Tipu Sultan: Vision and mission

Dr. Shakeel A. Samdani,

When India was being freed from foreign rule on 15 August, 1947, it was hoped by Muslims that in that those who sacrificed their life and honour in freedom struggle will get due recognition and will be remembered in times to come. It was also expected that the injustice done to them during the British rule will also be removed and they will get a proper place in the history of India. That hope was natural because they had fought the alien rulers shoulder to shoulder along with their Hindu brothers. But all these hopes were evaporated just after drawing of freedom. The expectations started soaring and those who had tendered ‘apology’ to the British to gain favours and freedom, began to rise in every field including, history.

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Subsequently they launched attempts to wipe out names of Muslims from the pages of history of the freedom struggle. These people went on to authenticate false history propaganda by the British. This resulted in character assassination of such people who not only sacrificed everything they had, but also might have become a source of inspiration for coming generations. Those people not only got neglected, but were also labeled as cruel, inhuman, religious bigots, etc. Among such people, one is Tipu Sultan Shaheed.

Tipu Sultan was born on Saturday, 20 Zil-Hij, 1163 Hijri, i.e. 10 of Nov. 1750 at a district named Devanhiki, North West of Kolar and about 33 km to Bangalore.1
It is reported that from the age of 6 to death of his father, Tipu always joined all battles fought by his father and thus he learnt in practical field the art of warfare and tactics. He was placed in command of selected soldiers when he was only 16. At this young age he had to face the English Army at Bangalore and he gave crushing defeat to English. He succeeded to his father’s office on 29 Dec., 1772; at the age of 32. When Tipu Sultan took charge of the affairs of the Sultanate Khudadad in 1782 it extended up to 400 miles covering a vast area of about 80,000 miles. The whole sultanate was divided into 20 districts for effective administrations. Every district comprised about 40 tallukas on an average.2

For the first time in the history of this state, it was also in control of certain small islands. He was immediately immersed in the struggle against the English, containing the war that had begun under his father and in which he had already taken a vigorous part.3
His own education in Persian made him fairly well versed in Islamic History and theology, and this too helped to direct him to the course he now took. From his accession Tipu treated himself as an independent sovereign, not needing any diploma of inferior office from the Mughal court at Delhi.4
Tipu gave his sovereignty a colour of religious militancy which was not at all present in the Mughal imperial polity of 18th century. Tipu would not put his own name on the coins he minted. Rather the coin invoked God as the all powerful sovereign. It also bore the names of Prophet Muhammad SAW and Haider, i.e. Ali, the prophet’s cousin and model for heroes in Islam.5

His formal name to his government, sultanate-khudadad [God given government], also recalled his assertion that his was no ordinary government, but one with a divinely ordained mission.

It is alleged by many Historians and certain communal-minded writers that Tipu was religious fanatic. According to them, he suppressed Hindus and Christians. He used to demolish temples and confiscate their lands. It is alleged that he even went to the extent of circumcising no-Muslims en masse and forced people to embrace Islam. Kirk Patrick says that he was of intolerant nature. The History of Mysore, Wilkis calls him a die-hard zealot.

It is alleged by one English historian that Sultan forced 70,000 people to embrace Islam in the city of Coorg itself, although even an average student of history of Mysore maybe knowing that the total population of Coorg during Tipu’s reign not even half that number. Moreover this population comprised Muslims and Christians as well. To prove the point further, a Hindu historian Ramachandra Rao Rangnuri himself says that only about 500 people embraced Islam after Sultan’s conquest over Coorg, that too when these Hindus were on the threshold of embracing Christianity after getting fed up with the caste discrimination in their own religion. He urged them to stick to their own religion. In case the matter gets worst, they might consider accepting their faith i.e. Islam. Therefore, on this occasion, Surendra Nath Seth has tried to defend Sultan saying that he is not a communal person. In addition to this, Mahatma Gandhi has defended Tipu by saying that he is extremely friendly and amicable relations with his Hindu subjects and he was an advocate of harmony between Hindus and Muslims.6

As regards the allegation that Tipu was a religious bigot or anti-Hindu, is far from true. There are many examples when Tipu Sultan gave funds and grants to the temple, Maths, and Hindu religious places. Tipu furnished Sree Shankaracharya of Sringeri with funds for reinstalling the displaced image in the Sharda temple desecrated by Pindaris of the Maratha army under Parshuram Bhau. The letters written by Tipu to Swamiji of Sringeri express such sentiments of respect for Hinduism as to disapprove the charges of religious intolerance levelled against him. These letters were discovered in 1916 by R. Narasimhachar. In one of the Tipu had quoted a Sanskrit verse. He had requested the Swamiji to pray for the prosperity of his kingdom and destruction of its enemies. These letters express great respect for Holy place and for Swamiji which completely falsifies the British propaganda that Tipu was bigot and persecuted Hindus.

Sringeri was not the only holy place which enjoyed the patronage of Tipu. To the Lakshmikantha temple at Kalale in Nonjangud Taluk, he gave four silver cups, a silver plate and a silver spittoon. To the Narayanaswami temple at Melkote he presented gold and silver vessels along with an elephant and few jewels.8

There are numerous examples of gifts, grants and donations by Tipu to the temples and Hindu religious leaders. There s no need to describe them.

During the reign of Tipu gave high positions to Hindus in his government e.g. a Hindu Brahmin Purnaiya was the finance minister and in terms of power he was the second most powerful person after prime minister Mir Sadique. Lala Mahtab Rai Sabqat, a Brahmin was a close confident of Tipu and the personal Munshi of the Sultan. Hari Singh was a high ranked official in the cavalry of Mysore. Narsimha Rao was a top ranked government official. The commander of Coorg was also a Brahmin. Rama Rao was the commander of one of the Cavalry Brigades. Sri Nivas Rao and Appa Ji were often sent for diplomatic parleys.

Thus, the attempts of a few British historians to depict Tipu as communal are highly erroneous. Tipu was just and fair to all. His appointment of numerous Hindus to high offices and his grants and gifts to Hindu temples and Brahmins falsify the wrong accusation that Tipu as intolerant.9

Tipu Sultan not only gave grants and money to the temples owned by the Hindus but he also granted them complete religious freedom. All non-Muslims, Hindus and Christians alike, were free to follow their own religion.

But like a modern enlighten ruler he was not in favour of inhuman and unnatural rites and ritual. He introduced social reforms both among Hindus and Muslims. In the words of Mohd Iliyas Nadvi: “In this direction on the one hand where he imposed strict ban on the non sensible and anti Islamic practices among the Muslims, he also sternly abolished all such ridiculous practices among the Hindus. In those days some Hindu women in Sultanate Khudadad used to have four or more husbands and they had a matriarchal society which was strictly banned by him. The women folk from Malabar used to roam topless in the market. He opposed it. In some temples, particularly the temple of Kali of Mysore human sacrifices was made to please God and deities. He imposed a blanket ban on it. Slavery was prevented among Hindus. Hindu women were auctioned in markets in big cities. Maids used to be kept in houses to satisfy their sexual lusts. A royal decree was passed which made slavery unlawful. Custom was prevalent among the Hindu women in Coorg that only the eldest son of the family was permitted to marry a women who used to become the wife of his brothers. He imposed a ban on it also.”10

These were reasons that Hindu majority stood by his side until his martyrdom on 4th May 1799. The day Sultan met his martyrdom; several bodies of Hindu women including young girls were found lying around the Sultan’s body. Even the British officers were stupefied to observe such dedication and intense affection of the Hindu populace towards a Muslim ruler. When the Sultan’s funeral procession was being taken along, Hindu women were weeping bitterly and smearing their heads with mud. When the capital was besieged, several Brahmins observed a day long fast according to their religious rites seeking the Sultan’s victory.11

Tipu Sultan was far sighted person and far ahead of his contemporaries in the sense that in spite of his involvement in regular wars, he tried to bring about ‘industrial revolution’ in Mysore. He established factories in foreign countries at Cutch, Muscat, Pegu, Ormuz and Jeddah. He also attempted to establish them at Basra and Aden. Trade relations existed with China and negotiations were conducted for establishment of trade contracts with France, Turkey and Iran. Armenian merchants were persuaded to settle down in Mysore.

He also introduced the trading system of shares. He established trading company and encouraged people to join it. He introduced a unique system to stop monopoly of the few individuals. Those who bought this shares up to the value of rupees five hundred were entitled to draw 50% profit and those who bought more shares, received profits in decreasing percentage. By this noble method a large number of people were associated with trade and the monopoly of rich people was stopped. Moreover, Tipu had envisaged the construction of dam on exactly the same site where now the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam was built.12

Before we conclude, it would be appropriate to know the feelings of important figures of world as well as historians. In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru , “ Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan were formidable adversaries who inflicted a sever defeat on British and came near to breaking the power of East India Company… His son Tipu continued to strengthen his navy. Tipu also sent messages to Napolean and the Sultan in Constantinople”.13

Historian Tarachand says… “In the fourth war British gold effected what British guns had so far failed to accomplish. The ministers betrayed the master. Tipu refused to surrender and died bravely in defence of his fort.”14
Very recently D.H. Shankramurthy, higher education minister, government of Karnataka said in Bangalore that Tipu Sultan was anti Kannada because he promoted Persian during his rule”. This stirred a hornet’s nest with many calling his resignation from the cabinet. D.H. Sankaramurthy also charged Tipu Sultan for changing the Kannada inscriptions on cons to Persian. “Where is the need for our children to learn about him” he asked. The statement drew condemnation from all quarters more particularly from Hindus. Labour minister Mr. Iqbal Ansari took serious exception to Shankaramurthy’s remark and observed that,” It should not be forgotten that Tipu Sultan was a warrior who fought for the freedom of the country”.15

Eminent Scholars and academics have lamented that the history depicting the period of Tipu Sultan has been distorted due to communalism and the fight against communalism in modern India can be won only if such misrepresentations are set right. These views were expressed at national seminar on “Tipu Sultan: State, Economy and Modernisation”. The seminar was organised by the Department of History, University of Mysore and Directorate Archaeology, Government of Karnataka. K.K.N. Kurup., historian and former Vice-Chancellor of Calicut University described him as an architect of modern India who tried to bring about reforms in finance, military, administration, state organisation, etc; while his contemporary rulers were steeped in medieval beliefs and hence failed to resist the conquest by the colonial powers.16

Earlier, Sebestian Joseph, Prof. And Chairman, Department of Studies in History, University of Mysore, said Tipu Sultan provided an alternative model of federalism that was rooted in eighteenth century Asia. The study of Tipu Sultan was all the more relevant today as the new international order being created by the forces of globalisation was similar to the scenario that prevailed in the eighteenth century in some respects, he said. History scholar N.V. Narhsimhaiah said that British version of history painted Tipu Sultan negatively while in Mysore records, there were a number of instances that proved unambiguously that he wanted to end the colonial rule. Tipu Sultan, whose kingdom, once spanned the entire south has been described as the ‘ideal’ king by Mahatma Gandhi in Young India. The temple at Shrirangapatnam was dear to him and he filled his cabinet more kannadigas than Mysore Maharajas can claim to have done. Noted play writer and actor Girish Karnad said about Tipu Sultan “He was a thinker and visionary who represented the best of Karnataka. Unfortunately he has been misunderstood by people of his own country and a lot of untruth was spread about him.” “For me he is the greatest Kannadiga” he said. “Tipu Sultan was the only one who had perceived a threat to the country from the East India Company”.17

From the above it can be safely concluded that Tipu Sultan was neither anti-Kannada nor anti-Hindu. He was a true ruler and not only the pride of Mysore but the whole nation. The allegations against him are totally baseless, mischievous and wrong. There is no truth in them.

Although, Tipu Sultan suffered a defeat against the British in 1799 on account of several unavoidable circumstances, yet his enemies themselves admire the Tipu personally, was a ruler of extraordinary calibre, a brilliant administrator, a superb human being and above all a visionary solider. In support of all these outstanding qualities following are a few statements made by certain non-Muslims, especially, British historians about him and his government.18

1. Major Base, “He was a God fearing man in the real sense of the world. He never formulated dual policies and avoided lies and hypocrisy”.
2. Lord Carnwallis (British Governor General in India) “Were Tipu happened to be let go scot-free, we would have bid farewell in India”.
3. Lord Wellesely (British Governor General during the Fourth Battle). “After Tipu’s death no ruler has enough guts to challenge us in future.”
4. Dr. John R. Anderson, “Never again would India witness a man of the likes of Tipu.”
5. Sir Thomas Menzo in his autobiography, “Everybody in the Sultanate Khudadad’ was treated with justice, without any bias and partiality because of which his state had become extremely strong in the country and still remains unparalleled till now.”

These quotations help to remind us that in the conception of our past, as held in our nationalist historiography, Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan have occupied an honoured place. Now, however, at some official levels at least, there is a strong contrary current. In 1990, a national television serial on Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan was compelled to carry the admission that the episodes of the serial were not necessarily historical, a disclaimer never attached to any of the other ‘historical’ or mythological fantasies that abound in our TV world. More recently, when 4 May 1999 came marking the second centenary of Tipu’s last stand against the British at Srirangapatnam, it was ignored by the Government of India and all its agencies. Hostile demonstrations were even organised to oppose the commemorations held in Tipu’s own native state, Karnataka. How amused Lt. Col. Mark Wilks, the major British writer on Mysore wars, would surely feel to find his bitter invectives against the two indomitable opponents of the colonial regime so widely shared in free India.19

Martyrdom of Tipu Sultan was the last chance to save the freedom of India. He tried his best to defend Mysore and to prevent the British from capturing the southern part of India. His failure was due to circumstance beyond his control, and not because of any want of sincerity or exertion on his part. He never allied himself with any foreign element against an Indian power, and he appealed again and again to the Marathas and Nizams for concerted action, but he could not bring them round to his point of view.

He was a solitary and lone figure trying to prevent the onslaught of foreigners with the fierceness of a tiger and the tending of a bulldog.20 Tipu Sultan’s reign and his sacrifice is a milestone in the in the history of India and he left a living direction to the future rulers by sacrificing his life, Tipu Sultan proved that the names of those rulers remain alive in memory of masses and the pages of history who established rule of law and justice.

Tipu Sultan never compromised his ideas, never deviated from the goal which is most significant and inspiring. His life’s passion was to drive out British from India and, to accomplish this objective; he went to the logical extent of using all his means, his capacity and his power and even laid down his life.21

If rulers of today try to adopt the legacy of Tipu Sultan, it is almost certain that the nation will prosper and develop. There will be peace co-existence and the citizens will enjoy equality in true terms. Ultimately, masses will trust and love the rulers as they did in lifetime of Tipu. It is the duty of citizens and intellectuals of the country to launch programs in every nook and corner of the country, so that message of Tipu Sultan may reach every home of India. The quotation of Tipu Sultan that “to live like a lion for one day is better to live like a jackal for a hundred years”, should be popularised which will induce masses to make sacrifices for the nation. Sultan Shaheed has proved though his life and death that he was not only ‘Sher-e-Mysore’, but as described by Prof. Abdul Mughni, “he was Sher-e-Hind, (lion of India) and Sher-e-Mashriq (lion of the East)”.22

It is required that historians should pursue the studies relating to him more seriously, so that the British propaganda against him is properly countered. Lastly, it will be a fit tribute to the great warrior of India if the new airport of Mysore is named as Tipu Sultan airport. It is also desirable that at least in Karnataka the birth/death anniversary of Tipu Sultan should be declared as a holiday. All these actions will be steps in the right direction for recognizing the sacrifices of this great Indian ruler.

(Dr. Shakeel A. Samdani is an Associate Professor in the Department of Law, Aligarh Muslim University.)

1. Nadvi, M. Ilays, Tipu Sultan (A Life History) translated by M. Saghir Hussain, N. Delhi 2004, p.83.
2. Id., at. 95.
3. Irfan Habib, Resistance and Modernisation under Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, 1st ed., N. Delhi, p. Xxiii.
4. Id., at. Xxiv.
5. I.H. Qureshi: “The Purpose of Tipu Sultan’s Embassy to Constantinople”, Journal of Indian History, Vol.24 (1945), pp. 77-84.
6. Supra note 1 at 264.
7. B. Shaik Ali, Tipu Sultan, New Delhi, 1971, p.57.
8. Id.,
9. Id, at 58.
10. Supra note 1 at 269. 11.Id.,
12. Supra note 7 at 56.
13. Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, 6th ed., Delhi, edn., Delhi, 1956,pp. 272-73.
14. Tarachand, History of Freedom Movement of India, revised edn., Delhi, 1965,1, pp 226-27.
15. www.thehindu.com (The Hindu, dated 22-09-06)
16. www.thehindu.com ( The Hindu, dated 24-09-06)
17. www.thehindu.com
18. Supra note 1, at.360.
19. Supra note 3, at xviii.
20. Supra note 7, at 62.
21. Id.
22. Abdul Mughni, Tipu Sultan, N. Delhi, 2003, p.47