ISHWARCHANDRA VIDYASAGAR: the pioneer of bengal renaissance

শনিবার, আগস্ট ১, ২০২০ ১২:৪৮ AM | বিভাগ : English


Scenario has changed many times in the history of India whenever the rulers changed, change is the rule which dominates the world. British rule also caused the amalgamation between Western and eastern civilization to take place, which wiped away the darkness of mediaeval ages.

Two great personae were directly linked with Bengal Renaissance, Raja Rammohan Roy and Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. Their powerful presence and deep knowledge caused the movements to commence in Bengal society that gave rise to the Renaissance.

The dominating note of the Renaissance is humanity, when the chains of religious practices tighten up the society, the pioneers of Renaissance appear to release civilization.

In the year 1820, Ishwarchandra Bandopadhyay was born in rural Bengal, to Thakurdas Bandopadhyay and Bhagabati Debi. He received education in the rural schools till he was 8 years old, and then came to Calcutta, the centre for origin of western learning in India.

We can take a look at the scenario of the happenings in 19th century Kolkata.

  • 1817-Hindu College founded
  • 1818-Bengal Gadget newspaper published from Kolkata,
  • Samachar Darpan, Digdarshan published from Serampore
  • 1820-Ishwarchandra was born
  • 1824-Michael Madhusudan Dutt was born; Sanskrit College founded
  • 1827-Academic Association founded 1828-Brahmosamaj founded
  • 1829- William Bentinck declared laws against burning of Sati, which was killing of destitute widows
  • 1831-Derozio removed from Hindu College; death of Derozio
  • 1835- Medical College founded in Kolkata
  • 1841- Ishwarchandra joined Fort William College
  • 1849- Bethune School founded
  • 1851- Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar joined Sanskrit College as principal
  • 1855- Appeal to stop polygamy; appeal to legalize widow remarriage
  • 1856-16th July: Widow remarriage legalized. 7th December- the first case of widow remarriage in Kolkata
  • 1857: The revolt of the sepoys against East India Company: Sepoy Mutiny.
  • 1858: Ishwarchandra leaves the post of the principal of Sanskrit college
  • 1859-1860- the uprise against the exploitation by indigo planters ; the play Neeldarpan written
  • 1861- Birth of Rabindranath Tagore
  • 1863- Birth of Narendranath Dutt, who became Swami Vivekananda
  • 1870- Indian Association for Cultivation of Sciences founded; Ishwarchandra donated Rs 1000/=
  • 1873- Metropolitan college founded, which was later named Vidyasagar college, the first college to be founded by native people for the Indians
  • 1891- Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar died on 29th July

This will show that Ishwarchandra was contemporary to the Renaissance of Bengal, which led to the dawning of a new era in India in 19th century, in all aspects, religious, social, learning et al.

Before mentioning the pre 19th century as mediaeval age in India, it can be seen that it was a time when the society practiced learning of Persian and Sanskrit knowledge, but situation of women was merged in darkness. Men were polygamous, and had multiple wives whom men left in their fathers’ houses after marrying them, only visiting them from time to time to get some money, thus women living forever in their fathers’ houses, and this custom started with Ballal Sen, a king of the Sen dynasty in Bengal, who introduced the practice of labelling the brahmans as Kulin whose daughters cannot be married to any lower caste, so the long line of women marrying one man began, whose death would give rise to many widows. Another evil practice was burning of the wife in her husband’s funeral pyre, who would be called “sati”, actually a plan to deprive the woman of her husband’s property. Raja Rammohan Roy, the founder of Brahmo samaj, a completely new religious movement, tried earnestly to put an end to the evil practice of burning wives in their dead husbands’ funeral pyres, and was finally successful with the help of then Governor General Lord William Bentinck, with the eradication of sati in 1829.In the 21st century, it can be considered as a milestone, for it was another practice of patriarchy to subjugate women by depriving her to inherit her husband’s property after his death, in the name of religious greatness. Among the tribals, many women are thus burnt as witches even now.

Ishwarchandra Bandopadhyay had come to Kolkata to receive education, and he was well educated in Sanskrit, to be titled as Vidyasagar. He was the professor in Fort William college, where he taught the British, but as he was a man of great self-esteem, he never bowed in front of the British insult and racism. However, his aim was to create a smooth learning of Bengali language, for which he wrote books like Barnaparichay, Bodhodoy, Akhyanmanjari, Kathamala, Byakaran Koumudi, Rijupath, etc, which were milestones in the learning of Bengali grammar and language. He was then made the principal of the Sanskrit College, and he also felt the importance of starting a printing press.

At a time when Bengali girls were married early and widowed early, to thus lead a long life of wastage, Ishwarchandra realized the importance of educating them and in 1849, he united with John Drinkwater Bethune to found the girls’ school -Bethune school for girls. But he knew that was not all, as the situation of millions of widowed Hindu girls hurt him, so he worked hard to find some way out. He knew that there must be some saying from our own religious texts and finally he found in Parashar Samhita,” Naste Mrite prabrajite kleebe ca patite patou

Panchaswapatsu nareenam patiranya bidhiyate” (Parashar Samhita, ch 4)

That is, if the husband is not to be found, if he is dead, he has sought monkhood, is impotent, or fallen from social status, in these five types of cases, the wife can get another husband. Ishwarchandra was deeply moved by the aftermath of the increase in the number of widows in the society, for he knew that that led to abortion and adultery among those poor widows, who often had to opt for prostitution.

In 1855 Ishwarchandra wrote his Proposal for widow remarriage which contained his arguments in favour of widow remarriage. He was threatened to death, but was not to be moved from his path. Widow Remarriage was legalized, by the British rulers on 16 th July 1856, and on 7Th December 1856 the first case of widow remarriage took place in Kolkata. Even after it was legalized, Ishwarchandra struggled hard and financially supported many cases of widow remarriage, which almost led him to insolvency, but he was not discouraged. Sitting in 21st century we cannot imagine how much opposition Ishwarchandra had to struggle against to make it possible. But it was a great step towards emancipation of women, as they are now free to decide on their lives, and education has opened the windows of their minds.

  • Ref. Complete works- Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Volume 1


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মন্তব্য টি

লেখক পরিচিতি

Bulu Mukhopadhyay

Associate Professor, Head of the department of English, New Alipore College, Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

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