Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar


This is an excerpt from the book “Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar – Story of his Life and Work”, the second edition of which was published in the year 1907. The author of this book is Subal Chandra Mitra.

An excerpt from the Introduction to the 1st edition written by Romesh Ch. Dutt:

Lord William Bentinck’s scheme of spreading education in India through the English language had only partially solved the great problem; the scheme was completed by Sir Charles Wood’s famous education despatch of 1854 which provided for vernacular education, leading up to English education. There was no man in Bengal worthier to give effect to this new scheme than Vidyasagar, then Principal of the Sanskrit College. He submitted a masterly report on the subject, and he was appointed a special Inspector of Hooghly, Burdwan, Midnapur and Nadiya Districts, on a pay of Rs. 200, in addition to Rs. 300 which he drew as Principal of Sanskrit College and of the Normal School in Calcutta.




A still loftier endeavour occupied Vidyasagar about this time. With a courage which has seldom been excelled in the history of social reforms, he, a Brahman of Brahmans, and a Pundit of Pundits, proclaimed in 1855 that the perpetual widowhood of Hindu Women, who had lost their husbands, was not sanctioned by the Sastras; and that the marriage of Hindu widows was permitted. The storm of indignation which this pronouncement evoked was unparalleled in the history of the nineteenth century. The discussion was taken up by every town and every village in Bengal. Iswar Chandra Gupta, the veteran Bengali poet, and Dasarathi, the greatest of Bengali bards, hurled their satire on the young reformer. Villagers sang of teh great Pundit’s revolutionary opinions in their village gatherings and festivities. The weavers of Santipur wove songs about the remarriage of widows in the borders of sarees worn by women of Bengal. Men and women in every home in Bengal spoke of the great social revolution contemplated. And the venerable Raja Radha Kanta Deb himself petitioned the Government against the reform.

Amidst this outburst of indignation, the earnest reformer stood unmoved and unappalled. He issued a second work, replying to the arguments which had been brought against him, replying to them with a wealth of learning and a cogency of reasoning which virtually closed the controversy. More than this, he enlisted the foremost men of the time, – Prassana Kumar Tagore, Ram Gopal Ghose, Pratap Chandra Sinha and others, in the cause he had espoused. An appeal was made to the Government to declare that the sons of remarried Hindu widows should be considered legitimate heirs, and a law to that effect was passed in 1856.

He was no Hypocrite. His only son Narayan Chandra (21) was married to Bhava Sundari devi (16), a young widow on August 11th, 1870.




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