One of the key figures for Renaissance in Bengal was Ishwar Chandra. Due to his contribution as a thought Leader, he came to be known as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Ishwar Charan Bandopadhyay was born on 26 September 1820 in Paschim, Mednapur, West Bengal. He grew up to be a philosopher, academician, reformer, and philanthropist and received the title Vidyasagar, from the Calcutta Samskrit College, from where he had graduated. Vidya stands for knowledge and Sagar for ocean. He was given the title Vidyasagar, ocean of knowledge, in recognition of his yeoman services to the field of education. He thus came to be called popularly as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
He rationalized and simplified the Bengali alphabet script called abugida. It has been used since his times as the type set of the Bengal script.
Vidyasagar threw open the doors of Samskrit College in Calcutta for students from all castes. He took initiative to push through the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856.
An interesting incident happened in Bengal when Sri Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and his few friends were busy collecting donations to start Calcutta University.
One day Vidyasagar stopped at the door of the palace of the Nawab of Ayodhya. The Nawab was not exactly known to be a generous person and many people tried to dissuade Vidyasagar from taking up this mission. Vidyasagar however met the Nawab and presented his cause. On hearing Vidyasagar’s plea, Nawab got up, pulled off one of his shoes and dropped it in Vidyasagar’s bag as donation.
Next day Vidyasagar organized an auction of the Nawab’s shoe in front of his palace. Many of Nawab’s knights, Jahagirdars, court members, who wanted to impress the Nawab started bidding. By mid-afternoon the shoe had been sold for Rs 1000. The Nawab, happy to hear that his shoe had fetched Rs 1000, matched the auction money. He added his own Rs.1000 as donation.
Ishwar Chandr rose above his personal feelings and ego when the shoe was dropped by the Nawab in his bag and exploited the situation creatively, converting it into the biggest donation for the university then.
The Vidyasagar Setu, second largest bridge across the Hoogly River in West Bengal, was named after this Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, in recognition of the thought leadership he had provided.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a social leader, who gave the modern script for the Bengali literature, worked for a casteless society and empowered the hapless women. He developed Calcutta University and gave impetus to usage of Samskrit as a scientific language. He was a true leader of his times. A Prajapathi.