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Buddhist women
Dr. Bimala Churn Law

The Indian Antiquary, 1928, pp.49-54 (1928.03), 65-68 (1928.04), 86-89 (1928.05)


An account of some famous women who figure promi- nently in the early Buddhist texts is given in the following pages. The account will show that women were not a negligible factor in the ancient Buddhist community of India.

Abhirupananda was the daughter of a Sakya noble named Khemaka. She was called Nanda the Fair for her great beauty and amiability. Her beloved kinsman, Carabhuta, died on the day on which she was to choose him from amongst her suitors. She had to leave the world against her will. Though she entered the order, she could not forget that she was beautiful. Fearing that, the Buddha would rebuke her, she used to avoid his presence. The Buddha knew that the time had come for her to acquire knowledge and asked Mahapajapati Gotami to bring all the bhikkhunis before him to receive instruction. Nanda sent a proxy for her. The Buddha said, "Let no one come by proxy." So she was compelled to come to him. The Buddha by his supernatural power conjured up a beautiful woman, who became transformed into an old and fading figure. If had the desired effect, and Abhirupananda became an arhat. (Therigatha Commy., pp. 25-26.)

Jenti or Jenta was born in a princely family of the Licchavis at Vaisali. She won arhatship after hearing the dhamma preached by the Buddha. She developed the seven Sambojjhangas. (Ibid., p.27).

Citta was born at Rajagaha in the family of a leading burgess. When she was of age, she one day heard the master preach and believed in his doctrine. She was ordained by Mahapajapati the Gotami. In her old age she climbed the vulture's peak and lived like a recluse. Her insight expanded and she won arhatship. (Ibid., p.33.)

Sukka was born at Rajagaha in the family of a rich householder. When she attained years of discretion, she believed in the Master's teaching and became a lay disciple. One day she heard Dhammadinna preach and was so greatly moved that she renounced the world and followed Dhammadinna. She performed all the exercises for acquiring insight and very soon attained arhatship with patisambhida. Thereupon she became a great preacher and was attended by 500 bhikkhus. One day, along with the other bhikkhunis, she went to the hermitage of the bhikkhunis and taught the Buddha's doctrine in such a way that everybody listened to her with rapt attention; even the tree-spirit was so much moved that it began to praise her. At this the people were excited and came to the sister and listened attentively. (Ibid., pp.57-61.)

Sela was born in the kingdom of Alavi, as the king's daughter. She was also known as Alavika. One day, while yet a maid, she went with the king and heard the Master preach. She became a believer and lay disciple. A few days after, she took orders and performed the exercises for insight. She subjugated the complexities of thought, word and deed and soon won arhatship. Thereafter she lived at Savatthi when the Buddha was there. She entered Andhavana to meditate after finishing her midday meal. Mara once tried in vain to persuade her to choose the sensuous life (Ibid., p.61, f. Cf. Samyutta Nikaya, part 1, p.128).

Siha was born at Vesali as the daughter of General Siha's sister. She was named after her maternal uncle. When she grew up, she heard the Master teaching the Norm to her maternal uncle and became a believer. She was permitted by her parents to enter the order. For seven years she could not acquire insight as her mind became always inclined to objects of external charm. Then she intended to die. She took a noose, hung it round the bough of a tree and fastened it round her neck. Thus she succeeded in impelling her mind to insight which grew within and she won arhatahip. She then took off the rope from her neck and went back to her hermitage. (Ibid., pp.79-80).

Sundari Nanda was born in the royal family of the Sakyas. She was known as the beautiful Nanda. Thinking about the fact that her elder brother, her mother, her brother, her sister and her nephew had renounced the world, she too left it. Even after her renunciation, she was obsessed with the idea of her beauty and would not approach the Lord lest she should ber eproached for her folly. The Lord taught her in the same way as he did in the case of Nanda the Fair. She listened to the Master's teaching and enjoyed the benefit of the fruition of the first stage of sanctification. He then instructed her saying, "Nanda, there is in this body not even the smallest essence. It is but a heap of bones covered with flesh and besmeared with blood under the shadow of decay and death." Afterwards she became an arhat. (Ibid., pp.80 f.; cf. Manora- thapurani, pp. 217-218).

Khema was born in the royal family of Sagala. She was very beautiful and her skin was like gold. She became the consort of Bimbisara. One day she heard that the Buddha was in the habit of speaking ill of beauty, since then she did not appear before the Buddha. The king was a chief supporter of the Buddha. He asked his court-poets to compose a song on the glories of the Veluvana hermitage and to sing the song very loudly so that the queen might hear it. The royal order was carried out. Khema heard of the beauty of the hermitage and with the king's consent she came to the Veluvana Vihara, where the Buddha was staying at that time. When she was led before the Buddha, the latter conjured up a woman to be celestial nymph who stood fanning him with a palm leaf. Khema observed this woman like a more beautiful than she and was ashamed of her own grace. Sometime after she noticed again that the woman was passing from youth to middle age and then to old age, till with broken teeth, grey hair, and wrinkled skin, she fell on earth with her palm leaf. Then thought Khema that her beautiful body would meet with the same fate as that of the nymph. Then the Master, who knew her thoughts, said that persons subject to lust suffer from the result of their action, while those freed from all bondage forsake the world.

When the Master had finished speaking, Khema, according to the commentary, attained arhatship and according to the Apadana, she was established in the fruition of the first stage of sanctification and with the king's permission she entered the order before she became an arhat. Thereafter she made a name for her insight and was ranked foremost amongst the bhikkhunis possessing great wisdom. In vain Mara tried to tempt her with sensuous ideas. (Ibid., pp. 126 f.; cf. Manorathapurani, p.205; cf. Anguttara, n. 1, p.25).

Anopama was the daughter of a banker named Majjha living in Saketa. She was of unique beauty. She was sued by many sons of bankers, higher officers of the State, but she thought that there was no happiness in household life. She went to the Master and heard his teachings. Her intelligence matured. She strove hard for insight and was established in the third fruition. On the seventh day thereafter she attained arhatship. (Ibid., pp.138-139.)

Rohini was born at Vesali in the house of a very prosperous Brahman. When grown up she went to the Master and heard him preach the doctrine. She obtained sotapattiphalam. She converted her parents to Buddha's faith and got permission from them and entered the order. She performed the exercises for acquiring insight and very soon attained arhatship (Ibid., pp.214 f.)

Subha was the daughter of a certain goldsmith of Rajagaha. She was very beautiful and was therefore called Subha. When grown up she saw the Master and believed in his doctrine. The Master saw the maturity of her moral faculties and taught her the dhamma. She was afterwards established in the fruition of the first stage of sanctification. Thereafter she entered the order under Mahapajapafi Gotami. She strove hard for insight and in course of time she won arhatship. (Ibid., pp.236 f.).

Tissa was born at Kapilavastu among the Sakyas. She renounced the world with Mahapajapati Gotami and became spiritually so developed that she attained arhatship. (Ibid., pp.11-13)

Sumedha, daughter of King Konca of Mantavati, was averse to the pleasures of senses from her childhood. She renounced the world hearing the doctrine of the Buddha from the bhikkhunis. Very soon she acquired insight and attained arhatship (Ibid., 272 f.)

Visakha was the daughter of Sumanadevi, wife of Dhananjayasetthi, son of Mundakasetthi. Her abode was at Bhaddiyanagara in the kingdom of Anga. When seven years old Buddha with the bhikkhusamgha went to Bhaddiyanagara. Sumanadevi was one of the advisers of the king. Visakha with 500 female companions and 500 chariots received Buddha, who gave instructions to her according to her nature and she obtained sotapattiphalam. The Buddha was invited to Visakha's house. Visakha who was endowed with five kinds of beauty was married to Punnavaddhana of Savatthi. The presents sent by the citizens of Savatthi for her, were distributed by her among the citizens with great courtesy. She made the citizens her own relatives. She refused to salute the naked heretics who were worshipped by her father-in-law. Her father-in-law was converted to Buddhism through her efforts. Once Visakha invited the bhikkhus and her father-in-law on hearing the sermon obtained sotapattiphalam (D.C., I, 384 f.)

On the death of her grandchild, who was very dear to her, Visakha went to see the Buddha with wet clothes and wet hair. The Buddha asked her whether she would be satisfied if all the people of Savatthi became her sons and grandsons. She replied in the affirmative. The Master asked her as to how many people met with their death at Savatthi. Visakha said from one to ten. The Buddha told her, " Just think whether you would be free from wet clothes and wet hair". Visakha said that she did not want so many sons and grandsons, because acquisition of more sons and grandsons would bring greater suffering (Udana, 91-92).

Visakha, mother of Migara, was the foremost of the female supporters of the Buddha (A.N., 1, p. 26). Once on a sabbath day she went to the Buddha while the latter was in her palace named Pubbarama. Buddha instructed Visakha thus, "There were three kinds of uposatha and the ariya uposatha is the best of the uposathas. The Master then said that in order to observe ariya uposatha one should meditate on the Buddha, Dhamma and Samgha. Silas must be unbroken and fully observed. One should also meditate on the qualities of gods. One should follow Arhats who follow precepts throughout their lives. By observing ariya uposatha one may obtain great happiness and may be reborn in one of the heavens commencing from the Catumaharajika to the Paranimmittavasavatti and enjoy great celestial happiness there (A.N., I, 205-215). Visakha was further instructed by the Buddha thus, "Dependence on others is suffering, independence brings happiness". (Udana, p.18).

Visakha once blamed the bhikkhus for not allowing her grandson to be ordained during the lent, as owing to this delay her grandson's mind was changed. (Vinaya Pitaka, 1, 153.) She once went to the Buddha and invited him together with the bhikkhus to take food at her house the next morning. Heavy rains fell on the following morning and the bhikkhus, as they had no bathing costumes, bathed themselves naked. Visakha came to know this fact from her maid servant who was sent to call the bhikkhus. The Buddha together with the bhikkhus came to her house. She fed the Buddha, and the bhikkhus satisfactorily. After they had finished their meal, Visakha prayed to the Buddha for the following boons:--As long as she lived, she would give garments for the rainy season to the bhikkhus, food to the guests and food to those going abroad, diet to the sick bhikkhus, food to the sick-- nurses, medicine for the sick bhikkhus, rice gruel to the bhikkhus daily and bathing garments to the bhikkhunis (V.P., vol. 1, pp.290-292). From this fact it is evident that Visakha introduced bathing garments for the bhikkhunis. It was Visakha who offered to the Buddha a napkin which he accepted. (V.P., 1, 296).

We are further informed that Visakha, as soon as she heard of the advent of the quarrelsome Kosambian bhikkhus, approached the Buddha to take his advice as to how she should deal with them. The Buddha advised her to offer charities to the two parties of the quarrelsome Kosambian monks, (V.P.,1, 356). Visakha prepared a golden water-pot for the Buddha. A samanera named Sumana brought water in that pot for the Buddha from Anotatta lake. (D.C., IV, P.135) She offered a water pot and a broom to the Buddha, which he accepted and also instructed the bhikkhus to use them. Once she went to the Buddha and offered a palm-leaf fan, which he accepted (V.P., II, 129-130). Visakha was so very kind to the bhikkhus that she built a mansion for them, The bhikkhus at first hesitated to use it, but afterwards asked for Buddha's permission which was granted. (V.P., II, 169).

Visakha once went to the hermitage of Khadiravaniyarevata, but she found it to be in the midst of thorns and not fit for human habitation. (D.C., II, 194-195). Visakha was an important personage, because among the Bhikkhus if there were any matter for reference, it was referred to her, as we find in the case of Kundadhanathera who used to walk about with a woman behind him. (D.C.,111, 54-55.) In the family of Visakha young girls used to serve the Bhikkhus by making arrangements for their food, etc. (D.C., III, 161). Visakha's son's daughter named Datta who was entrusted with the care of the Bhikkhusamgha died in her absence. Visakha was very much afflicted with grief. The Buddha, consoled her (D.C., III, pp.278-279).

Visakha was one day going to the city garden wearing all sorts of rich ornaments amongst which may be mentioned mahalata, an ornament of extraordinary beauty and of immense value. (Cf. Dhammapada Commy., I, 412.) On the way she thought why should she go to the city garden like a mere girl; it was better that she should go to the Vihara and listen to the discourses of the Buddha. Moved by the thought, she went to the Lord, put off her ornament, mahalata and gave it to her maid-servant to keep it and return it when she came out of the Vihara. Thereafter she listened to the noble discourses of the Buddha. On coming out of the Vihara, she asked for her ornament. The maid-servant said that she had left it in the Vihara. Both of them returned to the Vihara and found it. Visakha offered it to the Lord, and under his directions built a Vihara with the sale proceeds of the ornament, which amounted to nine crores and a lakh. Visakha offered to her maid-servant all the merit that accrued for constructing the Vihara. The latter approved of her charity and died shortly afterwards. (Vimanavatthu Commy., pp.187-189.)

Anula was the queen of the king of Ceylon. Surrounded by five hundred girls, she bowed to the theras and honoured them to her heart's content. Thera Mahinda preached dhamma to them. Peta stories, Vimana stories and Saccasamyutta more narrated to them. When they heard the most excellent portion of the doctrine, princess Anula and her five hundred attendants attained sotapatti. She became a believer in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Samgha. With her five hundred attendants she received the Pabbajja ordination from Samghamitta Mahatheri. (Dipavamsa, p.68; cf. Mahavamsa, Geiger's Text, pp. 108, 155.)

Gopika was a Sakya princess. She was pleased with the Buddha, Dhamma and Samgha. She used to observe precepts fully, became disgusted with female life and meditated in order to become a man. (Digha N., II, 271.)

Canda came of a Brahman family. She earned her living by begging from door to door. One day she came to the spot where Patacara had just finished her meal. The bhikkhunis saw her hungry and gave her some food to eat. She ate the food and took her seat on one side. She then listened to the discourse of the Theri and renounced the world. She practised hard to attain insight. Her knowledge matured and her determination was strong. Hence she succeeded in attaining arhatship with patisambhida (Th. Commy., pp. 120-121.)

Gutta came of a Brahman family at Savatthi. In her youth household life became repugnant to her. She obtained her parents' consent and entered the order under Mahapajapati Gotami. Thereafter she could not for sometime control her mind from external interests. Then the Master gave her suitable instructions, and she attained arhatship together with patisambhida. (Th. Commy., pp. 157-159.)

Vijaya came of a certain clansmen's family of Rajagaha. She was a friend of Khema. When she heard that Khema, a king's consort, had renounced the world, she went to Khema, who taught her the Norm and ordained her. Very soon she won insight and after a short time attained arhatship with analytical knowledge. (Th. Commy, pp.159-160.) Mara came, to tempt her by saying, "You are young and beautiful, I am also young and beautiful, let us enjoy ourselves with music." She replied, "I find delight in rupa, sadda, gandha, etc. and I don't like soft-touch. I hate very much my rotten body which is easily destructible. My ignorance is dispelled." Then Mara left her. (S.N., 1, pp. 130-131).

Cala, Upacala and Sisupacala were born in Magadha at the village of Nalaka as the children of a Brahmani named Surupasari. They were younger sisters of Sariputta. When they heard that their brother had left the world for the order, they too renounced the world and striving hard, attained arhatship. In vain Mara tried to stir up sensual desires in them. (Th. Commy., 162-163; cf. S.N., Pt. I, PP. 132-134).

Uppalavanna came of a banker's family at Savatthi. Her skin was of the colour of the heart (gabbha) of the blue lotus. Hence she was called Uppalavanna. Many princes and banker's sons wanted to marry her. But she renounced the world, went to the bhikkhunis and was ordained. Thereafter one day she lighted a lamp, and by continually contemplating on the flame of the lamp, she gradually obtained arhatship with adhinna and patisambhida. (Th. Commy., 182 ff.) She was assigned a chief place among those who had the gift of iddhi. (Manorathapurani, p.207 ff.; Anguttara N., I, 25).

The Samyutta Nikaya tells us that Theri Uppalavanna went to Andhavana to meditate. There she sat at the foot of the Sala tree. Mara came to her and said to her, "You are Sitting at the foot of a fully blossomed Sala tree, are you not afraid of the wicked?" She replied, "I do not care for the wicked. I do not care for you." Mara left her. (Pt. 1, pp. 131-132). After defeating Mara, Uppalavanna was molested by her maternal uncle's son Ananda, who was enamoured of her beauty and who wanted to marry her. Although Uppalavanna had become a bhikkhuni, Ananda could not give up the desire of marrying her. Once Ananda concealed himself in the room of the Theri under her bedstead in her absence. When the Theri returned home and lay herself down on the bedstead, Ananda suddenly came out and committed rape on her. The Theri informed the bhikkhunis of this fact, and through the bhikkhunis brought this to the notice of the Buddha, who prohibited the bhikkhunis from living in forests. (D.C., II, 48-51.) Uppalavanna Theri acquired the power of performing a miracle by coming in to the presence of the Buddha to worship him with the pomp and grandeur of an individual monarch, being surrounded by a retinue extending over 36,000 yojanas and this miracle was visible to an assembly extending over twelve yojanas. (D.C., III, P.211.)

Sumangalamata came of a poor family of Savatthi. She was married to a basket maker. She acquired great merit. One day while reflecting on all she had suffered, she was much affected and her insight quickening, she attained arhatship with analytical knowledge. (Th. Commy., 28-30.)

Punna or Punnika acquired great merit in her previous birth, but owing to her pride she could not root out klesas (sins). She was born of a domestic slave at Savatthi in the household of Anathapindika, the banker. She obtained sotapattiphalam after hearing the Sihanada Suttanta. Afterwards Anathapindika gave her freedom because she defeated a Brahman named Udakasuddhika. Punna renounced worldly life and entered the order. She practised insight and very soon attained arhatship with patisambhida. (Th. Commy., pp. 199 f.).

Sundari was born at Benares as the daughter of Sujata, a Brahman. On her brother's death, her father became overwhelmed with grief. With the advice of Theri Vasitthi her father renounced the world, met the Buddha at Mithila, entered the order and in course of time attained arhatship. Sundari heard of her father's renouncing the world. She sacrificed all her wealth and pleasures of all kinds. She secured her mother's consent to leave the world. She then entered the order and striving hard she attained arhatship with patisambhida (Th. Commy., 228 f.).

Vimala was born at Vesali as the daughter of a public woman. When advanced in years she was moved to see one day the venerable Mahamoggallana going about for alms. She went to his house to entice him. Mahamoggallana rebuked her. She was ashamed and became a believer and lay sister. Sometime affer she entered the order and very soon attained arhatship. (Th. Commy., 76-77.)

Mittakalika came of a Brahman's family in the town of Kammasadamma in the kingdom of the Kurus. When she grew up she one day heard the teaching of the Great Discourse on the Mahasatipatthana and entered the order of sisters. For seven years she could not elevate herself intellectually. Later on she won arhatship together with analytical knowledge. (Th. Commy., pp. 89-90).

Sakula (Pakula) was born in a Brahman family at Savatthi. Seeing the Master accepting the gift of the Jetavana, she became a believer. One day she heard the preaching of an arhat and was greatly convinced. She entered the order, strove hard for insight and soon won arhatship. She was given the foremost place by the Master among the bhikkhunis possessing divine eyes. (Th. Commy., pp. 91 f.; cf. Manorathapurani, pp. 219-220; cf. Anguttara N., I, 25.)

Sonadinna, a female devotee living in Nalanda used to serve the bhikkhus with the four requisites and used to observe the precept and uposatha with perfect regularity. She meditated on the four noble truths and attained sotapatti. (Vide my work, Heaven and Hell, p.53).

Aloma, a poor woman living at Savatthi in Benares not finding anything to offer, presented some rotten cooked rice without salt to the Buddha who accepted it. (Ibid., p.63).

Mutta came of a rich Brahman family of Savatthi. When she was twenty years old, she went to Mahapajapati the Gotami and got ordination from her. She was practising kammatthana and she was instructed by the Buddha to get herself free from all bonds. Afterwards she became an arhat. (Th. Commy., pp.8-9.)

Punna was the daughter of a leading burgess of Savatthi, When she was about twenty years of age, she heard the great Pajapati teach the doctrine, and renounced the world. She practised insight, being encouraged by the Master. In due course she attained arhatship. (Th. Commy., pp. 9-10.)

Dantika came of a purohita's family at Kosala. When she came of age, she acquired faith in the Buddha in the Jetavana, and later entered the order under Mahapajapati Gotami at Rajagaha. While staying at Rajagaha, she climbed the Vulture's Peak after her meal, and while resting she developed insight and soon obtained arhatship with analytical knowledge. (Th. Commy., pp. 51-52.)

Vaddhesi was the nurse of Mahapajapati Gotami. When her mistress renounced the world, she followed her. For twenty-five years she was harassed by the lusts of the senses and failed to acquire concentration of mind. One day she heard Dhammadinna preach the Norm. She then began to practise meditation. Very soon she acquired the six supernatural powers. (Th. Commy., 75-76).

Uttama came of a householder family at Bandhumati. When she grew old, she heard Patacara preach and entered the order. When Patacara gave her admonition, she was established in insight and very soon won arhatship. (Th. Commy., pp. 47-48). Thirty sisters born in different families of different places heard Patacara preach and were converted by her and entered the order. They practised insight and in course of time they won arhatship with patisambhida. (Th. Commy., pp.118-120.)

Uttara came of a certain clansmen's family at Savatthi. When grown up she heard Patacara preach the Norm. She became a believer, entered the Order and became an arhat. (Th. Commy, pp.161-162.)

Uttari was a theri who was 120 years old. She went to beg for alms. Once, while going for alms, she met the Buddha on the way and when going to salute him, she fell down. The Buddha delivered a sermon to her, and she having attained the first stage of sanctification died. (D.C., vol. III, p.110.)

Khujjuttara was the maid servant of Samavati, queen of King Udena of Kosambi. Her daily duty was to buy flowers from Sumana, a garland-maker for eight kahapanas. Once the Buddha together with the bhikkhusamgha was invited to take meals in Sumana's house. Khujjuttara waited on her and heard the sermon delivered by the Buddha. She obtained sotapattiphalam after hearing the sermon. In former days she used to steal four kahapanas out of eight kahapanas given to her by her mistress for buying flowers. After having obtained sotapattiphalam she brought flowers to the value of eight kahapanas. She confessed her guilt when asked why she brought such a large quantity of flowers. She told Samavati that she had acquired knowledge and came to realise that stealing things is a sin committed by a person who listened to the Buddha's sermon. Samavati after listening to the dhamma repeated by her obtained sotapattiphalam. She was well versed in Tripitaka. (D.C., I, pp.208 f.)

Dinna was an upaisika of the Buddha. She was the queen of King Uggasena. A king promised to the deity of a nigrodha tree that he would worship the deity with the blood of one hundred kings of Jambudipa if he got the throne after his father's death. He then defeated all the kings gradually and went to worship the deity, but the deity, seeing that many kings would be killed, being compassionate to them, refused his worship on the ground that the queen of King Uggasena whom he had defeated was not brought. The king had her brought, and she preached a sermon on the avoidance of life--slaughter in their presence. The deity approved and the king refrained from life-slaughter, and released the defeated and captured kings, who praised Dinna for this act. It was due to her that so many kings were saved. (D.C., II, p.15 f.)

Sona came of a clansmen's family at Savatthi. In course of time, after marriage, she became the mother of ten sons and was known as Bahuputtika. The Dhammapada Commy. says that she had seven sons and seven daughters (D.C., II, pp.276--278). On her husband renouncing the world she divided all her riches equally between her sons. In a very short time her sons and daughters-in-law ceased to show respect. She then entered the Order of the bhikkhunis and began to practise insight strenuously in her old age. The master gave her suitable instructions. Sona Bhikkhuni then attained arhatship. (Th. Commy,, 95.) She occupied the foremost place among the bhikkhunis, making great exertion (Manorathapurani, 218-219; cf. A.N., I, 125).

Bhadda Kundalakesa came of the family of a banker at Rajagaha. When grown up, she one day saw Satthuka, the purohita's son, being led to execution by the city guard. She fell in love with him at first sight. She resolved to die if she did not get him. Her father heard of this and got Satthuka released by bribing the guard heavily. Satthuka was brought to Bhadda, who, decked in jewels, waited upon him. He saw her jewels and coveted them. He told Bhadda to get ready an offering to be given to the cliff deity. Bhadda did so. She adorned herself with all her jewels and accompanied her husband to the precipice with an offering. On reaching the top of the precipice, Satthuka told her to put off all her ornaments which he had come there to take. In vain Bhadda pleaded that She herself and all her ornaments belonged to him. Satthuka did not take any notice of her pleadings. He wanted all her ornaments. Bhadda then prayed for an embrace with all her jewels on.

Satthuka granted her prayer. Bhadda embraced him in front and then, as if embracing him from the back, pushed him over the precipice. Satthuka died (cf. Dhammapada Commy., vol. II, pp.217 f.). Thereafter Bhadda did not come home, but she left the world and entered the Order of the Niganthas. She learnt the doctrine of the Niganthas and left their company. Thereafter she found no one equal to her in debate. She setup the branch of a jambu tree on a heap of sand at the gate of some village or town, with the declaration that any body able to join issue with her in debate should trample on this bough. Sariputta ordered some children who were near the bough, to trample on it. The children did so. When Bhadda saw the bough trampled, she challenged Sariputa to a debate before some Sakyan recluses and was advised to go to Buddha for refuge. She went to the Buddha who discerned the maturity of her knowledge. Buddha spoke a verse and she attained arhatship with analytical knowledge. (Th. Commy., pp. 99f.) Bhadda was assigned a chief place among the bhikkhunis possessing ready wit. (Manorathapurani, p. 375; cf. Anguttara Nikaya, I, 25.)

Sama came of a rich householder's family at Kosambi. She was moved by the death of her dear friend, the lay-disciple Samavati. One day she listened to Elder Ananda preaching and acquired insight. On the seventh day after this she attained arhatship with a thorough grasp of the Dhamma in form and meaning. (Th. Commy., 44-45.)

Another Sama who came of a clansmen's family at Kosambi, was a friend of Samavati, whose death afflicted her so much that she could not gain self-control for twenty-five years. In her old age she heard a sermon through which her insight expanded and she won arhatship with patisambhida (analytical knowledge). (Th. Commy., 45-46.)

Ubbiri came of the family of a rich house- holder at Savatthi. She was very beautiful, and was brought to the palace by the king of Kosala. A few years later a daughter was born to her. This daughter was named Jiva. The king saw the child and was very much pleased. He then had Ubbiri anointed as queen. After a few years Jiva died. The mother used to go to the cemetery and shed tears. Questioned by the Exalted One as to why she was weeping, she said that she was sheding tears for her deceased daughter. She was questioned by the Exalted One as to which of the 84,000. daughters she was weeping for. She then spent a little thought and intelligence over the Norm thus taught by the Buddha. She was established in insight, and in due course she won arhatship by virtue of great merits. (Th. Commy.,53-54).

Kisagotami came of poor family at Savatthi. She was married to a rich banker's son who had forty crores of wealth. (D.C., II., pp. 270-75). Bodhisatta was her maternal uncle's son. One day, while the Bodhisatta was returning home after receiving the news of Rahula's birth, he was seen by Kisagotami from her palace. Buddha's beauty pleased Kisagotami so much that she uttered a stanza, the purport of which is, "the mother who has such a child and the father who has such a son and the wife who has such a husband are surely happy" (nibbuta), but the Bodhisatta took the word nibbuta in the sense of nibbanam. The Bodhisatta presented her with a pearl necklace for making him hear such auspicious and sacred words. (D.C., vol. I, p. 85; cf. Atthasalini, p. 34.) On the death of her only child she went to the Buddha with the dead body and requested him to bring the dead to life. Buddha asked her to bring a little mustard seed from a house where no man had died. Kisagotami went from house to house, but she came back to Buddha quite unsuccessful. The Buddha delivered a sermon which led her to become a bhikkhuni. Her insight grew within a short time and she attained arhatship. (Th. Commy., 174 f.). Then the master assigned her the foremost place among the bhikkhunis who used very rough and simple robes. (A.N., 1, p.25; cf.,Manoratha; purani, p.380.)

Once Kisagotami went to Andhavana to meditate. Mara, came to her and said," You have killed your sons and now you are crying. Why are you not searching for another man? " Kisagotami replied, "I have completely destroyecl my sons and my husband and I have no sorrow. I am not afraid of you, my attachment is destroyed and ignorance is dispelled. Killing the army of death I live sinless." Mara then left her. (S.N., I, pp.129-130). Once Kisagotami was coming through the sky to worship the Buddha while Sakka with his retinue was seated before the Buddha. She did not come to the Buddha, but worshipped him from the sky and went away. Being questioned by Sakka, the Buddha answered that she was his daughter. Kisagotami, who was the foremost among the bhikkhunis, used very rough and simple robes. (D.C.,IV, 156-157.)

Patacara came of a banker's family at Savatthi. In her youth she formed an intimacy with a servant of her house. On the day fixed for her marriage with another youth of equal rank she eloped with her lover and dwelt in a hamlet. There she used to perform household duties, and her lover used to bring wood from the forest and work in a field belonging to others. Shortly afterwards Patacara gave birth to a child, but at the time of the birth of her second child, a storm arose. Her husband went to a forest to cut grass and sticks. While he cut a stake standing on an ant-hill, a snake came from the ant-hill and bit him. He fell there and died. The next morning Patacara went to the forest with her two children and found her husband dead. She lamented and left the place. On her way to her father's house there was a river, the water of which was knee-deep. She lost her children while crossing the river. With tears of grief she came to Savatthi and learnt that her parents and brother had perished under the debris of the fallen house. She turned mad. Since then she did not wear clothing, and was therefore known as Patacara. One day the Exalted One saw her in that plight and said, "Sister! Cover your shamelessness." She regained her consciousness, and the Lord taught her that sons, parents and kinsfolk were no shelter, and asked her to discern this truth in order to make clear quickly the way to nibbana. Then she was established in the sotapattiphalam. She attained arhatship with analytical knowledge (Th. Commy., p.108 f; Manorathapurani, pp.356-360; cf. A.N., I, 25) Thereafter she preached the Buddha's dhamma and converted many afflicted women to the Buddhist faith.

The Therigatha Commy. says that Patacara had five hundred female disciples, who came of different families of different places. They were married, bore children and lived domestic lives. Overwhelmed with grief at the loss of children they went to Patacara, who asked them not to weep when the manner of birth and death was unkown to them. They were greatly moved by Patacara's teachings and renounced the world under her. They performed exercises for insight and soon became established in arhatship with patisambhida. (Th. Commy., pp. 122-123; cf. Dhammapada Commy., II, p.260 f.)

Vasitthi came of a clansmen's family at Vaisali. Her parents gave her in marriage to a clansman's son of equal position. She had a son. When the child was able to run about, he died. Vasitthi went mad with grief. She came to Mithila and there she saw the Exalted One, self-controlled and self-contained. At the sight of the Buddha the frenzy left her and she recovered her normal mind. The master taught her the outlines of the Norm. Performing all proper duties, she acquired insight, and struggling with the help of full Knowledge, she soon attained arhatship together with a thorough grasp of the Norm in form and spirit. (Th. Commy., 124-125.)

Dhammadinna came of a clansmen's family at Rajagaha and became the wife of a Setthi named Visakha. One day her husband heard the master teaching, and after hearing him he did not hold converse with her as he used to do before, but renounced the worldly life. Dhammadinna too became a bhikkhuni and took up her residence in a village. One of the great merits acquired in her previous births was her subjugation of the complexities of thought, word and deed. By virtue of this merit, she soon attained arhatship together with thorough mastery of the form and meaning of the Dhamma. Then she returned to Rajagaha and was questioned by her husband on the khandas and the like. She answered so correctly that she was praised by the Buddha and was ranked as foremost among the sisters who could preach. (Th. Commy., 15; cf. Manorathpurani, pp. 360-363; Anjuttara N., I, 25.)

Dhamma came of a respectable family at Savatthi. Given in marriage to a suitable husband, she became converted. On her husband's death, she entered the Order. In due course she won arhatship with thorough knowledge of the Norm in form and meaning. (Th. Commy., p.23).

Mettika was the daughter of a rich Brahman of Rajagaha. She climbed a hill and lived like a recluse. She acquired insight and within a short time won arhatship (Th. Commy., p.35).

Abhaya came of a respectable family at Ujjain. She was a friend of Abhayamata. She followed her in renouncing the world, and entered the Order. In course of time she attained arhatship at Rajagaha. (Th. Commy., 41-43.)

Soma was born at Rajagaha as the daughter of the purohita of King Bimbisara. When advanced in years she became a lay disciple. Afterwards she entered the order of the bhikkhunis. She performed exercises of insight and within a short time won arhatship. Mara tried in vain to divert her from this path. From the Samyutta Nikaya we learn that Mara came to her and said,"What is to be obtained by the Rishis, you are, with slight wisdom, trying to have it. That which is difficult to be obtained by great sages, you being a silly woman, want to have." She replied: " If my mind is steadfast, I must acquire it, my womanly nature will not prevent me from acquiring it." Mara then left her. (Th. Commy., pp. 66-67; cf. S.N., 1, p.129.)

Bhadda Kapilani came of a Brahman family of the Kosiya clan at Sagala. She was married to a young noble Pippali at the village of Mahatittha. When her husband renounced the world, she made over her wealth to her kinsfolk. She then left the world and dwelt five years in the hermitage of the heretics. Thereafter, she was ordained by Mahapajapati Gotami. Establishing insight she soon won arhatship. By the master she was ranked first among the bhikkhunis who could remember previous births (Th. Commy., 67 f.; cf. Manorathapurani, p.375; cf. Anguttara N., I, p.25).


Besides the women who embraced a homeless life and became bhikkhunis and theris, there were others who were staunch believers in the Buddha's dhamma. These women used to lead a domestic life, offering charities in the shape of coin and kind to theras, bhikkhunis and bhikkhus in the expectation of a happier rebirth or for the benefit of departed relations. The incidents in the life of some of these women are recorded in the Buddhist literature, and it would not be out of place here to mention them below.

Uttara, daughter of Nandaka, Commander-in-chief of Pingala, king of Surattha, was a believer in the Buddha. She used to offer to a saintly thera cold and perfumed drink as well as excellent cake and sweets for the benefit of her departed father. (Vide my Buddhist Conception of Spirits, p.48).

Lakhuma lived near one of the gates of Benares. She used to offer a spoonful of rice to the bhikkhus when they entered the town by that gate. Thus she acquired the habit of offering charity. In the asanasala (rest house), she used to prepare seats for, and supply water to, the bhikkhus. She was established in sotapatti. After death she was reborn in the Tavatimsa heaven. (Vide my Heaven and Hell, p.50.)

A daughter of a certain upasaka of Rajagaha was very much devoted to Mahamoggallana. One day she welcomed a thera, offered him a seat, worshipped him with a garland of sumana flower and gave him sweets, etc. On her death, she was reborn in the Tavatimsa heaven. (Vimanavatthu Commy., 179-179.)

Mallilka was the daughter of a Brahman steward of the Sakya Mahanaman. On her father's death she was taken by Mahanaman to his house. She was at first named Chandra. She made a wreath which satisfied Mahanaman so much that he changed her name to Mallika. One day Mallika went to the garden with her food, and just then the Blessed One passed them collecting alms. Mallika thought of offering her food to the Buddha, and the latter knowing her thought held out his bowl. She put her offering in it and wished at the same time that some day she might be free from slavery or poverty. One day Pasenadi carried away by his horse in the heat of the chase came to Mahanaman's garden. There he saw Mallika. Re- quested by the king, Mallika rubbed his feet with a towel. As soon as she did so the king fell asleep. When he awoke he found out who she was, went to Mahanaman and married her. She was then taken to Sravasti and in time she brought forth a son named Virudhaka (Rockhill, Life of the Buddha, pp, 75-77), and also a daughter. (S.N., I, p. 86). This story is nothing but a Tibetan version of the story of Pasenadi and Vasabhakhattiya. Cf. Svapnavasabhadatta of Bhasa.

Again we read that Mallikadevi went to the Buddha and asked him thus, "What is the cause of a woman's getting an ugly appearance, bad habit, wretched state and poverty in this world? What is the cause of a woman who is of this nature becoming very rich and influential? What is the cause of a woman who is of good appearance and lovely becoming poor and uninfluential, and vice versa? "The Buddha answered thus: " The woman who is very hot-tempered and who gets angry for slight reason becomes poor and ugly if she does not offer any charity to the Samanas or Brahmanas, but if she offers charity to the Samanas or Brahamanas, she becomes rich and influential alth- ough she is hot-tempered." The Buddha further said "She who is not hot-tempered and does not become angry for slight reason becomes poor and influential if she does not offer any charity to the Samanas or Brahmanas." Mallika admitted that on account of her hot-temper and peevish nature she had an ugly appearance, but she, on account of her previous charities, became a queen. She further said that she would treat properly the daughter of the Ksatriyas, the Brahmanas and the other householders who were subordinate to her. She became a devotee of the Buddha, being very pleased with him. (Anguttara Nikaya, II, pp. 202-205).

It is noteworthy that once Mallika was asked by Pasenadi whether she had anybody dearer to her than her own soul. She replied in the negative. Pasenadi was asked the same question by his wife, and he too answered it in the negative. She then went to the Buddha and related the matter to him. The Buddha said that they were right in holding that there was nothing more favourite than one's own soul. (Udana, p.47;cf. also S.N., 1, p.75.) Once Pasenadi invited Buddha to teach Dhamma to queens Mallika and Vasabhakhattiya as they were desirous of learning it. Buddha asked the king to engage Ananda for the purpose as it was not possible for him to go every day. Mallikadevi learnt it thoroughly, but Vasabhakhattiya was not so mindful of learning Dhamma. (D.C., 1, 382). It was Mallika who saved the life of many living beings who were brought for sacrifice to save Pasenadi from the evil effect of hearing four horrible sounds at midnight by inducing him to go to the Buddha to take instructions from him. (D.C. vol. II, pp. 7-8). After her death, Mallikadevi had to suffer in the Avici hell because she deceived her husband by telling a lie about her misconduct. (D.C., III, 119f.).

Mallikadevi made the following arrangements on the occasion of Pasenadi's offering a unique gift to the Buddha and the bhikkhus:

1. She made a canopy with Sala wooden parts, under which five hundred bhikkhus could sit within the parts and five hundred outside them.

2. Five hundred white umbrellas were raised by five hundred elephants standing at the back of five hundred bhikkhus.

3. Golden boats were placed in the middle of the pandal, and each Khattiya, daughter threw scents standing in the midst of the two bhikkhus.

4. Each Khattiya princess fanned standing in the midst of two bhikkhus.

5. Golden boats were filled with scents and perfumes. (D.C., III., pp. 184 f.)

The daughter of queen Mallika was also named Mallika. She was the wife of General Bandhula. She was childless for a long time. Bandhula sent her to her father's house. On the way she went to the Jetavana to salute the Buddha who was informed by her that her husband was sending her home as she was childless. The Buddha asked her to go to her husband's house. Bandhula was informed of this fact and thought that the Buddha must have got the idea that she would be pregnant. The sign of pregnancy was visible in her, and she desired to drink water and bathe in the well-guarded tank of the Licchavis. Bandhula with his wife visited the tank and he made his wife bathe and drink water therefrom. (D.C., I, pp. 349-351.) Mallika, wife of Bandhula, and daughter of a Malla king of Kusinara, offered worship to the relic of the Buddha with plenty of perfumes and garlands and also an ornament named mahalata which was very valuable. In consequence of this, she, after death, was reborn in the Tavatimsa heaven where she was bedecked all in yellow. (Vimanavatthu Commy., 165.)

Vajira was a bhikkuni who was tempted by Mara when she went to Andhavana to meditate. Mara came to her and asked her, " Who has created the being? Wherefrom it has come, and. where will it go?" She said, "The aggregation of five khandhas constitutes the sattas." Mara then left her. (Samyutta Nikaya, I, PP. 134-135.)

Cira bhikkhuni was given a robe by an upasika of the Buddha. This message was declared by a Yakkha in the streets of Rajagaha saying that the giver by giving a robe to Cira who was free from fetters, could acquire much merit. (Samyutta Nikaya, I, p. 213.)

Uttara and her husband were serving a banker at Rajagaha. Once the banker went to attend a famous ceremony, and Uttttra with her husband was at home. The husband of Uttara went to cultivate in the morning. Uttara was going with cooked food to her husband in the field. On the way she met Sariputta who was just rising up from nirodha-samapatti (meditation on cessrttion) and offered the food to him, with the result that she became the richest lady of Rajagaha, and her husband became a banker named Mahadhanasetthi. (D.C., III, pp. 302 f.)

Punna was the maid-servant of a banber of Savatthi. Once she was asked to husk a large quantity of paddy. While engaged in husking the paddy at night, she went outside the house to take rest. At this time Dabba, a Mallian, was in charge of making arrangements for the sleeping accommodation of the bhikkhus who were guests. Punna with some cakes went out to enquire of the cause of their movements with lights at night. The Buddha went out for alms by the way in which Punna was. She offered all the cakes to the Buddha without keeping any for herself. The Buddha accepted them. Punna was thinking whether Buddha would partake of her food. The Buddha did partake of it in her house. The effect of this offer was that Punna obtained sotapattiphalam where the offer was made. (D.C., III, pp. 321 f.)

Rohini was Anuruddha's sister. She was suffering from white leprosy. She did not go to her brother as she was suffering. Anuruddha sent for her and asked her to build a rest- house for bhikkhus to get rid of her sin. She kept the rest-house clean even when if was under construction, and she did this with great devotion for a long time. She became free from her disease. Shortly afterwards the Buddha went to Kapilavatthu and sent for Rohini. The Buddha told her that she was the queen of the king of Benares in her former birth. The king was enamoured of the beauty of a dancing girl. The queen knowing this, became jealous of her, and to punish her she put something in her cloth and bathing water which produced terrible itching all over her body. On account of this sin, she got this disease. She obtained sotapattiphalam and the colour of her body became golden. (D.C., III, pp. 295 f.)

Suppavasa, a daughter of a Koliyan was pregnant for seven years, but she did not give birth to any child. After seven years, labour pain began and she sufffered terribly for seven days, but no child was born. She requested her husband to go to the Buddha and to salute him on her behalf, reporting the matter to him. Her husband went to the Buddha and informed him. The Buddha desired that Suppavasa would give birth to a son without any pain and disease. While the Buddha was expressing this desire, a son was born. Her husband was sent again to invite the Buddha to her house for seven days. The Buddha accepted the invitation. The Master took his meal there for seven days and converted both of them (Udana, pp. 15-17; Cf, D.C., IV, 192-193). Suppavasa used to give alms daily to five hundred bhikkhus. (Dhamapada Commy.,1, 339.) She became the foremost of the upasikas, offering the best food to the Buddha. Buddha told her the good effect of offering food, and he further said that an offerer by offering rice offers the lease of life, beauty, happiness and strength. The offerer in return obtains celestial life, celestial beauty, happiness and strength. (Anguttara Nikaya, II, pp. 62-63).

Another bhikkhuni of some repute was Nakulamata. When her husband was ill and was ready to die, free from anxiety, she told him that she knew spinning and weaving and management of household affairs and children. She also told her husband that she would never remarry after his death, as both of them lived the life of a recluse for sixteen years. She informed her husband that after his death she would meet the Buddha and the bhikkhusamgha. She also promised to observe the precepts. She also told her husband that she was one of the female devotees who fully observed the precepts, controlled the mind, had strong faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Samgha, and who became fearless and did not depend on others except the Buddha for support. (A.N., III, 295 f.)

Bojjha was a devotee who approached the Buddha, who preached to her the reward of observing the precepts and the Sabbath. The Master said to her. "Happiness obtained by observing Sabbath is sixteen times greater than that enjoyed by the sixteen countries." (A.N., IV, pp.259-260.)

Velukantaki Nandamata was a devotee of the Buddha. She gave offerings to Sariputta and Moggallana. Referring to this the Buddha said, "A giver must be pleased before he gives dana; his mind must be pleased while giving dana and after giving dana. The receiver of the offering must be free from passion, hatred and delusion. The consequence of such a gift is immeasurable". Nandamata gave such a gift to Sariputta and Moggallana, and she obtained immeasurable consequence of the gift. (A.N., III, 336-337. ).

There was another bhikkhuni named Nandamata who was once repeating the Parayana Sutta of the Sutta Nipata in a sweet voice. King Vessavana was going from north to south, and he waited there till Nandamata finished her repetition and praised her much. Nandamata told Vessavans that the merit acquired by the act would he beneficial to him. Vessavana gladly assented and said that the merit which would be acquired by her through the gift made to Sariputta and Moggallana would prove beneficial to him. (A. N., IV, p.63 f.)

Migasala was an upasika who went to Ananda and said, "According to the instruction of the Buddha, a brahmacari and an abrahamacari go to the same place after death and enjoy the same amount of happiness." Ananda went to the Buddha to have this problem solved. The Buddha said that the lay devotee was ignorant and uneducated and therefore she could not realize it properly. The Buddha further said, "Even a householder may acquire the same amount of merit as acquired by a brahmacari who does not fulfil his duties properly."

Dinna, a bhikkhuni, was asked by her husband about sakkayaditthi, sakkayanirodha, ariyatthangikamaggo, samkhara, nirodhasamapatti, manner of rising up from nirodhasamapatti and vedana. Dhammadina gave satisfactory answers to all the questions. She said, "Five upadana khandhas constitute, sakkayaditthi. Tanha means sakkaya samudayo. Destruction of tanha means sakkaya nirodha. The noble eight-fold path is the means of attaining sakkayanirodha. Ignorant people take the five upadana khandhas jointly and separately as atta (soul); the learned and noble disciples do not take them in this sense. Those who obtain nirodha samapatti are stopped one after another. The three kinds of vedana are sukha, dukkha and adukkhamasukha (M.N., 1., 299 f.)

There was an Upasika named Suyata who destroyed three bonds and obtained the first stage of sanctification. (S.N., V, p.356.)

Nanda, sister of the king of Kosala, was a bhikkhuni. While going through the sky at night she instructed Kalasoka and bhikkhusamgha to purify bhikkhusamgha by driving out had bhikkhus and protecting good bhikkhus (Sasanavamsa, p.6).

There was another woman named Nanda who was the wife of a householder named Nandasena who lived in a certain village near Savatthi. She had no faith in the Buddha. Sho was very hot-tempered and used to abuse her husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law. On her death she became a peti. One day she appeared before her husband and gave him an account of her past misdeeds. The husband made gifts for her sake to the bhikkhus, and Nanda was released from her miseries. (P.D. on the Petavathu, pp. 89-92.)

Revati was the daughter of a householder of Benares. She had no faith in the Buddha, and was very uncharitable. For some days she was forced by her parents to do meritorious deeds in order to win Nandiya, a neighbour's son, as her husband. After marriage, Nandiya made her follow him in his meritorious deeds. Thereafter Nandiya had to go abroad. He asked his wife to continue all the meritorious deeds. Revati did so for seven days. Then she stopped all meritorious deeds and began to abuse the bhikkhus who had come to her house for alms. Nandiya, on his return, found that all his acts of charity had been discontinued. After death Revati became a hellish creature. On his death Nandiya became a devata. He saw with his divine eyes that Revati had become a hellish creature. He then went to her and asked her to approve of the meritorious acts done by him. As soon as she did so, she became a devata and resided with Nandiya in heaven. (B.C. Law, Buddhist Conception of Spirits, p.79.)

Samavati was the queen of king Udena of Kosambi. The harem containing Samavati with 500 female attendants was burnt while Udena was in the royal garden. The matter was referred to the Buddha, who said, " Each upasika had gone according to her kamma, some have become sotapanna sakadagami and anagami and so forth (Udana, p.79).

There was a maid-servant named Birani engaged by Asoka Brahmana to give food daily to the samgha which was enough for eight bhikkhus. This she used to do with devotion, with the result that after her death she was born in avimana in the sky. (Mahavamsa, p.214.)

Rupananda was Buddha's step-sister. She thought that her eldest brother renounced the world and had become a Buddha. Her younger brother Nanda was a bhikkhu and Rahulakumara had obtained ordination. Her husband too became a bhikkhu and her mother, Mahapajapatigotami, became a bhikkhuni. She renounced the world thinking that so many of her relatives had renounced the world. she did not go before the Buddha as she was proud of her beauty, while the Buddha used to preach the impermanency and worthlessness of form. The other bhikkhunis and bhikkhus always used to praise the Buddha in her presence and tell her that all having different tastes became blessed by seeing the Buddha.

Nanda thought of going to the Buddha with other bhikkhunis but she would not show herself to the Buddha. Ananda came to know that Nanda had come with the bhikkhunis. The Buddha desired to lower her pride in her beauty by showing the bad effect of it. By his miraculous power the Buddha created a most beautiful girl who was engaged in fanning the Buddha. Nanda seeing her beauty found out that her own beauty was much inferior. The girl was seen gradually attaining youth, the state of a mother of a child and then old age and disease and death. Nanda, seeing this, gave up her pride in her beauty and came to realize the impermanence of beauty. The Buddha, knowing the state of her mind, delivered a suitable sermon and she became an arhat after hearing it. (D.C., 111, pp. 113 f.) 


Source: Center for Buddhist Studies, National Taiwan University,


Updated: 25-9-2001

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