Early Life and Education of Acharya Vinoba Bhave

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Early Life and Education of Acharya Vinoba Bhave

Early Life

We cannot even recollect the actions of our infancy, our childhood is like something written on a slate and rubbed off.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave was known as Vinayak Bhave in his childhood. He was born in a Brahmin family of Maharashtra on September 11,1895 at village Gagode in the Colaba district of Bombay Presidency. His mother, Rukmini Devi, was a deeply pious, devout woman and father, Narhari Shambhurao Bhave was of stern character and discipline. As his father was away in service in the Baroda State, Vinoba passed a large part of his childhood with his grandfather, Shambhurao Bhave, a very pure and devout soul. Shambhurao was largely responsible in giving a religious trend to his life.

Among his parents’ five children, Vinoba was the eldest. The younger, Baikova, the third, Shivaji Bhave, the fourth was a sister, Shantabai who after leading a married life for a few years, passed away at a young age. Dutta was the youngest who breathed his last in his childhood. Like Vinoba, his two brothers, Baikova and Shivaji were also celibates and had adopted a life of service and renunciation.

Vinoba spent his childhood in his ancestral home in village Gagode. This village is in the Konkan region of Maharasthra, in Colaba District—now Raigad District When Vinoba was ten, the family left the village to live with Narhari Rao, who worked at Baroda (Gujarat).

Vinoba loved his mother dearly. She had a great influence in his life. Everyday his mother would seat herself before the Lord after serving food to everyone in the house. She would worship the God and pray : “Oh Lord of the boundless Universes, forgive me for my faults,” while tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She would take her food only after the worship.

In the midst of all her household work, her mind dwelt on the Lord all the time. She would sing hymns to the Lord all the time, while engaged in different work. She had a sweet voice and was absorbed in her song as she sang. She knew so many songs. She would sing a different song every day for six months without repeating the same song. Her songs were in Marathi as well as in Kannada.

As a child Vinoba was full of day-dreams. He used to dream of brahmacharya, so he gave up sleeping on mattress, wearing shoes and so on.

Vinoba’s mother would never let any beggar go away empty-handed when he came at her door. If any women in the neighbourhood fell ill, Vinoba’s mother would go to their house and cook for the neighbour’s family. She would finish cooking for her own home first and then go to cook at the neighbour’s home.

It was the mother who had contributed the largest in Vinoba’s making. From her, he developed his wonderful asceticism and taste for dedication and self-effacement. Whatever she did she dedicated it to God and always shared her household preparations with her neighbours, the duty of distribution being enjoined upon her beloved son. An extremely religious and devoted woman, she lived a very pious and quiet ideal family life.

Bhagawad Gita, mother and takli were Vinoba’s trinity. Bhagawad Gita gave him his philosophy of life. Mother trained him to live a life of simplicity, austerity and devotion. Takli gave him the means of producing cloth-creating wealth.
When he returned to visit Gagode for four days in 1935, he often remembered his mother.


Life does not mean mere karma or mere bhakti or mere jnana.

Vinoba Bhave had his early education at his home in nature’s ambience, at Gagode.

His father was living in Baroda alone. In 1905 he called his family there. His father taught him English, Mathematics, etc. for three years. In 1910, Vinoba began regular school life as a student of the Standard IV. In the beginning he fared very creditably in his class tests and examinations. But as his general studies widened, his course work suffered, though he passed easily.

He was a voracious reader. He was also quite fond of newspapers, especially Kesari, the well known mouth piece of Lokmanya Tilak. Apart from the writings and utterances of saints, he devoured nationalistic and political literature.

Apart from literature, Vinoba was fond of Mathematics. Passing his Matric in November, 1913, he joined the Intermediate. But he was not content with his life and ever since 1911 was thinking of leaving home for good and giving himself up to something great. Two years of Intermediate were of intense inner agitation and suffering for him.

It was around 1915, in Baroda. Someone was giving a discourse on the Gita. Vinoba’s mother would go to listen to his discourse. After a day or two she came and said – “Vinay, I can’t follow what he says, can you please get me a copy of the Gita in Marathi?” He did so, but when she opened that and saw that it was in prose, she asked for a verse translation instead; probably she found the verse easier to read. He found one and brought it to her. But in a few days she said, “It is too difficult, I can’t understand it.” “What’s to be done?” he asked, “There is no simpler translation.” She said, “Why shouldn’t you make a simple translation for me? You could do it.”

Vinoba Bhave did that in later years. Unfortunately his mother was not alive at that time. Vinoba called the book Gitai – Gita-Mother. Vinoba said – it was Mother’s faith in me which made me write my (Marathi) Gitail Gitai is very popular in Maharashtra.

When Vinoba Bhave was in Ashram, Gandhiji saw this book, he liked this translation very much and introduced Marathi Gitai instead of Sanskrit Gita in Ashram Prayers.

Early in 1916, one day, Vinoba was sitting by his mother who was cooking food. He had some rolled papers in his hands. He lit fire to one at its end. It began to burn. Mother asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was burning his school and college certificates to ashes. She said that they might prove useful if required in future. He firmly said, “No, now that I have decided to leave the college I will never require them. So why keep them with me?”

In March 1916, Vinoba was travelling from Baroda to Bombay with his friend Gopal Rao Kale. They were both going to appear for the Intermediate Examination, which was the entrance to the degree course.

In Surat, en route, Vinoba got off the train. He gave a letter to Gopal, and said, “Post this letter after all the exams are over.” The letter was addressed to Vinoba’s father. He had informed his father that he was not going to Bombay to give his exams. “I am going somewhere else. Wherever I go, I am sure that you have the confidence that I shall never do anything immoral or unethical.” This was on 25 March, 1916.

Vinoba alighted from train at Surat, took the train to Bhusaval and left for Banaras. But he did not tell his friend where he was going. When his father, Narahari Rao, received Vinoba’s letter, he was not worried. He felt that the boy would return home when faced with troubles. But mother Rukmini knew Vinoba better. She felt that “Vinay would follow his ideal whatever be the troubles.”

The year 1916 marked the end of one chapter of Vinoba’s life and the commencement of another. He had left his college studies for all time. What to do next to meet the inner urge was the question. But he was sure of one thing—for a vision of the Divine everything had to be dedicated unto God, as also for true national service. With this resolve to sacrifice all unto His feet, he reached Banaras.

At Banaras, he began studying Sanskrit. He also contacted political workers and revolutionaries but was soon disillusioned. For they did not reach his standard of dedication and renunciation.

Even before he left Baroda, in February 1916 Vinoba read newspaper reports of Gandhiji’s speech in Banaras. It was in Foundation-stone-laying ceremony of the Banaras Hindu University being organised by Madan Mohan Malaviya.

Mrs. Annie Besant, President of the International Theosophical Society, presided over the function. The Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge was the Chief Guest. Many kings and top bureaucrats and statesmen of India were present. The hero of South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi was also present there.

The President asked Gandhiji to say a few words on the occasion. But Gandhiji criticised the extravagance of the Government. He criticised the kings who were there, sitting like dressed up dolls, bedecked in fine jewels with gold, diamond and pearls. He said they were not serving their subjects properly. He criticised the Viceroy for deploying such a big force of CIDs in Banaras for his personal safety. He criticised the Indian revolutionaries, though appreciating their patriotism. He did not approve of their violence.

Gandhiji’s words were like a bomb shell thrown at the nation. The President wanted him to stop his speech. The Princes walked out. But the audience applauded him with enthusiasm. It was really a historic speech.

Vinoba Bhave got a report of it from the newspapers. Immediately, he wrote a letter about it, touching both religion and politics, to Mahatma Gandhi who gave him a prompt reply. Vinoba sent another letter and was again replied.

His restless soul remaining unpacified, he penned down a third letter. Then Gandhiji wrote back to him that such questions as raised by him could not be solved through correspondence alone and that he would advise him to come to the Kocharab Ashram for detailed talk. Immediately Vinoba left for Kocharab and thus his stay at Banaras (Varanasi) was cut short to just about three months.