Tiger of Mysore: Saviour or savage?

Tipu gave grants to several temples, one of which is the Nanjundeshwara temple at Nanjangud.

The rule of the Wadeyars, which began in 1399 and continued until 1948, was highly fractured, seeing a number of sweeping changes along the way. The most monumental f these came in 1760, with Hyder Ali and continued, until 1799, until the reign of his son, Tipu Sultan, came to an end. Hyder Ali never claimed to be a ruler, or even an administrator. He styled himself as a ‘karyakarta’ instead. Despite his considerable administrative acumen and the two wars he fought against the British, he never did assume the title of ‘sultan’.

The first of these Anglo wars was in 1767; it ended in 1769 with the defeat of the British. The second Anglo-Mysore war came in 1780 and lasted four years. Hyder Ali himself died in 1782, in the midst of the battle. His son, Tipu Sultan, assumed charge, continued the war and triumphed in 1784. It concluded then with the Mangalore agreement. The British, headed by then governor-general Warren Hastings, agreed not to fight the Mysore army or join any force against the state of Mysore.

They went on to flout the agreement liberally. In the mean time, Tipu Sultan had begun to show his mettle as a leader, proving himself to be a pro-people ruler. He considered himself a great patriot and in that spirit, did much for the greater good. He had a scientific mind and was a pioneer in the art of warfare, the man behind the ‘rocket’. He even laid the foundation for the construction of KRS dam. The plaque which remains even today bears his name but Tipu, in the end, was unable to begin construction. Many of his reforms did pan out well, however, one of which includes the appointment of a trade commissioner in London by promoting trade in Mysuru.

The river Cauvery was cleaned under his watch. And along its path, he constructed ‘musafar khanas’, traveller bungalows, every 12 miles. He brought reforms to the revenue department, too. His defeat came after the third Anglo-Mysore War, which was fought here, in Bengaluru, at Savanadurga and Nandidurga. This time, however, he was defeated. The defeat left him with a war indemnity of over Rs 3.5 crores, out of which he was able to pay half. The remainder was paid in three instalments. He sent two sons to the British, as a mark of faith and to keep the state of Mysore intact.

Tipu gave grants to several temples, one of which is the Nanjundeshwara temple at Nanjangud. He donated generously and is still known in the area as Hakim Nanjunda. When Patawardhan of the Maratha Peshwas attacked the Sringeri mutt, leaving it ransacked, he restored the pontiff. It was a great service to the state’s historic mutt and an example of Tipu’s secular attitude. He is still remembered in Sringeri. He gave liberal grants not just to temples in the state of Mysore but to those in then Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, too.

In Kerala, the mulakkaram was imposed on lower castes. The women were not allowed to wear garments. Tipu Sultan abolished this practice, supplying the women with garments at the cost of the Mysore government.

The state’s famed silk industry owes its beginnings to Tipu Sultan. He was the first person to introduce silk cocoons. He also constructed many buildings and gave land grants to Dalits and tenants.

And through it all, he never once compromised with the British. In 1799 came the fourth Anglo-Mysore war, with the British led by Lord Wellesley. This led to Tipu’s downfall, with the assistance of Meer Sadiq, a conspirator who joined hands with the British. In the meantime, the British had brought the subsidiary alliance system, with which Tipu disagreed. In the end, he was the only ruler of native India to be killed fighting the British in the second half of the 18th century. He could have escaped, perhaps, but he chose the well-being of his state, sacrificing himself. To achieve this end, he even invited Napoleon for a collaboration.
That Tipu was the destroyer of Hindu temples is a baseless allegation. We invited those who made those allegations to come forward for discussions but they did not do so.

In Coorg people revolted against Tipu Sultan, but no ruler tolerates rebellion against his rule. They rebelled a total of seven times. Tipu Sultan did not go to Coorg but quelled the rebellion through his lieutenant.

Another allegation levelled against Tipu Sultan was that he was against the native language, Kannada. Again, this was untrue. He wrote more than 16 letters, in Kannada, to the Sringeri swamiji. The practice in those days was to write documents in Kannada, Marathi and Persian. Still, people are against him. It is because of his religion, because he was a Muslim.

Tipu Jayanthi
Several of us had approached then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, requesting the Tipu Jayanthi. They gave in and the day was celebrated for three years – 2016, 2017 and 2018. Now, the new, short-sighted government under B.S. Yediyurappa, who once adored Tipu Sultan’s sword and Tipu’s crown, appreciated his legacy and attended several functions in his honour, has struck down the Jayanthi. He admired Tipu for political gain but it is his own party that has made communal distortions to the history of India and the history of Mysore.
This is narrow approach. They lack the proper knowledge and are too narrow-minded to understand the contributions of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.

I condemn the cancellation of Tipu Jayanthi. It is a short sighted decision by a single-man government. CM Yediyurappa could not even form the cabinet. What he is doing are only transfers, cancellation of appointments. All secular, right-minded people must condemn this attack on history.

—The author is the President of Ahinda (the Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits). The views are expressed here are personal.

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