Childhood & Early Life
Vinoba Bhave was born as Vinayaka (Vinoba) Rao Bhave on September 11, 1895 in Raigad, Maharashtra, to Narahari Shambhu Rao and Rukmini Devi.
He belonged to a Chitpavan Brahmin family and was the eldest of the five children born to the couple. His father was a trained weaver, while his mother a religious woman. She inspired and influenced the mind and life of young Bhave.
Academically brilliant, Bhave was well-read in the writings of Maharashtra's saints and philosophers and showed a deep-inclination towards mathematics.
An avid reader, he kept himself updated with the latest happenings and events. Gandhi’s speech at the inaugural ceremony of Benaras Hindu University caught the attention of young Bhave who became an ardent follower of Gandhi.
In 1916, with an aim to pursue further studies, Bhave journeyed to Bombay (now Mumbai) to appear for intermediate examinations. However, while on his way he put his school and college certificates to fire and took the fateful decision to reach Benaras in order to study ancient Sanskrit texts.
At the Benaras Hindu University, Bhave read a report in the newspaper about Gandhi’s speech. The speech greatly influenced Bhave and, he wrote a letter to Gandhi. After exchange of letters, Gandhi advised Bhave to meet him at Kochrab Ashram in Ahemdabad.
On June 7, 1916, Bhave met Gandhi. Such was the impact of the visit that it changed the future course of the life of Bhave. He, who wished to travel to Himalayas for inner peace and to Bengal to feel the burning fervour of resolution, found both peace and fervour in Gandhi.
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Abandoning his studies, Bhave settled at Gandhi’s ashram, where he indulged in teaching, studying and spinning. He also worked towards improving the quality of life of the people of the community.
Bhave actively participated in Gandhi’s constructive programmes by spreading awareness about the use of Khadi, settling up village industries, starting a new education system and upgrading the knowledge of people in sanitation and hygiene.
In 1921, he moved to Wardha where he took charge of the Ashram. Two years later, he published a monthly Marathi paper, Maharashtra Dharma, which contained essays on the Upanishads. The popularity of the newspaper grew and within a short span of time, it became a monthly and later a weekly. The newspaper lasted for three years. In 1925, upon Gandhi’s suggestion, Bhave moved to Vaikom, Kerala to oversee the entry of the Harijans to the temple.
During the decades of 1920s and 1930s, Bhave was arrested multiple times. However, he took his tenure in jail as a time for learning and writing. He scripted ‘Ishavasyavritti’ and ‘Sthitaprajna Darshan’ in addition to ‘Gitai’ and ‘Swarajya Shastra’. Also, he educated fellow prisoners about Bhagwad Gita. These speeches were later published in a book, ‘Talks on the Gita’ and translated in many languages.
Though Bhave actively participated in civil disobedience movement against the British, he was neither known publically nor was famous. It was in 1940 that Bhave came into prominence when Gandhi chose him to be the first individual Satyagrahi (an individual standing up for truth instead of collective action) against British rule.
Between 1940 and 1941, Bhave was jailed thrice at Nagpur jail. In 1942, Bhave took part in the Quit India movement and was imprisoned for three years at Vellore and Seoni jails. At Vellore jail, he mastered four South Indian languages and created the script for ‘Lok Nagari’.
In 1948, in a meet at Sevagram, Wardha, where Gandhi’s followers and constructive workers collaborated, the idea of Sarvodaya Samaj surfaced. Vinoba Bhave sought to find solutions for the problems faced by average Indian villager with a firm spiritual foundation.
Beginning 1950, Bhave launched several programmes in order to heal the wounds of partition. ‘Kanchan-mukti’ or freedom from dependence on gold or money, ‘Rishi-Kheti’ or cultivation without the use of bullocks as was practised by the sages during the ancient times, were amongst the various programmes initiated.
In 1951, Bhave ventured out for his peace trek through the region of current-day Telangana. When Bhave met the villagers at Pochampalli, little did he know that it would led to the start of a new chapter in non-violence movement.
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Harijans of the Pochampally required 80 acres of land to make a living. When Bhave asked the villagers as to how to solve the problem, a landlord Ram Chandra Reddy offered help by donating 100 acres of land. The incident led to the start of a new movement ‘Bhoodan’ (land gift) to solve the problems of the landless.
Following the Pochampally episode, Bhave took the Bhoodan movement to other parts of the country such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and so on. People contributed significantly to Bhoodan to the point that some gave all of their land to the villagers as Gramdan.
The success of Bhoodan let Bhave to start other programmes such as Sampatti-Dan (Gift of the Wealth), Shramdan (Gift of the Labour), Shanti Sena (Army for Peace), Sarvodaya-Patra (the pot where every household gives daily handful of grain) and Jeevandan (Gift of Life).
He initiated the Brahma Vidya Mandir, a community for women in Paunar, Maharashtra. The community aimed at helping women become self-sufficient and non-violent. Women of the group farmed for food, recited prayers, fervently read and practiced the teachings of Bhagwad Gita and so on.
Like Gandhi, Bhave knew the strength of ‘padayatra’ (march on foot). He walked for 13 years; he commenced on padyatra on September 12, 1951 and completed it on April 10, 1964 after having travelled entire India.
In 1965, he started Toofan Yatra (journeying with the speed of high velocity winds) using a vehicle. He completed the Toofan Yatra in 1969.
In 1969, he returned to Paunar. His quest for inner spiritual force led him to renounce his worldly activities. He observed a year of silence from December 25, 1974 to December 25, 1975. During this time, his spiritual pursuits intensified as he withdrew from the other activities.
Personal Life & Legacy
Vinoba Bhave remained a Brahmachari all through his life. He had vowed for celibacy right in his adolescence and thus remained single all through.
Bhave spent the last days of his life at Brahma Vidya Mandir ashram in Paunar, Maharashtra. He breathed his last on November 15, 1982 after refusing food and medicine by accepting ‘Samadhi Maran’ / ‘Santhara’ as followed in Jainism.
Then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, who was visiting Moscow to attend the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, cut short her visit to be at the funeral of Bhave.
Posthumously, he was bestowed with the country’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna in 1983.
A commemorative postage stamp on Acharya Vinoba Bhave was released by Government of India on November 15, 1983.