The desecration of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's statue during the violent clashes that broke out in Kolkata on Tuesday have put the spotlight on the renowned philosopher and key figure of the Bengali Renaissance. Here are some interesting facts about the writer and reformer, whose contribution towards education and empowerment of women in India was remarkable.
1. He was born on September 26, 1820 in West Bengal to impoverished Brahmin parents. An eager learner from an early age, he would spend his time studying under a streetlight as his parents could not afford gas light at home. An obstinate boy with a brilliant mind, he learned basics of Sanskrit at the village pathshaala after which he set out for Calcutta with his father in 1826. There are several legends associated with Vidyasagar and one such legend says that he learned English numerals by following the mile-stones labels on his way to Kolkata (then Calcutta).
2. He learned Vedanta, Vyakaran, Literature, Rhetoric’s, Smriti and Ethics in Sanskrit College during 1829 to 1841. He took part in a competition testing knowledge in Sanskrit in 1839 and earned the title of ‘Vidyasagar’, which translates to ‘Ocean of Knowledge’.
3. In 1839, Vidyasagar successfully cleared his Law examination and in 1841, at the age of 21, he joined Fort William College as a head of the Sanskrit department.
3. He soon came to be known as a well-known writer, philosopher and a staunch supporter of the humanity. Revered by the British authorities of his time, Vidyasagar brought about a revolution in the Bengali education system and refined the way Bengali language was written and taught. His book, ‘Borno Porichoy’ (Introduction to the letter), is still used as the introductory text to learn Bengali alphabets.
4. Vidyasagar is credited for championing the cause of education, especially for girls. He, along with fellow reformers Ramgopal Ghosh and Madan Mohan Tarkalankar founded several schools for girls in the early 19th century. He strongly believed that everyone, irrespective of their caste or gender, had the right to education and so he opened up the premises of the Sanskrit College for people from lower castes.
5. He was particularly vocal about the cause of widow remarriage and introduced the practice and pushed for the Widow Remarriage Act XV of 1856. He also reconstructed the Bengali alphabet and reformed Bengali typography into an alphabet of 12 vowels and 40 consonants.
6. He authored many books which greatly helped the Bengali education system.
6. He passed away on July 29, 1891 in Kolkata at the age of 70. After his death Rabindranath Tagore said, "One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!"