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Pandita Ramabai

1858-1922. Indian Christian reformer. Daughter of a Brahman who had a remote hilltop ashram, she was born near Mangalore, lost both her parents during pilgrimage in South India in 1874, and with her brother wandered on, making a living by reciting the Hindu scriptures. In Calcutta Ramabai's prowess in Sanskrit so impressed pandits that she was designated “Pandita,” a name retained even after she was a Christian. Her drift from orthodoxy was seen in her association with a reform movement, by her speeches in favor of female emancipation, and then by her breaking caste in marrying a man of lower caste who died two years later (1882).

Meanwhile, in Bengal Ramabai had met Christians and discovered the Bible. She went to Poona, organizing women's societies for reform and pursuing her new interest in Christianity in which she was helped by father Nehemiah Gore, an Anglican who was a convert from her own caste. The Wantage Sisters helped her go to Britain for education in 1883, and she and her young daughter were baptized at Wantage. In 1886 she went to America, studying kindergarten methods and getting support for a scheme to educate high-caste widows. A Ramabai Association guaranteed finance for ten years, and her book on The High-Caste Hindu Woman (1887) paid for Marathi textbooks and stirred concern in the West. Her boarding school opened at Bombay (1889) and later moved to Poona. Support from eminent Hindu reformers withered when some of her child widows were attracted to Christianity. Ramabai's evangelical conversion in 1891 made her an ardent evangelist as well as social worker, and baptisms followed.

Land purchased at Kedgaon, near Poona, became the scene of Ramabai's greatest work when she rescued hundreds of girls and women after the famines of 1896-97 and established a Mukti (“Salvation”) Mission which grew to a community of over 1,300. Mukti was in 1905 a notable center of revival. During her last eighteen years Ramabai made a simplified Marathi translation of the Bible. After her death Mukti Mission continued, having a strong link with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, but as a separate organization. In 1971 there was a community of 649.

See Ramabai's Testimony (1917), and biographies by N. Macnicol (1926) and P. Sengupta (1970).