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PATACHARA (6TH CENTURY BCE)


Patachara was a bhikkhuni, a Buddhist nun. She was the daughter of a banker of Shravasti. She fell in love with an employee of her father’s, eloped with him and came to live with him in his country. After bearing him two children, she felt a strong desire to return to her father’s house and be reconciled with her parents. Her husband was reluctant to go as the way was long and hard, but at last he agreed. On the way, she and her children felt very thirsty, and the young man went to fetch water for them. He failed to return, and Patachara found him dead of snakebite. Alone with her children, she proceeded onwards till she came to a mighty river. This she crossed with the younger child, telling her elder one to wait on the bank till she called him. She reached the other side, covered the baby with a leaf and set out to get the other. When she was halfway across, a hawk swooped down and carried off the baby. At this she screamed and the other child, thinking she was calling him, ran into the stream and also perished.

These experiences caused her to lose her reason, and she wandered the forest, mad with grief, for many years. Then one day she chanced to come upon a place where the Buddha was teaching. His followers tried to shoo her away, but Budda said, ‘Forbid her not’. She came into his presence, and he calmed her mind and heard her story. She wished to join the sangha and he accepted her as a novice. Her study and adherence to the rules was so great that she earned the name Patachara, meaning adept (patu) at ritual (achara). Some of her hymns are preserved in the Therigatha, the collection of hymns by the theris or Buddhist nuns.
 
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