Tag Archives: Indian Pentecostalism

Pandita Ramabai: Prominent Female Scholar, Social Reformer, and Pentecostal Pioneer in India

This Week in AG History — April 1, 1916

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG-News, 30 March 2023

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. Ramabai 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, Ramabai’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, Ramabai devoted her life to helping widows and orphans, who were often despised and mistreated in her society. Ramabai 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, Ramabai 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, Ramabai’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.

Ramabai 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, Ramabai 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 Ramabai, 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 Ramabai 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!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Review: Dalit Pentecostalism

Dalit Pentecostalism: Spirituality of the Empowered Poor, by V. V. Thomas. Bangalore, India: Asian Trading Corporation, 2008.

Dr. V. V. Thomas is one of the leading historians of Indian Pentecostalism.  His book, Dalit Pentecostalism: Spirituality of the Empowered Poor, is an excellent study, which in a creative manner interprets the history of Pentecostalism in Kerala from the point of view of the Dalits experiences and perceptions.  The study is not only based on valuable new historical material with regard to the issue of Pentecostalism in Kerala but also interrogates it with a subaltern perspective.

In a focused way the material is systematically approached and presented which shows original thinking.  The author’s critical ability is evident throughout the book in that he has critically used several primary sources available both in Malayalam and English.  Bot analysis and narration are combined in a balanced way while looking at the historical developments without losing sight of the socio-cultural contexts within which the Dalits experienced Pentecostalism in Kerala.  The author’s arguments are strong in many ways basically because of his being a personal witness to the problems, in addition to the overall knowledge of people’s history and the Church in Kerala that he possesses.

The author rightly argues with substantial data that Dalit Christians in Kerala had a prominent role in shaping the history of Pentecostalism in Kerala although it has been ignored hitherto.  The author’s historiographical evaluations in the book is very valuable as it exposes the dominant community’s views and perceptions with regard to Dalits’ place in the history of Christianity and especially Pentecostalism in Kerala.  The sustained effort of the author to keep methodological approaches has helped the author to conclude strongly that there is an entity within the larger Pentecostalism in Kerala which may be described as Dalit Pentecostalism.

Although the author had to face the problem of a lack of sources, he has overcome that difficulty by re-reading the existing sources and also by taking into account the oral sources seriously.  Orality, which is a strength of Dalit people’s way of keeping memory has helped the author to a great extent.

This book will no doubt stand as another valuable source in the library of Dalit history in India and especially in Kerala.

Adapted from the Foreword by Rev. Dr. George Ommen, Former Professor of History of Christianity, United Theological College, Bangalore, India

Softcover, 432 pages. $20.00 plus shipping. Available from: Asian Trading Corporation

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