A Girl Named Pandita

Hello fellow readers,

I’ve been enjoying traveling with you to different parts of the world on our search for Heroes.  I thought I’d grab another of Canon J. John’s heroes for today.  All is well here in chilly Australia except that we’re (the country, not us) battling an “Indian strain” of COVID.  Because of all the news, I’m seeing a lot of people turning their thoughts toward India and perhaps dredging up some past prejudices.  However, J. John has recounted an interesting story of an Indian woman I had never heard of. It’s a story I think needs to heard and remembered.

Pandita Ramabai was a truly extraordinary woman: reformer, educator and evangelist. She was born in 1858 into a British-ruled India that was dominated by the Hindu caste system. At that time, people were placed in rigid social levels and women were considered definitely as inferior to men. Her father was a high-caste Hindu priest who, defying tradition, taught both his daughter and her mother to read Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindu scriptures.

When she was 16, Pandita lost her mother, father and a sister to starvation, victims of a nation-wide famine. One brother survived, and the two walked all around India. She was gifted with an astonishing memory, and used it to recite Hindu scriptures in exchange for food.

Pandita was never one to abide by cultural rules, and soon married a man from a different caste. Sadly, her husband died, leaving her a 23-year-old widow with a daughter. Seen as an orphan, a widow and a single mother, Pandita was rejected by society, but that did not stop her from speaking out. She formed an organization that promoted women’s rights, the education of women and an end to child marriages. Eventually, her voice was heard among the British elite, giving her even more opportunity to speak her mind.

In such an environment, it wasn’t long before Pandita came across Christianity. She read Luke’s Gospel and was drawn at once to the way Jesus treated women with love and respect. She became a Christian, which made her very unpopular among the Indians who knew her, but actually increased her voice for reform. She traveled to England and America, joining with other Christian women activists but always focusing her harshest criticisms on her home country.

In 1888, Pandita returned to India and opened a residential center near Mumbai, where young widows could learn to read and write in a safe environment. “Mukti”, as the center became known, grew to over 1500 residents, producing some of the most influential women of the time.

By the turn of the century, word of the Welsh revival was being heard everywhere, and the Mukti Center welcomed the news, joining in prayer for revival in India. By 1905, thanks to Pandita’s encouragement, Indian Christians carried the Gospel all over the country in a movement similar to what was being seen all over the world. By now, Pandita’s life had a new power and joy and although she remained heavily involved in social work, she was now an evangelist, preaching to all a message that focused on Christ, the Holy Spirit and prayer.

Pandita was an extraordinary linguist – fluent in seven languages including Greek and Hebrew – and in the last two decades of her life worked to create a new and more accessible Bible translation in her own Marathi language. It was finally completed just days before her death in 1922 at the age of 64.

What an amazing story of an amazing woman! Sadly, Indian history has almost forgotten her. But I think it’s time for us all to be reminded of this true “Hero of the Faith”, Pandita Ramabai.

Never underestimate the power of a woman.

Till next time, Marsha

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