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Trail of Obidience to God – Pandita Ramabai

Ramabai was born on 23 April 1858 at Gangamul, Karnataka. Her mother was Laxmi Dongre. Her father, Anant Padmanabha Dongre was a wealthy orthodox Brahmin. In those days the girl child was denied education and child marriages (girls given in marriage before they became adults) were prevalent. Women were treated like slaves and used only to bear children. Laxmi was 9 years old when she got married to Anant Dongre who was forty years old. But Anant Dongre took care of his wife Laxmi and taught her Puranas (Hindu scriptures) and Sanskrit. She did her duties at home like cooking, washing, taking care of children & guest and spent hours at night to study the sacred literatures. Later she contributed a lot towards the education of her daughter Ramabai in the sacred scriptures and Sanskrit.

pandita ramabaiAt the age of 12, Ramabai memorized 18,000 verses from the puranas. Her father did not give her away in marriage when she was a child. Her father’s reformed thinking towards educating women and shudras (lower caste people), abandoned them from their house
and society. Anant Dongre, his wife and three children wandered from village to village reading the puranas to the temple priest, in the fairs, in the holy places and to the wealthy Hindus who couldn’t read. They earned their livelihood this way as the Hindus gave money and gifts to those who read the scriptures to them. They believed that they received merit by listening to the sacred words. They travelled across the country, walking thousands of miles as far as Kashmir in the north, Chennai in the south and Calcutta (Kolkata)
in the east. Ramabai was able to see the cruel state of child widows in the homes of the high caste Hindus,as she wandered to different places.

When she was 13, there was a huge  famine in the country and people had nothing to give. Many days they went without food. Her parents and elder sister died of starvation. Ramabai and her brother Srinivas continued to wander. She began to lose her faith in the religion where she suffered so much. They decided to give up the wanderings and reach Calcutta. There, the Hindu priests were amazed to see Ramabai reading puranas in Sanskrit and her knowledge of the Sanskrit grammar. They gave her the highest known title ‘Pandita’ (Scholar). Her brother Srinivas became ill and died. She married Bipin Behari Das an educated Bengali man who was a shudra. They settled in Silchar, Assam. She found the Gospel of Luke in her husband’s library which he got in the mission school. She read the Gospel with great interest. As she wanted to know more about it, her husband introduced her to a Baptist missionary Mr Allen. As Mr Allen shared the Gospel she wanted to become a Christian but her husband never agreed to it. Within 2 years of their marriage, her husband passed away of Cholera. She was left alone with her baby girl, Manorama. She had no place in her husband’s home as a Hindu widow. So she took her daughter and went to Poona (Pune).

She established Arya Mahila Samaj in 1882 for the cause of Women’s education and to eradicate child marriage. In Poona, an English missionary Ms Hurford explained the New Testament to her. She also began to learn English. In 1883, Ramabai published a book, Stree
Dharma Neethi (Morals for Women). Ramabai earned some money by selling her book which helped her and Manorama pay their travel to England. Ms Hurford introduced her to the Sisters at Wantage. She was given a home and was appointed as a professor of Sanskrit for two years in a women’s college in Cheltenham. She was touched by seeing women rescued and changed by Christ’s love. She enquired the reason for helping the fallen women. She understood that Jesus came to save  and not despise the sinners. She was
able to differentiate Christianity from Hinduism where the fallen women were cruelly punished. She embraced the Christian religion
and was baptized in the Church of England. Later she experienced a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In 1886 Ramabai was  invited to America from England by Bodley, the dean of the Women’s Medical College, Pennsylvania to attend the graduation of her distant cousin Anandibai Joshee. In America, she wrote a book called ‘United States chi Lokasthiti ani Pravasvrutta. It was translated as Pandita Ramabai’s American encounter. It contains her observation about the people and the culture of America and also a  comparison of the status of women in US and India. In her book she also criticized the racial problems in America. The book gained her a wide range of audience in America.

She wrote another book on ‘High caste Hindu Woman’ and gave lectures on the conditions of women which led some Americans to establish Ramabai Association in Boston. The Association came forward to extend financial support for 10 years to start a school in India for the child widows. In 1889 Ramabai returned to India and started the Sharda Sadan (House of Knowledge) in Bombay (Mumbai) for the widows. Many widows came there for training and Ramabai gave them an open access to religion. She gave them Bibles if they chose to read. Seeing her godly life, girls started showing interest in Christianity. The Hindu Brahmin supporters opposed this and the committee members resigned and declined to support her mission. She moved the Sharda Sadan to Poona. She travelled around the country to bring girls and widows who were suffering.

In 1896 a great famine broke  out in central India. 600 women and children were rescued. On 24 Sept. 1898 Mukti Mission was established in Kedgaon, about 30 miles from Poona. In 1900, a great famine broke out in Gujarat and Kathiawar. She sent 20 sisters on  a rescue mission and they brought hundreds of women and children from the famine stricken areas. She started Kindergarten for 400  children. She also started a teacher training school and an industrial school with garden, fields, oil press, dairy, laundry and ovens.  They also taught sewing, weaving and embroidery. She was awarded Kaiser-I-Hind medal in 1919 for her community service by the British Raj. Ramabai started a prayer meeting where nearly 70 people gathered each morning to pray. They prayed for a revival and true conversion among Christians. There was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and revival swept through Mukti Mission. In December 1901, 1200 people were baptized. Later about 700 Mukti girls and women joined this prayer, studied God’s Word and went out to share the Gospel. In 1905, there was a spiritual revival and Ramabai said, “I am not aware that anything like the present Holy Ghost revival, has ever visited India before the year 1905.”

In 1904, she started translating the Bible in her native language, Marathi from the original Hebrew and Greek. When she finished translating a chapter of a book, she would get it printed with the help of the girls in the school and give to anyone who wanted to read it. In 1913 the first edition of Pandita Ramabai’s New Testament was published. In 1921, her beautiful daughter Manorama suddenly
died of sickness. In 1922, when Ramabai was nearing her death, she prayed for 10 days to finish the proof reading and God granted
her exactly 10 days. She finished translating the entire Bible before she died. She died at the age of 64 on 5 April 1922. In 1924 the Marathi Bible was published and over 10,000 copies were printed. She is the first woman Bible Translator. It has been more than a century  since Ramabai established Mukti Mission. Till today, Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission is giving hope to many women and young girls. Ramabai said, A life committed to Christ has nothing to fear, nothing to lose, nothing to regret. Will you commit your life today to Jesus and walk the trail of obedience to God?

Pandita Ramabai, undated My story Pandita Ramabai, Nasik: Genesis Books Santhosh Kumar, 2011 ‘Pandita Ramabai’ in Tamil, Chennai: Word of Christ ministries

FMPB, 2008, Great Men and Women who  Changed the World, Chennai: FMPB

http://www.jeevanmarg.com/testimonies/pandita-ramabai-founder-ofmukti-mission/ acessed on 30th July2013 11.54 pm

http://www.manase.org/en/maharashtra.php?mid=68&smid=23&pmid=5&id=822 acessed on 30th July 201311.19 pm


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