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Amrapali, from Courtesan to a Saint

 

Amrapali, the name brings a lot of thoughts to our minds. When a woman lives her life on her own conditions, she is judged by many people. Amrapali’s life is also judged by a lot of people, even today. Her decisions are questioned by many, even today. Her thoughts, ideas and actions are judged by many people.  But a very few of them actually know that what courage Amrapali required to question and deny hundred year old traditions, rituals and rules of an empire. It is easy to judge being a spectator but it’s really difficult to imagine having two options to chose from, one, of being a queen to one of the most powerful empires of that time and other to chose her own pride, self respect and welfare of her country.

Amrapali’s life is a blend of courage and independence. Something that we all, women of modern age, are thriving for. The social dynamics were way more different in her times than it is today, but her story, her journey, at some point or the other would be relatable to all of us. So let’s witness and dive into the life of Amrapali, a woman who had courage to raise her voice in front of kings and warriors, a woman who transformed from being an abandoned child to an exceptionally talented dancer and singer, to a warrior and finally to a Saint.

After Amrapali adopted the Buddhist nun’s life, she composed a nineteen verse poem, which is included in the Therigatha- a collection of poetry composed by the earliest women who became Buddhist nuns. These verses are preceded by an introductory passage which describes her life history in brief.

20 significant facts about Amrapali’s life : 

  1. Born to unknown parents, Amrapali was found by a childless couple under a mango tree. Hence named “Amrapali”.
  2. The couple, were both dancers. Her father was renowned dancer and was a dance teacher. Many students used to come to her house to learn dancing. Mother was formerly a dancer but left it after marriage.
  3. Amrapali’s father never wanted her to dance in front of the public.
  4. Amrapali, just by watching her father dance, managed to learn dancing and excelled in the art.
  5. Vaishali, a democratic state was run by rules and laws based on the principles of democracy.
  6. The state had a special place for performing arts and respect for performing artists.
  7. The state used to have a dance competition to chose the most beautiful and talented dancer as the Nagarvadhu – Bride of the City.
  8. The dancer representing Amrapali’s city, betrayed the city and to save it from the shame, Amrapali decided to dance in front of the jury.
  9. After watching her dance, the jury members declared her as the winner, the most beautiful and the most talented dancer of the entire Vaishali state.
  10. According to the law, Amrapali now had to be crowned as the Nagarvadhu – Bride of the City.
  11. Amrapali reluctantly said that she danced on the stage only to protect her country from the enemies, and that she did not wish to become the Bride of the City.
  12. This was the first time when a woman questioned and denied the century’s old ritual of electing the most beautiful woman of the city as Nagarvadhu.
  13.  The kings and leaders of Vaishali were shocked after seeing Amrapali’s courage and accused her of being disrespectful towards Vaishali’s traditions.
  14. Amrapali argued with an entire council of ministers and highlighted the hollowness of such tradition which does not give respect to a woman’s life, her decisions and her wishes.
  15. Finally, Amrapali was convinced by the minister to accept the proposal otherwise her denial would lead to an internal war in the state.
  16. Amrapali spent her youth as the Bride of the City and crushed all her dreams and wishes in order to save the unity of her nation.
  17. Amrapali met with Bimbisar, prince of the kingdom of Magadha, fell in love with him and also gave birth to his child, later. Bimbisar wanted to learn the governance under democratic rules in Vaishali and hence was living in the boundaries of Vaishali illegally. Amrapali insisted on him telling the truth to the leaders in Vaishali.
  18. The leaders of Vaishali, on knowing the entire story of Amrapali and Bimbisar, declared Amrapali as the traitor. She couldn’t prove herself innocent; Bimbisar left for Magadha and came back with his army, attacked Vaishali in order to free Amrapali.
  19. After the war was over, Bimbisar wanted to marry Amrapali and make her the Queen of Magadha. Amrapali denied the proposal. She didn’t want to be with someone who had killed the people of her country.

At last, Amrapali left Vaishali and sought the abode of Mahatma Budhha. Seeking Pravajya (Brahmgyan or Divine Knowledge - the eternal science of Self-Realization) from the spiritual master, Amrapali lived the rest of her life as a saint.

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