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The Bhoodan-Ganga Flows On
With Tulsi and Soor as Guides1
After my travels in Telangana I stayed at the Paramdham for a few weeks, and then on September 12th 1951, I set out on foot for North India, for Delhi. I had at first thought of starting after the rainy season was over, but as Pandit Nehru invited me to a discussion with the members of the Planning Commission I started somewhat sooner.
If while in Paramdham I had not previously under- taken those experiments in doing without money, and cultivating without bullocks, and if I had not had a full year’s experience of working out these ideas, I do not think I should have had the confidence to work in Telangana as I did, nor to deal so frankly and fearlessly with the people there. God in His unbounded grace did not allow me, uncouth fellow that I am, to utter a single word which was lacking in humility. And that I believe, was the fruit of the experiments in Paunar, during which we considered it a privilege to take the peasant as our teacher in the art of cultivating the soil.
I announced that this new pilgrimage would have one main purpose, to get land for the poor. Mother Earth must no longer be separated from her sons; she and they must be brought together again. The winds of generosity, of giving, must be set blowing across the whole nation. If it were true (as some said) that in Telangana people had given land only because of the Communist disturbances, there would be no hope of a peaceful revolution. But I for my part felt sure that if the basic idea of the bhoodan movement were placed clearly before the people, they would give land out of pure goodwill. If this hope of mine should prove to be well-founded, it would give a great impetus to non-violent revolution. If we could not give our principles visible form, over a wider area, we should simply be swept away by the current of our times. The times confronted us with a call and with a challenge.
I found great peace and inspiration at Gandhiji’s memorial shrine at Rajghat, and decided to stay there while in Delhi. Though God is to be found in every place-as I myself know from experience-nevertheless there are some places where His glory cannot be effaced, and whose inspiration guides me on my way. It was Gandhiji, who inspired the bhoodan movement; whatever good is to be seen in it is his, and its shortcomings are mine.
In November 1951 I therefore spent eleven days at Rajghat in congenial company. Morning prayers, which began promptly at four o’clock, were attended by people who were in earnest about the spiritual life. During the prayer period I would share with them my thoughts on the nectar of devotion to be found in the Vinaya-patrika of Tulsidas. For the rest of the day I had a heavy programme with no time for relaxation, but the Vinaya-patrika enabled me to remain inwardly relaxed and quiet throughout. Then during the evening prayers at the Rajghat shrine I would give a brief address on bhoodan or other topics.
I held discussions with the Planning Commission and explained my ideas very clearly to those friends, who listened attentively. I had reason to believe that in the light of these discussions it would be feasible to modify the Plan to some extent.
During my journey from Paunar to Delhi about thirty-five thousand acres of land had been received. In Telangana the gifts had averaged two hundred acres a day, but on this journey they averaged three hundred. Thanks to the teachings of Gandhiji, and the cultural traditions of India, this plan for peace received the hearty co-operation of the people.
The total amount of land in the country is about three hundred million acres; I ask for one-sixth of this total. I ask every individual land-owner for a one-sixth share for the landless, on the basis that an average Indian family of five should accept a landless person as a sixth member.
What am I doing in all this? What do I want? I want change: First, change of heart, then change in personal life habits, followed by change in the structure of society. I aim at a triple change, a triple revolution.
I have been putting these things forward from the first as a matter of justice and rights. But by justice I do not mean legal justice, I mean the God’s justice. We shall of course need to frame laws for land distribution, but laws are of two kinds. There is a kind of law based on coercion, which is a tool of violence; there is also a kind of law based on non-violence. I want to solve the land problem by non-violence.
I am not going around begging, even though as a Brahmin I am entitled to beg-only, however, for my indi- vidual needs. When I ask for land as a gift in the name of Daridra-Narayan, God in the form of the poor, I am not asking alms. I am asking men to accept initiation into a new way of life. I have come to the conclusion that God has placed on my weak shoulders the same kind of work as he committed to the Lord Buddha.2 It is, I believe, the work of Dharmachakra-pravartan-turning the Wheel of the Law.
This Kalasi region has been famous for over two thousand years for the ashvamedh sacrifice.3 Like those dedicated horses I too wander about, dedicated to bhoodan. In the Mahabharata there is also a description of another sacrifice, the Rajasooya yajna (performed for the enthrone- ment of a king). My sacrifice is a Prajasooya yajna; I want to see the praja, the people, enthroned. I aim at a political order which would make the labourer, the tiller of the soil, the scavenger and all such humble people feel that their needs are being cared for. That is what is called Sarvodaya, and the vision of it inspires all my wanderings.
A year had passed since that meeting at Pochampalli in April 1951. I had had a wonderful pilgrimage. I walked alone, and wherever I went I held one meeting each day about bhoodan; the appeal was made and the people donated land. During that year one lakh (100,000) acres were given. On I walked, without a care in the world. I remembered a line in one of Tagore’s songs:
‘Walk alone, O thou unfortunate, walk alone’.
I modified it a bit to suit myself:
‘Walk alone, O thou most fortunate, walk alone’.
In the Vedas there is a question and answer: ‘Who goes alone? The Sun, the Sun goes alone.’ That saying kept me in good spirits.
During this year of solitary pilgrimage my fellow workers in the Sarva Seva Sangh were following events with much eager interest and sympathy. At the Sevapuri conference held near Varanasi (Benares) in April 1952, the Sangh adopted a resolution to collect twenty-five lakh acres of land within the next two years-a truly superhuman undertaking ! It meant obtaining twenty-five times as much land as I had collected during the past year, in only double the time.
While the conference was in progress the workers of Bihar came to see me and asked me to go to Bihar. I told them that I was considering my future programme, and that if Bihar could promise me four lakh acres I would come, otherwise I would go to Vindhya Pradesh or some other area. ‘Agreed !’ said Laxmi Babu. ‘There are seventy-five thousand villages in Bihar; it will need only five acres from each village to make up the total.’ So I set out for Bihar.

In the Land of Buddha and Mahavir
I entered Bihar on September 12th, 1952, and from that day forward I began asking for fifty lakh acres of land. One day a friend pointed out, ‘You say you want one-sixth of the land; so Bihar's share is not fifty lakh acres but forty.’ From the next day therefore I changed my tune, and named forty lakhs, but our friend Baidyanath Babu, who is clever with figures, got me to agree that the correct amount should be thirty-two lakhs.
I walked through the holy land of Bihar with the regularity of the sun himself, and with him as my witness. Word spread across the country as if on the wings of the wind, that land would very soon be shared out.
In October 1952 I said to the people of Patna: ‘Up to now I have been asking for gifts only of land, but from now on I shall accept gifts of money also. The donor will keep the money, but undertake to devote one-sixth of his wealth every year to public service. I will simply accept a written pledge, and the donor’s own conscience will be witness that the pledge is fulfilled.’ This is a novel way of doing things. If I were to collect a fund I should have to keep accounts, and all my time would go in that. But my job is revolution, so I say to the donors: ‘I don’t want you to give your money to me, I want your talent and intelligence as well. I want to bind you over and to remain free myself. I ask for two things, a share of your land and a share of your money.’
I spent two and a half months in flood-stricken country. It once happened that because of the floods our party could not even get a meal-something which has never happened elsewhere in all the three and a half years up to now. But in spite of everything, at one place hundreds of men and women came to the meeting in about two hundred boats. Such was their enthusiasm that they stood there on the wet ground in the pouring rain, and joined quietly in the prayer.
In one place a man made a gift of one-sixth of his land, but some of it was in very poor condition. ‘Friend,’ I said, ‘before you make a gift of it you should make it cultivable,’ and he at once agreed. Such things are happening not in some golden age of the past, but now in this age of dark- ness ! If we can’t take advantage of the great goodwill people feel towards us, we shall be called unfortunate indeed.
In Chandil in December 1953 I become seriously ill with malaria. I wondered whether God intended to liberate me from this body, or to purify my body and restore it for further work. In 1924 I had had a similar serious illness, and afterwards felt that I had derived benefit from it. If God willed to set me free from the body, what medicine could avail against His will? And if He willed to keep me in the body, what could prevent His will from being done? I decided therefore that there was no need for any medicine, and I refused to take any.
My friends and well-wishers, however, were worried. Telegrams came from the President Rajendra Babu and from Pandit Nehru. The Chief Minister of Bihar, Shrikrishna Sinha, came urgently to see me. I saw how troubled they all were, so I agreed to take medicine, the fever came down and they were all relieved.
The people in general were very puzzled. First I had refused medicine; afterwards I agreed to take it ! A great many people wrote to me about it. Some were of the opinion that I had done right to take medicine. Others declared that I had committed a great sin and lost my faith in God. There was a third party who said that I had certain- ly done wrong, but that I might be forgiven because I had done it for the sake of public service. It all reminded me of the verse in the Gita about the fruits of action being of three kinds. I don’t know whether or not these triple conse- quences will be loaded on to my head, and I have no desire to know. What God willed has come to pass that is how I look at the matter, so I do not trouble myself about it.
It was in Sarvodaya Conference at Chandil that I urged: ‘We must establish the independent power of the people-that is to say, we must demonstrate a power opposed to the power of violence, and other than the power to punish the coercive power of the State. The people are our God.’ I am not making this journey on my own strength; I derive the strength for it from the patient, painful, costly work of all those who labour in mills, in fields, in work-places everywhere, who toil on half-empty stomachs and yet are content, who inflict no injury on anyone yet suffer much themselves. It is this, their holy endeavour, which keeps me alert and on the move.
In Bihar I was given another kind of gift in the name of God. In Baidyanathdham at Deoghar I went along with some Harijans for darshan4 of the sacred image of Mahadev. We were not able to have that darshan, but we got our prasad5 in the form of a good beating at the hands of the God’s devotees. Those who beat us did so in ignorance, so I did not want them to be punished. On the contrary, I was very pleased that the hundreds of brothers and sisters who were with me all remained calm. Not only that, those of my companions who got the worst of the beating all said that they felt no anger at all. I believe that this will prove to be the death-throes of the demon of discrimination.
I had no desire to enter the temple by force or by the authority of the law. It is my custom never to enter any temple into which Harijans are not allowed entry. I had made enquiries, and was told that Harijans were allowed to enter, so after our evening prayer we all went reverently for darshan, keeping silence on the way. I myself was meditating inwardly on the Vedic verses in praise of Mahadev. That being the case, when we were unexpectedly attacked and beaten it was for me a specially moving experience. My companions encircled and protected me, intercepting the blows which were aimed directly at me. Still, I did get some taste of them to complete our ‘sacrificial offering.’ I remembered how, in this same dham, the one whose servant I call myself (Mahatma Gandhi) had received the same kind of treatment. I had experienced the same blessing, the same good fortune, as he did.
I walked through Bihar from September 1952 to the end of December 1954, and I received twenty-three lakh acres of land. But more important than that, I can say that as I went about Bihar I had visible tokens of the love of God. I cherished, and continue to cherish, high hopes from Bihar. I hope that ‘the non-violent revolution with its roots in bhoodan and having its main focus on village industries’ will be brought to pass in this land of Bihar. I count myself greatly blessed that I had the good fortune to spend so many days there, where every moment I enjoyed, with tear-filled eyes, the vision of God. I can never forget those gentle humble-hearted people. I found among them much less of what is called ‘provincial spirit’ than in other provinces. They accepted me as one of their own, and I had great joy and exceeding peace among them. Joy alone is at the core of the human soul; joy as broad as the broad heavens above. From the land of Bihar I took much of this joy, everywhere I felt the touch of the human heart, as all-embracing as the sky. And therefore I call this journey a journey of joy.

In the Home of Lord Chaitanya (West Bengal and Orissa)
Strengthened by the affection given to me in Bihar I next entered Bengal; I left the land of the Lord Buddha for that of Lord Chaitanya, and walked there, a pilgrim of love, for twenty-five days in January 1955. I visited the place where Shri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa had his first experience of samadhi.6 There I said that from now on what is needed is collective rather than individual samadhi. This great man Shri Ramakrishna had taught us during his life- time that an individual may rise to a level which transcends suffering, and may likewise be set free from the urge to accumulate wealth. My claim is that I am working for a society where the miseries of discrimination have been rooted out, and where wealth and prosperity are shared by all. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa could not bear to touch money; I am following in his footsteps and seeking a way to free the whole of society from bondage to money.
On the twenty-sixth of January (1955), when I set foot in Orissa, I said: ‘I am very happy that after visiting Bengal, I have come to Utkal, this land of heroes. It was this land that turned the eyes of the emperor Ashoka towards non-violence, that transformed him from Ashoka of the sword to Ashoka of the dharma, the eternal law’.
I went to Jagannathpuri for the Sarvodaya Sammelan (in March 1955); and we went to the Jagannath temple, but had to turn back without entering. I had gone there in a mood of great devotion, but I had a French lady with me, and it was my principle that if she could not go in, neither could I. I began in early youth to study the Hindu religion, and I have continued to do so to this day; from the Rigveda to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Mahatma Gandhi, I have studied the whole tradition as reverently as I could. I claim with all humility that I have tried my best to practise the Hindu religion as I understand it. In my opinion, it would have been a very unrighteous act for me to enter the temple and leave the French lady outside. I asked the authorities there whether she might enter along with me, and they said No. So instead of making my obeisance to the Lord, I saluted them respectfully and turned away.
As I said at the time, I do not look down upon those who had refused us entry. I know that they too must have felt sorry about it, but they were enslaved by ingrained ideas and were unable to do the right thing. So I don’t blame them much. I say only this: that such an incident bodes ill for our country and for our religion. Baba Nanak7 was also refused entry into this temple and was turned away from its doors. But that is an old story, and I hope that it will not again be repeated.
While I was still walking in Uttar Pradesh, in May 1952, I had received a gift of a whole gram, the village of Mangroth.8 It was a totally unexpected happening. After the experience I had had in Bihar, I told the people of Orissa that the Biharis had shown what they could do about bhoodan; ‘now it is for you here to take up the idea of gramdan’.
By God’s ordering I spent the four months of the rainy season in Koraput District. As I walked, and the clouds showered down rain from heaven, I would recite over and over again a prayer from the Vedas, intoning it at the top of my voice, as sonorously and loudly as I could, and asking my companions to join in. The rishi (sage) prays first that God will send rain from heaven in abundance, for rain is a token of His grace; let us also greet the rain with ceaseless paeans of welcome.
Secondly, prays the rishi, may there be no hindrance to our speed. We were not hindered in our travels by the rain, and the workers gained much in self-confidence. We might well have been held up, and our work slackened, during the rains; and especially in Koraput, famous as it is for malaria, we had not expected to accomplish much. But in spite of it all the tour went on without a hitch, and six hundred villages were offered as gramdan.
The rishi’s third prayer is that just as we may feel in the thousands of raindrops the thousand-fold caresses of God’s hand, so may our will-power be multiplied a thousand-fold. The experience we had in this district certainly increased a thousand-fold the power of our good- will, because it was communicated to and shared by thousands of people, and also because we as individuals found the power of our goodwill to be greatly strengthened.

In the Land of the Great Teachers (Southern India)
In olden days, those who undertook a religious pilgrimage took water from the Ganga, carried it to Rameshwaram, and there used it to bathe the divine image. When they had done that, half of the pilgrimage was over. They then took sea-water from Rameshwaram and carried it to Kashi, where they bathed with it the image of Kashi Vishwanath. Only then was their pilgrimage complete.
In similar fashion I travelled from North to South. I reached Andhra in October 1955, and Tamilnadu in May 1956, bringing my gifts: lakhs of acres of land from lakhs of donors in Bihar, the thousand villages given as gramdan in Orissa. Bihar had shown that lakhs of acres might be given in a single State; Orissa had shown that thousands of villages might be offered as gramdan. So that from one point of view my work was finished; I had proved that such methods would work. What more could one man do?
The time had come, I thought, to add new programmes to bhoodan and to carry them with me back to my starting point in the north.
I had now been engaged in this pilgrimage for five years. During the first year (1952) I had interrupted it for two months of the rainy season and spent them in Kashi. But I found in practice that there were only thirteen days of really heavy rain, and it did not seem right to interrupt my journey for two months or more for the sake of thirteen days, so in the following years I went on with my pilgri- mage even during the rains.
Up to that time I had walked one stage daily, but after I entered Tamilnadu I began to cover two stages a day, camping at one place at midday and at a second overnight. This was not because I had any ambition to visit every one of India’s five lakh villages. That kind of self-centred vanity would have made the work one of rajoguna.9 That does not attract me; it does not lead to works of righteousness. The fact is that I began to walk two stages a day simply because I had an inward urge to do so, a compulsion to work as hard as I could. Much hard work is needed to increase sattvaguna, that quality of goodness. I know very well that the bhoodan offering will not be made complete by anything that I do, but only when the whole community takes up the task. One of my friends asked me what impact would be made on the villages now that I am spending so much time merely in travelling. I answered that what he called travelling was for me prayer.
I had a letter about this from Charu Babu in Bengal. ‘Now that you have started to walk twice in a day,’ he wrote, ‘it seems to me that you are changing your ‘gentle satya- graha’ into an even more gentle satyagraha, and we are all deriving strength from it.’ I cannot say that I had thought of it in those terms, but the longing to become ‘more gentle’ is certainly there, and moreover it is happening. If I had gone on spending the whole day in one village, I should certainly have done some work there, and it would have had some impact. But now that I go two stages a day what happens is that I simply explain my ideas and then move on. In practice, that means that the work takes a ‘gentler’ from.
I do not feel elated when I get large gifts of land, nor discouraged when they are small. While I was in Bihar the average daily gift was three thousand acres, and three hundred or three hundred and fifty pledges of gifts. When a lawyer’s practice grows his fees also grow, but here in Tamilnadu the people have ‘degraded’ me. I spent thirty-three days in Salem District and received only four or four and a half acres a day. But although the river has, as it were, dried up, the river in my heart does not fail. Even though the visible Kaveri10 itself were to dry up, the inward springs would never cease to flow.
In November 1956, at a meeting of our workers at Palni, I put forward the idea of nidhi-mukti.11 ‘Nowadays,’ I said, ‘many people make the mistake of thinking that the bhoodan movement is being carried on by salaried workers. They are not altogether wrong, there is some truth in it, but it is a mistake all the same. Here in Tamilnadu, as I have seen, there are about five hundred workers, and only about fifty of them are getting a salary. Nevertheless we ourselves are responsible for this mistake, because we think that our work cannot be done without some paid staff; in other words, that the work does depend on them. So let us get rid of this idea, and resolve that from the end of this year we shall stop all salaries. Don’t prepare any budget for next year, and let some other way suggest itself. People are afraid that that would mean that all the work everywhere would come to a standstill. But I tell you that nothing will be lost or spoiled. Let us all decide to look after one another, to leave no one uncared for, to share whatever food we have.’
Along with this nidhi-mukti there was also tantra-mukti.12 Throughout India bhoodan committees had been set up to direct the bhoodan work. In two hundred and fifty of the three hundred districts of India such committees were at work, and they were getting some help from the Gandhi Memorial Trust. The trustees were very glad to give money for bhoodan work, for they believed that the message of Gandhiji could be spread better in this way than in any other.
But after people had begun to donate whole villages as gramdan, it seemed to me that we should take another revolutionary step. Let us therefore cease to take any help from the Gandhi Memorial Trust for bhoodan work. Let us disband all the bhoodan committees. Any party which begins to operate on a large scale aims at strengthening its own organisation, but I aim at doing just the opposite. Future students of the history of the development of ideas will attach great importance to this concept. Indeed that is real history-the story of the successive stages in the develop- ment of human thought.
Why did I get rid of all this organisation? Because, though organisations may give ordinary kinds of service, and acquire some power, they cannot bring about a revolution in society. Revolutions need spirit rather than organisation and structures.
The dissolution of the bhoodan committees had two results. In some States, where there had been forty to fifty workers, there were now hundreds. In other States, where there had also been forty or fifty workers, even these disappeared. I had foreseen both results. But even if the disbanding of the committees had brought the work to a standstill all over India, I would still have regarded it as a right step. It is my basic principle that organisations can never bring about revolutions. An organisation is a mould, it is a method of maintaining control. Within it one has to work, and get others to work, in accordance with a fixed pattern. There is no freedom for the mind in that.
In Tamilnadu I met the Shankaracharya13 of Kanchi (Conjeevaram), who is an old man. The Shankaracharya is always a sannyasi, one who has given up all his possessions, but this man, after spending some years in the seat of authority, felt that he should give up this also. He therefore installed a disciple in his place and withdrew himself to a village not far away. There was nothing to be seen in his hut except an earthen pot for drinking water, two or three books and two or three grass mats. He was completely dive- sted of possessions, and a great scholar. Thirteen hundred years after the death of the original Shankaracharya, a man like this, greatly revered throughout Tamilnadu, still carries on the tradition. I wondered about the basis of this ancient ‘organization’, still active after so many centuries.
My travels took me to Kanyakumari14 where I stayed for two days. On the second morning, the sixteenth of April 1957 I went to the seashore as the sun was rising, and watched the sea bathing Kanyakumari’s feet. I felt the touch of the sea water, I saw the glory of the sun, I remembered Kanyakumari, and I renewed the pledge (taken in 1954 at the Sarvodaya Conference at Bodhgaya):
‘We will work without ceasing, as heretofore, until the consummation of the freedom of India into the freedom of every village community.’
I had planned to stay there for two days specially in order to renew this pledge. I had a few friends with me at the time. Had I wished, I could have told them all and asked them to take the pledge also, but I did not, I took it alone. But when I did so I used the word ‘we’ instead of the singular ‘I’. That in fact is now a habit of mine. I do not think of myself as a separate individual, so ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ comes naturally to me. The pledge can certainly be taken by an individual but I would like such a pledge to be in the minds of all.
From Tamilnadu I went on to Kerala. There had been ‘village gifts’ in Orissa and likewise in Tamilnadu, and in Kerala I soon found that the people were no less large-hearted than elsewhere; there too hundreds of villages declared gramdan. That task, it seemed to me, was now completed.