Vinoba Bhave biography

Vinoba Bhave



Among all the apostles of Gandhi, Vinoba was the only one who blazed his own trail. After Gandhi’s death, most of his followers faded into oblivion, with the exception of Vinoba. He did most of the constructive work, for which he is remembered, after the death of Gandhi. He was a thinker and a saint, who believed in doing and not preaching.

Vinoba Bhave was born Vinayak Narhari Bhave, 11 September 1895at Gagode in the former Baroda state, now in Kolaba district of Maharashtra.His father was Narhari Shambhurao Bhave and mother Rukmani Devi. His father Narhari was a textile technologist and worked in the dyeing department of Buckingham Mills for some time and was credited with producing the first khaki' cloth, But later, he shifted to Baroda permanently and served as a senior typist-clerk in a government office. Later in life, he developed great interest in music and even wrote books on Indian music. He lived alone in Baroda till 1903, when he brought his family there. Thus, for the first eight years of his life, Vinayak was influenced by his grandfather Shambhurao and his mother, to whom he was very much attached. Vinoba was the eldest of the five children of his parents. One brother and a sister died early, leaving three brothers, Vinayak, Balkrishna (Balkova) and Shiva, to share the love and affection of their parents and grandfather. All the three brothers did not marry and with them ended the Bhave family.
      Vinayak started his formal education in a Baroda school and was admitted to Baroda High School later, from where he passed the matriculation examination in 1913. He was not a brilliant student but was good at mathematics and had a knack for learning languages. His English was good and so was his French, which was an optional subject at school. He also knew Marathi, Gujarati and Sanskrit. He then joined Baroda College for his intermediate, for which he had to go to Bombay (1916). During his train journey he changed his mind and instead of reaching Bombay, he took a train to Kashi (Varanasi). He wanted to learn Sanskrit. It is believed that he burnt his school Certificates so that he would notbe able to continue his college education. There were not many certificates to burn, anyway. He started studying the Vedas and the Upanishads from some pundits in Kashi, but he did not stay there for long. He had heard about Gandhi and about his controversial speech, which he had delivered at the inaugural ceremony of the Banaras Hindu University, lambasting the princes present on the dais. He wanted to meet Gandhi and reached his Kochrab Ashram at Ahmadabad (Sabarmati Ashram was established later in 1918).Vinayak liked the austere life being led by the ashramites and soon became one of the favourite disciples of Gandhi. The very first day Vinayak met Gandhi, the latter wrote to Vinayak’s father Shambhurao on 7 June 1916, “Your son Vinoba is with me. Your son has acquired at so tender age such high-spiritedness and asceticism as took me years of patient labour to do”. It is rather surprising how Gandhi could gauge the inner qualities of Vinoba during his very first meeting with Vinoba. The name Vinoba was obviously given to him after he had joined the ashram. At the ashram, Vinoba did all the menial work which was required of all the inmates. It is often claimed that even scavenging was being done by the inmates, including Gandhi. This claim must have a qualified acceptance, as a sweeper had been employed to do the scavenging. In fact, one day, when the sweeper was ill, he had sent his twelve-year-old son to do the scavenging. When the boy could not finish the work, he `began to cry. It was at that time that Gandhi decided that the inmates should do the scavenging work. This was in 1920.' Vinoba taught mathematics and Gujarati to the students in the Rashtriya Shala (national school) and also acted as a hotel superintendent. Gandhi used to discuss with him the intricacies of the Gita and the Upanishads and was much impressed by the depth of his knowledge and understanding of Hindu scriptures. Gandhi was so impressed by Vinoba that we find him writing to Vinoba on 18 February 1918, “Your love and your character fascinate me and so also your self-examination. I am not to measure your worth. You seem almost to have met a long felt wish of mine”. It seems that the hard work in the ashram was telling on Vinoba’s health. There could be some other reasons also, which we would never know. Vinoba left the ashram in February 1917 and Went to his ancestral place, Wai. There for six months he brushed up his Sanskrit and studied the Upanishads, Brahma sutra etc. from a learned pundit. For the next six months he visited several surrounding villages on foot and also visited some historical places. Exactly after one year he returned to Sabarmati Ashram and started doing the daily chores, including teaching, once again.
In April 1921 Vinoba was deputed by Gandhi, at the request of jamnalal Bajaj, to take charge of the Satyagraha Ashram at Wardha, which was earlier looked after by Ramniklal Modi. Soon, he extended the activities of the ashram. He founded other ashrams in nearby villages; one at Nalwadi, a harijan village and another in Pavnar, miles from Wardha. He also started a Mahila Ashram at Wardha. In 1923, he took part in the Flag Satyagraha at Nagpur and was imprisoned for three months; He also took part in the Waikom Satyagraha, (Kerala) in 1924. He stayed in and around Wardha for thirty years. He ran the ashrams founded by him according to his own beliefs, which were akin to Gandhi but differed in certain important details. There was better discipline, for one thing and greater emphasis on Harijan Work. Vinoba had several temples and wells opened for Harijans and also founded a tannery for them near Nalwadi in 1935. He had now a team of dedicated Workers which enabled him to put into practice what he believed. To better organize the activities in his ashrams, Vinoba founded the Gram Seva Mandal in 1934. He also opened the Maharogi Seva Mandal at Datapur near Wardha, for service to the lepers.
In October 1940, when Gandhi launched the individual civil disobedience movement, Vinoba Bhave was chosen as the first satyagrahi. He was arrested thrice during this Satyagraha and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment each time. When the ‘Quit India’ movement was started in August 1942, Vinoba was among the leaders who were arrested. He was kept in Vellore and Seoni jails for three years. Back in his ashrams, he started constructive work. After the death of Gandhi in January 1948 the Congress leaders were looking to Vinoba for help in transforming the society in independent India. A conference of top political dignitaries and constructive workers was held at Sewagram Ashram. Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Azad and others attended. It was then that the concept of ‘Sarvodaya Samaj’ was formulated. The importance of Vinoba Bhave and his work was being realized by the government as well as social workers. After the conference, Nehru invited Vinoba to Delhi to help in the relief and rehabilitation work for the refugees, who had been ousted from Pakistan leaving everything behind. One purpose of Nehru was to help Meo Muslims of Gurgaon near Delhi to get back their land which had been occupied by Hindu and Sikh refugees when they (Meos) had migrated to Pakistan. Nehru himself had brought them back to India and was now in a dilemma how to get the land vacated without inviting the ire of the Hindus and Sikhs. The sermons of Vinoba, coupled with the unsympathetic attitude of the Nehru government, succeeded in ousting the Hindu and Sikh refugees, thus fortifying the secular image of Nehru.
To spread the message of Sarvodaya, he started the monthly Sarvodaya on 15 August 1949. Vinoba’s preachings as well as community work must have come to the notice of people outside India. They had not yet forgotten the devastation caused by war, and were looking for methods which would lead the world to permanent peace. They saw some hope in the teachings of Vinoba. The World Pacifist Conference was held at Sewagram in January 1950 in which delegates from several countries participated. Vinoba inaugurated the conference, and Rajendra Prasad presided. In 1950, he began his experiment of Kanchan Mukti - freedom from gold or money economy, which ended in failure for obvious reasons.
Vinoba Bhave is best known for ‘Bhoodan’- a gift of land by the big landlords to the landless. The movement was born accidentally in 1951, when he visited the Telangana: area where communists were active. In the village Pochampalli, the landless Harijan entreated him to give them land so that they could eke out their livelihood. Vinoba, half in earnest, asked in his prayer meeting if anyone could give them land, all the eighty acres which they need. To everyone’s surprise a young man, Ramchandra Reddy, stood up and said1 “I make a gift of one hundred acres of land.” Vinoba realized that it was possible to get land from the big farmers by begging and it could be then distributed to the landless. That was the birth of the ‘Bhoodan Movement’. He and a band of his followers marched from one village to another on foot, persuading landlords to donate their surplus property. They travelled from one corner of the country to the other in a ‘sweet-tempered fury’, demanding land from landlords. It was a sight to .see the “frail old man with a goat beard striding ahead, lean and sinewy, Wearing tennis shoes and carrying a staff”. Vinoba and his movement were propelled to the front pages of newspapers the world over. Prime Minister Nehru lauded his efforts in the Parliament. New York Times Wrote a three column story on him and his unique movement. The Time magazine featured this ‘man on foot’ in its cover story. The ‘Bhoodan March’ of Vinoba continued for more than thirteen years covering a total distance of 36,500 miles. During the padyatra (travels on foot) he collected 4.4 million acres of land as free gifts, out of which about 1.3 million acres were distributed among landless farm workers.2 The number of his followers swelled, which included jayaprakash Narayan, their difference in the later stages notwithstanding. The Bhoodan movement led to some other related movements like Gramdan, Sarvodaya. For his exemplary work, Vinoba received the Magsaysay Award in 1958.
During his padyatras, Vinoba Bhave influenced the thinking of many people who met him or heard about him. This included even dacoits of the Chambal Valley. In May 1960, Vinoba, accompanied by Major General Yadunath Singh, toured the dreaded Chambal ravines, which is the safe abode of several dacoits. Word went around among the dacoits and some of them came for his darshan and were converted. The first one was the notorious Lachhi, who surrendered at his feet. He had read in the newspapers that the ‘Baba’ (Vinoba Bhave) wanted them to repent and surrender. Within a few days twenty more dacoits, led by the formidable Lukka and Man Singh-Rupa gang surrendered. In a prayer meeting after their surrender Vinoba said, “Two thousand and five hundred years ago we witnessed such an incident when Angulimal was turned into a saint by the touch of Lord Buddha. People say that such happenings are not possible in this Kaliyug, the age of evil. This is nothing but (a) miracle of the llernighty."
All these years Vinoba had also been working for the eradication of untouchability and caste restrictions and the propagation of Khadi. But for the last twenty years he had been feeling that he had done all that an individual could do. Still, he could not resist the temptation of doing something to stop cow slaughter, before death overtook him. In February 1982, at the age of eighty-eight, he went on a fast and led a Satyagraha to secure a total ban on cow slaughter. He did not succeed. On 15 November 1982 he breathed his last in his Ashram. Mahadevitai, his adopted daughter, lit the funeral pyre.
Vinoba learnt much from Gandhi and even imitated him in some ways but his thinking and constructive work went beyond Gandhian teachings. He clarified this during the Sevagrarn Constructive Workers Conference in March, 1948. He said, “Gandhiji gave me freely, but I also received from others. Whenever and whatever I got, I made my own. It now forms part of my capital. I do not have separate accounts as to what part of it was derived from Gandhiji and what from others. Of the ideas I read and heard, whatever appealed to me and were imbibed by me, became my own. Hence I am a man of my own ideas.”
Today, nobody talks about Bhoodan or Vinoba Bhave. The Naxalites have taken over once again and have expanded their area of action. The number of landless laborers has increased since Vinoba’s death. Land is being grabbed by the powerful and the unscrupulous. More and more persons are pushed down the enigmatic ‘poverty line’. The problem of poverty and landless people is a colossal one. Vinoba tried to do the impossible. But he showed a way.

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