A revolutionary religious leader, poet, and women’s rights activist from Nepal, remembered for her radical stance against social injustices.
Early Life and Transformation
Yogmaya Neupane, born between 1860 and 1868 in the Bhojpur district of Nepal, embarked on a path of spiritual and social rebellion after facing personal tragedies and discrimination in her early life. Married as a child and widowed early, she faced ostracism and ill-treatment as a widow. Rejecting this fate, she eloped with a Brahmin boy, later becoming a widow again. After her third marriage, she gave birth to a daughter and eventually renounced marriage, traveling to holy places before returning to her home district to lead an ascetic life.
Spiritual Journey and Social Activism
Yogmaya practiced extreme meditation techniques, sometimes meditating for days on end while fasting, influencing many locals through her poems, which were later published from Sikkim. Despite being a follower of Hindu spiritual philosophy, she actively opposed the patriarchal and caste-based discrimination prevalent in Nepali Hindu society. Her teachings resonated with the underprivileged and politically isolated masses, attracting followers from distant regions, including Darjeeling and Kathmandu.
Opposition and Conflict with the State
Her activism and growing popularity gained the attention of the Rana regime’s administrators, who considered her a threat. Yogmaya criticized the corrupt and discriminatory policies of the administration, demanding Dharma-rajya (good governance). She was the first woman in Nepal known to have been jailed for political beliefs.
Final Act of Protest and Legacy
In a dramatic act of protest against the regime’s failure to implement reforms, Yogmaya planned a mass suicide by fire with her followers. On July 14, 1941, she and 67 of her disciples committed suicide by jumping into the Arun River, a decision influenced by her belief in establishing a new era by destroying the injustices and corrupt practices in Nepali society. Their bodies were never found.