Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922), widely regarded as one of India’s most prominent female social reformers and educators, played a significant role in pioneering the Pentecostal movement in India. Pandita came from a privileged family, and she used her education and resources to help the underprivileged of her society.
Despite a cultural proscription on educating girls, Pandita’s father, an educator and social reformer, taught her to read and write Sanskrit. By the age of 12, she memorized 18,000 verses of the Puranas, which were important Hindu religious texts. She became a noted Hindu scholar and was fluent in seven languages.
At a young age, Pandita devoted her life to helping widows and orphans, who were often despised and mistreated in her society. Pandita attended college in England, where she joined the Church of England. While traveling in the slums of London, she learned to distinguish between the institutional church and what she termed the “religion of Jesus Christ.” She returned to India and established homes for dispossessed widows and children. She also fought for social reform, including provision for quality healthcare and education.
Despite being marginalized by other social reformers who argued that her agenda was too radical, Pandita continued to promote her social vision for India, which was consistent with her Christian testimony. She weathered criticism and even became bolder in her efforts, founding additional orphanages and a home for prostitutes. Importantly, Pandita’s social ministries cared for both the body and the soul. They sheltered, educated, and fed women and children, and they also taught Christian doctrine and nurtured a generation of new Christians.
Pandita realized that some things only change through prayer, and she used her significant influence to encourage women to pray for spiritual and social change in India. In January 1905, she issued a call to prayer, and 550 women began meeting twice daily for intercessory prayer. That summer, Pandita sent 30 young women out into the villages to preach the gospel. These young female preachers were successful, and they reported an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on June 29, 1905, which included several being “slain in the Spirit” and experiencing a burning sensation. This Indian revival continued for several years. By 1906, participants also began receiving the gift of speaking in tongues. According to Pandita, the girls at the orphanage in Mukti prayed each day for more than 29,000 individuals by name. They prayed, among other things, for them to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and to become true and faithful Christian witnesses.
Pandita Ramabai and the revival at the Mukti mission played an important role in the story of the Pentecostal movement’s origin in India. Alfred G. Garr, the first missionary sent by the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, recounted his interactions with Pandita in a serialized history of the Pentecostal movement published in the April 1, 1916, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Read the article, “The Work Spreads to India,” by A.G. Garr on pages 4 and 5 of the April 1, 1916, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Face to Face,” by D.W. Kerr
• “Letter from a Brother Minister,” by W. Jethro Walthall
And many more!
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Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.