Agnivesh was born Vepa Shyam Rao on 21st of September, 1939 in an orthodox Hindu family at Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. He lost his father at the age of four. He was brought up by his maternal grandfather who was the Diwan of a princely state called Shakti, now in Chhattisgarh. He gained degrees in Law and Commerce, became a lecturer in management at the reputed St Xavier's College in Kolkata and for a while practiced law as a junior to Sabyasachi Mukherji who later would become Chief Justice of India.
In 1970, Agnivesh founded Arya Sabha, a political party based on Arya Samaj principles as he himself formulated in his 1974 book, Vaidik Samajvad.
Agnivesh became a member of the Legislative Assembly of Haryana in 1977, and served as a cabinet Minister for Education in 1979 . In 1981, while still a minister, he founded the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which continues to raise issues surrounding bonded labour in India, especially in the quarries in and around Delhi; he remains the chairperson of the organisation. After leaving the Ministry, he was arrested twice, spending a total of 14 months in jail on charges of subversion and murder, of which he was later acquitted.
In March 2011, Maoist forces killed three members of the Chhattisgarh security and police forces; subsequently, the security forces allegedly attacked and burned an alleged Maoist village. When Swami Agnivesh and his organisation attempted to bring relief aid to families in the affected village, they were met by a large group of demonstrators who attacked their cars with stones, claiming that the Maoists were responsible for the deaths of many security force personnel over the last year.
Swami Agnivesh took part in the 2011 anti-corruption protests in India in August of that year. He would later break away from the main group of protesters, claiming that certain protesters had humiliated and conspired against him for political reasons. A video purporting to show Swami Agnivesh speaking to one "Kapil" (ostensibly Kapil Sibal, who was then a minister), suggesting that the government should deal more firmly with "adamant" protesters, was circulated in the Indian media and via the internet. Swami Agnivesh at first claimed another "Kapil" was being referred to in the footage but would later assert that the video itself was doctored.