Iśvaracandra Vidyāsāgara

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By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Isvaracandra Vidyasagara, IZvaracandra VidyAsAgara, Ishvaracandra Vidyaasaagara

Iśvaracandra Vidyāsāgara belonged to the period A.D. 1820-1891. According to Vivekānanda (A. D. 1863- 1902), a person who wishes to work for social reforms must have three qualifications:

  1. Intense feeling or sympathy for the oppressed
  2. Thorough knowledge of the problems and their solutions
  3. Who adamantly puts the solutions into practice

One great reformer of the nineteenth century who had all the above mentioned qualities was Iśvaracandra Vidyāsāgara. He was born in A. D. 1820 in a small village of Midnapur district in West Bengal and came to Calcutta[1] at the age of nine for higher education. He pursued his education amidst many difficulties and got the title Vidyāsāgara’ in his nineteenth year from the Sanskrit Mahāpāṭhaśālā where he studied.

Iśvaracandra worked as a Sanskrit teacher in the Fort William College. When he was offered the post of the Vyākaraṇa[2] professor in the Mahāpāṭhaśālā, where he had studied, he felt that Tārānātha Tarkavācaspati (A. D. 1806-1885) was a better candidate. He convinced Tārānātha to accept it after walking a distance of 161 kms. (100 miles) to his place of residence. Later on he became the principal of the Fort William College wherein he successfully introduced some important reforms. This enabled the members of the non-brāhmaṇa classes also to learn the Sanskrit language.

In course of time, he resigned from his job and started his own educational institution. Throughout his life, he struggled with the orthodox sections of the society to introduce some urgent social reforms like the remarriage of child-widows. He was one of the important leaders of this movement. The spirit of this movement spread to several other parts of India also. He fought against the social system of polygamy, which was rampant in the society. His literary works in Bengali are:

  1. Betālapañcavimśati
  2. Śākuntalā
  3. Sitāparityāga

The last work has been considered as his best. He breathed his last in July 1891.


  1. Calcutta is now Kolkata.
  2. Vyākaraṇa means Sanskrit grammar.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore