Thursday November 14, 2019

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: Ocean of knowledge & compassion

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source: kolkatabookfair
source: kolkatabookfair

By Nithin Sridhar

Every Bengali worth his mettle got introduced to the language through ‘Barnaparichay’, the elementary Bengali textbook in two parts which has helped millions through the ages in recognizing and amalgamating the Bengali characters. The author, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was one of the foremost figures in Bengali Renaissance. He was an educator, philosopher, Sanskrit scholar, and a social reformer.

On this day, 195 years ago, he was born as Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyay to Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and Bhagavati Devi at Birsingha village of West Midnapore district, West Bengal. On his 195th birth anniversary let us briefly look into his life and legacy.

His Life: He was born in 1820 and his primary education was commenced at a pathshala (indigenous school) where he learned language, grammar, arithmetic, etc. Later, after moving to Calcutta (now Kolkata) he joined the Sanskrit College and mastered Sanskrit Vyakarana (grammar), Kavya (poetry), Smriti, Nyaya (Logic) and Vedanta among other subjects.

In spite of abject poverty, Ishwar Chandra studied very hard and excelled in academics. In 1839, he graduated in law examination. The college committee endowed Ishwar Chandra with the title ‘Vidyasagar’- ocean of knowledge, recognizing his expertise in various branches of knowledge.

He was married to Dinamani Devi at the age of 14 and at the age of 21 he joined the Fort William College as head of the Sanskrit department in 1841. He joined the Sanskrit college in 1846 and in 1851 he became its principal.

He worked for the upliftment of women and made significant contributions to Bengali language and literature. He finally passed away in 1891 at the age of 70 years.

His Legacy: He was one of the foremost champions of women’s upliftment. He championed the cause of widow remarriage and introduced the practice in the Bengali society. He studied the Hindu scriptures deeply and realized that there is nothing in the scriptures against widow remarriage. His efforts resulted in the passing of the Widow Remarriage Act in 1856.

He also fought against child marriages and unrestricted polygamy. He wrote various books on the issue of widow marriage and polygamy, and set up a Hindu Family Annuity Fund to help those widows who could not marry again.

He made important contributions to education sectors. He opened schools for providing education to girls. He also opened the education sector to lower caste students. Due to his immense compassion and generosity, people used to call him ‘Daya Sagar’– ocean of compassion.

In the field of languages, he made significant contributions to the Bengali language. He reconstructed the Bengali alphabets and restricted into 12 vowels and 40 consonants. He made extensive contributions to Bengali and Sanskrit literature.

Apart from his two volume books each on widow-remarriages and banning polygamy, and one volume on child marriage, he also translated the ‘Kathasaritsagara’ from Sanskrit into Bengali and called it ‘Betaal Panchavinsati’ – 25 tales of a Betaal. His other important works include ‘Banglar Itihaas’, ‘Jivancharita’, ‘Shakuntala’, ‘Seetar Vanavas’, and ‘Bhrantivilaas’.

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

On the birth anniversary of such a great man, one should remember that he was as much an ocean of knowledge as he was of compassion, and one should try to implement both these values in his/her life.

  • P G Kutty Nair

    Thank you Nithin for this timely article. While there is no shortage of critics of Hinduism for its so-called weaknesses and laxities, hardly anyone remembers the efforts by enlightened Hindus themselves to correct the flaws. The critics have nothing to contribute but criticism. Therefore, this is a timely reminder that we had great social reformers in earlier days too, who complained less and contributed more through their positive actions.

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  • P G Kutty Nair

    Thank you Nithin for this timely article. While there is no shortage of critics of Hinduism for its so-called weaknesses and laxities, hardly anyone remembers the efforts by enlightened Hindus themselves to correct the flaws. The critics have nothing to contribute but criticism. Therefore, this is a timely reminder that we had great social reformers in earlier days too, who complained less and contributed more through their positive actions.

Next Story

Google Celebrates 100th Birthday of Dr Vikram Sarabhai, Father of Indian Space Programme, with Doodle

We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight

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Google, Birthday, Vikram Sarabhai
To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. IANS

As Chandrayaan-2 cruises to reach the moon by August 20 and drop a lander called ‘Vikram’ on the Earth’s sole satellite on September 7, Google on Monday celebrated the 100th birthday of Dr Vikram Sarabhai — father of the Indian space programme — with a Doodle.

“There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose.

“We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight,” emphasized Vikram upon the importance of a space programme during his successful dialogues with the Indian government.

“But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society,” he noted.

Google, Birthday, Vikram Sarabhai
As Chandrayaan-2 cruises to reach the moon by August 20 and drop a lander called ‘Vikram’ on the Earth’s sole satellite on September 7, Google on Monday celebrated the 100th birthday. Pixabay

The establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was one of his greatest achievements which broke many global records in days to come.

Born on August 12, 1919 in Ahmedabad, Vikram was one of the eight children of Ambalal and Sarla Devi, according to the ISRO website.

The Sarabhai family was an important and rich Jain business family. Ambalal was an affluent industrialist and owned several mills in Gujarat.

He matriculated from the Gujarat College in Ahmedabad after clearing the Intermediate science examination.

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After that, he moved to England and joined the St. John’s College at University of Cambridge. Vikram then went on to receive the Tripos in Natural Sciences from Cambridge in 1940.

The tripos framework includes a wide range of natural sciences from physical sciences to biology which are taught alongside the history and philosophy of science.

With the escalation of the World War II, Vikram returned to India and joined the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and began research in cosmic rays under the guidance of Nobel winner Sir C.V. Raman.

A great institution builder and established or helped set up a large number of institutions in diverse fields, he was instrumental in establishing the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad. He was only 28 at that time.

Google, Birthday, Vikram Sarabhai
There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. Pixabay

Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha, widely regarded as the father of India’s nuclear science programme, supported Vikram in setting up the first rocket launching station in India.

The centre was established at Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram on the coast of the Arabian Sea, primarily because of its proximity to the equator.

“After a remarkable effort in setting up the infrastructure, personnel, communication links, and launch pads, the inaugural flight was launched on November 21, 1963 with a sodium vapour payload,” says ISRO.

Vikram started a project for the fabrication and launch of an Indian Satellite. As a result, the first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was put in orbit in 1975 from a Russian Cosmodrome.

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The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) at Thiruvananthapuram today is the major centre of ISRO, where the design and development activities of satellite launch vehicles and sounding rockets are carried out and made ready for launch operations.

Interested in science education, Vikram founded a Community Science Centre at Ahmedabad in 1966. Today, the Centre is called the Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre.

Vikram was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 1966 and the Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) in 1972.

He was also Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. Along with other Ahmedabad-based industrialists, he played a major role in the creation of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

To pay homage to the father of India’s space programme, ISRO has also announced an award in his name on his 100th birthday.

Married to Mrinalini Sarabhai and father of noted dancer and activist Mallika Sarabhai, he died in Kovalam, Thiruvananthapuram, on December 30, 1971.

His son Kartikeya Sarabhai is one of the world’s leading environmental educators and a dedicated community builder.

Needless to say, the Indian space programme has aptly lived to his expectations. (IANS)