Born in a high-caste Brahmin family on September 11, 1895 at the village of Gagoda in Kolaba district of Maharashtra, his real named Vinayak at birth and was influenced by his mother Rukmini Devi, a religious woman. His younger brother, Balkoba Shivaji, remained unmarried and adopted a life of renunciation and service to humanity like him. He abandoned his high-school studies in 1916 to join Gandhi's teachings led Bhave to a life of austerity, dedicated to improving Indian village life.
Bhave was interned several times during the 1920s and 1930s and served a five year prison sentence in the 1940s for leading nonviolent resistance to British rule. He was given the honorific acharya (teacher). His idea of the land-gift movement was conceived in 1951 while he was touring villages in the province of Andhra Pradesh, a landholder offered him acreage in response to his appeal for land on behalf of a group of landless untouchables, or harijans.