Vinoba Bhave: The Acharya who started Bhoodan Movement


By Nithin Sridhar

Acharya Vinoba Bhave, who is widely considered as the spiritual successor of Mahatma Gandhi died on this day in 1982. Here is a brief sketch of the life and legacy of a leader who made significant contributions to the Indian society.

Vinoba Bhave was born as Vinayaka Bhave on September 11, 1895 in a small village in Raigad district, Maharashtra. His father was Narahari Shambhu Rao, a trained weaver and his mother was Rukmini Devi, a very religious woman who had a profound influence on Bhave.

In June 1916, Vinoba Bhave personally met Mahatma Gandhi after exchanging a series of letters with him. This meeting was the turning point in his life. He completely left his studies and got involved in various community activities related to Khadi, education, cleanliness etc. that were undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1921, Gandhi sent Bhave to take charge of Wardha Ashram. There, Bhave started a Marathi monthly ‘Maharashtra Dharma’, in 1923, in which he wrote a series of essays on Upanishads. Bhave was also highly influenced by the teachings of Bhagavad Gita from a very young age.

He also involved himself in the freedom struggle. In 1932, the British imprisoned him for his anti-British activities. While in the prison, he delivered a series of lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, which was later published as ‘Talks on the Gita’. In 1940, Gandhi chose Bhave as the first Individual Satyagrahi.

The Satyagrahi was actively involved in the social and religious upliftment of the people. He campaigned for the entry of Dalits into temples in Kerala; campaigned against the slaughter of cows, and started the Sarvodaya Movement that aimed to establish equality and self-determination in the society.

But, his greatest contribution to society is, perhaps, the Bhoodan Movement that he started in 1951 in present state of Telangana. He travelled the length and breadth of the country requesting landlords to donate portions of their land that were then re-distributed among the poor and downtrodden. By 1969, around 4 million acres of land were collected by the movement to redistribute among the landless people.

Vinoba Bhave was a thorough Gandhian and a strict practitioner of Ahimsa (non-violent) and Brahmacharya (celibacy). But, his life was not without criticism. In 1975, when the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency on the country, Bhave came out in support of her calling the emergency as ‘Anushasana Parva (Time for Discipline)’. This was severely criticized by various political leaders, writers, and the public.

In 1958, he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership and in 1983, he was awarded Bharat Ratna posthumously. Vinoba Bhave was a simple and dedicated person who tirelessly worked for the Gandhian ideals of Ahimsa and upliftment of the people. He should be remembered for these very ideals and their importance in modern life.