Ramabai was the third child of high caste Brahmin Sanskrit scholar, Anant Shastri Dongre and Lakshmibai Dongre. Her father, breaking tradition, taught his wife and children the sacred languages. The family travelled, Ramabai’s father teaching the Holy Scriptures for a living. Tragedy struck as her mother, father and sister all perished in the famine of 1877. Ramabai and her brother continued to travel and teach. Ramabai’s knowledge was so impressive, she was the first woman to be given the title Pandita at the age of 20. She was widowed in at 23 in 1882 and left alone with her young daughter Manorama.
Ramabai’s travels through India made her aware of the terrible plight of women in India. In September that year, she appeared before the Hunter Commission advocating for the education of women and for women teachers and school inspectors. She travelled to England hoping to train as a doctor. She lived at St Mary’s Home in Wantage where the sisters taught her about Christ and she was baptised in 1883.
On returning to India she continued to study the Bible and accepted Christ as her personal saviour, a moment she described as being shut up in a dark room and suddenly released into bright daylight. After fundraising for several years in America, she returned to India in 1889 and established Sharada Sadan, a school in Bombay for child widows, young girls who had been ‘married’ to much older men who then died. Ramabai understood that an education was their only hope for a future. She promised not to pressure the girls to become Christians but she had daily devotions which the girls could choose to attend. Many of the girls became Christians.
In 1890 she moved the school to Poona. She purchased a 100 acre farm which she named Mukti Sadan outside Pune in 1896 and in the first 2 years rescued 300 girls from famine. In 1900 famine struck again. Ramabai toured the villages of Maharashtra with a caravan of bullock carts and rescued thousands of outcast children, child widows, orphans, and other destitute women and brought them to the shelter of Mukti. By 1901 there were almost 2000 residents including those rescued from the Gujarat famine.
Pandita Ramabai’s work was recognised in 1919 when she was awarded the Kaiser-Hind medal, the highest honour under the British Raj, for services to the community. A learned woman speaking seven languages, she translated the Bible into her mother tongue – Marathi – from the original Hebrew and Greek. She died at Mukti in 1922 soon after completing the translation. The Indian government released a stamp in 1989 commemorating Pandita Ramabai’s work.
“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.”Pandita Ramabai
Pandita Ramabai was the first woman…
- to be given the title of Pandita.
- to be awarded the Kaiser – I – Hind medal (1919)
- to suggest Hindi as the National Language.
- to raise her voice for the rights of women against Authority (Hunter Commission 1882)
- to encourage the education of women doctors in India
- to organise widespread relief work for orphans and widows during a famine
- to organise cottage industry, especially the making and wearing of khadi
Pandita Ramabai also
- translated the entire Bible into Marathi from the original Hebrew and Greek
- invented Marathi Braille
- organised the kindergarten system