"Vidyasagar, scholar, sage and intellectual dictator, laboured hugely like the Titan he was, to create a new Bengali society." (Sri Aurobindo)

A citadel of strength and a lighthouse of simplicity was Ishwar Chandra. To the poor he was Dayar Sagar (the Ocean of Kindness), to the learned he was Vidyasagar (the Ocean of Knowledge), to the humble he was the most humble-minded of men, though he never admitted the fact, and to the proud and the arbitrary he was the lion-hearted rival.

Ishwar was born when his parents were in the grip of poverty. His life clearly proves that one can win unbounded fame even after being born of the poorest parents.

It is quite interesting to observe that Napoleon and Vidyasagar, who were both surcharged with an indomitable will, were deprived of even an average height. Also, unbelievable was their love for their mothers. The Indian conquered the heart of his countrymen with a heroic spirit, boundless learning, kindness, and charity, while by the strength of his volcanic will Bonaparte conquered the heart of France and left behind a name to blaze in the history of the world.

In his boyhood Ishwar was most notorious for playing pranks. He was also equally outstanding in the merit of displaying his studies. Not to listen to his father's instructions was his bold determination. He would always do the diametrical opposite of his father's wishes. The wise father at last discovered a plan. He would ask his son Ishwar to do the reverse of what he intended him to do. That is to say, when he wanted Ishwar to have his bath he would ask him not to take a bath in such cold weather. In no time Ishwar would hurry to the pond and finish his bath. One day when the Inspector was to visit the school he wanted Ishwar to put on his best attire. So he told Ishwar that as he was not the son of a rich man he was not expected to put on fine clothes. Soon the son put on his best clothes and hurried to school.

Fear was unknown to him. According to him a man does not deserve to be called a man unless and until he fights for his self-respect. "It is better," said he, "to open a grocer's shop than to hold a high position wanting in prestige."

Vidyasagar once visited Mr. Kar, then Principal of Presidency College. During their conversation he found Kar's legs spread wide on his table. What an insult! Now let us observe how Vidyasagar paid Kar back in his own coin.

One day Kar called on Vidyasagar for some work. Vidyasagar placed not only his legs but also his sandals on the table and thus enjoyed his talk with the Principal. The Englishman was more than angry with Vidyasagar. He lodged a complaint with the higher authorities against him. The matchless Pundit was summoned. He justified his conduct by saying that he had learnt the selfsame etiquette from Mr. Kar himself when he had visited him a few months before. He further added that our Indian etiquette could by no means be the same.

Vidyasagar had no other God save man. He had no other religion but to serve humanity. His parents were his living deities and he considered his mother a paragon of virtue. He was ever ready to fight with the impossible at his mother's behest. If he was at home he would bow to his parents first and then begin his daily activities. If he was away from home he would bow to their portraits first and then launch into his daily programme.

One day he said to his mother, "Mother, I have now become a stranger to poverty. I wish you to buy some jewels." At this his mother said, "Yes, my son, I too have been cherishing the same desire for a few months. I wish to buy only three jewels: (1) The village boys are absolutely addle-headed; you are to open a free school for them. (2) See, my son, poor people are dying without any treatment; you must open a charitable dispensary for them. (3) My poor villagers have no houses to live in; you must make such an arrangement that they may properly live." In no time the son burst into tears and touched his mother's feet with his devoted head and promised that he would fulfil her desires. And within a few years he did fulfil them — to the joy of his beloved mother.

It was Vidyasagar who introduced into Bengali society the remarriage of widows of tender age. At this a multitude of people let loose a flood of abuse upon him. He stoically braved all calumny; nay, he, as it were, pounded his foes to atoms. Under his auspices no less than sixty remarriages took place, and these entailed a cost of eighty-two thousand rupees.

A surprising anecdote: We all know that Chief Justice Sir Gurudas Banerjee was one of the illustrious sons of Bengal. He was well known for his devotion to his mother, who was orthodox to her very marrow. Every day Sir Gurudas himself used to bring the sacred water from the Ganga for his mother. Indeed, God's ways are always strange. This venerable lady on her deathbed enjoined her son to invite Vidyasagar to her obsequies. By this time Vidyasagar had become an object of contempt in the orthodox community of Bengal on account of his introducing widow remarriage into Hindu society. Strangely enough, she further added that Vidyasagar should be the foremost guest at her obsequies. The son carried out the command of his dear mother, defying the bitter abuses of the orthodox Brahmins. This event clearly indicates how even a purely orthodox woman had heartily supported the just cause of widow remarriage undertaken by Vidyasagar.

In his book Bodhodaya (The Awakening of Knowledge), meant for children, he has defined God thus:

"God is the formless self-form of Consciousness." It is interesting to note how he chose to impart the highest notion of God to the budding learners. Clearly he stood far above the anthropomorphic conception of God, and he was conversant with the Vedantic idea of the Brahman.

Let us not forget Sri Ramakrishna's genuine admiration for Vidyasagar. The spiritual Giant once called on the Pundit and said: "At long last I have reached the ocean." Vidyasagar's immediate and humble reply is equally worth remembering: "If it pleases you, you may take some quantity of saline water from the ocean." The Lighthouse of spirituality retorted: "Why should it be saline water? Verily, you are the ocean of Vidya (Knowledge), and not of Avidya (Ignorance)."

"There is none in Bengal," says Vivekananda, "who has not in some way or other derived benefit from the multifarious activities of Vidyasagar."

The relation between Vidyasagar and the great poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt was that of a father and a son. It is well known how Vidyasagar, nay, Dayarsagar saved Madhusudan's life from imminent peril at Versailles, France. After his return from the foreign shore, he still took money in season and out from Vidyasagar. It happened that Vidyasagar was once counting some currency notes at home. His Madhu hurried into the room and placed his hand forward. Vidyasagar fondly said: "Wait a bit, let me finish my counting." But Madhu was in a tearing hurry. He took some currency notes and sprinted off. The father's affectionate heart voiced forth: "Madhu, O Madhu, you are so impossible!" Madhusudan lived in the heart of Vidyasagar on such a footing of affection.

Rabindranath's unique love and admiration for Vidyasagar can be gauged from the glowing tribute paid to him through his remark: "Perhaps it is by oversight that God has sent a real man among seventy million of so-called men inhabiting Bengal."

Vidyasagar was a man of supreme genius whose memory one can cherish as an invaluable treasure.