Patacara was a notable female figure in
Buddhism, described in the Pali Canon. Among the female disciples of Gautama Buddha, she was the foremost exponent of the Vinaya, the rules of monastic discipline. She lived during the 6th century BCE in what is now Biharand Uttar Pradeshin India.
Patacara was described as the beautiful daughter of a very wealthy merchant of
Savatthi, in the Kosala Kingdom. When she was sixteen years old, her parents locked her on the top floor of a seven-story tower and surrounded her with guards to prevent her from meeting any of the many young men who desired to meet her. Despite this, she was able to become involved in a love affair with one of her parents' servants. When her parents arranged her marriage to a young man of equal social standing, she decided to elope with her lover who was from a lower social background. She disguised herself to escape from the tower, and the young couple went to live in a village far away. Her husband farmed, and the young wife had to do all the menial chores which formerly had been performed by her parents' servants.
When she became pregnant, Patacara begged her husband to take her to her parents' house to give birth there, as was the tradition. She justified this by saying that parents always have a love for their child, no matter what has happened. Patacara's husband refused, stating that her parents would surely torture or imprison him. Realizing that he would not accompany her, she decided to return unilaterally. When the husband found her gone, he followed her and tried to persuade her to return, without success. Before they could reach Savatthi, a baby son was born. As there was no more reason to go to Savatthi, they turned back and resumed their life in the village.
Patacara later became pregnant again. Again she requested her husband to take her home to her parents and again unilaterally took matters in her own hands and began the journey, taking her son with her. Her husband followed and was again unable to persuade her to turn back. A unseasonally heavy storm hit, with much thunder, lightning and rain. Just then her birth-pains started, and she asked her husband to construct some shelter. While chopping some saplings, a poisonous snake bit him and he died instantly. Meanwhile, Patacara gave birth to a second son. The next morning, she found her husband lying dead, his body rigid. Distraught, she blamed herself for his death.
Loss of family
She continued on her journey to Savatthi, but when she came to the river
Aciravati, it was swollen due to heavy rain. Unable to wade across with both children, she left the older child on the shore and carried the baby across to the other shore, before returning to take the first son. When she was midway through her return, an eagle swooped on the baby and flew off. Hearing his mother's screaming, the elder son believed Patacara was calling him and entered the water. He was swept off by the strong current. Having lost her family, she continued towards the city, but was informed that her parents and brother had been killed after their house collapsed during the storm.
At that time the Buddha was staying at the
Jetavana, Anathapindika's monastery. Patacara, after running through Savatthi naked and disconsolate, prostrated at the feet of the Buddha, describing her family tragedies. The Buddha explained this using Buddhist doctrines, and Patacara immediately understood the nature of impermanence. She thus became a sotapanna, the first stage of arahanthood, which she later achieved. The Buddha said that she was the foremost "Keeper of the Vinaya" amongst the Nuns, and thus the female counterpart of the monk Upali. Her interest in the "Rules of Conduct" of the monastic life was attributed to her reflections on her former indulgences.
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