Standing tall against the conservative power centres of Hindu society, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a man who was way ahead of his times. A legendary educationist, a Sanskrit scholar and a social reformer who not only changed the Bengali alphabet and type but also challenged Hindu orthodoxy by playing a pivotal role in passing the Widow Remarriage Act.
He also fought for women’s education and vigorously challenged the barbaric practice of child marriage. A key figure of the Bengal Renaissance, he was a multifaceted man. His efforts to simplify and modernise Bengali prose were significant.
Barnaparichay, a Bengali primer he had authored is a case in point. He was the most prominent campaigner for Hindu widow remarriage and petitioned Legislative council despite severe opposition. But Lord Dalhousie personally finalised the Bill despite the opposition and it being considered a flagrant breach of Hindu customs as prevalent then and the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856 was passed.
He received the title “Vidyasagar” (in Sanskrit Vidya means knowledge and Sagar means ocean, Vidyasagar stands for Ocean of Knowledge) from Sanskrit College, Calcutta (from where he graduated), due to his excellent performance in Sanskrit studies and philosophy.
Poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta while writing about Ishwar Chandra said he was a combination of : “The genius and wisdom of an ancient sage, the energy of an Englishman and the heart of a Bengali mother”.The anniversary of his passing went by recently. On his passing The Statesman commented “The sea is dry”.