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Vinoba Bhave

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Vinoba Bhave

Vinoba Bhave
Born Vinayak Narahari Bhave
(1895-09-11)11 September 1895
Gagode, Raigad district, India
Died 15 November 1982(1982-11-15) (aged 87)
Paunar, Wardha
Other names Acharya
Known for Bhoodan Movement
Religion Hinduism
Awards International Ramon Award in 1958
Bharat Ratna In 1983

Vinayak Narahari "Vinoba" Bhave (   ; 11 September 1895 – 15 November 1982) was an Indian advocate of nonviolence and human rights. Often called Acharya (Sanskrit for teacher), he is best known for the Bhoodan Movement. He is considered as a National Teacher of India and the spiritual successor of Mohandas Gandhi.[1]

Early life and background

Vinoba (born Vinayaka Rao Bhave) was born into a pious Chitpavan Brahmin family on 11 September 1895 in a small village called Gagode (present day Gagode Budruk) in Kolaba now in Pen, Raigad district of Maharashtra. Vinayaka was the eldest son of Narahari Shambhu Rao and Rukmini Devi. The couple had five children – four sons and one daughter, named Vinayaka (affectionately called Vinya), Balakrishna, Shivaji and Dattatreya. His father, Narahari Shambhu Rao was a trained weaver with a rationalist modern outlook, and worked in Baroda. Vinayaka was brought up by his grandfather, Shamburao Bhave and was greatly influenced by his mother Rukmini Devi, a religious woman from Karnataka. Vinayak was highly inspired after reading the Bhagavad Gita, at a very young age.[2]

A report in the newspapers about Gandhi's speech at the newly founded Benaras Hindu University attracted Vinoba's attention. In 1916, on his way to Mumbai (then Bombay) to appear for the intermediate examination, Vinoba Bhave put his school and college certificates into a fire. Vinoba took the decision after reading the piece of writing in the newspaper written by Mahatma Gandhi. He wrote a letter to Gandhi and after an exchange of letters, Gandhi advised Vinoba to come for a personal meeting at Kochrab Ashram in Ahmedabad. Vinoba met Gandhi on 7 June 1916 and subsequently abandoned his studies. Vinoba participated with keen interest in the activities at Gandhi's ashram, like teaching, studying, spinning and improving the life of the community. His involvement with Gandhi's constructive programmes related to Khadi, village industries, new education (Nai Talim), sanitation and hygiene also kept on increasing.

Vinoba went to Wardha on 8 April 1921 to take charge of the Ashram as desired by Gandhi. In 1923, he brought out Maharashtra Dharma, a Marathi monthly which had his essays on the Upanishads. Later on, this monthly became a weekly and continued for three years. In 1925, he was sent by Gandhi to Vaikom, Kerala to supervise the entry of the Harijans to the temple.

Vinoba was arrested several times during the 1920s and 1930s and served a five-year jail sentence in the 1940s for leading non-violent resistance to British rule. The jails for Vinoba had become the places of reading and writing. He wrote Ishavasyavritti and Sthitaprajna Darshan jail. He also learnt four South Indian languages and created the script of Lok Nagari at Vellore jail. In the jails, he gave a series of talks on Bhagavad Gita in Marathi, to his fellow prisoners. Bhave participated in the nationwide civil disobedience periodically conducted against the British, and was imprisoned with other nationalists. Despite these many activities, he was not well known to the public. He gained national prominence when Gandhi chose him as the first participant in a new nonviolent campaign in 1940.


Freedom struggle

Vinoba Kutir at Sabarmati Ashram

He was associated with Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian independence movement. He stayed for some time at Gandhi's Sabarmati ashram in a cottage that was named after him, 'Vinoba Kutir'. In 1932 he was sent to jail by the British colonial government because of his activism against British rule. There he gave a series of talks on the Gita, in his native language Marathi, to his fellow prisoners.

These highly inspiring talks were later published as the book "Talks on the Gita", and it has been translated into many languages both in India and elsewhere. Vinoba felt that the source of these talks was something from above and he believed that its influence will endure even if his other works were forgotten.

In 1940 he was chosen by Gandhi to be the first individual Satyagrahi (an individual standing up for Truth instead of a collective action) against the British rule.[3] It is said that Gandhi envied and respected Bhave's celibacy, a vow he made in his adolescence, in fitting with his belief in the Brahmacharya principle. Bhave also participated in the Quit India Movement.

Religious and social work

Gandhi and Vinoba

Vinoba's religious outlook was very broad and it synthesised the truths of many religions. This can be seen in one of his hymns "Om Tat Sat" which contains symbols of many religions. His slogan "जय जगत्" (Jay Jagat) i.e. "victory to the world" finds reflection in his views about the world as a whole.

Vinoba observed the life of the average Indian living in a village and tried to find solutions for the problems he faced with a firm spiritual foundation. This formed the core of his Sarvodaya movement. Another example of this is the Bhoodan (land gift) movement started at Pochampally on 18 April 1951, after interacting with 80 Harijan families. He walked all across India asking people with land to consider him as one of their sons and so give him one sixth of their land which he then distributed to landless poor. Non-violence and compassion being a hallmark of his philosophy, he also campaigned against the slaughtering of cows.

Vinoba said, "I have walked all over India for 13 years. In the backdrop of enduring perpetuity of my life's work, I have established 6 ashrams.

Brahma Vidya Mandir

The Brahma Vidya Mandir is one of the ashrams that Bhave created. It is a small community for women that was created in order for them to become self-sufficient and non-violent in a community. This group farms to get their own food, but uses Gandhi's beliefs about food production, which include sustainability and social justice, as a guide. This community, like Gandhi and Bhave, has been influenced greatly by the Bhagavad-Gita and that is also used to determine their practices. The community perform prayers as a group every day, reciting from the Isha Upanishad at dawn, the Vishnu Sahasranama at mid-morning, and the Bhagavad-Gita in the evening. As of today, there are around 25 women who are members of the community and several men have also been allowed to join in the community.[4]

Since its founding in 1959, members of Brahma Vidya Mandir (BVM), an intentional community for women in Paunar, Maharashtra, have dealt with the struggle of translating Gandian values such as self-sufficiency, non-violence, and public-service into specific practices of food production and consumption. BVM's existence and the counter-narrative its residents practice demonstrate how one community debate the practicalities and tradeoffs in their application of self-sufficiency, non-violence, and radical democracy to their own social and geographic context. One narrative described by BVM and the farmers that work with them is that large-scale agriculture is inevitable, necessary, and the sole possibility of feeding the world. They reject the narrative that success in agriculture comes from expensive technology. BVM is a small community in India, therefore it does not hold much power in its beliefs and practices. However, India today proudly proclaims its large and growing middle class, and although many see Gandhi as a hero, some reject his views in favor of US-style-consumerism and look for an alternate route in agriculture with technological advancements. The existence of BVM provides a counter-narrative on enacting alternate agriculture practices and social practices that were believed by woman back in the 1960s.[5]

Literary career

Vinoba Bhave was a scholar, thinker, and writer who produced numerous books. He was a translator who made Sanskrit texts accessible to the common man. He was also an orator and linguist who had an excellent command of several languages (Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, English, Sanskrit). Vinoba Bhave was an innovative social reformer. Shri Vinoba Bhave called "Kannada" script as "Queen of World Scripts" – "Vishwa Lipigala Raani" He wrote brief introductions to, and criticisms of, several religious and philosophical works like the Bhagavad Gita, works of Adi Shankaracharya, the Bible and Quran. His criticism of Dnyaneshwar's poetry and works by other Marathi saints is quite brilliant and a testimony to the breadth of his intellect.

Vinoba Bhave had translated the Bhagavad Gita into Marathi. He was deeply influenced by the Gita and attempted to imbibe its teachings into his life, often stating that "The Gita is my life's breath".[6]

Some of his works are:

  • The essence of Quran
  • The essence of Christian teachings
  • Thoughts on education
  • Swarajya Sastra

A University has been named after him, Vinoba Bhave University, which is located in Hazaribagh district in the State of Jharkhand.

Vinobha Bhave and Land Donation Movement

On 18 April 1951,[7] Vinoba Bhave started his land donation movement at Pochampally of nalgonda district Telangana,[8] the Bhoodan Movement. He took donated land from land owner Indians and gave it away to the poor and landless, for them to cultivate. Then after 1954, he started to ask for donations of whole villages in a programme he called Gramdan. He got more than 1000 villages by way of donation. Out of these, he obtained 175 donated villages in Tamil Nadu alone. Noted Gandhian and atheist Lavanam was the interpreter of Vinoba Bhave during his land reform movement in Andhra Pradesh and parts of Orissa[1]

Later life and death

Vinoba spent the later part of his life at his Brahma Vidya Mandir ashram in Paunar in Wardha district of Maharashtra. He died on 15 November 1982 after refusing food and medicine for a few days by accepting "Samadhi Maran" / "Santhara" as described in Jainism. The 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 Vinoba.


V.S. Naipaul has given scathing criticism of Bhave in his collection of essays citing his lack of connection with rationality and excessive imitation of Gandhi. Even some of his admirers find fault with the extent of his devotion to Gandhi. Much more controversial was his support, ranging from covert to open, to Congress Party's government under Indira Gandhi, which was fast becoming unpopular. He controversially backed the Indian Emergency imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, calling it Anushasana Parva (Time for Discipline). Congress party opponents at that time had coined the derogatory term "Sarkari Sant (Government Saint)" to describe him. Noted Marathi writer Purushottam Laxman Deshpande publicly criticised him and mocked him by writing article titled as "Vanaroba" which is disambiguation of name "Vinoba" and literally means monkey. However, in his end days he was very much against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as she had ordered a shootout of the Sant Samaj who had undertaken a gherao of Parliament against cow slaughter. The criticism has been considered objectionable and unfounded later. By Anushasan Parva – Time for Discipline – he meant everyone to follow the rule including the rulers of that time. At a later stage he called Intelligentsia to chart a path for the ruling community and public in general. During anushasn Parva – the king has to take the permission of the great men of his time – by that he meant to put the government under the guidance of the learned. The identified persons included Late Shrimannarayan – former Governor of Gujarat and a great Gandhian of his time. They had suggested lifting of emergency. Yet the erstwhile government did not pay heed to the advice which had Vinoba Bhave's blessings and initiative.


In 1958 Vinoba was the first recipient of the international Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.[9] He was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1983.[10]


  • Geeta Pravachane (in all Indian languages)
  • Vichar Pothi (in Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and English)
  • Sthitapragnya Darshan (Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati also translated in English)
  • Madhukar (collection and compilation of his articles written over the years (before freedom was achieved.)
  • Krant Darshan
  • Teesri Shakti or The Third Power (his views on political life of the nation)
  • Swarajya Shastra (his political treatise)
  • Bhoodan Ganga – in 9/10 volumes, (in Marathi, Hindi) collection and compilation of his speeches from 18 April 1951)
  • Selected Works (in Hindi in 21 volumes, edited by Gautam Bajaj)
  • Moved by Love (his life in his own words)

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^ Ruhe, Peter. Gandhi. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2001. 152.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Minor Robert(1986) Modern Indian Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita. State University of NY press. ISBN 978-0-88706-298-8
  7. ^
  8. ^ The Un-Gandhian Gandhi : The Life and Afterlife of Mahatma - By Claude Markovits
  9. ^ Online biography of Vinoba Bhave accessed in January 2010
  10. ^ List of Bharat Ratna Awardees recipients accessed in January 2010

Further reading

  • Vinoba Bhave: The Man and His Mission, by P. D. Tandon. Published by Vora, 1954.
  • India's Walking Saint: The Story of Vinoba Bhave, by Hallam Tennyson. Published by Doubleday, 1955.
  • Acharya Vinoba Bhave, by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, India, Published by Publications Division, Government of India, 1955.
  • India's Social Miracle: The Story of Acharya Vinoba Bhave and His Movement for Social Justice and Cooperation, Along with a Key to America's Future and the Way for Harmony Between Man, Nature, and God, by Daniel P. Hoffman. Published by Naturegraph Co., 1961.
  • Sarvodaya Ideology & Acharya Vinoba Bhave, by V. Narayan Karan Reddy. Published by Andhra Pradesh Sarvodaya Mandal, 1963.
  • Vinoba Bhave on self-rule & representative democracy, by Michael W. Sonnleitner. Published by Promilla & Co., 1988. ISBN 978-81-85002-10-1.
  • Struggle for Independence : Vinoba Bhave, by Shiri Ram Bakshi. Published by Anmol Publications, 1989.
  • Philosophy of Vinoba Bhave: A New Perspective in Gandhian Thought, by Geeta S. Mehta. Published by Himalaya Pub. House, 1995. ISBN 978-81-7493-054-5.
  • Vinoba Bhave – Vyakti Ani Vichar (a book in Marathi) by Dr Anant D. Adawadkar, Published by Jayashri Prakashan, Nagpur.
  • Vinoba Darshan – a pictorial biography with philosophical views

External links

  • Vinoba Bhave's Geetai Audio Book
  • Vinoba Bhave's Geetai PDF
  • Website to spread the thoughts, philosophy and works of Vinoba Bhave
  • The King of Kindness: Vinoba Bhave and His Nonviolent Revolution
  • Citation for 1958 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership
  • Vinoba Bahve – his work on leprosy (with photo 1979)
  • A Man on Foot – Time magazine cover page article dated Monday, 11 May 1953
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