History's Women: Women of Faith: Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati, Educated Hindu Defender of Child-Widows ExpositionPandita Ramabai Sarasvati
Educated Hindu Defender of Child-Widows
1858 – 1922 A.D.

Ramabai was fortunate in having a father who, contrary to all Hindu customs, believed in the education of women. Ramabai’s mother was educated by her father and so she inherited from both parents a love for learning. But so unpopular were the views of Ramabai’s father that, though himself a pundit, he was obliged to withdraw to the jungles and take up his abode there. Here Ramabai was instructed by her father. She showed great aptitude and could repeat from memory 23,000 verses of the Hindu Shastras.

When she was sixteen years old famine came and for eleven days they lived on water and leaves. They left their jungle home and for some years the father was a wandering teacher. Father and mother died and she had only a brother to care for her. Ramabai became herself a lecturer, advocating the education of women and the abandonment of the custom of child marriages. Her learning attracted great attention. At Calcutta the punditi, or learned men, summoned her to appear before them. A long and searching examination followed. She passed with high honors and received the title of Saravati.

When she seemed to have attained great success her brother died. To be left without a male relative in India is more than a personal bereavement. Some six months later after this, however, she was happily married to an educated Bengali gentleman, though of lower caste than herself. But they had both thrown off the old Hindu beliefs.

After nineteen months of married life the husband died, and Ramabai was again alone with her little baby girl. She was now a widow, and worst of all in India, a son less widow, and despised and shunned by all relatives because she had broken caste by her marriage. She faced the world and again began lecturing.

After a time she turned her eyes toward England, and embarked for that far-off land. She had for some time contemplated accepting Christianity. While living in Calcutta she received from the leader of the sect of the Brahmo-somaj a copy of one of his books, which consisted of a moral precepts drawn from the sacred books of many religions. The larger number of these extracts were from the New Testament, and their lofty moral tone attracted Ramabai’s attention. She studied the Bible for herself, first in Sanskrit and then in English, and by degrees became convinced of the truth of the Gospel, and after four years of anxious thought was baptized.

In England she worked diligently to perfect herself in English, and after a time she became a professor of Sanskrit in the Ladies’ College at Cheltenham. But all this time her heart was with the poor little child-widows of India. She was invited to come to America to attend the graduation of her cousin Joshee from a medical college in Philadelphia. Here Ramabai began a careful study of our public school system and especially of the kindergartens. She was a most devoted admirer of Froebel and his child studies, believing that the principles could be applied in India.

Her training and plans were at last completed. She determined to devote herself to the task of educating and enlightening the high-caste Hindu widows. She traveled westward to the Pacific coast, arousing interest in her beloved cause. Christians of all names, and even Jews, responded to the appeals. Six years after leaving home Ramabai was again in Bombay, and within six weeks had opened her school. In 1898 – 350 child-widows had passed through the school. Fourteen had been trained as teachers, eight as nurses, seven as missionary assistants; ten had homes of their own.

In times of famine, when these child-widows are turned out to die or to be piced up by human devils that they may rear them for lives of shame, Ramabai has gone far inland and rescued great numbers of these poor little creatures from death or a worse fate. In her school-home they have become healthy, happy children living in a new world of Christian sympathy, and have grown into noble womanhood.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.

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