Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati was a prominent Indian social reformer, a pioneer in the education and emancipation of women in India. She was the first woman to be accorded the titles of Pandita as a Sanskrit scholar and Sarasvati after being examined by the faculty of the University of Calcutta.
At a young age, Pandita devoted her life to helping widows and orphans, who were often despised and mistreated in her society. She participated in the freedom movement and was one of the 10 women delegates of the Congress session of 1889. Widely regarded as one of India’s most prominent female social reformers and educators, Ramabai played a significant role in pioneering the Pentecostal movement in India.
Conversion to Christianity
Born 23 April 1858, Pandita Ramabai converted to Christianity in September 1883. This was during her stay in Britain where she went to start medical training. The conversion created shockwaves throughout India. A Brahmin woman from a highly respected family in India, after her orthodox learning, someone who championed for widow women’s emancipation, had converted to Christianity.
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Meera Kosambi has pointed out that her conversion also needs to be seen and critiqued from the context of the imperial, orientalist, patriarchal framework. However, she goes on to say that her conversion comes at a juncture where she had received immense spiritual support and aid from her Christian community and the dominance and patriarchal structures of the Hindu caste society were exposed in front of her. Her conversion also needs to be remembered and celebrated, given her social context and her upbringing in a traditional upper-caste Hindu society. She also had to pay a heavy price for it and was marginalized from the official histories of western India and especially Maharashtra for betraying her caste and community.
Amidst her work, her conversion ensured a backlash from the Hindu community. Her act of upholding the rights of women who were widowed was unacceptable to a considerably large section of the Brahmin community. They fuelled Christian propaganda following Ramabai’s policy of allowing the girls to attend her private prayers.
Yet she continued working. In 1919, she was awarded the Kaiser-e-Hind Gold Medal. Many more activities were introduced elsewhere by Ramabai’s daughter Manorama. However, due to bad health, her daughter passed away at the age of 40 in the year 1921. A year later, Ramabai passed away at 64, soon after copies of the Marathi translation of The Bible started coming out from the Mukti Mission’s press.
Family and Death
As Pandita Ramabai involved herself in social service, there was little family life for her. Her childhood was full of hardships, she lost her parents early and her husband died within two years of marriage. She had also to educate her only daughter, Manorama Bai. She did this well: Manorama completed her BA at Bombay University; went to the USA for higher studies; returned to India, and worked as Principal of Sharada Sadan, Mumbai. With her help, Pandita Ramabai established Christian High school at Gulbarga (now in Karnataka), a backward district of south India, during 1912, and her daughter was Principal of the school.
In 1920 Ramabai’s body began to flag and she designated her daughter as the one who would take over the ministry of Mukti Mission. However, Manorama died in 1921. Her death was a shock to Ramabai. Nine months later, Ramabai, who had been suffering from septic bronchitis, died on 5 April 1922, a few weeks before her 64th birthday.
Pandita Ramabai & the Great Revival at Mukti, India – 1905
Pandita who is widely regarded as one of India’s most prominent female social reformers and educators, played a significant role in pioneering the Pentecostal movement in India.
In answer to united and continuous prayer from both workers and the Christian converts at Mukti, the Lord wonderfully answered and poured down showers of blessing. In December, 1901, and the following January, about twelve hundred were baptised; but the workers felt the need of a much deeper work of grace to be manifested in the lives of converts and continued to cry to the Lord. The following July a further revival of blessing came down from above. For nearly three weeks meetings, daily increasing in size, were held, till nearly six hundred shared in the blessing and were led out into the joy of the Lord.
News of the revival in Australia in 1903 aroused Ramabai to send thither her daughter and Miss Abrams, in order that they might catch the inspiration of the revival fire and form praying-bands for Mukti among the Australian Christians. The burden of the message, which Ramabai sent by them to, the newly revived Australian Churches was, “Brethren, pray for us.
That has been the burden of all the messages that Ramabai has sent to her friends in all parts of the world. About the same time she organised among her friends far and near a system of prayer- circles. The names of ten girls or women were given to each circle. Thus all were being prayed for daily by name. Her magazine, The Prayer Bell, carried the same message.
Several months were spent in Australia and New Zealand by Miss Abrams and Manoramabai. An Australian edition of Ramabai’s book, “The High Caste Hindu Woman,” was issued, and the foundation was laid for a valuable auxiliary, which has continuously furnished workers and means for Mukti, in addition to the prayer partnerships so much desired.
The news of the revival in Wales brought much gladness to Ramabai. In January 1905, she told her pupils about it, and called for volunteers to meet with her daily for special prayer for a revival in India. Seventy came forward, and from time to time others joined. In June five hundred and fifty were meeting twice daily in this praying band.
Rejoicing still more that the revival had reached the Welsh missions in the Khassia Hills in Assam, Pandita Ramabai then asked for volunteers from her Bible school to give up their secular studies and go out into the villages to preach the Gospel. Thirty young women volunteered, and were meeting daily to pray for the enduement of power when the revival came upon them.
Miss Abrams had been giving some definite teaching on the subject of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as power for service, and one morning she was awakened by one of the senior girls, saying, “Come over and rejoice with us. J. has received the Holy Spirit. I saw the fire, ran across the room for a pail of water, and was about to pour it over her when I discovered she was not on fire.”
When Miss Abrams arrived all the girls in that compound were on their knees, weeping, praying, and confessing their sins. J. sat there exhorting the girls to repent, and telling them she had received the Spirit. There was real power in her testimony. She said, “O Lord, I am full of joy, but forgive and cleanse my sisters as you have me; give me strength to bear this sorrow for their sins.” Then she would exhort them and break out into new and beautiful praise. She said, “O Lord, we must have a revival; we must have it; begin it to-day.”
The next evening, while Ramabai was expounding John 8 in her usual quiet way, the Holy Spirit descended with power, and all the girls began to pray aloud so that she had to cease talking. Little children, middle-sized girls, and young women wept bitterly and confessed their sins. Some few saw visions and experienced the power of God and things too deep to be described. Two little girls had the spirit of prayer poured on them in such torrents that they continued to pray for hours. They were transformed with heavenly light shining on their faces.
“From that time,” said Miss Abrams, “our Bible school was turned into an inquiry room. Girls, stricken down under conviction of sin while in school, or in the industrial school, or at their work, were brought to us. Lessons were suspended, and we all, teachers and students, entered the school conducted by the Holy Spirit.”
Prayer continued all night in the various compounds on more than one occasion. The Bible school was filled with those crying for mercy. Such repentance, such heart-searching, such agony over sin, and tears, as they cried for pardon and cleansing and the baptism of the Holy Ghost! Then a baptism like fire within came upon them. They seemed to have their eyes open to see the “body of sin” in themselves. Then came a strong realisation of Christ ‘s work upon the Cross; then, followed by intense joy. It often took a soul hours to pass through all these experiences. The Lord used the Word greatly, and the work went on rapidly for three days. Satan was also busy, and tried to counterfeit all he saw. Some who beheld the joy thought they could get it by imitating what they had seen the others do. Yet the work went on, and a spirit of prayer and supplication for a revival in India was poured out like a flood.
A letter written by one of the Mukti workers at this time says: “Even young girls are stricken down with the spirit of repentance. They cannot eat, sleep, or work till they go to the bottom of things. They seek the peace of pardon, and immediately begin to seek sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They search and weep before God, until He shows them the state of their heart. They repent, restore, confess, and finally come into such joy that it knows no bounds. They call it a baptism of fire. They say that when the Holy Spirit comes upon them the burning within them is almost unbearable. Afterwards they are transformed, their faces light up with joy, their mouths are filled with praise.
“One little girl of twelve is constantly laughing— her face, plain, even ugly, is beautiful and radiant. She does not know it. She is occupied with Jesus. You think you have looked on an angel face. Some claim to have seen the Lord—one, a blind girl. All speak of His Coming again. One sang hymns, composing them as she sang—lovely hymns to Indian tunes.
Another, writing a few weeks later, said, ‘There is a very true work of God going on in our midst. Some of the worst women have been changed in heart and life. Since I came it is the marvellous spirit of prayer that has been most evident. Waves of prayer go over the meetings like the rolling thunder; hundreds pray audibly together. Sometimes after ten or twenty minutes it dies away and only a few voices are heard, then it will rise again and increase in intensity; on other occasions it goes on for hours. During these seasons there are usually some confessing their sins, often with bitter weeping which is painful to hear.
The conflict seems so great they are almost beside themselves. It reminds one of the narratives in the Gospels about our Lord casting out evil spirits, and truly evil spirits are being cast out. There is much one cannot understand at first, but one grows by His grace into the work and learns to distinguish by the outward signs as well as by the Spirit’s inward teaching the false from the true.
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