1858-1922

Ramabai

India's Christian Pilgrim

It is a joy to call attention to outstanding nationals who have been used of God to impact their own people by life and testimony with the message of salvation through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  One such individual is Ramabai.

Ramabai, born April 23, 1858, was the sixth and youngest child born to a high‑caste orthodox Hindu scholar and reformist.  Her father, highly respected for his knowledge of the sacred Hindu writings (Puranas), incurred the disfavor and wrath of his peers by teaching his wife and daughter to read and write the Sanskrit language and encouraging them to study the sacred Hindu literature.  Women were thought to be incapable of understanding such lofty writings.  The only god of a woman was to be her husband.

Ramabai's father was a searcher after truth.  She recalls that "my pilgrim life began when I was a little baby.  Ever since I remember anything, my father and mother were always traveling from one sacred place to another, staying in each for some months, bathing in and drinking from the contaminated sacred rivers or tanks, visiting temples, worshipping household gods and the images of gods in the temples."

Through this extensive travel, she learned most of the languages of India and was thoroughly instructed by her father in the sacred Sanskrit writings.  By the time she was twelve, Ramabai had memorized eighteen thousand verses from the Puranas.  From the snowy Himalayas to the heat of south India, from Bombay to Calcutta, it was one continual pilgrimage.  Eventually, both father and mother died of starvation, having spent all in their vain search for truth in Hinduism. Ramabai was 16.

She and her older brother continued this endless, hopeless pilgrimage the length and breadth of India.  At the age of 20, she met some Christians and was given a Bible in Sanskrit.  As an unregenerate soul, she could not understand it.

Her brilliance led to opportunities to meet with scholars who, impressed with her profound understanding of Sanskrit and almost all of the languages of India, encouraged her to lecture on the Hindu doctrines. She did so with such eloquence that she was given the title of "Pandita," which means scholar or learned-the only woman so named in India.  She was very eloquent and could compose beautiful poetry extemporaneously in Sanskrit and other languages. 

Ramabai's brother had been her constant companion since the death of their parents.  When he died in 1880, she was devastated.  A few months later she met and married a young lawyer of a lower caste in Calcutta.  They lived in Assam, where he practiced law.  It was there that she came under the influence of a Baptist missionary who visited in their home on a number of occasions.  She also found among her husband's papers a Gospel of Luke, which she read with real interest.  The Spirit of God was beginning to work in her heart.  Her husband died of cholera after 19 months of marriage, leaving her with a newborn daughter who was her pride and joy. 

She was particularly burdened for the plight of the child widows of India and for the temple prostitutes, championing any effort to free them from such bondage.  She wanted to learn English and finally went to England, where she was welcomed by an order of Anglican sisters.  It was there that she intellectually embraced Christianity and was baptized along with her young daughter.  She had never really come to know Christ. 

After several years in England, where she taught in a women's college for a short period of time, she went on to the United States and Canada.  As a result of contacts made there, a society was organized to help her found a place to care for the destitute child widows.  She returned to Bombay and started the home, beginning with two young girls.  This home was too visible to the high-caste Hindu community; and when they saw that she taught the Bible, one of these children was taken from her.  She moved to Poona, a less visible place where the work grew, and later to a 100-acre farm nearby. 

She records "My mind at that time had been too dulled to grasp the teachings of the Holy Scripture.  The open Bible had been before me, but I had given too much of my time to the study of other books about the Bible and had not studied the Bible itself as I should have done.  I gave up the study of books about the Bible after my return from America and took to reading the Bible regularly.  How good-how indescribably good-what good news for me, a woman born in India among Brahmans who hold out no hope for me and the likes of me.  The Bible declares that Christ did not reserve this great salvation for a particular caste or sex-no caste, no sex, no work, no man was to be depended upon to get salvation-this everlasting life.  But God gave it freely to anyone and everyone who believed on His Son Whom He had sent to be a propitiation of our sins.  The Holy Spirit made it clear to me from the Word of God that the salvation which God gives through Christ is present and not something future.  I believed it.  I received it and was filled with joy."

Her own life was transformed from this period of time; and, in essence, she became an Indian Amy Carmichael.  Her ministry grew until at one time she had over 2,000 in her home. 

She had read the lives of George Mueller and Hudson Taylor and determined to live a life of faith as they did.  She developed schools, vocational training, Bible institute training.  She developed evangelistic bands that went out distributing literature in evangelistic work.  There was an active printing ministry in which large quantities of Christian literature were printed at the institution.  Teachers were trained.  Weaving was introduced along with farming.  Many of those young ladies who grew up in the home became the wives of Christian Indian men.

She saw the need for a new translation of the Bible in the Marathi dialect,  the predominant language in western India.  For several years she studied Greek and Hebrew on her own, mastering these languages.  She then translated the entire Bible into the Mararthi dialect. 

She hoped her daughter, who was involved in all aspects of the mission, would succeed her; but her beloved child died suddenly in 1921.  A year later Ramabai contracted what was called a septic bronchitis, and she, too, died.  But the work of the home, which was called the Ramabai Mukti Mission, has carried on.  The term "mukti" means "salvation."  Her home literally was a place of salvation in a physical sense but even more so in a spiritual sense for countless hundreds of child brides, widows, temple prostitutes, and women in dire need.  The ministry continues today.

 

JAD

5/24/00