Pundita Sarasvati Ramabai Dongre was born in the forests of Southwest India to Brahmin parents. It was April 23, 1858. By the age of 12 years she had committed to memory 18,000 verses from the Hindu scriptures (Famous Missionaries, Famous Missionaries, by J.C. Lawson, page 53).
When she was 16 famine struck and the family lived on water and leaves for 11 days. When both her parents died she was protected by her older brother, who later died, leaving her alone. Her education enabled her to gain respect and she married an educated Bengali who had also thrown off Hindu teaching. Nineteen months later her husband died and Ramabai was unprotected once again. She also had a baby daughter to care for. Such a situation is shameful in Indian culture and young widows are in a very vulnerable state.
Visiting Calcutta in 1878 the educational leaders bestowed upon her the title “Pandita”, meaning “Learned” (English pundit) – the first woman in the world to have received such an honour.
But further study of the Hindu writings – and the realisation that they held “little or no hope of salvation” for women – led her to turn her attention to investigate Christianity. Widowed, the mother of a small child, she visited England and was impressed by Anglican “Sisters of the Cross“, and their devoted Rescue Mission work. In 1883 Pandita Ramabai was baptised into the Church of England.
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Eight years later she chanced upon the book, From Death to Life by Rev. William Haslam – and to quote Pandita Ramabai: “I read the account of his conversion and work for Christ. Then I began to consider where I stood and what my actual need was… I took the Bible and read. One thing I knew by this time, that I needed Christ, not merely His religion” (Pandita Ramabai, by H. Dyer, page 35).
So this brilliant Indian lady came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus. When she visited the USA she studied their education system and determined to return to India to educated widows, so they would not be at the mercy of those who would exploit them.
She returned to her native land and, in 1896, commenced the Mukti Mission. “Mukti” means “Salvation” (literally the escape from reincarnation’s horrible repeated cycle of life and death), and from that centre the old time gospel was faithfully proclaimed to thousands of women and children.
In 1905 “a Holy Ghost revival swept over Mukti and hundreds of girls and some boys were gloriously saved” (Herald of Hope, by John Ridley, December, 1959). Ramabai had heard of the revivals in Wales and elsewhere and was desperate to see the power of God. She organised the children to pray.
Thirty young women met for prayer every day. On the morning of June 29 a missionary working at the Mission “was awakened at 3.30, 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 on her, when I discovered that she was not on fire.’ When Miss Abrams arrived, all the girls of that compound were on their knees weeping, praying, and confessing their sins.”
The next evening, during a message on the adulterous woman “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 that are 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.”
The girls called the revival “a baptism of fire. They say that when the Holy Spirit comes upon them it is almost unbearable-the burning within. Afterwards they are transformed, their faces light up with joy, their mouths are filled with praise.”
Ramabai also had inexplicable ecstatic experiences: “a consciousness of the Holy Spirit as a burning flame within her and times when, alone in prayer, she involuntarily uttered some sentences in Hebrew.” This Pentecostal revival was marked by confession of sins, prayers, much singing, dancing, clapping, speaking in tongues, and sensations of being consumed by fire.
Before her death on 5 April, 1922, apart from impacting so many lives that would otherwise have been ruined, Pandita Ramabai had also translated the Bible into the Marathi language.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com
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