Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar – A great Indian reformer

By Bhudeb Chakrabarti


India, in the 19th century, witnessed the peak of Britain’s colonial era, with the administration of the country shifting from the East India Company to the British Empire in the mid-19th century. This was also the period in which the many reform movements were initiated in an attempt to clear the web of archaic traditions and practices trapping the society.

Born in this age was Ishwarchandra Bandyopadhyay, a crusader of change in the Indian society. A polymath, scholar, social reformer, writer, philosopher and philanthropist, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar was a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance that had begun with Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Though he had not met Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vidyasagar took the work started by him to the next level and brought about massive social changes to the Indian society.


Here’s a glimpse into the life of the great social reformer.

Born on 26 September 1820, in Birsingha village of Medinipur, Bengal, in a Brahmin family of limited means, Ishwarchandra initially studied in the village pathshala till his father took him to Kolkata for admission in the Sanskrit College in 1829.

At the Sanskrit College, he mastered the Sanskrit language and cleared all annual examinations with exemplary brilliance. In 1839, he graduated in law examination conducted by the Hindu Law Committee. Due to his mastery over a number of subjects, his teachers bestowed on him the title Vidyasagar (The Ocean of Knowledge).

At the age of twenty one Vidyasagar joined the Sanskrit College as the Professor of Literature, and within a year, was appointed as the Principal of Sanskrit College in 1851. There he made the path-breaking policy for admission of non-Brahmin students in the Sanskrit College.

A prolific and vigorous writer in Bengali and Sanskrit languages, Ishwarchandra modernised the Bengali language and simplified the Bengali alphabet. The primer Varnaparichay that he wrote is used even today, for teaching Bengali to the children at the primary levels. With the goal of printing books that could reach all people at affordable prices, he founded the Sanskrit Press.

Rabindranath Tagore, who had read Vidyasagar’s schoolbooks as a boy, in his article ‘Vidyasagar Charit’, paid a tribute his invincible manliness and immortal humanity.

Vidyasagar strongly supported women’s education in our country. He helped John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune to establish the first permanent Girls’ School of India. Bethune School was founded on 7 May, 1849. Later, as the Inspector of Schools, Vidyasagar took the initiative to set up many Model Schools and Girls’ Schools.

After the ban of Sati came into effect, Bengal was faced with the problem of a large number of widows, who were subjected to a life of penance and ostracism. The next big problem to be tackled was to improve the plight of widows so that they could live with dignity.

Challenging the regressive traditional norms, Vidyasagar fought for widow remarriage in the face of bitter and stiff opposition of the orthodox society. He proved that the widow remarriage was sanctioned by the religious scriptures. Ridiculed by the traditionalists and discarded by many friends and relatives, he went on undeterred to advocate widow remarriage and opposed child marriage and polygamy. He finally succeeded in his mission with the passing of the landmark legislation of “Widow Remarriage Act of 1856”. With his limited resources, He organised many widow remarriages. He set an example for others to emulate through the marriage of his son Narayanchandra with a widow in 1870.

Also called a ‘Dayar Sagar’ (Ocean of Compassion), Vidyasagar spent all his money to help the poor and distressed people and even incurred loan for that. He repaid all the loan before his death.

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar founded the Metropolitan School and Metropolitan College (Now Vidyasagar College) to impart modern education and knowledge. He was also the founder-member of the Calcutta University.

Several anecdotes revealing the multiple facets of Vidyasagar’s great personality are narrated even today in Bengali households. Here’s an interesting anecdote from his life.

Once Vidyasagar had gone to meet the Professor of the Metropolitan College at his residence for some work. As the Professor was not at home, the house help asked him who he was, and if he wanted to leave any message for the Professor.

Please tell Professor sahib that the Brahmin who arranges for the remarriage of widows had come to meet him,’ said Vidyasagar.

Later, when the Professor asked him why he had introduced himself in such a manner to the house help, he replied, ‘When all other identities fade away I will still be remembered as the person who brought about widow remarriage.’

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar left for his heavenly abode on 29 July1891. His identity as the person who introduced the practice of widow remarriage stays forever.


Image Source


  1. Vidyasagar Rachanabali
  2. Vidyasagar Charit- An article in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore
  3. Vidyasagarer Galpo (The Story of Vidyasagar) In Bengali By Gopalchandra Roy (Parul Prakashani ,Kolkata)


This article is contributed by Bhudeb Chakrabarti, Dy IG (Retd) CRPF. He has commanded several Operational and Administrative functions in the force and has imparted training to gazetted officers of CRPF and other central & state police forces.

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61 thoughts on “Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar – A great Indian reformer

  1. Beautifully written post.

    What a personality he was, and he came with a mission and it seems his journey was that of accomplishments. He was indeed a powerhouse of knowledge and knowledge can breed arrogance but he demonstrated his humility and his compassion made the big difference in how he used those knowledge for the betterment of the society. No doubt one of the most evil practices was that of Sati and breaking the social myths on window remarriage and setting example by making his son get married to a window are what great leaders shows to the world what preach and what they practice, they mean it.

    This is indeed a rich commentary of his life and his role in India’s history and only when one read such narration we realize we get swayed by our present and thought of our future but forget to spend that little time in reflecting on our past and the contribution by such great personalities in making the society a better place for us.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Nihar, you have made a very interesting observation. Education often makes a person arrogant, but true knowledge brings about humility and wisdom. So it was not without a reason he was called Vidyasagar, the Ocean of Knowledge,
      Thanks for sharing this wonderful perspective.


  2. Be it social reform, literature, fine arts, movies, music, intellectual debate or delicacies for the palate, Bengal has always been at the forefront. The personality of Vidyasagar ji is yet another remarkable one from this gifted region. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! What a person! I do know his name and faintly recall reading something about him in my long-forgotten history books, but that was all. Thanks for such detailed glimpse in his life!

    Truly inspiring!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. Just a mere mention. I believe this to be a failure of our education system. Ashamed to say that I don’t even know much about Raja Ram Mohan Rai, except that he abolished Sati pratha. A sad state we live in, when we forget our heroes and remember minute details of our actors!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Also called a ‘Dayar Sagar’ (Ocean of Compassion), Vidyasagar spent all his money to help the poor and distressed people and even incurred loan for that. He repaid all the loan before his death. I was not aware about this about Vidhyasagar ji !! great post . salute to him .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bhudeb Chakrabarti, Thank you so much for this tribute to Dayar Sagor !!! One year back I was searching for his home in Kolkata. The house where he stayed during his initial days in Kolkata but unfortunately few years back it was demolished and a new house was built on the same place. Even the famous street lamp also has been removed from the place few years back. This is the way we are paying respect to our Idols.Thank you so much for this article. Very well

    A special thanks to Somali K Chakrabarti.

    Indrajit Das (

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must thank you for your eloquent tribute to’ Dayar Sagar’ Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. Rabindranath Tagore mentioned that many rich and powerful persons could not get
      the same title by their charity which Ishwarchandra a poor son of a poor father could achieve.
      We must preserve the heritage left by our great men and follow their ideals. .

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for coming up with the post on this great visionary and reformer. He set up the pillar of modern Bengali although I don’t see the new generations hardly read “Barna Porichoy” and other prose by him. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes… you know I heard somewhere that Bengali doesn’t have that glamour that English has. Parents are more interested in teaching English. They look at Bengali as just ‘another subject’ that will increase the overall marks at the exams. Sad indeed 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great that you reminded us of him. It was because of people like him Bengal stood apart from rest of the country. What they thought then, the rest are yet to catch up. Particularly with respect to equality among all.
    But now we are losing it!
    A good read


    1. Many thanks for your valuable comments and your kind appreciation . We have to preserve our heritage and have to live up to the ideals of our great men .Regards.


  8. What a very well written post. Thank you.

    Maybe the abolition of the Sati custom was an idea whose time had come and was therefore inevitable, but the proposal of, perseverance towards and the passing of the Hindu Widows Remarraige act was deliberate and would not have happened had it not been for Ishwarchand Vidyasagar ji. Imagine the faith, persona, focus and confidence this must have required (and perhaps some political tact too). That too during the time that Mangal Pandey, Rani Laxmibai et al were making life difficult for the British. Society was complex then, is complex now. Many consider the arbitrariness of the way that the British passed the Sati abolition and widow remarriage acts as harbingers of the deep discontent that the Hindu society felt towards the British for tampering with the Hindu religious customs. Many felt that these acts were precursors of and a peep into the ultimate British goal of “conversion”. He is today most certainly remembered in the way he wished to, but my hunch is that he may not have been revered uniformly during the time he was alive. Such is the price that people who swim against the tide have to pay.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you Kaushal for the insightful comment. True that he might not have been revered in the same manner during his life time as he may have had to face stiff opposition and ridicule from the traditional society including many bigwigs. There were death threats on his life too. You are right in saying that people who swim against the tide have to pay the price. Many thanks for stopping by.

    Also wanted to share an update about my book Lei: A wreath for your soul, published on Amazon kindle store. It is a collection of short poems based on nature and life. The book can be bought for free today on

    Please have a look and post a quick short review on Amazon if you like the book.


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