Pandita Ramabai: Mother of India – Part One of Two

In 1905, Pentecostal revival spontaneously exploded at the Mukti Mission in India. Pandita Ramabai, an Indian widow, began the mission as a refuge for widows and a school for girls.  The remarkable life and ministry of Pandita Ramabai is a testament to God’s sovereignty, and the outpouring in India can be attributed to this woman’s insatiable desire for true revival. With a small band of missionaries, Pandita Ramabai successfully established a productive Christian work endued with the power of the Holy Spirit and a vision for social reform for disenfranchised women and girls.

Pandita Ramabai was born in 1858 to Ananta Shastri, a Brahmin largely regarded as a well-educated and holy man.  Pandita’s mother was only 9 years old when she married the elderly Brahmin. Ananta Shastri was adamant about women’s education and insisted that his child bride learn to read and write.  It was she who provided religious instruction to her children; and by the age of twelve, Pandita could quote 18,000 verses from the Puranas and was fluent in Sanskrit and schooled in Marathi, Hindustani, Bengali, and Kanarese. In 1876, the family was impoverished by the famine that overtook South India. According to Ramabai, her family donated their wealth in hopes of obtaining favor from Hindu gods. They prayed, fasted, and prostrated themselves before idols to no avail. The family left on pilgrimage and hoped to find a more prosperous, fertile area to settle.  In the midst of the famine, Pandita’s father, mother, and sister all died, and her faith in Hinduism was greatly shaken.  Through her journeys and visits to high caste Brahmin homes, Pandita Ramabai became very concerned about the plight of uneducated women, especially child-widows.  She began delivering lectures; and as early as 1880, news of her activism reached England.

Pandita married a well-educated Bengali man who held an M.A. from the University of Calcutta.  Pandita bore a daughter, and her marriage was very happy.  Sadly, only 19 months after her wedding, her husband died of cholera. Propriety dictated that widows withdraw from society, but Pandita Ramabai was not a conformist and returned to the lecture circuit advocating for women and even addressed a Commission formed by the British government to examine the question of education in India. Her extraordinary talents resulted in an invitation to England, and she spent a year at the Church of England Sisterhood at Wantage, where she confessed faith in Jesus Christ and was baptized on 29 September 1883.  Ramabai was appointed Professor of Sanskrit at Cheltenham Ladies’ College where she remained for a year and a half before travelling to America, where she enrolled in a Philadelphia training school to study education.  While in America, she authored The High-Caste Hindu Woman, which revealed intimate details of the restrictive life of many Indian women.  The book resounded with many cultured women in America, who were concerned about the rights of women at home and abroad.  A “Ramabai Association” was formed to support her return to India and to begin a mission where women could be educated in a Christian environment.

In 1888, Rumabai’s mission became a reality. Pandita Ramabai emphatically believed that the mission must serve all women in need. Though school was run by Christian teachers, Ramabai was determined to offer a non-sectarian education; many residents were Hindu and were still permitted to observe their religious traditions.  Each morning, Pandita devoted an hour to personal study of God’s Word and conducted open Bible studies before formal school began.  In a short time, nearly half of the mission’s residents were attending the early morning meetings and were anxious to learn more about Christ. Inquirers formed a small society at the school and set aside a room for prayer; and nearly 25 girls were withdrawn from the school by their parents who feared their conversion to Christianity.  The school was criticized in the press, but Pandita was unwilling to close her morning Bible meetings to interested girls.  In time, a majority of the girls and women were converts to Christianity, and prayer was moved to a larger room.

Despite her profession of Christianity, Pandita became convinced that her conversion had been largely “intellectual.”  In this state of conviction, she sought an assurance of her salvation.  After many sleepless nights and intense repentance, Ramabai experienced a deep and abiding joy and resolved to more passionately pursue and preach Christ!  Shortly thereafter, Ramabai attended a Christian camp-meeting along with the 15 girls and women in her school who had professed Christ.  During an early morning prayer experience, she earnestly asked God to give her 225 souls.  Though her school could only accommodate 65 students at that time, Pandita felt a confirmation from the Spirit that God would send such a revival!  By 1897, Ramabai was able to expand the mission and provided shelter and education to 300!

Part Two

Matthew Shaw is a librarian at Ball State University. He lives in Muncie, Indiana with his wife, Brandi, and his four sons. He attends River of Life Church.

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