Pandita Ramabai

Other names: 

Pandita Mary Saraswati Ramabai


Cheltenham Ladies College GL50 3EP
United Kingdom
51° 53' 26.2788" N, 2° 5' 12.4656" W
Wantage OX12 8DZ
United Kingdom
51° 36' 33.3468" N, 1° 23' 59.6148" W
Date of birth: 
23 Apr 1858
City of birth: 
Gangamul, near Mangalore
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
05 Apr 1922
Location of death: 
Mukti, India
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1883
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 



Wantage (1883-4)

Cheltenham Ladies' College, Cheltenham (1884-6)


Pandita Ramabai was born in 1858 and orphaned in the famine of 1876-7. She came from a Marathi Brahmin family and was married in 1880 to a Brahmo Samajist, Bipin Behari Das Medhavi. He died nineteen months later, leaving her widowed with a baby daughter. Ramabai lectured on Sanskrit and the position of women in India and hence the title 'Pandita' was conferred onto her. Dr W. W. Hunter admired her work and spoke of her in lectures in Edinburgh, making her known in Britain. Ramabai was considering converting to Christianity and so the Society of St John the Evangelist at Poona made arrangements for her to go to England to answer her questions about the Christian faith.

In 1883, Ramabai arrived in Wantage to stay with the community of St Mary the Virgin. She also intended to study medicine. In September 1883, Ramabai and her daughter, Manorana, were baptized at Wantage. In 1884, Ramabai went to teach Sanskrit to women intending to become missionaries in India at Cheltenham Ladies' College, where she stayed until 1886. She then travelled to America and returned to India.

In March 1889, Ramabai opened a school in Bombay for women, and especially for widows. She received financial support from the Ramabai Association in America and from friends in England such as Dorothea Beale. In 1897, her daughter, Manorana, returned to Wantage to study medicine. Meanwhile, Ramabai moved her school to land she bought near Poona, now Pune. This place was known as Mukti Mission. Mukti was largely self-supporting with nearly 2000 people living there and with American and European helpers. Ramabai publicized the plight of the Hindu widow but also campaigned for Hindi to be the national language of India. Manorana died in 1921 and Ramabai died a year later in 1922.


Dorothea Beale, Sister Geraldine, Dr W. W. Hunter, Anandibai Joshi (cousin), Max MüllerKeshub Chunder Sen (in Calcutta).

Published works: 

The High-Caste Hindu Woman (London: Bell & Sons, 1888)

A Testimony (Kedgaon: Mukti Mission, 1917)

Contributions to periodicals: 

The Cheltenham Ladies' College Magazine

Secondary works: 

Burton, Antoinette, At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) 

Dyer, Helen S., Pandita Ramabai. The Story of Her Life (London: Morgan & Scott, 1900) 

Kosambi, Meera, Pandita Ramabai Through Her Own Words (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000) 

MacNicol, Nicol, Pandita Ramabai (Calcutta: Association Press, 1926) 

Sengupta, Padmini S., Pandita Ramabai Saraswati: Her Life and Work (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1970)

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

Symonds, Richard, ‘Ramabai, Pandita Mary Saraswati (1858–1922)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) []

Tharu, Susie and Lalita, K. (eds.), Women Writing in India. Volume 1: 600 BC to the Early Twentieth Century (Delhi: Osford University Press, 1991)

Archive source: 

Articles in Cheltenham Ladies' College Magazine and other material, Cheltenham Ladies' College Archive, Cheltenham