Sanskrit College, Calcutta

Sanskrit College, Calcutta was established in 1824 during the administration of lord amherst. A General Committee of Public Instruction for the Bengal Presidency had already been set afoot by a resolution adopted by the Governor General in Council on 17 July 1823. The Committee had ten members comprising men like HT Prinsep, thomas babington macaulay and horace hayman wilson. Majority members of the committee favoured Oriental Studies, and the logical outcome was the proposal for the establishment of Sanskrit College at Calcutta.

The proposal encountered a stiff opposition from an enlightened Indian, rammohun roy, who submitted a memorial to the Governor General on 11 December 1823 vehemently questioning the Committee';s decision. Instead, he suggested that the Government should promote a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing Mathematics, natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Anatomy with other useful sciences by employing men of talents and learning educated in Europe and provide a college furnished with necessary books, instruments and other apparatus.

Lord Amherst, however, paid little heed to this memorial and the Sanskrit College started functioning at a rented house in Bowbazar Street of Calcutta on 1 January 1824. At the beginning, only the Brahmins and Vaidyas were allowed to attend the classes of the Sanskrit College. With the commissioning of a new building on 1 May 1826, students of both Sanskrit and hindu colleges were accommodated under one roof. Curiously enough, all kinds of precautions were adopted to prevent intermingling of students of the two institutions. The first English classes, albeit on an optional basis, were introduced on 1 May 1827, as a response to popular demand. Following the death of Ram Manikya Vidyalankar, a distinguished academician, pundit ishwar chandra vidyasagar took over charge as Assistant Secretary in 1846. After the retirement of Rassomoy Dutta, the secretary, the Council of Education proposed to place the Sanskrit College on an equal footing with the calcutta madrasa and Vidyasagar was appointed the first Principal.

The Calcutta Sanskrit College, since its foundation, had been conceived as an official institution for imparting indigenous Hindu learning. It had showed rigid adherence to tradition in its course of studies, its list of holidays and in its proud exclusion of all castes except the Brahmins and the Vaidyas. Provisions were made for translating works on natural Philosophy, Geography and History into Bengali. As to the method followed in teaching, eg, in Anatomy, lectures were delivered on European medical principles accompanied by dissection of the softer parts of animals. In 1835 with the foundation of the calcutta medical college, this department was discontinued.

As Principal of the college Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar brought in reforms in the institution. The doors of the college were opened to the Kayasthas in January 1851 and to all respectable Hindus in December 1854. Modest tuition fees were instituted with enhanced stress on discipline and regularity of attendance. English was reintroduced, but with added emphasis as a compulsory subject and Mathematics was to be studied in English. The curriculum was thoroughly recast on a utilitarian basis. Graduates of this college were made eligible for the post of Deputy Magistrates. Vidyasagar himself composed two masterly manuals of Sanskrit grammar to replace the Mugdhabodha that had hitherto proved a stumbling bloc to the young learners. His reforms tended in a way to materialise his dreams of making the Sanskrit College a seat of pure and profound Sanskrit learning and at the same time a nursery of improved Vernacular literature. The teachers were to be thoroughly qualified to disseminate that literature among the masses. The report of Dr Ballantyne (29 August 1853), the erstwhile Principal of Sanskrit College, Banaras, on the affairs of the Sanskrit College, Calcutta paid rich tribute to the success of Vidyasagar's scheme of reorganisation.

A survey of the achievements of the Professors and alumni of this college not only illustrate the richness of their contributions to Bengali literature and Sanskrit, but also dispels the popular criticism that the college was steeped in reactionary ideas. Ramchandra Tarkabagish, who compiled the first Bengali dictionary, forestalled Vidyasagar in his advocacy of widow marriage, and the first to practise it was Srishchandra Vidyaratna. The first Bengali journal Samachar-Darpan owed much to the literary labours of Pundit Jayagopal Tarkalankar. A Sanskrit poet of repute, Prankrishna Vidyasagar edited with success the Samachar Chandrika, founded by Bhabanicharan Bandyopadhya. Luminaries in the field of Nyaya like Jaynarayan Tarkapanchanan, litterateurs like Beharilal Chakraborti, bhudeb mukhopadhyay, Taranath Tarkabachaspati, social reformers like sibnath shastri and a galaxy of such names did the portals of this institution proud.

In the wake of the sepoy revolt, 1857, the premises of the college were temporarily converted into a wartime hospital and nursing centre. In 1858, Vidyasagar resigned from the post of Principal, to be succeeded by Dinabandhu Sharma. By 1872, the third and fourth year classes of the college were transferred to the presidency college, despite vigorous protests from the native organisations like the british indian association. The professorship of Hindu Law had to be abolished. In his letters (dated 13 and 23 April 1872) addressed to the DPI, the Principal expressed his apprehension that the abolition of English would lead to an exodus of students. A new scheme dwarfed the tol department for some time, until Mm Maheshchandra Nyayratna, who introduced titles (upadhi), revived it. With 25 free students, he showed the way to the introduction of a model tol that could impart traditional interpretation of sacred books on orthodox lines. In 1908 a Board of Sanskrit Examination was formed with eminent Pundits, which proved to be a timely measure in arresting the decline in the number of examinees, already reduced by the political tensions as a sequel to the partition of bengal, 1905. Thanks to the Title Examination system, however, its student rolls started swelling by 1910 and the Calcutta University Commission Report (1917-1919) appreciated the role of the college in boosting “a great impetus to the advancement of Sanskrit learning” in Bengal. In the FA examinations subjects like English, Mathematics, Sanskrit, History or Logic formed part of a compulsory curriculum. However, students opting for such subjects as Chemistry or Physics had to attend classes at Presidency College.

During the 1930s, Dr Surendranath Dasgupta, a philosopher and great scholar in English, held the office of the Principal. The Arts Department had already been affiliated to the Calcutta University, and the college offered courses in Pali, Ancient Indian and World History and Linguistics. The Oriental or Tol Departments, besides Sanskrit, formed an integral part of the college. [Rachana Chakraborty]