She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant and was known for her great beauty. Her name means "one with the hue of the blue lotus".
Family life and renunciation
She was the daughter of a businessman from Savatthi (Shravasti). She was named Uppalavanna because her complexion was that of a blue lotus. She was so beautiful that when she came of age, powerful and wealthy suitors sent messengers to her father asking for her hand. Not wanting to displease so many people, he suggested that she become a bhikkhuni. She agreed and became a nun. She quickly progressed in meditation and became an Arahant (fully liberated). 
Life as a nun
Samyutta Nikaya V.5, the Uppalavanna Sutta, is attributed to her:
- Then the bhikkhuni Uppalavanna, having understood, "This is Mara the Evil One," replied to him in verses:
- Though a hundred thousand rogues
- Just like you might come here,
- I stir not a hair, I feel no terror;
- Even alone, Mara, I don't fear you.
- I can make myself disappear
- Or I can enter inside your belly.
- I can stand between your eyebrows
- Yet you won't catch a glimpse of me.
- I am the master of my own mind,
- The bases of power are well developed;
- I am freed from every kind of bondage,
- Therefore I don't fear you, friend.
- Then Mara the Evil One, realizing, "The bhikkhuni Uppalavanna knows me," sad and disappointed, disappeared right there.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997). Uppalavanna Sutta: Uppalavanna (SN 5.5). Retrieved 2007-10-19 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn05/sn05.005.bodh.html.
- Paw Dhamma Center (n.d.). The Chief Disciple Uppalavanna Theri. Retrieved from Paw Dhamma Center at http://home.earthlink.net/~mpaw1235/id11.html.
- Upalavanna, Sister (trans.) (n.d.). Etadaggavagga: These are the foremost (AN 1:14). Retrieved 2007-10-19 from "MettaNet" at http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/4Anguttara-Nikaya/Anguttara1/1-ekanipata/014-Etadaggapali-e.html.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (ed., trans.) (1997). Discourses of the Ancient Nuns (Bhikkhuni-samyutta) (Bodhi Leaves Publication No. 143). Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 2007-10-19 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bl143.html.
- Nibbana.com (n.d.). "Life Histories of Bhikkhuni Arahats: The story of Uppalavanna Theri". Retrieved from "Nibbana.com" at https://web.archive.org/web/20060719091131/http://www.triplegem.plus.com/gcobbkn1.htm#3.