Indonesian Bhikkhuṇīs & Women Ascetics: A Historical Introduction & Survey of Terminology
Article by Tathālokā Bhikkhuṇī
Intro by Ādhimuttā Bhikkhuṇī
Wikunis and Kilis: A Summary of Indonesian Terminology for Women Ascetics, Teachers & Sages
Wikuni in Bahasa is the Indic-origin Indonesian word for bhikkhuṇī in Pali and bhikṣuṇī in Sanskrit. The male form of the word is wiku, a bhikkhu/bhikṣu. However, this word also appears in our Indonesian texts as in Indic texts, to be used both for male monastic ascetics as well as for both male and female monastic ascetics collectively. Wikuni is contemporarily translated into Indonesian Bahasa as pendeta Budha (a “Buddhist pandit”), which is, in turn, translated into English as “Buddhist pastor” or “preacher.”
Photo 1: Bhikkhuṇīs engraved in stone
Others speculate that it may be related to the Indic giri, which means “mountain,” and is also used as an nominative appellation in Sanskrit for ascetics in India. Mountains, mountainous rock formations and caves have a very long history of being held sacred to Indonesians, and in indigenous gender cosmology, the mountain is female. Kilis are most often associated with retreat to ascetic hermitages in the mountains, so often that they are regularly called female hermits or hermitesses.