Final Days of the Ld Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar-1891

Departure From the world

After the submission of his Note on the Age of Consent Bill, Isvar Chandra went back again to Chandernagore(1891), where he was comparatively better, if it might be called so, up to the middle of April, when he was able to take even rice for two days. But, unfortunately, by the end of the month, his illness again took a bad turn, which made his eldest daughter, Hemlata, who had accompanied him, return to Calcutta and perform the rites of penances for the absolution of her dear father’s sins according to the Sastras at an expense of nearly 800 rupees. But this was of no avail. By the second week of June, he had suddenly a pain in his side regions. Nothing could relieve him of the pain. He then came back to Calcutta in company with his grandson, Jatis Chandra. Here he placed himself for a few days under Electro-Homeopathic treatment, which also failed to give him relief. He now resolved to give up opium, which he had been eating for some time past in medicinal doses for his Dysentery. He said,—’Opium requires the drinking of milk; but milk I cannot digest, and therefore I have given it up. Without milk, opium is injurious; it rather brings on costiveness. I should like to take such medicines, as would help me to give up the habit without discomfort.’ His Allopathic medical attendants, Babus Hira Lal Ghosh and Amulya Charan Basu, were afraid of danger in his giving up the opium all at once. But some others were of different opinion, and Abdul Latif, a Mussulman Hakim, was called in, who gave the required medicines. When he had taken these medicines for two days, his illness grew worse. The pain aggravated; drowsiness came on; hiccup made its appearance. Every one was now alarmed. Nearly a month passed in this state. By the end of the second week of July, Messrs Birch and M’Connel, two renowned European medical officers, were called, in. They suspected Cancer in the abdomen. They thought the case hopeless, and refused to take charge of the patient. For a few days more, he remained under the treatment of Hira Lal and Amulya Charan. But there was no relief. Some times the symptoms—hiccup, costiveness, pain—showed signs of improvement, but that was only for a short duration; they again set in with redoubled force. This state of things continued up to the 14th July. On the next day, Dr. Salzer, the best Homeopathist, was called in. For the first few days, Dr. Salzer’s Homeopathic treatment seemed to give the patient a little relief. Previously, his bowels had to be moved by the application of enema, but they now had a free motion. Dr. Salzer suspected Ulcer. He said,—’The jaundice, which has set in, may lessen in a short time. If it should not so lessen, the patient may die in seven days; and even if it should lessen, still there is very little chance of the life being prolonged for more than a month.’ For diet, ass’s milk was prescribed. Even this milk he could not assimilate. His vitality began to decline day by day. The hiccup increased and decreased by turns. He could not bear the rattling of carriages. To prevent it, straw was spread over the adjacent streets and lanes. The Calcutta Municipality sympathised with him by interdicting their Scavenger carts passing by those streets.

On the 19th July, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar paid the patient a visit. He was of opinion that the chronic Dysentery was the root of all. The other medical attendants used to call at regular intervals, see the patient, and then go away to their respective business; but Amulya Charan attended the sick man day and night, nursed him with great care, and watched the course of the disease with the keenest interest. Vidyasagar loved him very dearly like his own son. He also looked upon him with filial regard as if the patient was his own father. We have said, that Narayan Chandra was permitted by his father to tend him in his last days. He also attended the sick-bed with the tenderest care.

Fever, which had already set in, gradually increased day by day. The temperature rose on and on, till at last complete prostration came over the patient on the 20th July, 1891. He could no more rise from his bed. He suffered from intense pain accompanied by incessant hiccup, being apparently ameliorated at distant intervals by occasional slight reliefs. This state continued up to the 26th July.

On the 24th July, suggestions were made for a fresh will. Babu Golap Chandra Sastri, a renowned pleader of the High Court, drew up a draft of the last Testament. But Vidyasagar could not subscribe to it. He took time to think over his educational institutions, which he intended placing under a committee of management. In the meantime, the malady grew more serious, and deprived of his senses.

On Sunday, the 27th July, the condition of the patient became most alarming. The temperature rose on and on; drowsiness and stupor set in with redoubled force; difficulty of breathing was observed at short intervals. Kaviraj Brajendra Kumar Sen, a well-known native physician of Calcutta (since deceased), who was attending and watching the patient for the last few days; became hopeless. Kviraj Bijay Ratna Sen, another reputed physician, was called in. He saw the patient for the first time. His opinion was, he said, that the internal state of the sufferer was not so bad as it appeared outwardly. But alas! Oh cruel destiny! The disease became worse and worse. On the next day, Monday, the patient was in a state of insensibility. With the disease increased also its concomitant agonies. But the sufferer bore with them patiently. His face was as placid and calm as ever. He never gave expression to his internal physical pains. So long that he had not lost his consciousness, he would not allow any one else to remove his evacuations, and if ever anybody tried to do it, he showed signs of displeasure. His tender heart was easily moved at the distress of others, but he never gave expression to even his own excruciating pains; he put up with them with calm fortitude.

On one occasion, he had gone to a Bookseller’s, accompanied by his younger grandson (daughter’s son), Jatis Chandra. Quite unexpectedly, a long, heavy iron bar fell upon one of his feet. The pain was intense, and would have disabled every other man; but he preserved a stoic silence, and returned home in his palanquin. When Jatis Chandra asked his dear grandpapa, if he felt any pain in the part affected, he smiled, and only said,—’Don’t speak of pain; if the accident had occurred to any of you, surely your cries of agony would have resounded through the whole neighbourhood, and there would have been no reckoning how many doctors would have to be called in.’ He had once got a very painful carbuncle when he was at Karmatar. He came first of all to Burdwan for treatment, but finding no relief there, he was at last obliged to come down to Calcutta. In a few days, the abscess suppurated and required surgical operation. On the day of performance, he was engaged in conversing with Dina Nath Mallik of Farsibagan respecting the partition of their ancestral property. In the meantime, doctor Chandra Mohan Ghosh, the surgeon in attendance, had opened the carbuncle, evacuated all the accumulated pus and poisoned blood, and dressed the wound. The patient gave not the slightest utterance to his pain; not a muscle of his face moved. When the conversation was over, Dina Nath requested the doctor to do the needful, but he was quite surprised to hear that the abscess had already been operated upon and dressed, and that it was in reality a carbuncle. Such was the uncommon fortitude Vidyasagar possessed. Even in the agonised death-bed, he displayed the same extraordinary fortitude.

The whole of Tuesday, the 29th July, 1891, was a prolonged period of intense anxiety and fearful suspense. Every hope was extinct. The patient lay in the room, where hung his mother’s portrait. He had been laid down with his head on the north side, while his mother’s picture was hanging on the eastern wall. He was quite speechless and evidently insensible; but, by what enchantment God knows, the dying man in an instant turned himself with his head to the west, exactly facing the likeness of his beloved mother. He then gazed intently at the portrait, and shed an incessant torrent of tears.

All hopes were gone. Every moment was anticipated to be the last. The son, daughters, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, friends, relations, dependents, all watched the movements of the face with close attention. But it was as calm and tranquil as ever; no expression of internal agonies was visible in it; the countenance was very placid. The morning, noon, afternoon passed in this state of utter suspense, In the evening, the hard breathings which had already begun, became feebler and feebler, till it was almost inaudible. The pulse, which had already begun to fall down, sank and sank and sank, till it was almost imperceptible. The numerous doctors and Kavirajes came in and went out every few minutes, talking in inaudible whispers, with sad despondence depicted in their faces. The great crowd of relatives, friends, and visitors awaited the fatal issue with mournful silence. The thin and feeble wick of the pale, flickering light of life of the ever-merciful, great man was fast dying out. At last, the last symptoms of early dissolution of the body set in; the difficult breathing became more and more rattling and impeded; the pulse quite imperceptible. At 11 P. M. in the night, the breathing could be felt only in the navel. This last struggle continued for upwards of three hours, relaxing every moment, till 2-18 A. M. following, when his last breath was drawn. Not a moan escaped his lips, not a muscle of his feature moved. The friends and relations, particularly the female portion, were frantic with grief. They struck their breasts and foreheads with their fists, loudly bemoaning their fate, and filling the whole neighbourhood with pitiful lamentations, which no body had the heart to prevent. Thus ended the worldly life of the great man, who had struggled manfully with adverse circumstances from his very early years to the last days of his existence.


All was over. Amidst the fearful lamentations, preparations were made by the friends of the deceased for the performance of the last rites according to the dictates of the Sastras. Dressed in purest white, supported on the softest bedding, the corpse was placed on the very nice cot, upon which he used to sleep in his life-time. At 4 A. M. the mournful funeral procession proceeded in the direction of the place of cremation by the side of the Bhagirathi. The uncovered stretcher with its majestic burden was borne on the shoulders of the son, grandsons, brothers, other relatives, and friends. On its way, the sorrowful cortege once stopped a while before the Metropolitan Institution building. Here Narayan Chandra cried out in loud, pathetic terms, and invoked the blessing of his parent, saying—’Oh! my beloved father, here stands your dear Metropolitan. Bless me from heaven—give me power to preserve your noble work.’ The pathetic appeal so affected the processionists, that each of them was moved to a flood of tears. The procession moved on with, sad, slow steps, and at 5 O’clock reached the Nimtala cremation Ghat, where two days previously, another powerful, great Indian, Dr. Rajendra Lal Mitra, had lain to rest for ever.

Before the melancholy night dawned upon the mournful city, the sad intelligence had spread through the streets that the great Dayar Sagar Vidyasagar was no more! Hundreds of people of all classes, ages, and sexes ran with all their speed to the burning Ghat to have a last look. Many considered themselves fortunate to be able to touch the precious stretcher. The brothers of the deceased wanted to commence the cremation before sun-rise, but the grandsons desired to have a photograph taken of the corpse. The famous Indian photographer, Babu Sarat Chandra Sen, was sent for, and the photograph was taken just as the morning sun peeped into the melancholy scene from the gloomy eastern horizon. The assemblage was now very large, hundreds having in the meantime multiplied into thousands, every one eager to catch a last glimpse of the great man. The numerous women, who had gone to bathe in the sacred Bhagirathi, forgot their business and gathered in the place of cremation, many of them shedding profuse tears of sincere grief for the departed. There were people of all denominations and castes in the immense gathering, the concourse behind pressing the thick crowd in front, eagerly intent on having a last look. The Nimtala cremation Ghat witnessed a scene unequalled in dignified, solemn impressiveness by anything since its foundation. Some time was thus passed to satisfy the eager desire of the thousands of mourning spectators. At last, the body was washed with the holy waters of the Bhagirathi, and a last photograph was taken of the precious corpse. At about half past six O’clock early in the morning, the invaluable body was gently laid on the pyre, composed solely of sandal wood, already procured from the different quarters of the city. The son, Narayan Chandra, took up a blazing torch of Ghee in his right hand, and with mournful tears and lamentations applied it to the pyre just below where the face lay. As the funeral pile began to burn vehemently, even the clouds of the rainy July stood aghast, gazing intently on the mournful scene. The cremation took nearly five hours. At about 11 A. M., the fire of the pyre was quenched with the sacred waters of the Bhagirathi. The mourners and followers gathered the ashes and took them to their houses. The two grandsons, Sures Chandra and Jatis Chandra, brought home two urn-fuls of ashes. The rest was washed away in a few days into the Bhagirathi. Nothing remained of the great man. What did we say? Did we say, nothing remained? Oh! how greatly mistaken we are! There remained his noble deeds to perpetuate his memory. There remained his recollection in the heart of every native of Bengal. After the funeral obsequies were over, alms were given to the mendicants, and at about noon, the mournful procession returned home. For a fortnight hence, the friends of the great man sang Sankirtan at the place where his remains rested for ever.

In no time was the sad intelligence spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Then followed griefs and lamentations not only in India, but all over the world. The newspapers, both English and Vernacular, appeared in mourning, bearing the sorrowful tidings and describing the great man according to their respective ideas. This was what the Pioneer of Allahabad wrote in its issue of the 29th July, 1891:—”He was a brilliant educationist, and well-known for his labours in the promotion of Hindu Widow Re-marriage.” The Statesman of Calcutta of the same date said;—”Another of the foremost men of Bengal has gone over to the majority.” The Indian Daily News, in its issue of the 30th July, wrote;—”Death has again this week carried away another of the brightest jewels of India.” The Englishman of Calcutta of the same date said;— “A man of rare gifts and broad sympathies.” Even the journals of Europe and America joined in the same chorus. An American paper went so far as to compare the great Vidyasagar with the truly renowned Statesman, Gladstone of England.

All the private schools and colleges of the city, as well as those of the interior of the country, were closed in honour of the deceased great man. The students of the Metropolitan Institution gave up wearing shoes. The booksellers of Calcutta, stock-brokers, and shop-keepers of Radhabazar closed their shops and offices. In the city, condolence meetings were held in the premises of the Metropolitan, the Sanskrit, and the Presidency Colleges, presided over by the Hon’ble Dr. Gurudas Banarji, the famous Pandit Bhuvan Mohan Vidyaratna of Navadvip, and the well-known professor Mr. Tawny respectively. Similar meetings were also held at Howra, Hugli, Serampore, Burdwan, Gowhati, Dacca, Barisal, Tippera, Kuch-Behar, and other towns in the interior—even in Hyderabad in the remote south of India. At the meeting of Dacca, presided over by the celebrated writer, Ray Kali Prasanna Ghosh Bahadur, Raja Rajendra Narayan Ray Bahadur of Bhawal, with a view to perpetuate the memory of the deceased great man, offered 3,000 rupees to be deposited in the funds of the Dacca College, out of the interest of which amount, a scholarship of ten rupees a month, to be named “The Vidyasagar Scholarship”, was to be awarded to such a student of the Dacca College, as would pass the Calcutta University Entrance Examination with highest marks in Sanskrit, provided he failed to secure any other scholarship. At the meeting held in the premises of the Kaliganja School building, a medal was offered to the best essayist on Vidyasagar’s biography among the students of the school. In almost each of these meetings prizes and medals were offered in memory of the great Vidyasagar. Besides these, Libraries and Dispensaries were opened in different places in his name.

On the 27th August, 1891, a grand meeting, presided over by Sir Charles Eliott, the then Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, was held in the Town Hall of Calcutta to consider the means of perpetuating the memory of Pandit Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar and Dr. Rajendra Lala Mitra. Among those present were Sir Comer Petheram, the then Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, the Hon’ble Dr. Gurudas Banarji, Maharaja Jatindra Mohan Tagore, Raja Pyari Mohan Mukharji, and a number of European and native gentlemen of high station and influence. As a fruit of that meeting, a statue of the first Principal of the Sanskrit College has been set up in the College-building as a tribute of respect to the great man.

But is this sufficient? Who is to answer the question? The natives of Bengal must consider themselves fortunate that they have been able to do so much. Most surely, they have won a very bad name that they are great in words, but small in deeds. How often have they assembled in large gatherings rending the walls of the room with loud vociferations of their thundering eloquence, and how often have they failed in deeds! In fact, these persons are objects of great pity. The practice of holding meetings to express grief for the departed and to raise funds for raising monuments in honour of the deceased was unknown to this country till lately. It was first inaugurated by our present rulers, whom we try to copy in all matters. But it should be borne in mind that Europeans are not full of mere empty words; like us, they are not so apt to break their promise at every step; what they say they do with all their power; they never shirk it.

Even the enlightened Indian ladies founded a Memorial Committee, and raised 1,670 rupees from among themselves, which they made over to the authorities of the Bethune School for the foundation of a scholarship in the name of Vidyasagar to perpetuate his memory. We quote below an extract from the annual report of the school for the year 1894, which speaks for itself.

“In presence of His Excellency the Viceroy and Governor-General of India—Lord Elgin and many other notable European and Indian gentlemen—Bethune College—5th. March 1894,—Report,

“The Committee beg to announce that they have recently received the sum of Rs 1670 from the Secretary to the Ladies’ Vidyasagar Memorial Committee in Calcutta for the establishment of an annual scholarship tenable for two years to be awarded to a Hindu girl who after passing the annual examination in the third class of the School, desires to prepare herself for the University Entrance Examination. The late Pundit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar was the co-adjutor and fellow-worker of Mr. Bethune, when the school was founded, and since then continued, so long as he lived, to take the keenest interest in its welfare. It is therefore a source of great gratification to the Committee to find that a body of Hindu ladies in Calcutta should have interested themselves in this manner to perpetuate the memory of the late Pundit Vidyasagar who, during his lifetime, in addition to the philanthropic work to which he devoted his whole life, had done so much to promote Female Education in Bengal.

Sd. “M. Ghose.

The Hon’ble C. E. Buckland says:—”His (Vidyasagar’s) death was largely mourned throughout Bengal and various memorials of a more or less imposing character have been inaugurated in many important educational centres, including the metropolis. His fame has established itself throughout the country. Though persecuted for his reform movements, he never lost heart but maintained his faith in the ultimate triumph of Truth and Justice.”

Exactly four years after the death of our noble hero, a meeting presided over by the Hon’ble Dr. Gurudas Banarji was held in the Emerald Theatre (since converted to the Classic Theatre). At this meeting, the great Bengali poet, Babu Rabihdra Nath Tagore read a paper in Bengali on Vidyasagar. In one part of the paper, he said;—’We begin a thing, but never finish it; we make a great show, but never do anything; what we commence we do not believe; what we believe, we never perform; we can compose largest sentences, but we cannot sacrifice self in the least.’ The Hon’ble President, in deep despondency, said;—’I see no harm in that we have failed to erect a monument; Vidyasagar himself is engraved in the heart of every native of Bengal.’ This was no doubt an expression of helpless consolation arising out of heart-rending disappointment. But even taking it in a serious light, the noble deeds and works of Vidyasagar are no doubt his best monuments. Oil painting, metal statue, marble image—nothing can escape the destructive hands of age. But the name and fame of a man never perish; they are ever-lasting.

After his death, many poems, odes, and elegies, both long and short, appeared in the different vernacular periodicals,—daily, weekly, fortnightly, and monthly. They testify to the degree of veneration and love with which he reigned in the hearts of his country-men.

SOURCE: Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar(1820–1891), a story of his life and work by Subal Chandra Mitra-1902

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