Above: The Pandita
Image in the Public Domain
MARY RAMABAI (APRIL 23, 1858-APRIL 5, 1922)
Prophetic Witness and Evangelist in India
With this post I return to The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995), which lists the Pandita‘s feast day as September 29, the date of her baptism in 1883. An alternative feast day is April 5, the date of her death in 1922. That is the date The Episcopal Church celebrates her life.
Pandita is a title meaning “the learned one.” Ramabai received this title from many of her fellow Indians. She earned that title, to which her family background predisposed her. Our saint’s father was a Brahman Hindu scholar who defied tradition and taught her well. He taught her the Vedas and the Sanskrit language, specifically. A famine left her an orphan in 1876 and her husband died of cholera six years later. She experienced not only grief, but ostracism because of her changed status. Our saint, a feminist, founded the Arya Mahila Sabha, a women’s rights organization, in 1881. In a culture with forced marriages and a tradition of discouraging the education of girls and women standing up for human equality was a radical act.
Ramabai, drawn to social work, lived in England from 1883 to 1889. She spent time with an Anglican order, the Wantage Sisters, through whom she became a Christian. She worked with nuns to reform former prostitutes in London. And she attended the Cheltenham Ladies College, which favored the then-radical ideas of women’s suffrage and identical college curricula for men and women.
Our saint returned to India in 1889 and performed many good works. She helped to establish churches which blended Indian culture and the Christian gospel. She also founded the Mukti Mission in Bombay in 1889. At first it served just women and orphans from Brahman families. In 1896, during a famine, our saint expanded the Mission’s purpose to help abused girls and women, regardless of caste. In time she added a clinic and vocational training courses. Generous donors–many of them Western–financed her work.
The Pandita, who was fluent in several languages, used her linguistic skills to spread the Gospel. She translated the Bible into the West Indian language of Marathi, for example.
All of this was demanding work. Of it she wrote:
What a blessing this burden does not fall on me. But Christ bears it on his shoulders, and no one but He could transform and uplift the downtrodden womanhood of India and of every land.
The good work goes on. The Mukti Mission, which has expanded its scope, continues to work with the poor, the blind, women, and orphans. Some Western-based Christian jurisdictions merged into the Church of South India in 1947. A different group of such jurisdictions united in 1970 to create the Church of North India.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 18, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF DONALD S. ARMENTROUT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND SCHOLAR
THE FEAST OF CALVIN WEISS LAUFER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMNODIST
THE FEAST OF ROGER WILLIAMS, FOUNDER OF RHODE ISLAND
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PENNEFATHER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS WIFE, CATHERINE KING PENNEFATHER, HUMANITARIAN AND HYMN WRITER
Everliving God, you called the women at the tomb
to be witnesses to the resurrection of your Son:
We thank you for the courageous and independent spirit
of your servant Pandita Ramabai, the mother of modern India;
and we pray that we, like her, may embrace your gift of new life,
caring for the poor,
braving resentment to uphold the dignity of women,
and offering the riches of our culture to our Savior Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Psalm 9:1-5, 9-12
1 John 3:16-24
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 309