Among great social reformers in India, one cannot easily forget the name of Pandita Ramabai, whose immense contributions in the field of education and emancipation of women played a pivotal role in reforming India.
Born to a very rich orthodox Hindu family on 23rd April 1858, in Karnataka, Ramabai, became a household name, whose transformation through Christ and life–changing testimony, for decades have been motivating and encouraging people.
To the astonishment of Hindu pundits, at the age of twelve, she had committed to memorise eighteen thousand sacred verses from the Hindu Puranas, and gained exceptional knowledge in Sanskrit (sacred language of Hinduism), which eventually gave her the title “Pandita” which means ‘mistress of wisdom’.
Inspired by God, whom she found in Jesus Christ after trying all the religions at her disposal, she founded the Mukti Mission on March 11th 1889.
With motherly love she cared for a family that grew to 2000 girls, thousand unfortunate ill–treated child widows and destitute orphans.
The mission is still active providing housing, education, vocational training and medical services for the widows, orphans and the handicapped.
A pioneer educationalist in India, Ramabai, was of the elite group who first introduced methods of kindergarten training as well as illustrated books and pictures for village primary schools. She also opened primary and secondary schools exclusively for girls and village children in her Mukti Home.
More to enumerate, the saint–like Ramabai who was also a poet and a leading advocate for the rights and welfare of women in the country, became the first to introduce Braille for blind girls, subsequently opening a Blind school in Mukti.
She was also the first in India to introduce the idea that Hindi should be the national language and Devnagiri be made the national script.
She even became the first woman translator, not only in India, but probably the whole world, accomplishing the task of translating the whole Bible into Marathi, her mother tongue (from the original Hebrew and Greek).
However, one must intently note the environs and the kind of life women led in India, a century back, when they had no voice in the society nor family, and led a very demeaning life.
It was the audacious lectures of the vivid Ramabai, which resuscitated the people, even impressing the famous Empress Queen Victoria.
Eventually, she became the first Indian to introduce industries for women, and help them be independent and self–reliant.
While the contributions of this great woman patriot are measureless, one must seriously ponder the inspiration of her life. The light, which emanated from Christ – the true savior of the world, a real guru, the greatest pundit the world ever saw, who changed her life and used her to change the life of countless people.
In him she found the “Moksha” (salvation), “Svarga” (heaven) and “Dharma” (higher truth).
Her father, Anant Shastri Dongre, a learned Brahmin, fearing wrath of local Hindus for his audacity to teach his wife and children the sacred Hindu scriptures and Sanskrit, which was only meant for the high caste, forced him to start his own independent life in the forests.
“He could not see why women and people of low caste, could not learn to read and write the Sanskrit language and learn sacred literatures other than the Vedas,” explains Ramabai, in her testimony.
“Ever since I remember anything, my father and mother were always traveling from one sacred place to another, staying in each place for several months, bathing in the sacred river or tank, visiting temples, worshipping household gods and the images of gods in the temples, and reading Puranas in holy places.”
Further about her difficult stages in life, she writes, “We could not do menial work, nor could we beg. Our parents had unbounded faith what the sacred books said. They encouraged us to look to the gods to get our support. Eventually, my father, mother and sister, all died of starvation, except me and my brother.”
“I cannot describe all sufferings of that terrible time. My brother and me continued following the sacred Hindu scriptures, worshipping the idols and gods and goddesses, fulfilled all the conditions laid down in the sacred books, but the gods were not pleased with us.”
“After years of fruitless service, we began to lose faith in them and in the books which prescribed this course. We wandered from place to place, worshipping gods, trees, animals, Brahmins and fasting and performing penances. We even walked four thousand miles on foot without any sort of comfort,” writes Ramabai.
Her travels in India and her perplexing circumstances sensitized her to the bleak plight of widows and orphans. The Child marriage – a practice among higher castes of betrothing young girls to much older men, caste system, protection of women, child labor, lack of education and need of vocational training institutes, led Ramabai on a mission to end the social problems of the society.
After many tumultuous stages in her life, writes Ramabai, she came across the English missionaries, who “gave us a copy of the Holy Bible in Sanskrit, treated us kindly and even requested us to partake in their refreshments.”
“Having lost all faith in my former religion, and with my heart hungering after something better, I eagerly learnt everything I could about the Christian religion, and declared my intention to become a Christian.”
One of the greatest moments in Ramabai’s life came, when she was given a scholarship to study medicine in England; when she arrived there, she found that her hearing was defective and so she could not participate in lectures.
While in England, she wrote the feminist classic “The High Caste Hindu Woman,” a scathing attack on traditional practices including widowhood, polygamy and child marriage. The book was translated into English and was widely read in England and America.
She further writes, how in England, she was deeply moved by the life of Christians, their service to the poor and suffering. “They were all so filled with the love of Christ, compassion for suffering humanity. They had given their life for the service of the sick and infirm. I had never heard or seen anything of the kind done for this class of women by Hindus in my country. I never heard of them speak so kindly to the poor and needy. They never wished to turn from their evil path.”
“Although I had found the Christian religion, sadly I had not found Christ, who is the life of the religion and the Light of every man that cometh into the world. I had failed to understand that we belong to God in Christ Jesus. I had failed to see the need of placing my implicit faith in Christ and His atonement in order to become a child of God by being born again of the Holy Spirit, and justified by faith in the Son of God. I realised that I was not prepared to meet God, and that sin had dominion over me.”
“I had at last come to an end of myself, and unconditionally surrendered myself to the Savior; and asked him to be merciful to me, and to become my Righteousness and Redemption, and to cleanse me from my sin. Although it is impossible for me to tell all that God has done for me, I must yet praise him and thank him for his loving–kindness to me, the greatest of sinners.”
“ I was just like the blind man in the book of St John, who for forty years was blind and then suddenly found the Mighty One, who could give him the eyesight. I was like the man who was told, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk…. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, praising God.”
“How very different the truth of God was from the false idea that I had entertained from my childhood, that I must have merit to earn present or future happiness, the pleasure of Svarga (heaven), or face the inconceivable loss of Moksha or liberation. Yes, just like 1 John 4:9–10 says, God has sent his son and redeemed us all. No caste, no sex, no work and no man was to be depended upon to get salvation, this everlasting life, which God gave freely.”
“I experimented in the religion which I was born. I did not leave a stone unturned, as it were, as far as I knew, not only the in the books, even practicing what the books prescribed. The conclusion is that, everything is empty without Christ. I had to give up all pride of our ancestral religion being old and superior, which is preventing my country–people from finding Christ, in whom is the joy of salvation.”
“I questioned in my mind over and over why missionaries did not come forward to found faith–missions in my country. The Lord then told me, “Why don’t you begin to do this yourself, instead of wishing others to do.”
“At the end of 1892, a great famine came on this country and I was led by the Lord to start a new work. To care for the troubled and feed the poor. We had nothing to fear, to lose or to regret, because the Lord is our Inexhaustible treasure.”
Pandita Ramabai also traveled the United States, China and several other countries, sharing the good news and her testimony to the people. She later started the Mukti mission. Mukti in Marathi means ‘Salvation’. The schools, orphanages, and her active participation in the freedom movements, played a really important role in the Indian reformation.
The press at Ramabai’s death on April 5, 1922 said, “It is a national loss.”
“A brave champion of the reform and education of women and a herald of happiness for thousands in distress, to whom she brought love and hope, was mourned by multitudes.”
The intention of Mukti mission was that women should be accepted, nurtured, loved, trained, and equipped to take their place in Indian society. It was a place of empowerment and transformation—a model Christian community following the teaching of Jesus.
Having already tasted the wonderful life and truth of God through the scriptures, Ramabai for sure knew, the importance of translating the Bible into her mother tongue. She was ready to devote 12 years of her life to translate the Bible into Marathi. And former “Mukti members” would take the message of Christ to every part of Maharashtra.
In 1919, the king of England conferred on her the Kaiser–i–Hind award; one of the highest awards an Indian could receive during the period of the British Raj.
Her contributions as a builder of modern India were recognized by the Government of India who issued a commemorative postal stamp on 26th October 1989 in honor of her.
Source: Life of Pandita Ramabai: Jesus was her guru, Dibin Samuel, from the website of Chritianity today (India) through the link:http://in.christiantoday.com/articledir/print.htm?id=2681
accessed on October 06th 2008.