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Khema and Uppalavanna

By Gaurav Manandhar at
Khema and Uppalavanna

In early days, it was not easy to become the ordained women since it wasn't practiced and the women were not in the equal position as men. Even the first female bhikkhuni, Mahapajapati Gotami also faced lots of troubles to become bhikkhuni. She consistently proposed to become bhikkhuni to the Buddha but he refused the request all the time. It was only fulfilled with the help of Ananda, the chief disciple of the Buddha.

During the regular meet up with the Buddha, Ananda asked him respectfully regarding the women's capability of realizing the various stages of sainthood as nuns. In reply, the Buddha confirms the realization. Without wasting the time, Ananda asked if that's the case then will the women have any chance to be ordained as nuns. The Buddha replied if the women accept and practice the Eight Garudhammas, then they are already ordained as the nun. Hence, the first female bhikkhuni to accept and practice the Eight Garudhammas was Mahapajapati Gotami. She became fully ordained Bhikkhuni. Other women also followed the path of Mahapajapati Gotami and became the nun. Khema Theri and Uppalavanna Theri also got the opportunity to become the bhikkhuni. In due course of time, they became the chief female disciple of the Buddha.

Khema Theri

Khema Theri was very beautiful and belongs to the Royal family of Magadha. She was one of the chief queens of King Bimbisara. Initially, she didn't want to meet the Buddha. She was more self-centered and self-conscious. Even though she heard about the Buddha from her husband, she always neglects the suggestions to hear his discourse. She was more inclined to the physical appearance. Hence, Khema's husband told the beauties of the Buddhas monastery with the motive to make her listen to the Buddha's discourse. As the king described the Buddha's monastery, she became very interested to visit and feel the aesthetic of the monastery.

When she reached the monastery, the Buddha saw her approaching inside the monastery. Without wasting time, the Buddha created an exceptionally beautiful maiden by his side, whose beauty surpassed Khema. Khema also noticed the beautiful maiden. She was captivated by the appearance of that maiden. Seeing this, Buddha slowly aged the maiden.

Khema then felt the changes in the appearance of that maiden. The maiden's beautiful skin slowly wrinkled, her hair change to gray and her body aged. She then saw the body collapse with age and passed away, leaving behind just a corpse which also changed to a heap of bones. This experience makes Khema realized that all the conditioned phenomena are impermanent. She also realized that the same would happen to her. Finally, Khema listened to the Buddha. After his sermons, Khema attained full enlightenment and became an arahant. She later joined the order of nuns with her husband's permission.


Uppalavanna was the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Savatthi and was known for her great beauty. The meaning behind her name is one with the hue of the blue lotus. She was given this name because her complexion was that of a blue lotus. She was so beautiful that many wealthy suitors sent messengers to her father asking for her hand. She didn't want to displease the people, so she announces that she would become a bhikkhuni. During the period as the nun, she quickly progressed in meditation and became an Arahant. The Buddha also declared her to be the foremost in supernormal powers among the nuns.

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