Bhave, Vinoba

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BHAVE, VINOBA (18951982), Indian social and religious reformer. Vinayak Narhari Bhave was closely associated with Mohandas Gandhi, who bestowed upon him the affectionate epithet Vinoba (Mar., "brother Vino"). He is generally acclaimed in India as the one who "stepped into Gandhi's shoes." As a young man Bhave studied Sanskrit and the Hindu religious tradition in Varanasi. It was here that he read accounts of Gandhi's patriotic speeches. Attracted by Gandhi's ideas, Bhave joined Gandhi as his disciple in 1916 and soon became one of his close associates. In 1921 Gandhi had Bhave move to a new ashram (retreat center) in Wardha in the state of Maharashtra. Here he began experimenting with many Gandhian ideas designed to implement self-rule for India. His main goal was to engage in village service for the benefit of the Indian masses. As a result, he became a skillful farmer, spinner, weaver, and scavenger. Many of these activities were later incorporated into several of his plans for the moral and spiritual uplift of all humanity. Impressed with his political and religious dedication, his spiritual way of life, and his belief in nonviolent methods of social action, Gandhi chose him in 1940 as the first satyāgrahī (one who uses nonviolent means to bring the opponent to the point of seeing the truth) in a protest against British rule.

After India's independence Bhave emerged from the shadow of his teacher as he began his pad yātrā ("journey on foot") to meet the people of India. The famous Bhoodān ("land gift") movement was born when on one such journey he sought a donation of land in order to distribute it among the landless poor. Later he designed a program to collect fifty million acres of land for the landless. For the rest of his life, he tirelessly worked for grām swarāj ("village self-rule") to free the people from the rich and the powerful. He retreated to his ashram in Paunar, near Wardha, in 1970 and died there in 1982.


Bhave's influence was greatest in his promotion of Gandhian principles. He became the chief exponent of the Sarvodaya ("welfare of all") movement and executed Gandhi's nonviolent philosophy through a series of activities known as "constructive works." These included such programs as promotion of khādī ("self-spun cloth"), naī talīm ("new education"), strī śakti ("woman power"), cow protection, and śānti senā ("peace brigade"). He created the Sarva Seva Sangha ("society for the service of all") in order to carry out the work of Sarvodaya, and served as its spiritual adviser. Bhave also launched a series of movements connected with the Land Gift movement in order to tackle the problem of exploitation of the farmers by their landlords. Although through these movements he sought to accomplish socioeconomic reform, for him they were part of a spiritual struggle to establish rām rāj ("kingdom of God") through grām swarāj. To this end, he adopted and promoted the Gandhian model of Sarvodaya. Bhave took the concept of "giving" (dān ) further and asked that people donate their money, labor, intellect, and life for the work of Sarvodaya.

Bhave organized village councils (grām sabhā s) to oversee the village development program. His aim was not only to bring self-sufficiency to the villages but also to establish a nonviolent society based on religious ideals. Through the constructive programs of Sarvodaya, Bhave sought to create a moral force in Indian society. The aim of his movement was not to promote the greatest good for the greatest number, but the greatest good for all people. The goal of Sarvodaya philosophy can be summarized as follows: in the social realm it advocates a casteless society, in politics it shares a democratic vision of the power of the people, in economics it promotes the belief that "small is beautiful," and in religion it asks for tolerance for all faiths. Its final goal is to promote peace for all humankind.

The failure of many of Bhave's plans to come to fruition ultimately led to dissension in the Sarvodaya. In the 1960s Jai Prakash Narayan, a Marxist-turned-Gandhian activist and an associate of Bhave, sought to steer the Sarvodaya movement in other directions. The controversy arose over the issue of whether Sarvodaya workers should participate in politics in order to initiate change in Indian society. Disenchanted with Bhave's nonpartisan religious approach and the slow moving program of grām swarāj, Narayan began taking an active part in contemporary politics. By the 1970s this led to a serious split within the organization of the Sarva Seva Sangha (the work agency of Sarvodaya) and the parting of ways of these two giants of the Gandhian movement. The conflict brought into focus various ideological differences that existed within the Sarvodaya movement. However, Bhave's supporters continued to maintain that his was a movement to "change the hearts of the people" through moral force and nonpartisan alliances. Since Bhave's death, many programs for social reform are still being carried out within the Sarvodaya movement by the lok sevak s ("servants of the people") whom he inspired.

See Also

Gandhi, Mohandas.


Vinoba Bhave wrote relatively few books. However, many of his talks and speeches have been compiled into books and pamphlets. Most of these works are published by the Sarva Seva Sangha. The majority of his writings deal with the Bhoodān and Gramdan movements, but he also wrote on a variety of topics related to Sarvodaya. His major English titles include Bhoodān Yajna (Ahmadabad, 1953), Swaraj Sastra: The Principles of a Non-Violent Political Order, translated by Bharatan Kumarappa (Wardha, 1955), From Bhoodan to Gramdan (Tanjore, 1957), Thoughts on Education, translated by Marjorie Sykes (Madras, 1959), Talks on the Gita (New York, 1960), Democratic Values (Kashi, 1962), and Steadfast Wisdom, translated by Lila Ray (Varanasi, 1966).

There are numerous secondary sources on Bhave. For a detailed biography, Vinoba: His Life and Work (Bombay, 1970) by Shriman Narayan is considered most authoritative. Vinoba and His Mission (Kashi, 1954) by Suresh Ramabhai is less biographical, but it gives a thorough description of the origin and progress of the movement started by Bhave. Vasant Nargolkar's The Creed of Saint Vinoba (Bombay, 1963) attempts to analyze Sarvodaya as interpreted by Vinoba. Among recent works, Selections from Vinoba, edited by Vishwanath Tandon (Varanasi, 1981), presents the "essential Vinoba." Finally, Vinoba: The Spiritual Revolutionary, edited by R. R. Diwakar and Mahendra Agrawal (New Delhi, 1984), presents Vinoba Bhave as others see him. It contains a series of articles by several scholars and close associates of Bhave covering a variety of topics dealing with Vinoba Bhave's thought.

Ishwar C. Harris (1987)

Bhave, Vinoba

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BHAVE, VINOBA (1895–1982), Indian reformer, disciple of Mahatma Gandhi A Chitpavan Brahman from Maharashtra, Vinoba Bhave showed remarkable aptitude in mathematics as a young boy, but he also mastered several languages and could have done well in any field. Instead he left home for Varanasi at the age of twenty, studied Sanskrit and meditated, but also took an interest in national affairs. When he heard of Mahatma Gandhi, he made up his mind to join his Sabarmati Ashram, where he was readily accepted. Soon after, Gandhi asked him to assume a significant responsibility. Jamnalal Bajaj, a rich Marwari businessmen from Wardha in central India, had joined Gandhi's movement and had requested him to set up a branch of the Sabarmati Ashram at Wardha. Gandhi sent Bhave to Wardha in 1921, where he organized an ashram in a very disciplined manner. In 1923 he joined Bajaj in the Nagpur National Flag Satyagraha, and they were both jailed. Their offense was that they had participated in a procession waving the Congress flag in Nagpur, They were released after a few months, and Bhave took up his work in the new ashram, which he called Sevagram (service village). Gandhi was impressed with the ashram when visiting there in 1928. In 1930, when Gandhi left the Sabarmati Ashram to begin his Salt March, he vowed not to return to his ashram until independence was achieved. He therefore settled in Bhave's ashram outside Wardha after he was released from prison. Bhave was again arrested in 1932, together with Bajaj, and they spent time together in Dhulia jail. Bajaj, who did not know Sanskrit, urged Bhave to translate the Bhagavad Gītā into Marathi, which he did; Bajaj later got it published, and it proved to be a great success. In 1940, when Gandhi launched a campaign of individual satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) against the British war effort, he selected Vinoba Bhave as his first disciple to break the law by public protest to be followed by Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi commented that Bhave was breaking the law as a representative of the pacifists who object to all wars, whereas Nehru represented those who objected to India's participation in this particular war.

The Bhoodan (Land Gift) Movement

Bhave was a self-effacing man who never gained prominence as a politician, but after Gandhi's assassination he embarked on a campaign that revealed him as the spiritual heir of the Mahatma. Bhave launched the Bhoodan (Land Gift) Movement in 1951, walking barefoot about 28,000 miles (45,000 km) throughout India, imploring landowners to give him one-fifth of their village land, "adopting" him as their son, so that he in turn could gift that acreage to the landless poor. He touched the hearts of the people and many promises were made, but when he left the scene few of them were kept, even though some land was eventually turned over to the poor. The Bhoodan Movement reached its zenith in 1956, then declined. Bhave then shifted the emphasis from Bhoodan to Gramdan and Jivandan. Gramdan (village gift) implied that a whole village would pledge to give all its land to Bhave for equal redistribution among its tillers of the soil. The first village of this kind took the pledge in 1952, and many others followed, but there was more lip service than practical consequence. Jivandan (gift of life) called for volunteers to devote their lives to the movement. Jaya Prakash Narayan, one of India's leading socialists, was the first to become a Jivandani. Bhave's decision of 1956 to stress Gramdan and to get along without paid organizers must be seen in the context of the political atmosphere of this time. In 1955 the Congress Party had passed a resolution recommending joint collective farming at its annual meeting at Avadi. This radical resolution frightened the peasants, who subsequently supported the Swatantra Party founded by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. Vinoba Bhave did not favor the socialist idea of collective farming. His Gramdan emphasized voluntary cooperation based on individual autonomy. But most of the land surrendered to Bhave, entrusted to the government for distribution among the landless, was of poor quality, and government officials often did not know what to do with it. Bhave's faith in individual conviction, self-help, and prayer, and his disregard for institutional support for his movement led to its decline. His charismatic appeal could not suffice to give land to all of India's landless, but he had tried his best, hoping to see his dream, and that of his Mahatma, come true.

Dietmar Rothermund


Nanda, B. R. In Gandhi's Footsteps: The Life and Times of Jamnalal Bajaj. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Nanekar, K. R., and S. V. Khandewale. Bhoodan and the Landless. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 1973.

Vinoba Bhave

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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

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

Bhave, Vinoba

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Bhave, Vinoba: see VINOBA BHAVE.