Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891)

He was a scholar, academician, philosopher and above all a social reformer

After his death, Rabindranath Tagore wrote about him thus: “One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!”.

There were many great qualities in Vidyasagar. He was a man of great simplicity and humour.


A popular story.

Once  Vidyasagar was invited as a chief guest to a meeting and a dinner. He went dressed in simple clothes. The guard at the gate did not allow him to enter. He said that Ishwar Chandra Vidsyasagar was expected and hence only special guests would be given entry. Vidsyasagar left quietly. He returned dresses in formal attire and was escorted inside with great formality.  During the course of the dinner, he refrained from eating. He was heard saying softly, ‘coat eat ‘, ‘tie eat’ —–  When he was questioned, he simply replied that he thought that the dinner was meant for  his good dress or clothing, but not for him. However he did not get angry.


Simple and Selfless.

Once a rich gentleman  got down from a train at a small station and was looking for a coolie or porter to carry his luggage.   There was no  porter available at such a small station . He was  annoyed.Observing the  situation, a simple and ordinary looking man came to him and presented himself as a porter.. Later  he came to  know that the person who offered to carry his luggage was none other than Vidyasagar. When he apologised to Vidyasagar t , he was told smilingly “Son, there is no harm in doing one’s own job, I only wanted to show you that”.

Dignity of labour.

A lover of learning.

The first book a Bengali child is handed is Vidyasagar’s “Barna Parichay” (Introduction to Bengali letters). This is followed by a text written by Rabindranath Tagore, “Sahaj Path .”He  simplified the Bengali Alphabet. His original publication on the subject is called Barna Parichay, literally, An Introduction to the Alphabet.   He then made a rhyme for each letter to introduce  it in an easy way   to the child-learner. He also  published the alphabet accompanied by beautiful wood-cut illustrations.

A man of liberal views.mixed with sarcasm.

He was once asked at an informal get-together to weigh the pros and cons of English colonization in Bengal.   In clever satire he replied: “On the whole, I feel that we have received three good things from the English.” First on the list  is English literature. “The literature of Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Sir Walter Scott and others that we have got from them — do not underestimate their value,” he had said. He went on: “Second gain — ‘ice.’ In the searing heat of summer, put one piece of ice in a tumbler of water, and your relief is immense.” Finally: “And the third is sliced bread…  At that time many people did not eat bread.


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.”

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