as when it was first published 150 years ago (in 1855). His simple and elegant writings are said to have served as a model for later Bengali prose

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