Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922)
“A life committed to Christ has
Nothing to Fear
Nothing to Loose
Nothing to regret” – Pandita Ramabai
Pandita Ramabai was a scholar, poet, visionary and an eminent social reformer. She lived during the times in India, when women were not allowed to study or work and were also considered lower than men. They had no role in the society except to marry and bear children for their husbands. Child marriages were widespread and the child widows were left to abuse and slavery from the family and society. They were considered as “curse” and they often lived terrible lives filled with agony and pain.
Ramabai was born to High caste Hindu Brahmin named Anant Shastri. He was a social reformer and believed in educating girls. When he was forty, he had married a 9 year old girl. He was very learned in Sanskrit and he read the old Hindu Scriptures – the Puranas in temples for livelyhood. He taught Sanskrit to his young wife, for which he was highly despised and abandoned from the family and society. So he went around from village to village with his wife and three children reading the Puranas to the temple priest, in the fairs, holy places and wealthy Hindu people who could not read in those times. The Hindus believed they got merit by listening to the sacred words. They would give money and gifts to those who read the Scriptures for them. In this way the family traveled hundreds of miles on foot, never resting, and living a very simple life with adequate food or clothing. They never had to beg or work to earn a livelihood; the sacred readings were enough to bring them all they needed.
Years went by, Ramabai was 13 now. Her parents were getting ill and she had her older brother Srinivas. One other sibling had passed away. The country went through a huge famine in that time. People had nothing or very little to share. There came a time when there was no food at all for them to eat for days. They ate wild leaves and few berries occasionally if they found. Sadly, in that destitute condition too weak and sick, her father passed away. Before dying he took Ramabai and said, “Always go on in the path of God. Always make it your aim to serve God. I have given you into God’s keeping”. After this they travelled on, in few months the same conditions took her mother’s life.
Brother and sister were now left utterly alone. Ramabai began to lose her faith in the religion where she had suffered so much. They decided to give up their wanderings and come to Calcutta. Here, they were welcomed by the Hindu priests as they too were high caste Brahmins. They were amazed to hear Ramabai read the Puranas in Sanskrit. They were astonished by her wisdom. There were very few women who could read Sanskrit but Ramabai even knew its grammar. So they bestowed her with the highest known title of “Pandita” (Scholar) . Soon they were invited to give lectures and to visit places of learning.
The more, she studied the Hindu Scriptures; she became more unhappy and restless as she could not find peace and God. After all the struggles and pain she went through, his brother became ill and died too. Now, she was all alone in this world and so decided to marry. There was a lawyer who was not a Brahmin but was from a lower caste called “Shudras”, he loved Ramabai and had asked her to marry him many times before. So they both got married. This was very shocking and unheard of to her friends and relatives as Ramabai was a high caste Brahmin. But he cared for her and loved her.
One day Ramabai saw a small book in his husband’s library called the “Gospel of St. Luke”. It was in Bengali and she read it to the end. When she inquired about it to her husband, he said he had got it from the mission school. She wanted to know more and so her husband let a missionary come to their home to explain her about the book. This went on for some days, she felt very peaceful by reading this book. And she wanted to become a Christian which her husband would never agree to.
Just after 18 months of their marriage, Ramabai’s husband encountered Cholera and he died. They had a beautiful daughter named Manorama (joy of the heart).
As a Hindu widow, she had no place in her husband’s home so she took her daughter and set forth to go to her home state and came to Pune. Ramabai studied English here and also wrote a book called “Morals for women”.
One day, when Ramabai was reading in her home a little child widow came to her door. She was very sick. She had nowhere to go. Ramabai took her inside and cared for her. She took in this child like her own daughter. Now she knew what she had to do. She wanted to start a home for such widows where they will be loved and care for. Fired by this thought she tried to raise the necessary money but no one would give her any. She had so little of her own. It was a time of great disappointment for her.
But she had made friends with an English missionary Miss Hurford during that time. She was going home back to England and suggested that Ramabai can accompany her. Ramabai’s book had bought in little money, just enough to pay the passage for her and Manorama. Ramabai was very afraid crossing the ocean and go to a foreign land. But she knew that God was calling her and she had to go.
In England Ramabai and her daughter went with Sister of Mercy at Wantage. Here she found that her long pilgrimage to find God is over when she felt the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. She went to Cheltenham College and taught Sanskrit in return.
From here she came to America. She found American people very enthusiastic and helpful. She went and gave many lectures and wrote a book “High Caste Hindu Woman”. She started educating the West about the conditions of women in India. American women offered to help with her plan to start the home for widows. They formed Ramabai Association and promised that if she would start a school for the young widows they would help for 10 years.
Ten years seemed like a life time to her. She returned to India overjoyed to start her mission. When she came to Bombay (now Mumbai) she was welcomed by her old friends. They were happy to help Ramabai in her mission only if she would not teach them anything about the new God she had found in the West. Ramabai agreed to do so. She would herself travel around the country and bring back young girls who are widows suffering in pain and agony.
Ramabai had seen some land a little far from Pune in Kedgaon and brought it for the girls to stay. She started a school called “Sharda Sadan” (House of knowledge) in which she taught reading, writing, history and nature study. She started here with 20 girls. But that year they had famine. Ramabai herself set out to bring children who are hungry and begging. She brought back 200 of them. She built huts and let the new gals stay.
Ramabai also got 2 helpers, one Indian and other English, who shared her burden with helping young gals. She systematically taught the older girls first who in turn would take charge and help the younger girls. Gradually she had 2000 gals living in Mukti Mission (The home of Salvation).
For 20 years Pandita Ramabai went on working and caring for her large family. She passed away on 5th April, 1922. It has been more than 100 years since she started a humble beginning of Mukti Mission. Her vision still continues in the lives of many women and young girls today who have found hope and new life at Mukti Mission.
You can visit Mukti Mission, in Kedgaon, Pune, Maharashtra, India. The website address is http://www.ramabaimuktimission.com/.
People must not only hear about the kingdom of God, but must see it in actual operation, on a small scale perhaps and in imperfect form, but a real demonstration nevertheless.”