Ramabai, Dongre Medhavi [Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati] (1858-1922)

Indian Christian social reformer, educator and Bible translator

Pandita_Ramabai_Sarasvati_1858-1922_front-page-portraitRamabai Dongre (Dongre was her family name, Medhavi her married name) was born into a high-caste Hindu family. Her father was a wandering professional reciter of Hindu epic and mythological texts. After her parents’ death in the 1874 famine, she and her brother continued the family tradition. Going to Calcutta in 1878, the titles “Pandita” and “Sarasvati” were bestowed on her as an acknowledgement of her learning. She joined the Brahmo Samaj (a reformist Hindu association) and in June 1880 married a man of much lower caste than hers. Her only child, Manorama, was born in April 1881. Less than a year later her husband died of cholera, leaving her in the unenviable situation of a high-caste Hindu widow.

Through the influence of Nehemiah Goreh’s apologetical writings she became intellectually convinced that whatever was true in the Brahmo theology was actually Christian in origin, and in 1883, during a visit to England, she was baptized in the chapel of the (Anglican) Community of St. Mary the Virgin in Wantage, England, some of whose members she had met in Poona (Pune). She was in Europe to pursue a medical degree, which in the end her deafness made impossible. From 1883 to 1886 Ramabai was in the formal sense an Anglo-Catholic, lecturing and studying social reform and education. In 1887 she published her first English book, The High-Caste Hindu Woman, a merciless indictment of Hindu India’s treatment of its women, which was persuasive because it was written from the inside.

Two years later she retuned to India, and with American support, opened a non-proselytizing institute for the education of young Hindu widows. This was the Sharna Sadan (Abode of wisdom) in Bombay. It soon moved to Poona. The more famous orphanage, Mukti (Salvation) opened at Kedgaon in 1898. In the meantime, Ramabai herself had passed through a second conversion, this time an evangelical one, and for the remainder of her life her Christianity was close to the Keswick “holiness” pattern. A Pentecostal-style revival began at Mukti Bible translation. Because her health was poor, the running of Mukti was left mainly to others. Her daughter Manorama died in 1921, and Ramabai herself died the following year.

Eric J. Sharpe, “Ramabai, Dongre Medhavi,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, edited by Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 557.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



The High-Caste Hindu Woman, California Digital Library


Shamsundar Manohar Adgav, ed., Pandita Ramabai (1979)

Nicol Macnicol, Pandita Ramabai (1926)

A.B. Shah, ed., The Letters and Correspondence of Pandita Ramabai, compiled by Sister Geraldine, CSMV (1977).


The High-Caste Hindu Woman, California Digital Library


Portrait of Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati 1858-1922, California Digital Library