Soma the Learned Brahmin


  • Alice Collett York St. John University



Avadānaśataka, Brahmanism, early Indian Buddhism, Vedas, women


Soma is a female disciple of Gotama Buddha known from various early Indian Buddhist sources. In the story of Soma in the Avadanasataka, prior to her conversion to Buddhism she gains access to the three Vedas and becomes a learned Brahmin in her region. In this article, as well as providing an English translation of Soma's story in the Avadanasataka, I discuss this account of Soma the learned Brahmin and attempt to discern the basis for a Buddhist narrative representation of a female learned Brahmin. In this account, a Buddhist story which seeks to demonstrate the natural superiority of Buddhism over Brahmanism, the female Soma takes the place usually reserved, in similar accounts, for learned male Brahmins.

Author Biography

Alice Collett, York St. John University

ALICE COLLETT is a Lecturer in Asian religions at York St John University, and she has previously worked at other universities in the UK and North America teaching Buddhism and Hinduism. She has been working and publishing on Buddhism and gender since the completion of her doctoral degree in 2004 and has published in various journals including Numen and the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Department of Theology and Religious Studies York St John University Lord Mayor's Walk, York, YO31 7EX UK


Primary Sources

Apadana. 2006 [1925]. Mary E. Lilley (ed.). The Apadana. Part I. London: The Pali Text Society.

Anguttara Nikaya. 1961 [1885]. Richard Morris and A. K. Warder (eds.). The Anguttara Nikaya Part I: Ekanipata, Dukanipata and Tikanipata. London: The Pali Text Society.

Astadhyayi of Panini. 1989. Sumitra M. Katre (ed. and trans.). Astadhyayi of Panini. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Avadanasataka. 1891. L. Feer (trans.). Avadana-sataka: Cent Légendes Bouddhiques. Paris: Annales du Musée Guimet.

Avadanasataka. 1906–1909. J. F. Speyer (ed.). Avadanasataka: A Century of Edifying Tales Belonging to the Hinayana. 2 vols. Bibliotechca Buddhica III. St. Petersburg.

Avadanasataka. 1958. P. L. Vaidya (ed.). Avadana-sataka. Darbhanga: The Mithila Institute.

Bhavagad Gita. 1994. W. J. Johnson (trans.). The Bhavagad Gita. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dharmasutras. 1999. Patrick Olivelle (ed.). Dharmas?tras: The Law Codes of Ancient India. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manorathapurani. 1973 [1924]. M. Walleser (ed.). Manorathapurani: Buddhaghosa’s Commentary on the Anguttara-Nikaya, Vol. I Eka-nipata-vannana. London: The Pali Text Society.

Milindapañha. 1997 [1880]. V. Trenckner (ed.). The Milindapañho: Being Dialogues between King Milinda and the Buddhist Sage Nagasena. Oxford: The Pali Text Society.

Patañjali, Vyakarana-Mahabhasya. 1880–1885. F. Kielhorn (ed.). Bombay.

Samyutta Nikaya. 2006 [1884]. L. Feer (ed.). Samyutta-Nikaya, Vol. I. Oxford: The Pali Text Society.

Therigatha. 1999 [1883]. H. Oldenburg and R. Pischel (eds.). The Thera- and Therigatha: Stanzas ascribed to Elders of the Buddhist Order of Recluses. Oxford: The Pali Text Society.

Secondary Sources

Black, Brian. 2007. ‘Eavesdropping on the Epic: Female Listeners in the Mahabharata.’ In Simon Brodbeck and Brian Black (eds.), Gender and Narrative in the Mahabharata: 53–78. Abingdon: Routledge.

Demoto, Mitsuyo. 2006. ‘Fragments of the Avadanasataka.’ In Jens Braarvig (ed.), Buddhist Manuscripts, vol. III: 207–44. Oslo: Hermes Publishing.

Kane, P. V. 1930. History of Dharmasastra: Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law in India, vol. I. Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Olivelle, Patrick (ed.). 1999. Dharmasutras: The Law Codes of Ancient India. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Puri, B. N. 1990. India at the Time of Patañjali. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Skilling, Peter. 2001. ‘Esa Agra: Images of Nuns in (Mula-)Sarvastivadin Literature.’ Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 24 (2): 135–56.

Tatelman, Joel. 1998. The Glorious Deeds of Purna: A Translation and Study of the Purnavadana. London: Curzon Press.

Young, Katherine K. 2002a. ‘Om, the Vedas, and the Status of Women with Special Reference to Srivainavism.’ In Laurie L. Patton (ed.), Jewels of Authority: Women and Textual Tradition in Hindu India: 84–121. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

— 2002b. ‘Women and Hinduism.’ In Arvind Sharma (ed.), Women in Indian Religions: 3–37. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.



How to Cite

Collett, A. (2010). Soma the Learned Brahmin. Religions of South Asia, 3(1), 93–109.