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Published Date: March 30, 2011

Published Date: March 30, 2011

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Pandita Ramabai, Social Reformer and Bible Translator

Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) is perhaps one of the most celebrated women in all of India’s history. She founded the Mukti Mission in India. “Mukti” means “salvation,” and her vision was to create an interdenominational community of Christians that served needy women and children. She was so successful that Mukti is often referred to as the best example of Christianity in action. The mission housed 800 abandoned babies, the blind, the handicapped, unwed mothers, and the ill.

In addition to establishing the Mukti Mission, Pandita spent fifteen long years translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Marathi, a local dialect. According to one of her biographers, in all of church history there has yet to be another production of the Bible, from translation to printing and binding, that is entirely the work of women.

Pandita’s father was a Brahmin priest, who, at the age of forty-four, married Pandita’s mother, a child bride at the age of nine. After the birth of Pandita they soon realized their daughter was exceptionally brilliant, and together they supplied her with an education. By the age of twelve Pandita had memorized 18,000 verses of Sanskrit, and had acquired an understanding of eight other languages.

Poverty overtook her family when Pandita was young. Both her parents died, and she and her younger brother wandered the countryside, homeless. During her wanderings Pandita attended revival meetings, and there she learned of Christ who showed no favorites, knew no castes, preferred not one gender over another, but loved both Jew and Greek alike, both slave and free, both male and female.

She made her way to Calcutta, where the educated men first named Pandita “the learned one” because of her eloquence and knowledge. The name stuck and set her apart as an example that women of India are capable students. In 1883, Pandita addressed the Education Committee of India in an effort to convey the prejudice against women in the national education system.

Pandita traveled to America where she wrote her famous work,The High Caste Hindu Woman. In this book Pandita exposed the desperate plight of women in India: the child brides, the girl prostitutes, and the lack of education, to mention a few. That same year Pandita spoke to an overflowing crowd in Boston. Those in attendance formed the Ramabai Foundation, to support the work of educating India’s child widows.

Hundreds whose lives she had saved streamed into the mission when Pandita died, in a beautiful mingling of castes, in respect for the life of a Christian woman whose faith and perseverance changed the course of India’s spiritual history.