Vinoba Bhave

Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982) was an Indian nationalist and social-reform leader who inherited Mahatma Gandhi's spiritual mantle. Bhave's most notable contribution was the creation of the bhoodan (land gift) movement.

Vinayak Bhave, renamed with the affectionate diminutive "Vinoba" by Mahatma Gandhi, was born on Sept. 11, 1895, into a high-ranking Chitapavan Brahmin family in Gagode village, south of Bombay. His father, a textile technologist, worked for the princely state of Baroda. Bhave credited his grandfather and his mother for his strong religious orientation.

Joined Gandhi's Movement

Bhave's education was concentrated in modern subjects, and he excelled in mathematics. He nonetheless left college in 1916 and started his spiritual quest. He began studying Sanskrit in Benares but within three months joined Gandhi's independence movement.

Constructive work and social reform were vital parts of the nationalist movement. Bhave excelled in confronting basic social and economic problems, and he made mass contact with the Indian people, especially with workers in the home industries, cloth spinning, and sanitation. In 1924 he led a temple-entry movement for "untouchables" in southern India and consistently worked on their behalf.

Began Sarvodaya and Bhoodan Movements

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.

Following India's independence in 1947 and Gandhi's assassination in 1948, Bhave focused his efforts on sarvodaya, meaning "welfare for all." At first Bhave was a reluctant leader and efforts were poorly organized, but the sarvodaya adherents were imbued with deep dedication and offered selfless service. Bhave revitalized the movement in 1951 while on a walking tour of Telangana. A communist-led peasant rebellion marked this area of Andhra Pradesh as India's major trouble spot. In one village, landless peasants stated that they needed 100 acres of land. Bhave asked the landowners to contribute the 100 acres and met with success. Thus, the bhoodan movement was born, and the sarvodaya movement again had a true leader.

Thereafter, over 5,000,000 acres of land were donated, and other dan (gift) movements developed. These included money, animals, implements, wells, and, the ultimate gift, the dedication of one's life to welfare activities. The eventual goal of the bhoodan movement was 50,000,000 acres, but there was not enough support to make it happen. However, material considerations aside, Bhave had rekindled the Gandhian emphasis on changing people's hearts, on nonviolence, and on self-help. In 1982, after suffering a heart attack, Bhave decided to end his life by fasting until his death.

Further Reading on Vinoba Bhave

Sonnleitner, Michael W., Vinoba Bhave on Self-Rule and Representative Democracy (1989).