– Vaishali Borker

Kranti-guru Lahuji Vastaad was Guru to Vasudev Balwant Phadke, Lokmanya Tilak, Gopal Agarkar, Mahatma Phule and many others.

Lahuji Raghoji Salve was born into a family of brave warriors belonging to the Mang or Matang* community, in the village of Peth at the foothills of the fort, ‘Purandar’ in about 1795-1800. The Salve family served under Shivaji Maharaj. Recognising their valour, Lahuji’s grandfather was entrusted with the responsibility of guarding the Purandar fort, for the protection of which many of his ancestors attained ‘veergati’ – martyrdom. They were bestowed with the title of ‘Raut’. Lahuji’s father Raghoji was a muscular man with an excellent built. In his youth, after a duel with a tiger, he is supposed to have carried the live tiger on his shoulders into the Peshwa court at Pune. In such a family of illustrious soldiers, Lahuji, from his childhood was trained in warfare.  

In the battle of Kirkee (Khadki) of the 3rd Anglo-Maratha war, which began on the 5th of November 1817, for 12 days Lahuji fought bravely along with his father, Raghoji. Sardar Raghoji Salve is described as a whirlwind, who with his skills of the sword slew 3-4 soldiers of the British army at one go. At last, to overcome this catastrophe, some Britishers got together and cut down Raghoji. Lahuji, still in his late teens or early twenties, stood astounded to witness his father fall, thus. The Marathas lost this battle. At the end of the battle on 17th November, 1817, at the place where his father was martyred, getting himself together, Lahuji pledged that – ‘For my nation, I shall die and solely for my nation, I shall live.’ In the service of his nation, Lahuji remained unmarried for his entire life. He built a ‘samadhi’- memorial to commemorate his father which is seen to this day at Wakdewadi, near Shivajinagar, Pune. 

Lahuji was proficient in the skills of using the (दांड-पट्टा) dand-patta, wielding the sword, horse-riding, using guns, wrestling, etc. His muscular body and full chest would bring sweat to the brow of his opponents. Being a master at his craft, he earned the title of ‘vastaad’ which means ‘Master’. He believed in an armed revolution and to impart training to the youth, in 1822, he inaugurated a ‘talim’, ‘akhada’ or a gymnasium in Raasta peth, Pune at the hands of Sardar Nana Raaste. To liberate our nation from the British, his sworn enemies, he inspired and mentored many men who fought for the war of independence of 1857.  

Besides the physical training in the akhada, he narrated stories of the brave men of yore who fought for the independence of our motherland. Later, he influenced the revolutionary methods adopted by the ‘extremists’ rather than the pacifist approach of the ‘moderates’. Vasudev Balwant Phadke, Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Mahatma Phule, the Chaphekar brothers were some of his more famous students. 

The first English school for girls by Savitribai Phule began in the akhada premises. He encouraged the education of the downtrodden, and acted as a shield protecting Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule against physical harm due to the angst of the people. 

The arrest and then the life sentence awarded to Vasudev Balwant Phadke on 7th November, 1879 for treason, impacted Lahuji deeply. Soon, on 17thFebruary, 1881, he breathed his last in a small hut at Sangamwadi, Pune with no personal valuable possessions. Recently, on 22nd April, 2022, the state government granted over Rs. 87 crores for land acquisition and memorial to this great man – Kranti-guru Lahuji Vastad Salve, guru to many ‘krantikaris’ of the freedom movement.

*The Matang community and the etymology of the word ‘matang’ has been variously explained as ‘mat-ang’ that is strong-in-body’, lineage to Matang rishi, etc. 

Today, the Matang community has been categorized under SC – Scheduled caste. 

Under the British raj, they were labeled as the ‘criminal’ tribes which is a great compliment as the British notified only those people/tribes as ‘criminal’ who stood up against them. 


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