Mahapajapati Gotami (Pali) or Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī (Sanskrit) was the sister of Maya, the biological mother of Prince Siddharta Gautama, later Buddha, who died seven days after birth. She married King Shuddhodana, her sister's husband, and raised the boy as a wet nurse or stepmother.
Mahapajapati (the great Pajapati) Gotami was born - according to tradition like her sister - in Devdaha (or Devadaha) in present-day Nepal. She gave birth to two children of her own by Shuddhodana, but it is said that she soon gave them to nurses in order to devote herself entirely to Siddharta.
When King Shuddhodana died, she asked her already enlightened son to accept her into his circle as a nun, but he refused. She then cut off her hair, put on a yellow robe and followed her stepson to Veshali, where she met Ananda, the Buddha's favorite disciple, who supported her in her endeavor.
Finally, the Buddha agreed to the project of women's ordination on the condition of observing eight rules (garudhammas), the most important of which was the respectful subordination of nuns (bhikkhunis) to monks (bhikkus).
Among the five hundred women ordained following Mahapajapati was Yasodhara, the former wife of Siddhartha and mother of his only son Rahula.
According to tradition, Mahapajapati Gotami lived to be 120 years old and then entered parinirvana with the 500 co-ordained nuns.