Where can I find the stories notable women in the suttas?

Hello everyone. I was wondering where I can find the stories of these wonderful women in the suttas or commentaries. I’ve read their stories but it was always from other sources, never from the suttas themselves. So where can I find them?

Characters I’m looking for specifically:
-Khema, foremost in wisdom, my all time favorite, who I kind of relate to and aspire to be like

  • Uppalavana, foremost in psychic powers who became enlightened staring at a candle flame
  • Ambapali the former courtesan who donated the mango Grove to the Buddha
  • Visakha the laywoman foremost in generosity who for some reason donated swimsuits to the nuns and said women don’t look good when running
  • Patacara, foremost in the monastic code, who lost her entire family in a flood, became mentally ill and homeless, but found the Buddha’s teaching and joined the Sangha
  • Kisagotami, foremost in ascetic practices, who in her famous story lost her baby and went to the Buddha in hopes of finding medicine for it, and he told her to find a mustard seed from a house where nobody has died.
    -Sona, foremost in effort, who went forth late in life to support herself after her children refused to care for her, who became an arahant contemplating the impermanence of flowers. A character that really resonates with me as I always feel like I’m running out of time, even though I’m so young.
  • Khujjutara, foremost in great learning, who was queen Samavati’s slave maid and apparently had a condition that made her back humped. She attained the sotapanna state after a sermon by the Buddha also comparing flowers to human impermanence, and she taught queen Samavati and her 500 harem ladies the Dhamma.
  • Queen Samavati, foremost in loving kindness, whom I don’t like for some reason, I don’t like anyone who is apparently loving but also owns other people as property. I don’t remember her story as well but I remember her being a refugee and her parents dying and her being adopted by a foster father, and she married the king of Kosambi to please him or something. She dies in a fire in the end along with her 500 ladies but all of them die having attained at least Sotapanna.
  • Isidasi, who was married to three husbands three times but was unloved and rejected by all of them, so she joined the Sangha.
  • Velunkantaki, Nanda’s mother. I don’t know as much about her.
  • Maghandiya, who conspired many times against queen Samavati and in the end was executed by the king. Not as wholesome as the other characters.

I imagine there must be more notable women in the suttas, so suggest me any good stories if you know any. That was all I wanted, thank you for your help!


Great Disciplies of the Buddha by Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker (Edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi) has a section on the Great Bhikkhunis with references to EBT

…but best of luck re Venerable Uppalavana, not much in the EBT!

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The Therigatha is a great place to start.


A good source is to read what they had to say themselves in the Therīgāthā. Another one is the 5th Saṁyutta of the Saṁyutta Nikāya which is dedicated to nuns.

There are a number of other suttas that feature some of them, but some of their stories are transmitted to us in the commentary, not the suttas. Also, in the Chinese canon we seem to find more about some of them than in the Pali canon. Maybe Ayya @vimalanyani can say more about that.


Thank you, Sabbamitta. Where can I read the commentaries? I can’t find them anywhere online.

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Hardly anything of the commentaries is available in translation into a modern language. But such stories you can find in anthologies like the one by Ven. Nyanaponika and Hellmuth Hecker mentioned above.

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But they exist in Pali right? I am about to learn Pali, so there has to be a place where I can find the commentaries at least in Pali.

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The one I know is the Dhammapada commentary, even translated into English. But I haven’t checked if there are any nuns’ stories there. Apart from that, the more knowledge folks would have to help out.

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Ven. Analayo has gathered all these together in the book ‘Daughters of the Buddha’. (he combines Chinese sources with the Pāli canon)

“He dedicates each of the twenty-one chapters in the volume to an individual and remarkable woman, sharing her particular insights and teachings with the reader.”


For the Therigatha,


For the suttas, have you tried just using the search feature on SuttaCentral?

Another good resource that includes commentary info is the Dictionary of Pali Proper Names.

Check the nuns section on this page for some commentary translations:


And don’t forget the Theri Appadana here on SC


Find her talk to King Pasenadi in SN44.1.

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Susan Murcott’s The First Buddhist Women is the classic in the field.

It has most of the Therigatha verses and the stories from the commentaries.

Please do note, however, that the Therigatha alone is the genuine words of the bhikkhunis. The commentarial stories are often designed to shift perspective in a particular way.

The first verse, for example, has the nun saying:

Sleep softly, little nun,
wrapped in the cloth you sewed yourself;
for your desire has been quelled,
like vegetables boiled dry in a pot.

This records a sweet moment of intimacy and support between two nuns.

The commentary, however, makes it into a story of how she had to get permission from her husband to get ordained. It completely elides the actual verse itself in favor of reinforcing patriarchal control.

Murcott’s work, while beautifully done, doesn’t have the critical perspective to really distinguish such issues.


Yes, the Digital Pali Reader has both commentary and sub-commentary.


Is Thai not “a modern language”?


I guess yes! :laughing:

I am simply not very knowledgeable when it comes to commentaries …

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