An Honorable Heritage

In the Words of Ramabai Herself

My father was orthodox and a reformer in his own way. So he declared boldly that there was no wrong to a woman to learn Sanskrit language and sacred literature. He started teaching Sanskrit to my mother at home and she became an excellent Sanskrit scholar. Then the Brahman Pandits had branded him as a heretic and my father was summoned to the Chief Seat of the Madhva Vaisnav sect. He appeared before the Guru, gave his explanation for teaching to his wife. He quoted ancient authorities and succeeded in convincing them fully well, that it was not wrong for a woman to learn Sanskrit. So they did not put him out of caste and he became known as an orthodox reformer. My mother began to teach me when I was eight and continued to do so until I was about fifteen years. She succeeded in training my mind so that I might be able to carry on my own education with very little aid from others.

Famine, Deaths and Doubt

My father became very old. We were not fit to do any other work to earn our livelihood, as we had grown up in perfect ignorance of anything outside the sacred literature. My parents encouraged us to look to the gods to get support. The sacred books declared that if people worshiped the gods in particular ways, gave alms to the Brahmans, repeated the names of certain gods, and also some hymns in their honor, with fasting and performance of penance, the gods and goddesses would appear and talk to the worshippers and give them whatever they desired. For three years we did nothing but perform these religious acts.

At last, we spent all the money but the gods did not help us. We suffered from the famine which we had brought upon ourselves. We were thrown into severe starvation. Due to this, my father died, after my mother and sister died of starvation within a few months of each other. I cannot describe all the sufferings of that terrible time. My brother and I only survived and wandered about still observing all the religious rules. We visited sacred places, bathing in rivers, and worshiping the gods and goddesses, in order to get our desires. But the gods were not pleased with us and did not appear to us. After years of fruitless service, we began to lose our faith in gods. As our faith in our religion has grown cold, we were not quite so strict with regard to obtaining secular education and finding some means of earning an honest livelihood.

We wandered from place to place walking more than four thousand miles on foot without any sort of comfort, sometimes eating what kind people gave us, sometimes going without food, with poor course clothing, and finding some place in Dharma shala (free lodging). Like that, we wandered from South to North as far as Kashmir, and then to the east and west to Calcutta.

The early years of Pandita Ramabai were not easy as you can see by her own words. What changed? How did she become such a well respected and even revered woman of India? Her parents died, her sister died, and later her brother also died. Alone, destitute, wandering. Yet somehow she becomes a role model for women in India and around the world. You can learn the answer to this on the NEXT PAGE.