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Phakdas – Sade Teen (Three and a half) 

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Phakdas – Sade Teen (Three and a half) 

 

 

The number three and a half (called as sade teen in Hindi/Marathi) is
considered to be of a special importance amongst Hindus. It is often used to
denote auspicious, important and the best things, places or people known to
man. For instance, the Hindus regard three and a half days in a year as very
important and they believe that there is no need to consult an astrologer or
pundit for an auspicious ‘muhurat’ or good time, for the commencement of
important things on these days. These three and half days are Chaitra Shukla
Pratipada or the first day of Shukla Paksha or waxing phase of the moon in Chaitra
month (March-April), Akshaya Tritiya or the third day of Shukla Paksha of the
Vaishakh month (April-May), Vijaya Dashmi or the 10th day of Shukla Paksha of
the Ashwin month (September-October) and Kartik Shukla Pratipada or the 1st day
of the Shukla Paksha of the Kartik Month (Diwali Day). The last one (Kartik Shukla
Pratipada) is considered as a half auspicious day.

Phakdas – In the same manner as above, three and a half is also used to refer to other
important things, places or people, for e.g. three and a half Shakti peeths or
places of power, three and a half badshah’s or great kings, three and a half Rao’s
or nobles, three and a half ‘Shahane’ or wise men, three and a half clothes (i.e.
the best clothes that can be presented as gifts) etc.

Phakdas – It is not known why a mixed fraction like three and a half was chosen to
denote important or auspicious things. But once it was, it became a custom and
anything that is three and half began to be considered as best. For e.g. in the
Maratha confederacy if a person was to be honored, he was presented with a
turban, a mantle, a piece of cloth called as the Mahmudi, for the pajamas and a
cloth about a span in breadth to be worn around the head (This was the half part
in the three and half.)

In continuation of this custom of naming three and halves among the best
of things, places or people, the Marathas named three and half wise men, three
and half nobles and three and half ‘Phakdas’ or gallant men of their times. Let us see today, who these three and a half ‘Phakdas’ or gallant men were!

The word ‘Phakda’ in Marathi means Smart, Dashing or brave. But in C.A.
Kincaid’s words, “The word ‘Phakda’ is almost impossible to translate accurately
into English. To earn the title it was not sufficient to be recklessly daring. One had
also to possess qualities which the French describe in the word ‘preux’ and the
Italians in the phrase ‘galantuomo’. One had in fact to combine in one person the
chivalry of a Bayard, the fortitude of a Sydney3 and the headlong bravery of a
Marshal Ney. ” He further states, “The title of ‘Phakda’ was not officially bestowed by any Maratha government, it was awarded to a person by the universal judgement of the army! The expected qualities of the person who could deserve it were so high that in the two centuries of Maratha history only three persons were considered fit for it.” As per the Hindu/Maratha custom however, there are three and a half ‘Phakda’s’.

Phakdas – The first among these gallant men was Kanherrao Trimbak Ekbote. He had
entered the Maratha empire’s service during Balaji Bajirao Peshwa’s (Son of
Bajirao-I) time as an ordinary cavalry man, but he was soon elevated to the post
of a captain due to his bravery. The arduous campaign of 1751-1752 against the Nizam Salabatjung gave him a chance to prove his mettle and it was a battle in
this campaign that earned him the title of ‘Phakda’ . Salabatjung had the help of
the famous French soldier and artillery expert M. De Bussy at his disposal and the Nizam had planned to attack Pune, coming via Talegaon (Dhamdhere) and
Ranjangaon. On 22nd November 1751, on the occasion of an eclipse, when the
Marathas were busy in their religious rituals on the Ghod River, the nizam’s army
launched a surprise attack on them. On 27th November 1751, the Marathas
launched a fierce and determined counter attack on the nizam’s army. De Bussy’s
guns were raining fire on the Maratha army but Kanherrao Ekbote showed
extraordinary valor, approached the cannonade from front and eventually was
successful in silencing De Bussy’s artillery fire. The Peshwa rewarded his
extraordinary bravery by giving him a right to wear a silver bangle on his horse’s
foreleg. He was also raised to a higher rank and from this day onwards he was to be known as Kanherrao ‘Phakde’

The second ‘Phakda’ was one Manaji Shinde or Scindia. The word ‘fear’ was not known to this man and he was often referred to as a man with an ‘upside down
heart’ (Marathi translation of the proverb ‘ultya kaljacha’ which means a man
who is fearless and one who does not have an iota of mercy in his heart). He
hailed from the Kanherkhed family of Scindia’s, the same family which the famous Mahadji Scindia belonged to. Manaji was a staunch supporter of Raghunathrao
Peshwa, but he eventually reconciled to Nana Phadnavis after Raghunathrao’s
defeat by the Barbhai council. This man had a hundred wounds on his face and body and his deformed face on account of these wounds was a frightful sight.
Major Price, who visited the Pune Durbar with the English resident of Pune, Sir
Charles Malet in 1791, describes Manaji Phakde in the following words,

Phakdas – “Among others was Manaji Fankra (Phakde) long known to the Bombay army for his reckless bravery. His grotesque appearance, on the present occasion, was
peculiarly striking. Like the genuine Maratha he was naked from the waist
upwards, with merely a loose scarf, thrown over his shoulders. His face, heart and
arms were so strangely painted in streaks of yellow, as might have taken the
conceit out of the wildest of the red chiefs of the American wilderness, and
certainly, when leaning on his shield with a settled scowl upon his countenance, he
exhibited an exterior of savage ferocity, whatever might have been the animating
spirit.”

Another Englishman by the name Tone, described Manaji Phakde in 1793 as “an
officer of high military reputation and so disfigured with wounds, as to have
scarcely the appearance of a human creature.”

The third among the three and a half ‘Phakdas’ was a man named Konherrao
Patwardhan. He was known as a ‘Hatti Manus’ or the Elephant Man. ‘Hatti
Manus’ is an old Marathi phrase that was used in medieval times to describe a
man with a gigantic body and strength resembling that of an elephant. He was
killed in a battle with Haider Ali of Mysore (Father of Tipu Sultan) in the year
1777. The people who saw him fight in this battle describe his valor in the
following words:-

Phakdas – “Konherrao Patwardhan was fighting with Pandurang Rao Tatya who was the
commander of a party of 4000 soldiers. But at one moment, most of the soldiers deserted him and had ran away. Even in those circumstances, Konherrao marched
ahead alone and attacked the enemy with a weapon in his hand. He was
surrounded by the enemy soldiers and a fierce fight ensued. He was eventually
killed and later when his dead body was found, he had on his head, three or four
sword wounds and a wound made by a spear near his eye. His torso was covered
with armor, so there were few wounds on it but it was apparent from his wounds
that he had combated many of them.”

Phakdas – The last half Phakda among the three and halves was known as Ishtur Phakda.
But he was not a Maratha. He was an English soldier by the name Captain James Stuart who was killed in the first Anglo-Maratha war fought in 1778 at Bor ghat
near Khandala. “Ishtur” is a Marathi corruption of the name Stewart. Captain
Stuart with his six companies of grenadiers, marched from Mumbai on 22nd November 1778 and reached Khandala after three days, by traversing the difficult
Bor ghat and successfully repelling the Maratha resistance on his way. But on his
way further towards Pune, he had to face a cannonade from the guns of Bhivrao
Panse, the artillery chief of the Peshwa. Captain Stuart also responded with a
cannonade from his artillery and showing utmost bravery, led the charge on the
Maratha army amid a hail of cannon shots. The Maratha front was be dazzled by
his fortitude and exclaimed, “Shabash Ishtur Phakde!” (Bravo! Stuart the Brave!).
Captain Stuart was killed in the battle as a cannon ball hit him. A letter dated 22
January mentions,”Ishtur Phakda, the warrior fell dead from a cannon shot at
Karla.”

The sands of time have cast the three Maratha ‘Phakdas’ into oblivion. Ironically,
the ‘English’ Ishtur Phakda (Captain Stewart) continues to be worshipped as a ‘pir’
(Holy man) to this day at his grave at Wadgaon! (Near Pune)

References:-
1) Marathe Shahitil Vechak Vedhak (A collection of essays on the outstanding
and unknown facts of the Maratha Empire) – Y.N.Kelkar
2) Ishtur Phakde, a gallant Englishman and other studies”- C.A.Kincaid
https://archive.org/details/ldpd_10797941_000
3) Battles of the honourable East India Company: Making of the Raj-
M.S.Naravane
4)http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/threads/capt-james-stewart-died-
karla-maharashtra-state-india-04-jan-1779-first-anglo-mahra.19135/

 

Author:-
Satyen S Velankar

 

 

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