Ambapali (fl. c. 540 BCE)

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Ambapali (fl. c. 540 bce)

Indian courtesan who became a holy follower of Siddhartha. Born in Vaisali, India, in the 6th century bce; lived during the time of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (c. 563–483 bce).

It is said that Ambapali was the greatest courtesan of her time, capable of charging exorbitant prices. By the time of Siddhartha's passing through Vaisali, she owned a large home with mango groves. But Siddhartha impressed her deeply, and Ambapali retired from her lucrative profession, began to study his teachings, and offered him her groves. She became an arhat (holy one), a state so high that it is achieved by few. This was a major accomplishment, since it was believed at the time that only men could attain such a place of nirvana. Ambapali seems to have been the basis for Kamala the courtesan in Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha.