- Bhave, Vinoba
- (1885–1982)leader in the Indian independence movementVinoba Bhave, a prominent nonviolent leader of the Indian independence movement, was a pro-lific popular writer and a tireless organizer for land redistribution and social reform. He contin-ued to agitate on behalf of Gandhian social values in the decades after independence.Vinayak Narahari Bhave was born on Septem-ber 11, 1885, to a Brahmin family in the village of Gagode in Maharashtra. Vinoba (an affectionate nickname) studied the works of Maharashtra’s saints and philosophers as a boy. He had a pas-sion for mathematics, but as had Sri RAMAKRISHNA before him, he seemed uninterested in the ordi-nary course of education. He spent two years in college dissatisfied and adrift. Early in 1916, on his way to Bombay (Mumbai) to appear for the intermediate examination, he threw his school and college certificate into a fire and decided to change course for BENARES (Varanasi), the Hindu holy city, to study Sanskrit.At Benares, Vinoba encountered the views of Mohandas Karamchand GANDHI. Enthusiastic about Gandhi’s ideas of uplifting the poor and purity of purpose he joined Gandhi’s ASHRAM at Sabarmati near Ahmedabad in Gujarat state. At Gandhi’s request he took charge of the ashram at Wardha in Maharashtra in 1921. In 1923 he began to publish the monthly Maharashtra Dharma in the regional Marathi language, to which he contributed articles on Indian philoso-phy, including popular studies on the Abhangas of the poet-saint TUKARAM. Later on, the monthly became a weekly and continued to be published for three years.On December 23, 1932, Vinoba moved to Nalwadi (a village about two miles from Wardha), where he tried to implement his idea of support-ing himself by spinning. When he grew ill in 1938, he moved to what he called Paramdham Ashram in Paunar, which remained his headquar-ters. Vinoba was heavily involved in the freedom movement throughout this period. In 1923, he was jailed for several months at Nagda and Akola for taking a prominent part in agitation at Nag-pur. In 1925, he was sent by Gandhi to Vykon in Kerala to supervise the entry of the Harijans (Dalits, or untouchables) to the temple. In 1932, he was jailed for six months for raising his voice against British rule. In 1940, he was selected by Gandhi as the first person to do “Truth Force” (satyagraha), Gandhi’s nonviolent method of social action, on his own.Vinoba was jailed three times during 1940–41 for successively longer terms. He became known nationally when Gandhi selected him for indi-vidual action, introducing him in a statement on October 5, 1940. Vinoba took part in the Quit India movement of 1942, for which he was jailed for three years at Vellore and Seoni.Jail for Vinoba had become a place for reading and writing. He saw the proofs of his book Gitai (a Marathi translation of the BHAGAVAD GITA) in the Dhulia jail, where he lectured on the Gita to his jailed colleagues; the talks were collected by Sane Guruji and later published as a book. In Nagpur jail he wrote Swarajya Shastra (the treatise of self rule) and completed a collection of the bhajans (religious songs) of the saints Gyaneshwar (see JNANESHVARA), Eknath and Namdev. His popular books eventually treated many diverse topics in religion, philosophy, education, and the common good.In March 1948, Gandhi’s followers and work-ers met at Sevagram, to discuss the idea of Sarvodaya Samaj (Society for the uplift of all). Vinoba got busy with activities to soothe the wounds of partition of the nation. In the begin-ning of 1950, Vinoba started several idealistic reform movements.In 1951 Vinoba launched the activity for which he became most famous, the Bhudan (Gift of the Land) movement. For the next 13 years he walked from place to place around the country asking large landowners and villages to offer land to the poor, to help bridge the great divide between the landed and landless. His efforts yielded surpris-ing success by the time he returned to Paunar on April 10, 1964.Over the following several years he continued in his travels, now campaigning against the various divisions within Indian society: caste, language, and class. In 1970, he announced his decision to stay in one place. He observed a year of silence from December 25, 1974, to December 25, 1975. In 1976, he undertook a fast to stop the slaughter of cows. His spiritual pursuits intensified as he withdrew from his practical work. He passed away on November 15, 1982, at his ashram.Vinoba’s contribution to the history of the nonviolent movement remains significant. All his life he campaigned for “people’s government,” according to the Gandhian principle of extreme decentralization. He believed, as Gandhi did, that government and the economy should be built from the village up, not from the capital city down. Though his idealistic campaigns may have fallen short of their goals, all who encountered Vinaba saw a generous, committed, spiritually directed person. He inspired a whole generation. As a sign of respect for him and his spiritual accomplishment, Vinoba Bhave was referred to most commonly as ACHARYA, “the learned one.”Further reading: S. R. Bakshi and Sangh Mittra, Saints of India (New Delhi: Criterion, 2002); Verinder Grover, Political Thinkers of Modern India (New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications, 1990–93); Michael W. Sonnleitner, Vinoba Bhave on Self-Rule and Representative Democracy (New Delhi: Promilla, 1988); Marjorie Sykes, trans., Moved by Love: The Memoirs of Vinoba Bhave (Hyder-abad: Sat Sahitya Sahayogi Sangh, 1994).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.