Northward and Eastward

In the Footprints of Jnanoba and Tukoba1 (The Journey through Maharashtra)

After seven years of travel round India I reached Maharashtra (in March 1958). I said to the people: 'Here I want nothing from you except your love. Up to now I have been asking for gifts, gifts of many kinds, and all of them very much needed, but all of them must be given as tokens of love. I am hungry for love from one and all. I have come before the people of Maharashtra as a man with only two possessions, his thoughts and his love; I have nothing more. I stand before you in freedom of spirit, ready to reopen and reconsider even those principles of which I have become fully convinced. I have no organization of my own, and I do not belong to any. I am simply a man, as God made me. I possess only two conveniences, my spectacles and my dhoti (loin-cloth), and I do not feel easy in my mind that I should possess even these. But I keep them, out of regard for people's feelings, or for some such reason.

Forty years ago, in 1918, I had made a walking tour in some districts of this state. I was at that time greatly interested in seeing historic sites and examining historical documents, and I took every opportunity to do so. This time, however, my research is not into the past but into the present. I am trying to discover the needs of today, and how they can be satisfied. My first step was to say, give a little land. Then I began to ask for one-sixth of the land. After that I said to people, see to it that no one in your village is without land. Next, I began to tell them that it was wrong to think in terms of land-ownership at all, that land is for everyone, like air, water and sunlight. Then I began to talk about Gramswarajya (village self-government), Shanti-sena (Peace Army), and now of Sarvodaya-Patra (the welfare pot). I saw a banyan tree by the roadside one day, and I thought that bhoodan works very much like the tree does. Bhoodan is a tree of living thought which is always putting out new branches and new leaves.

So, at the age of sixty-three I came to Pandharpur2 for the first time in my life, for the Sarvodaya Conference. Nevertheless, if someone were to conclude from that, that all these years I have absented myself, it could only mean that he understands nothing about my life. I affirm that I have really been in Pandharpur all the time, from the day I started thinking for myself up to the present. I hold that 'Pandharpur' is present in every place, and every place is therefore for me a place of pilgrimage. The holy shrines are not to be found only in Pandharpur or Rameshwaram, Mecca or Jerusalem. Every village and every house is for me a holy place.

Some people had announced that Vinoba, on reaching Pandharpur, would visit the temple with people of any caste or creed, and so pollute it. How could they have so misunderstood me ! My satyagraha, my campaign for truth, is not like that. Satyagraha means that I will go nowhere which is forbidden to me, no matter how much reverence I may feel for the place. But while I was still on my way to Pandharpur the authorities of the Vitthal temple sent me a written invitation and in this way the people of Pandharpur won my heart completely.

I have no words to express what I felt then, as I stood in humility before the image of Vithoba. I told my hearers that I had never received a more precious gift, or a greater boon than this. With me were Christian, Muslim and Parsi women, and we all looked upon this holy image together. Maharashtra had given me the best gift it could possibly have made. As I see it, the event was without precedent in the Sarvodaya movement. Not long afterwards, some people from the Moral Re-armament movement came to see me. I told them that the inhabitants of Pandharpur had greatly strengthened the moral armoury. 'Yes,' they said, 'there is no doubt about it, our moral armoury is re-inforced by what has happened.'

In this age of science the experience of Samya-yoga,3 of universal harmonious unity, is not to be sought only in the depths of individual meditation. It should be experienced by the whole of society. In former times, Samya-yoga was regarded as the apex; now it must be taken as the foun- dation, and the whole of life must be built upon it. The age of science demands nothing less.

In Gujarat, among Gandhi's People

When at last I set foot on the soil of Gujarat (in September 1958) it was the fulfilment of a desire of many years' standing. I can't describe how happy I felt to see the people of Gandhiji's native land. 'It is true,' I said, 'that the whole world was his, he belonged to the world; and of course he belonged to India, but in a special way he belonged here in Gujarat. And I too belong to you all; I have spent many years outside, in other states, but now I have come home.'

I decided that so long as I was in Gujarat I would speak Gujarati. When I first met Bapu (Gandhiji) I had to talk with him in Hindi, but I noticed that at that time he did not know Hindi very well. So I set to work to study Gujarati, and mastered it in a short time; from then on I always talked to him in Gujarati.

Gujarat has given me a great deal, so I told the people there not to expect me to offer them knowledge; I would try to the utmost of my power to give them service. All the people, of all political parties and of none, helped to strengthen my hands. I told them that the ideas I had brought with me were the 'highest common factor' of their various ideologies. There are many differences of opinion in the world, but the main principles, which I have been trying to spread during my tramp around India, have now won general intellectual acceptance. It now remains to win for them the love of the people's hearts.

Last year, when I went to Kerala, the four Christian churches issued an appeal to their people, asking all Christians to give me their full cooperation, because I was 'doing the work of Jesus Christ'. When I was in Uttar Pradesh and went to Sarnath, the Buddhist monks there welcomed me, saying 'Baba, we accept your claim that you are carrying forward the work of the Lord Buddha, and turning the Wheel of the Law.' They also gave me a token of their love, a copy of the Dhammapada which I took with me to Bihar. Then, when in the course of my bhoodan pilgrimage I reached Malabar, the Muslims there told me, 'What you say is exactly what is said in the Koran.' 'I have read the Koran,' I replied, 'read it with reverence, and I am very happy that you should think so.' In Tamilnadu the man most revered is Tiruvalluvar;4 a book was published which said that Vinoba was preaching just what Tiruvalluvar taught, and that all Tamilians should cooperate with him. This principle of mine has thus been endorsed by various schools of thought which hold sway in the world. What remains to be done is to endear it to the people.

My travels in Gujarat took me to Bardoli, and I spoke there about how Gujarat combines a pious heart with a practical turn of mind. When the two are yoked together, Krishna the Lord of Yoga, and Arjuna the bearer of the bow, become one; so there assuredly are fortune, victory and prosperity.5 Then I visited the Sabarmati Harijan Ashram.6 I told its inmates that it had almost become a village, and had the same problems as any other village; so if they were to decide on gramdan, these problems could be solved. Gramdan, in fact, means abhaya-dan, the gift of fearlessness.

In Dargah Sharif

During my journey through Rajasthan, a Sarvodaya conference was arranged at Ajmer, because the Dargah Sharif7 there is a famous Muslim holy place (just as, if a Sarvodaya conference were held in Palestine, it would naturally be at Jerusalem). I am no sectarian, but I hold such places in great honour because they are the site of austerities undergone with reverence and faith.

I had an invitation from the Nazim (manager) of the Dargah Sharif, who wrote to one of my companions: 'We very much wish that Vinoba will come to the Dargah, we want to welcome him here because our great Saint (whose Dargah this is) was a devotee of peace and love. Along with Vinobaji I am inviting all his companions; they are all welcome.' I therefore invited all who were attending the conference to go with me, and insisted specially that the women should join. Just as all castes and creeds had gone to the Pandharpur temple, so it should happen here. Islam has a high and holy message. It makes no distinction between the rich and the poor. It strictly forbids the charging of interest on loans. It is an example of true democracy. I wish to proclaim myself both a Muslim and a Christian. I visited the Dargah once ten years ago, when people's minds had lost their balance in the aftermath of the partition of the country in 1947, and I spent seven days there. I used to hold my prayer meetings in the Dargah.

The next day therefore I was accompanied to the Dargah by thousands of others belonging to all faiths. We were very cordially welcomed. I said to the gathering: 'There are some temples and mosques which do not allow all people to enter. That is not right. Everyone without distinction should be allowed to enter any place of worship. All these distinctions must go.' The truth is that worship does not need either a temple or a mosque, one may worship God anywhere. Devotion, as the Holy Koran says, requires only three things: sabr (patience), raham (compa- ssion) and hak (truth). I call it love, compassion and truth.

In the Beautiful Land of Lalla8 (Kashmir)

No words could describe the joy I felt when (in May 1959) I entered the state of Kashmir.9 Some Muslim brothers came to Pathankot to meet me, and nothing could have been better than the gift which they brought me. It was a beautiful copy of the Koran, and I took it as a blessing on my entry into Kashmir.

I told the people there what I hoped to do. 'On my own account,' I said, 'I want nothing. What God wills comes to pass, as I have seen. I have cast all my cares and all my life upon Him, and nothing has ever happened to me which has not been good for me and for the country. I rely on Him. If it should be the will of Allah, I want to do three things: I want to see, I want to hear, and I want to love. I want to use, here in Kashmir, the whole power of loving with which God has endowed me.'

During my travels I usually covered nine or ten miles each day, and it was my custom to eat something in the early morning before starting my walk. On the day I entered Kashmir however I gave up eating one meal. My stomach does not allow me to eat double at the second meal when I have given up the first, so I cannot make up for what I have missed. Still, I thought, I will fast a little and so purify myself. So I gave up one meal in the name of Kashmir.

To enter the Vale of Kashmir one must cross the Pir-Panjal pass. Before I reached it I was held up by rain for six days in the market town of Loran. I decided that if the rain continued and we could not cross the mountain range, I would take it as a sign from God that I should not enter Kashmir itself, and I would return to Punjab. I am guided by such signs, and made up my mind that if I could not cross the Pir-Panjal range I would not go by any other route. But in the end the rains stopped, and I was able to cross the mountains and go ahead.

A man came one day to give me land because his wife had told him to do so. She had seen a photograph in some newspaper which showed someone giving me a hand to help me over a difficult stretch of road. The picture made her feel that when a man is taking so much trouble to help the poor, it would not be right to refuse him land. That woman, who was inspired by that picture to do something for the poor, was she at all wanting in culture? In my view, her human stature touched greater heights than that Pir-Panjal which I had crossed at an altitude of 13,500 feet !

I am happy to say that every group I had the opportunity to meet, political, religious or social, large or small, all of them felt me to be one of themselves, to whom they could open their hearts and speak their minds without misgiving. They trusted me and told me what they thought, so I was able to get what I wished, and hear what I wanted to know.

My third aim was to love, and during those four months I know of no occasion when anything but love entered my mind. By the grace of God, my wish to love was fulfilled.

The people there reminded me three or four times that Shankaracharya had once come to Kashmir on the same kind of mission as mine. I agreed with them that my mission could be compared with his in its purpose, but I cannot be compared with him. He was a great master; I am a mere servant, a slave of Allah. I claim no knowledge, but I do claim to practise the little that I know. I myself am nothing, but the mission on which I have come is not nothing, it is something which offers freedom not only to Kashmir, but to India and to the world as well.

When I entered the state of Jammu-Kashmir I was given a book, an English translation of the sayings of Lalla. Lalla lived six hundred years ago, but even today the people have not forgotten her. In the meanwhile many rulers have come and gone, but which of them do the people remember? Everyone remembers the name of Lalla, the Saint, the great Soul. So as soon as I set foot in Jammu and Kashmir, I began to describe the fundamental purpose of my pilgrimage in this way: 'The problems of Kashmir, of India and of the world will not be solved by politics, but only by the recognition of spiritual principle. The days of sectarian religion and of politics are over. From now on only spiritual principle, and science, will be of any use to the world.' Only when our hearts become large enough to get rid of our disputes about religion, nationality, language etc., only then will Kashmir and India become strong. And when they do, that strength will be such as to bring ease of mind to everyone in the world.

At the Feet of Guru Nanak (In Punjab and Himachal Pradesh)

I came down from Kashmir to the Punjab, and was there from September 1959 to April 1960. While there, I visited the Gurudwara in Amritsar. I had once been consulted about the affairs of the Gurudwaras. 'These quarrels which are going on nowadays,' I said, 'show a lack of wisdom. They are a danger to the Sikh religion and to India as well. In politics people quarrel for majorities, but it is a very dangerous development that the same quarrels have started in the field of religion. I have begged the political leaders over and over again to give up the present party politics and find non-partisan ways of managing public affairs. So long as politics are based on minorities and majorities, India is the loser. It would be extremely unwise to let this same party spirit take hold of religion; I cannot imagine anything more disastrous. Can questions of religion ever be decided by majority vote? In Guru Nanak's mind a living seed of religion germinated and grew. The basic principle of the Sikhs is this-and a very great one it is-that the whole world belongs to one race, one community, in which there are no divisions, no caste distinctions. The worship of images is neither enjoined nor opposed. God is One, that is the message. This basic idea is bound to spread, but the very group of people which has given it to the world is itself becoming infected by politics and its tricks, and this is an extremely dangerous thing. I would like to warn you all against it. If I had my way, I would have everyone leave his politics along with his shoes outside the Gurudwaras. Politics are worth no more than shoes. The politics of today, whether in India or in the world, are not something to be carried proudly on the head; at the very most they are for the feet, and such footgear is not fit to enter either Gurud- wara or Church, Temple or Mosque. Don't take it in, for if you do, the house of God will become a place of devils.'

In Punjab I made public a decision I had come to, which I had been thinking over for a year or two, and which I now placed before the Sarva Seva Sangh in a letter from Pragpur in Kangra. 'I have now been walking for the last eight and a half years,' I wrote, 'and I have visited all the states except Assam. I have been dwelling among the people (janavas), though in our traditional language it could also be called dwelling in the forest (vanavas). What I need now is to dwell in the unknown (ajnatavas). I would go on walking, but all that the country outside would know is that I am somewhere in Punjab, and all the people in Punjab would know is that I am somewhere in Kangra (or elsewhere). The Kangra people would know the details for five or six days ahead, so I should not be completely a dweller in the unknown; I should not be like either the Pandavas10 or those modern Pandavas who go under- ground; my whereabouts would not be entirely unknown.

'It is clear that there will be drawbacks. The gains may be spiritual, especially considered as research in non-violence, provided that the mind can absorb this magni- ficent idea. Whether it can or not, can only be known by experience, and I would be watching for it. I propose to begin the experiment from Amritsar. There is to be a meeting of writers there, and after that I shall cease to be a forest-dweller and become a dweller in the unknown.'

A man who is a dweller in the unknown may go wherever he pleases, but it was in my mind to go towards Indore. Whether I went by a round-about route, or as direct as Euclid's straight line, would depend on circumstances and the actions of those around me.

This experiment of mine lasted for four or five months. I let people know my plans for three days in advance, no more. There is no doubt that it was a great benefit as a help to reflection and meditation. Then I crossed a corner of Uttar Pradesh and entered Madhya Pradesh.

Was it a Dream, What I saw in Madhya Pradesh?

What happened in Bhind-Morena, after I had been walking there for ten or twelve days, moved me to the depths of my heart, for I saw how the light of God indeed shines through all. In former days I had accepted this in theory; now it was demonstrated in practice. In former days I had read about non-violence in books; now I encountered it in my own experience. Three times I witnessed its power in human society; the first time was in Pochampalli, the second in Bihar, and the third here in Bhind, in Madhya Pradesh.

In this part of Madhya Pradesh the ravines around the Chambal river were infested by dacoits, armed robbers, some of them followers of the rebel11 leader Man Singh. My peace campaign in the area had a totally unexpected outcome. Non-violence is a spiritual force of great power. Mahatma Gandhi used it in the political field, and later it has been used in the social and economic field. Now I tried it out in what is commonly called the dacoit region. Something new happened which had never happened before. Hard hearts were melted; the whole atmosphere was saturated with the spirit of God. People for whom dacoity had become a means of livelihood repented, came to me completely transformed, and abandoned their former ways. One can only conclude that God had penetrated their hearts with His divine radiance. As for me, I can only feel profoundly thankful to that Lord of All, in whom I put my trust as I try to walk in the way of truth, love and compassion.

While I was still in Kashmir Tahsildar Singh, the son of dacoit leader Man Singh, wrote to me from jail. He had been condemned to death and he wanted the privilege of seeing me before he was hanged. At the time I had with me in my party General Yadunath Singh who comes from this same area, and I asked him to go and see Tahsildar Singh on my behalf. Tahsildar Singh told him of his desire that I should visit the Chambal ravines and meet his dacoit comrades. I went there in response to his request, and spoke to the people about the principle of love, and I appealed to the robber gangs to come to me as their friend. I assured them that they would be treated justly, without brutality, and that their families would not suffer.

By the grace of God, twenty of them came to me at Kaneragram on the nineteenth of May (1960). They laid down their guns-costly weapons, equipped with powerful gunsights-and surrendered themselves to me. Then they met their wives and children, and we went with them to the jail, where they gave themselves up. They will reap the fruit of their misdeeds, but they will have earned the forgiveness of God. A way has been opened.

In the City of Ahilyabai12

During my tour of Madhya Pradesh I was able to stay for some weeks at Indore. This city has a good climate, it is beautiful, and its citizens are well-disposed. Bhopal is the administrative capital of Madhya Pradesh, but to my mind Indore is the cultural capital; I asked its citizens to make it a Sarvodaya city.

But as I went round the city during those five weeks I saw an ugly thing which shocked me deeply. In a number of places filthy cinema posters were on display; how could such a shameless thing be tolerated? My eyes were opened: India would never be able to stand upright so long as such dirty sights and dirty songs were the order of the day-all the country's vigour would be drained away. There seemed no bounds to the dismay I felt at the sight of those filthy, offensive posters.

Along with the bhoodan movement, I decided, there must be a purification campaign. If I had not come to Indore, I would not have thought of it. I told the public that their children were being given 'free and compulsory education in sensuality,' and that they must undertake satyagraha (non-violent action) against it. I asked the Municipal Councillors to get all these objectionable posters removed from public places, and not to be swayed by greed for the income they might lose. I made a special appeal to the women. 'The very basis of the householder's life,' I said, 'is in danger. Our sisters and mothers are being depicted in public places in a very bad light. I am giving you women the task of guarding the peace and the purity of this country. Wake up, women of Indore ! Don't put up with all these posters for one day longer. Tear them down ! Burn them !'

I also held another kind of purification campaign in Indore. We observed a 'Clean Indore' week, and went to various parts of the city, to do what people called 'plucky deeds'. I decided to clean latrines, and went to a place where faeces, urine and water (sattva, raja and tama)13 were all mingled. The women scavengers who worked there daily must be using their bare hands for the job; I did the same, except that I wore gloves. Even so, when I got back to my lodging place I wanted to wash my hands many times over. For scavenging I also took off the rubber slippers which I was wearing, even though Appasaheb14 said that I should have something on my feet. 'No,' I replied. 'The things are called slippers, and they would be sure to slip, and then there would be a regular scene-so I won't wear them.' But what with the rain falling from above, and all the nightsoil below, my feet got extremely dirty. Back in the house, I felt like putting them in the fire, to refine them like metal and get rid of the filthy scum.

A number of people had joined me in this work. 'You have shown plenty of pluck,' I told them, 'but now you must show some intelligence as well. We must discover how to relieve humanity completely of the need for such work. You must all put your heads together and find some way of eliminating scavenging altogether.'

I chose Indore as a Sarvodaya city, and spent a compa- ratively long time there, because it not only has links with the good Queen Ahilyadevi, it is also the site of Kasturba- gram, the centre of the work being done in memory of Mother Kasturba,15 where I stayed for seven days.

The Eastern Frontier Region

When my time at Indore was over I resumed my pilgrimage, but I had not gone far when I received a letter from Pandit Nehru. He suggested that I should go to Assam, which at that time was in a disturbed state. I replied that in any case I needed to go to Assam, which up to then I had not visited, to do my gramdan work, and that I could do the peace work which he desired at the same time. 'But,' I said, 'the tortoise will go at its own pace; it will not compete with the hare.' When Rajendrababu heard this, his comment was: 'It's always the tortoise, not the hare, that wins the race.' My companions were eager for me to reach Assam quickly. 'If I did that,' I said, 'it would make the people of Assam feel that they were badly at fault, so that I had had to put aside everything else and go there. It seems to me, however, that they have not gone badly wrong; they were carried away by an evil current.' Meanwhile, someone had told Panditji that I had set out on foot, not by the direct route but according to the plan I had already made. 'If I were in his place I would do exactly the same,' he replied.

So I travelled to Assam by my own route, and passed through Bihar on the way. 'You gave me a pledge,' I said to the Biharis, 'to get thirty-two lakh acres of land in bhoodan, and you have not yet fulfilled it. You had better get busy. I suggest that you should ask every land-owner for one kattha in every bigha of his land (i.e. a one-twentieth part of it).' This started a new 'one in twenty' campaign. I also spent two days in Samanvaya Ashram16 at Bodhgaya, and visited the Buddha temple, where I recited the Dhammapada Navasamhita in full.

On my very first day in Assam (5th March 1961) I spoke of gramdan as something which could raise the level of the whole of society. 'A man who makes himself out to be a landlord,' I said, 'is no true Vaishnavite. It is Vishnu who is Lord of the land, Lord of all creation.' (Most of the people there are Vaishnavites, worshippers of Vishnu.)

The State of Assam is almost surrounded by foreign countries, and is joined to the rest of India only by a narrow corridor. Its frontiers with Burma (Myanmar), China, Tibet and East Pakistan17 add up to about two thousand two hundred miles, while its link with India is only fifty or sixty miles across. Assam is the bottle-neck of India, so that India needs to keep in touch with it and attend to its development.

When I reached Assam I found that one matter was being talked about everywhere: the problem of 'infiltration'. There were differing estimates of the number of people who had come in from Pakistan; some said that they were very numerous, other thought not, but all recognized the problem. This 'problem' however would solve itself if land were all owned by the village and there were no buying or selling of it, for then those who came in order to get land would find that they could not do so. That was the best possible solution; nobody need worry about how to control the frontier-about putting up barbed wire, or building a wall, or providing armed police or calling in the military. The solution, I repeat, lies in gramdan. The land would all be owned by the gramsabha, the village assembly, and no individual would be allowed to sell it. And if land cannot be had, there is nothing to attract people from outside to come and settle.

I found Namghars (shrines where Names of God are recited) in every village; I also found that just as Jnanadev and Tukaram exercise much influence on the Marathi people, and Tulsidas on the Hindi-speaking people, so Shankaradeva and Madhavadeva18 have a wide influence in Assam. These great souls derived from the Gita their gospel of Ek Sharaniya, 'total surrender', and established in Assam a great tradition of devotion. Even in the smallest village there is a Namghar, and this promotes a family feeling in the village as a whole. Even now, in every house, the women sit weaving on the handloom. It seemed to me that the foundation for gramdan had already been laid, and that if along with the Namghar we were to build a Kam-ghar, a centre for village industries, this State could soon stand on its own feet.

While I was at Indore I had received a letter from a sister in Assam. 'If you want to build up women's power,' she wrote, 'you should come here.' She proved to be absolu- tely right. There was and is a very good group of spiritually-minded women who observe chastity and engage in social service. Amalaprabha Das is the source of their inspiration; the influence of her work is felt throughout Assam.

One thing I did there was to try to teach Marathi to two Assamese sisters who accompanied me on my travels, by using my Marathi Gitai as the text-book. It's a long way from Assam to Maharashtra ! Nevertheless I noticed that there were some Assamese words which were not unlike Marathi ones. The two sisters knew the Nagari script, so I used that script, along with the ideas of the Gitai, in teach- ing them, and they began to read, write and speak Marathi.

I do not think that India can be united by using a single language, but I do think that a common script might do it. What is needed is that all the languages of India should be written in the Nagari script in addition to their own. I am not a hee man, I am a bhee man; I don't want the Nagari script only (hee) to be used, I want it to be used also (bhee), alongside the local one. If the great spiritual literature of every language were also available in the Nagari script, it would make it easier for people to learn one another's languages, and it would help to increase the sense of national unity.

I stayed in Assam for a year and a half, up to September 1962. I made the round of the whole state almost twice over, and then the time came to move on. I was right on the frontier of India, and I could have gone on to China, Burma or Pakistan. I decided, however, to go back to West Bengal, and the way led through East Pakistan. I planned to take that route, and the governments of India and Pakistan both approved. I set out for East Pakistan.