Kd's e-pathsala My Journals Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: The Great Educator and Educational Reformer

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: The Great Educator and Educational Reformer

Das, Koushik., Ghosh, Sanjukta (January, 2021). Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: The Great Educator and Educational Reformer. PANDIT ISHWAR CHANDRA VIDYASAGAR ON HIS BICENTENARY: VARIOUS ASPECTS, ISBN: 978-93-89224-80-1, Vol-1, 148-159.


Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: The Great Educator and Educational Reformer


ABSTRACT: Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar the great pathfinder of the Indian Renaissance, his full life was covered a significant period of the 19th century dawn in India. His activity started with the formation of the “Society for the Promotion of Bengali Language and Literature”. He continued social movement that started by Raja Rammohan Roy. We know Vidyasagar was well known writer, educator, intellectual and above all a staunch follower of humanity. He had an imposing personality and was revered even by the British authority of his time. He brought about a revolution in the Bengali education and social system and refined the Bengali language and literature. In the 19th century being born as a girl was regarded a curse, Polygamy, child marriage, kulinism and the abominable rite of sati i.e. the barbaric practice of burning Hindu widows made the life of women ‘hell’. His unbelievable efforts helped to break the tradition and long-standing superstitions and dark practices that were devastating the society. There were just a few men who tried to go beyond the decadent tradition of Bengal, Vidyasagar was one of them. In the present research an attempt has been made to examine critically the role of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar as a great educator and educational reformer of Bengal.

Keywords: reformer, Bengali language, literature, women education, Primary education, contribution



“He has the genius and wisdom of an ancient sage, the energy of an Englishman and the heart of a Bengali mother”.

– Michael Madhusudan Dutta

The 19th century is known as the century of social and educational reforms in India that gave birth to a kind of ‘renaissance’. It started from Bengal and stepwise spread to various parts of country. After that the result the lower position of the high caste women in Indian society was brought to light and endeavor were made by the reformers to change their position and social status by passing social legislations and also by giving them education.

Vidyasagar was a great man and play various roles as an educator, translator, writer, social reformer and feminist have rightly earned him the credential of being one of the early progenitors of Indian modernity. All these credentials of Vidyasagar were his own brand of liberal Humanism. While the modernising metropolitan West is considered to be the fruitful ground for liberal humanism and feminism indeed the colonizing mission brought these newfound influences to the periphery of Indian society, Vidyasagar essentially embodied practical humanism. The practical humanism of Vidyasagar was earned by both his readings and lived experience. Born a poor Brahmin family, his childhood deprived by many things, those things that necessary for every human being. Vidyasagar was terribly aware of his country’s laxness and to correct them. Vidyasagar played a pathfinder role in expanding modern education and social mobilisation during the 19th century Bengal. Vidyasagar not merely confined himself to the role of an agitator towards spreading modern education within the superstition drowned Hindu community through their native language, also involved in the practical field of social changes like the initiation of widow-marriage, polygamy and also he tried to removed superstitions from the society. His contribution in education, Bengali language and literature was remarkable.



Vidyasagar was born Birshingha village in Medinipur district of Bengal Presidency on 26th September 1820. His father, Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and mother Bhagavati Devi were very religious persons and kind hearted women who were slandered to childless widowhood were supposed to have been the influence in the life of Ishwar Chandra. The economic condition of this family was not good, that’s why Ishwar Chandra had to spend his childhood amidst scarcity of basic resources. Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay was employed as a cook in a shop in Burrabazar, Calcutta and had a low income of Rs. 8 per month. Ishwar Chandra spent his whole childhood in abject poverty. His parents could not afford gas light at home, that’s why he would study under street lights as Amidst all this, Ishwar Chandra was an stubborn boy with a brilliant mind and he focused his obstinacy in his studies, he was always very curious about to know everything. Vidyasagar learned basics of Sanskrit at his native village pathshaala, after that for farther study he coming Calcutta with his father. There are many myths about his brilliance and dedication as a student. Ishwar Chandra said that, he learned English numerals by following the mile-stones level on his way to coming Calcutta. After coming Calcutta he breezed through his lessons and cleared all the necessary exams. He studied Vedanta, Vyakaran, Literature, ethics in Sanskrit College during 1829 to 1841. He earned scholarships and later he took up a teaching position in a school in Jorasanko to support his family’s financial condition. He took a part in a competition in 1839 the competition organized by testing knowledge in Sanskrit and there he earned the title of ‘Vidyasagar’ meaning ‘Ocean of Knowledge’. In the same year Ishwar Chandra successfully cleared his Law examination. After that he got marriage at the young age of 14 to Dinamani Devi and they had a son named Narayan Chandra Bandyopadhyaya.



He was a very brilliant student, after complete his study he start with his career, at the very young age of twenty one, he joined Fort William College as a Head Pandit in 1841. The brilliant mind that he was, he soon became expert in English and Hindi, acquaintance with Frederick James Hallidey, John Peter Grant, Cecil Beadon, William Grey etc. After five years, Vidyasagar left Fort William College and joined the Sanskrit College as an Assistant Secretary in 1946. But few years after joining he resigns due to some reason. The reason related to some changing in administrative section, but this change couldn’t accepted by Vidyasagar and he was a man who would not bow down to power, that’s why in 1847 he resigned from the post of Assistant Secretary, and resumed employed at Fort William College but as a head clerk. Few times later he rejoined Sanskrit College on the request of college authority, but in this time he joined as a Professor of Sanskrit College. He became Principal of Sanskrit College in 1851. In 1855, he occupied the responsibilities as a special inspector of schools with additional charges and travelled to remote villages in Bengal to oversee the quality of education.



  • Find out the role of Vidyasagar in primary and college education
  • Find out the role of Vidyasagar in Bengali language and literature
  • Find out the role of Vidyasagar in women education



  • Is there any contribution of Vidyasagar in the developing and promote primary and college education?
  • Is there any contribution of Vidyasagar to development of Bengali language and literature?
  • Is there any contribution of Vidyasagar as a reformer of women education?



This paper is descriptive type historical research and based on the secondary data collected from various sources like books, articles, periodicals and Ph.D. thesis. But primary data sources are also used for this study.



Vidyasagar was greatly involved concerned regarding the vernacular education of his countrymen. He believed that Vernacular Education on in depth scale, and on an economical footing, is very fascinating, for it it’s by this suggest alone that the condition of the mass of the individuals are often ameliorated. In 1854, during Lord Dalhousie’s Governor Generalship, Mr. Hallidey (first Lieutenant Governor of Bengal), recognised the poor conditions of the indigenous school, at a time when the Despatch of 1854 changed the ‘filtration theory’ and declared the Govt’s willingness to help mass education. Vidyasagar and Hallidey established some model schools (PATHSAHAALA) under inspection system. Four districts (Hooghly, Midnapore, Burdwan, Nadia) were selected for this operation, Vidyasagar planned for 3-5 classes schools under one Head Pandit and two Assistant Pandits for each. There two inspector were appointed one appointed for Hooghly and Midnapore and other one appointed for Burdwan and Nadia. In the year 1855 Vidyasagar was appointed Inspector of Schools for Southern Bengal. In a same year’s five schools established in each district. There some basic subjects like history, geography, geometry, arithmetic, moral science etc taught. Medium of language would be mother tongue and apart from this 3 Rs. taken for as a fees. He wrote several books in the development of primary education. ‘Varna Parichaya’ is the marvelous creation of Vidyasagar. Vidyasagar enormous efforts in primary education, would have been inspired the poor villagers and lighted their dark life. 

Vidyasagar has a great contribution within the development and reformation of higher education. He enriched and reformed the Indian higher education system. Like primary education Vidyasagar try to develop college education, in 1853 Vidyasagar had started an Anglo-Sanskrit free school at Birsinha, his native village. In 1859 number of his fellow travellers started the Calcutta Training School, with him as secretary. In 1861, it was renamed as Calcutta Training Academy. In 1864 it became the Hindu Metropolitan Institution, then Metropolitan Institution and after that it was known by ‘Vidyasagar College’. This institution received no aid from the Govt. and it was the first Indian college managed and run by Indian pupils. In 1872 it recognised as a second grade and in 1879 as first grade. In 1884 to 1887 institution opened many courses and many branches around Kolkata. Success of this institution encouraged other Indians to established English institutions including colleges.

In 1841, at the age of twenty one, Vidyasagar joined the Fort William College as a head of the Sanskrit Department. During this time, he came to rescue the higher education system like an angel, and he became the College Director. Vidyasagar replaced Sanskrit text-books by others that taught Western mathematics. Here Vidyasagar introduced several changes for institution betterment. G.T. Marshall who was the Secretary of the College at the time acted as the catalyst for gaining this prestigious position for him at the age of twenty one. Vidyasagar started learning English and Hindi here. Marshall had been thoroughly impressed by Ishwar’s scholastic achievements. He was appointed to the board of Examination for the selection of ICS candidates in 1854 and in 1855 he was made a member of the University Committee. In 1857 he became a fellow of the Calcutta University.

After a five year stint with the Fort William College Vidyasagar joined the Sanskrit College as Assistant Secretary in 1846. He wanted to improve the teaching learning system in the college. In the first year of service with Sanskrit College, he brought out a report to the authorities outlining and recommending a number of changes to the curricula and the education system. This report attracted criticisms from the College Secretary Rashamoy Dutta but it generated keen interest of authorities and a tremendous amount of favorable comments and praises from the Education department, particularly from G.T. Marshall. Because of irreconcilable differences with Dutta on this subject Vidyasagar resigned. In 1850 Vidyasagar came back to Sanskrit College as a Professor at Sanskrit College with one condition that he should be allowed to do the redesign of the curricula and education system. In 1851 he became the Principal of this college. His ambition was to use the knowledge of Sanskrit for the progress of the Bengali Language. At that point, he made some vital reforms of the associated Sanskrit college. Vidyasagar is credited with the role of thoroughly remodeling medieval scholastic system prevailing in Sanskrit College and convey regarding modern insights into the education system. The first change that Vidyasagar made when he came back to the Sanskrit College as a Professor was to include English and Bengali both as the medium of learning, besides Sanskrit. He introduced courses of European History, Philosophy and Science alongside of Vedic scriptures. He encouraged students to pursue these subjects and take away the best from both worlds. He also changed the rules of admission procedure for students in Sanskrit College allowing non-Brahmin students to enroll in the prestigious institution. First time Vidyasagar introduced the concepts of admission fee and tuition fee in Calcutta. Vidyasagar set up the Normal School for training teachers. He would help his students get jobs in government offices, through his contacts at the deputy magistrate’s office. Vidyasagar took many such measures to expand enrolment and strengthen student commitment in Sanskrit College. In this way, he rescued classical education from medieval scholasticism.



A major aspect of Vidyasagar’s contributions was constituted of his language and literature activities, this language helps Indian people were to be educated. Haled had written his grammar before the rise of Vidyasagar. Carey had also written one. Rammohan wrote his Goudia vyakaran. But Vidyasagar felt that something more was require to be done to take the Bengali language to the ordinary man. Vidyasagar Varna Parichaya was an aid to people for the mastery of Bengali. It was a thorough reform of language by deleting many letters used in Sanskrit, but obsolete in Bengali. The number of letters was rationalised, show nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverb, tense etc.


 Fig : Vidyasagar Varna Parichaya


A major aspects of Vidyasagar’s contribution was constituted of his literary activities. He played important role in news paper, periodicals (both English and Bengali) and wrote, translated and published many books. Vidyasagar also contributed significantly to the Bengali and Sanskrit literature. He authored several books such as Betaal Panchabinsati- 25 tales betaal (1847), Banglar Itihas (History of Bengal) (1848), Jiban Charit (1849), Bodhodaya (1851), Varna Parichay- parts I & II, and in 1864 Sabdamanjory (a dictionary). And also wrote Upakramanika (1851) and Byakaran Kaumudi (in 4 parts) and Riju Path. Other literary contributions of Vidyasagar, as is well known, included Sakuntala (1855), Sitar Vanavash (1862), Bhrantibilash (1869) etc. for use as university text books he wrote Meghadutam, Adhijnanam, Harsha Charitam etc. But the most far-reaching and controversial of his Social Reform Monologues are- Bidhobabivah (Widow Remarriage- on widows’ right to remarry) the First exposure 1855, Bidhobabivah (Widow- Remarriage- on widows’ right to remarry) the second book 1871, he also two treatises on polygamy, Bahubivah (on Banning of Polygamy) first exposure 1871 and Bahubivah (on Banning of Polygamy) second book 1873 and other one about Balyabivah (on the Flaws of Child Marriage). He also established the Sanskrit press with an aim to publish books; these books sell at affordable prices, so that the common people could buy them. He was also became a member with the prestigious publications such as Tattwabodhini Patrika. In 1839, Vidyasagar had become a member of Tattwabodhini Patrika Sabha and was its last secretary in 1858. He also attached with Somprakash, Sarbashubhankari Patrika and he also salvaged the Hindu Patriot after the death of Haris Chandra Mukherjee.



Vidyasagar will be remembered for ever, for his contributions in women’s education in this country. Girl’s education was one prime objective of Vidyasagar’s plans. He realised that, unless women of the land could be educated it was impossible to emancipate and liberate them from the terrible burden of inequalities and injustice imposed on them by the cruel society of the day.

Despite ample evidence of learned women philosophers, scholars and scientists in the ancient times in India, the state of female education during the late 18th and early 19th century Bengal was highly deplorable. There were no female schools and no instruction for females. In 1849, Mr. D. W. Bethune, law member of the Governor General’s Council and President of the Council of Education, in co-operation with some prominent Bengalee gentleman, established a ‘free school’ for secular education of Hindu Girl’s. The school was variously known as Calcutta Female School, Hindu Female School, Native Female School and Lastly Bethune Girl’s School. In 1850, Vidyasagar accepted secretaryship of the school. The other members included Kalikrishna Dev, Hara Chandra Ghosh, Ramaprosad Roy, Kashiprosad Ghosh etc. According to Vidyasagar instruction, Bethune School used to write on two sides of the Bethune school’ s cars- “ kanyapyobog palonia shikshaniyati jatnata” (The daughters should be cared for and taught as sons).

In 19th century, girls were not encouraged to go to school. People feared that if they go to school, it would interfere with his household duties. Even the educated women were taught by their fathers or husbands at home. In the meantime, the Despatch of 1854 had spoken favourably of Govt’s responsibility in women’s education. In that time Vidyasagar started a girls’ school at Jaugram in Burdwan. With the concurrence of Mr. F. Hallidey he made a plan to start girls’ school in village where villagers would provide school house. During 1858, twenty schools were started in Hooghly, eleven in Burdwan, three in Midnapore, one in Nadia, (35 schools in all).  In this school taught to the girls various kind of things like reading, writing, arithmetic, biography, history of Bengal, reading of passages on different subjects, needlework and sewing etc. 1300 girl’s of Bengal enrolment with this school, it could possible by making door-to-door calls, requesting parents to send their daughters to school; giving financial support to some school; appealing the Govt. to extent grant-in-aid benefits towards the maintenance of girl’s school. Vidyasagar as his own initiating create a fund named “NARI SHIKSHA BHANDAR” for financially help to the girl’s education. He fights with this conservation with quotations from the Sanskrit scriptures that clearly prescribed care and education of the girl’s. Vidyasagar writing books, pamphlets and articles in the support of women’s education.



“Vidyasagar is known in the country for endless bounty……..He also shows uncommon strength of character”

Rabindranath Tagore

Vidyasagar was the man who very nicely decorated Indian education and that’s why he regarded as the first architect of national education. This modern outlook of national education has been influenced by Vidyasagar’s progressive thoughts. Various decisions in the present modern education policy have also been influenced by his progressive thoughts.

 He was a truly important figure in the field of education, his opinion towards educational and social reformation is correctively proved by words and deeds, that a synthetic modern culture and education was possible and traditionalism and Anglicism should both be avoided. Vidyasagar proved that social barriers and superstitions to educational opportunity might be broken, if sincerely desire. Vidyasagar took all necessary actions to concretize his plans of educational reform. He strongly wanted education through mother tongue, which leads to mass education. He also contributed in fields like Sanskrit studies, women education, reformer of Sanskrit College, reformer of Bengali language and literature. Varna Parichaya is the incredible work of Vidyasagar. He enriched our Bengali literature by his written. He always had great sympathy and love for the poor students; he financially helped them so that they could continue their studies without any disturbance. Besides this he made arrangements for their meal, clothing and treatment. He was really ‘dayasagar’ or ‘karunasagar’. Sri Ramakrishna truly commented about him, “No lake, no puddle, the real sea”. He will be remembered with great honor in the ages to come as the reformer of society and education. This majestic person got international acclamation in 2004 when BBC poll ranked him number 9 as the Greatest Bengali of all time. We the Bengalis are really proud of him. He passed away at the age of 70 on 29th July 1891. After his death, Rabindranath Tagore had said, “One wonders how god, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man”.



  • Ahmed,S (2006),Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagarer Shahittya O Shikkha Chinta(The Literary and Educational Thoughts of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar)Rafat Puiblication,Dhaka, p-86.
  • Banu, Akter & Alam, Shafiqul (2016). Influence of Western Knowledge and Culture upon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and His Philosophy of Education. International Journal of Education and Psychological Research, 5(2), 12-18.
  • Banerjee, J.P. EDUCATION IN INDIA PAST PRESENT FUTURE. Central  library, Kolkata-700073, ed. July,2007, 93-102.
  • Bhattacharjee, Debabrata(2015). Women’ s Issues: Contribution of the Reform and Reformers in Colonial India. EPRA International Journal of Economic and Business Review.
  • Chaudhury, Avishek. (2017). Remembrance: A tribute to Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar for his Achievements and Innovations in the field of Education during the 19th century in Bengal. International Education and Research Journal, 3(4), 124-126.
  • Devnath, S. (5th May, 2014). TattabodhiniPatrika. Retrieved on www.en.banglapedia.org
  • Ghosh, Roni (2018). Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Contribution in the Development of Bengali Language and Literature and Its Relevance in Present Context. Asian Review of Social Sciences, 7(2), 44-49.
  • Kumar, Dr. R. (19th July, 2017). Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: Women education and Empowerment. Social and Women. Retrieved fromwww.businesseconomics.in
  • Kundu, M. (27th September, 2012). Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: Ocean of knowledge who famous around India, Sind river of kindness, True friend of poor people. Retrieved from www.manashsubhaditya.blogspot.com
  • Omstein A.C., and Levine, D.U., 1981, An Introduction to the Foundation of Education, Houghton Mifflin Company, U.S.A, 134-14.
  • Purakait,B.R.(1997).‘Milestones in Modern Education’ New Central Book Agency, Kolkata, ISBN 978 81 7381 266 8, 77-78.
  • Purkait, B.R. (2014) ‘ Great Educators and Their Philosophies’ Kolkata 700009, New Central Book Agency, Kolkata, ISBN 81-7381-06, ix-x.
  • Roy, A.K. (2018). Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: The Champion Educator of Bengal. The Research Journal of Social Science, 9(11), 290-294.
  • Samaddar, Sunanda (1989). Educational Contributions of Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar:Analysis of Humanism, Materialism, and Scientism in His Educational Philosophy. University of Kalyani.
  • Sen, Asoke. (1977). Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and His Elusive Milestone. Riddhi India, Calcutta.
  • Sikder, P., Halder, Dr. Tarini. (2020). VIDYASAGAR AS A REFORMER OF EDUCATION. Journal of Information and Computational Science, 10(1), 840-853.
  • Umar, B. (1985). Iswarchandra Vidyasagar O Unish Shataker Bangali Samaj. Chiryata Prokashan Pvt.Ltd, Kolkata, ISBN 81-85696-33-0, P-50.
  • Vidyaratna, S. C. Vidyasagar Jibancharit, Bengali 1321, Siddheswar Press Depository, College Street, Kolkata. Retrieved fromhttps://commons.m.wikimedia.org
  • Vidyasagar, I. C. Barnaporichay Part 1, 1932, Sanskrit College, Kolkata. Retrieved fromhttps://commons.m.wikimedia.org
  • Vidyasagar, I. C. Jibancharit, 1857, The Sanskrit Press, Kolkata. Retrieved fromhttps://commons.m.wikimedia.org
  • Vidyasagar, I. C. Kathamala, 1941, Sanskrit College, Kolkata. Retrieved fromhttps://commons.m.wikimedia.org
  • Vidyasagar, I. C. Shakuntala, 1911, Sanskrit College, Kolkata. Retrieved fromhttps://commons.m.wikimedia.org