My childhood was
spent in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. Gagode was a small
village of about eighty houses, in Colaba district. It had no school
and most of its inhabitants were illiterate.
The women of every household used to get up with the first light to
begin their work. The first job was to grind grain into flour for
the day’s needs, in the circular stone hand-mill. Then followed the
sweeping of the courtyards, which were sprinkled with a mixture of
cow dung and water to lay the dust and keep them fresh and clean.
While their hands were occupied with these and other chores, the
women’s lips would be singing hymns in the name of the Lord. The
sweet sounds filled the morning air with purity.
My grandfather was an Inamdar, a kind of landlord. We lived in quite
a big house, with a spacious courtyard where there were a great many
frogs of various kinds, which all night long kept up a regular
Mandukya-Upanishad.1 I was quite scared of these innumerable frogs;
later I read the description given by the sage Vasishtha in the
Veda: ‘One frog looks rather like a bullock, another like a goat,
another is spotted, and they all croak in chorus like Brahmins
chanting the Vedas. In the hot weather they grow dry and withered
like Brahmins performing austerities, but in the rains they grow
fresh and vigorous and shout with joy.’ What an imaginative way of
looking at frogs !
But people tell me that nowadays the number of frogs in our
courtyard is not even a quarter of what it was then. Frogs’ legs are
regarded as a delicacy in America,2 so frogs are caught for export.
Sometimes when I am asked when I plan to go back to Gagode I answer:
‘When the courtyard is as full of frogs as it used to be !’
Gagode had a lake—a very large lake ! There was a very tall tree
beside it, and a spacious temple. Many years later, when I was forty
years of age, I went back there and found that lake, tree and temple
had all shrunk ! One could easily throw a stone right across the
lake, easily climb the tree. It was only in a child’s eye that they
had seemed so big.
I used to wander about the village watching labourers at their work.
One day I was standing watching some men splitting a big rock. One
of them noticed me. ‘Would you like to try your hand, Vinya?’ he
asked. ‘Oh yes please !’ So when after a few more blows the rock had
reached breaking point they put the hammer into my hand. I struck
with all my little might, and sure enough the rock fell apart ! To
please me the good-natured labourers stood and cheered: ‘Well done
Vinya ! The Inamdar’s boy split the rock !’
Sometimes on special occasions a Brahmin would come to our home at
Gagode and give recital from the Vedas. I would sit and listen, and
soon had made up my own Veda in Marathi, which I chanted with all
the sonorous intonation of the Brahmin’s Sanskrit mantras. All it
said was that ‘horses are grazing on the bank of the river’, but
delivered in that style it sounded magnificent !
A blind uncle lived with us in the Gagode house. He was very
hard-working and gentle, and everyone loved him and cared for him.
Later on when we went to Baroda with father he remained in Gagode,
and one day a letter brought the news of his death. Usually when any
such news came mother would give us all a bath and bathe herself,
but this time there were no such rituals and I asked her why not.
‘You see, Sonnie,’ she said, ‘blind uncle did not really belong to
our family. He was in great need and had no one to care for him, so
he lived with us.’ So it was only after his death that I learned
that the uncle we had known for so many years was not a blood
The first nine years of my life were spent in that village home.
Then in 1905 we joined our father at Baroda, where he was employed.
During our holidays we used to go and stay with our grandparents at
Gagode, but I had no more close contact with my native village, and
a few years later I cut loose from my family also. As I have said I
went back to Gagode in 1935 at the age of forty, just for two or
three days. While I was there I had something to write for Bapu3
about the spinning wheel. By the time I had finished it was
midnight, and I was about to go to bed when I heard the sound of
singing from the temple nearby. The villagers had assembled there,
and I went and sat quietly among them. Hymns of devotion went on for
about an hour. My feeling for language would normally have been
outraged by their crude pronunciation, but before the depth of their
devotion nothing else mattered. I was completely carried away, sunk
One of their hymns struck me as specially sweet, and I
remember it to this day:
Nowhere in this world is happiness,
crave it not in vain:
The whole world is a snare of sorrow,
where happiness is not to be found.
Here, I thought, are these villagers in this tiny village, miserably
poor, like walking skeletons, with practically nothing to cover
their nakedness, and yet they can lose themselves in such devotional
music ! I was delighted. Where had these people, in this village
without a school, where no one could read or write, obtained this
knowledge? It must surely be because they sing with such devotion so
many of the hymns of Tukaram and other saints, that they keep to
this day their understanding and intelligence. It is here that our
Saint Tukaram himself fell into such great poverty that his wife
died of hunger. Yet he turned to the Lord and said: ‘Oh my God, if
there were no sorrow, there would be no remembrance of Thee !’ and
in the midst of his grief he found joy:
Joys piled on joys have filled
my heart to the brim;
Love is an everflowing stream
resounding with Thy Name.
It is because our country possesses this spirit of devotion that
even the very poorest show the world a smiling face. The people of
poverty-stricken Gagode, outwardly so dried-up and withered-looking,
were filled with the nectar of devotion.
Once before, in 1920, I had spent a day in Gagode. Some had died,
others still survived—some of the grain, as it were, was being
cooked on the stove, some was waiting its turn in the basket, that
was all the difference ! The same stars that I had seen in Wardha
shone over Gagode also; I was the same too, except that in Gagode
the sight of the hills haunted me. Perhaps I had once been a wild
creature of those hills, a deer or a tiger maybe, the companion of
some hermit? Perhaps by mistake I was born as a man? I am not wholly
tamed even now—I am still the same Vinoba, even though I have been
‘fried in Gandhiji and rolled in Jamnalalji.’4
During my 1935 visit I wrote, in a letter, that the mountains and
the mother, between them, are the symbols of all creation and all
relationships. In the course of those three or four days I must have
recalled my mother about forty times. Gita, Mother, Takli:5 that is
my ‘Trinity’, and for me those three include every one of the
thousand Names of the Lord.