erhaps no other ruler of India has been covered by the British media as Fateh Ali Sahab Tipu a.k.a Tipu Sultan born at Devanahalli in 1750 and died at Seringapatam on May 4, 1799.
Tipu was the most feared Indian in Britain and his activities were widely reported in British media. The people in England hungrily awaited reports of the latest outrage of Tipu Sultan during the four Anglo-Mysore Wars.
Tipu sultan was at the forefront of the British public’s consciousness and his terrifying tales of attacks on the British forces and threats to trading settlements in Madras presidency appeared at regular intervals in the British newspapers.
The return of British prisoners of war, some of whom were held captive in Mysore for several years, led to the writing of books that told harrowing stories of hardship and torture at the hand of this Indian ruler. Many of these accounts were self-serving and the avid readers who followed Tipu Sultan closely was unnerved reading his tales of defiance.
Tipu Sultan was possibly the most famous Indian in the whole of the United Kingdom. When he died at the hands of General Harris’s troops, that besieged his island capital Seringapatam in 1799, there were celebrations in Britain. The authors, playwrights, and painters created works to celebrate his demise and the crown’s victor over the Tiger of Mysore.
The news of Tipu’s death was so powerful that it fuelled much creativity throughout England. Not only authors and playwrights but also artists and painters used canvas to glorify the end of a dreaded Indian ruler.
There are a plethora of sketches of Tipu Sultan but none depicts his real-life size image. Most of Tipu’s image is either hand-drawn or caricatured illustrations. The persons who have made those sketches perhaps had never seen Tipu Sultan.
Recently some photographs of Tipu Sultan have come into circulation saying that they were real images taken in 1789. However, they are all fake pictures because photography became common in India only after 1850, which was some fifty years after Tipu’s death.
Tipu Sultan extensively used tiger imagery to convey a sense of his awesome power. Tiger images emblazoned his golden throne, his textiles, coins, swords, and his soldier’s uniforms.
It is no coincidence that the Seringapatam medal, awarded to those who had taken part in the siege. The medal depicts a rampaging lion mauling a supine tiger, suggesting that the Tiger of Mysore was the last bulwark against British imperial designs.
Tipu Sultan held sway in the public mind of the English people well into the nineteenth century. As late as 1868, Wilkie Collins chose the siege of Srirangapatna and its subsequent looting as the setting for the opening of his bestselling novel ‘The Moonstone.’
The ‘South Asia Gallery’ at the British Museum has provided a space for the legendary Indian ruler Tipu Sultan. It displays his sword, ring, and perfume box. The description at the London Museum suggests that how important Tipu Sultan was for the British government. The descriptions of the Tipu’s objects at the British Museum are as follows:
“From 1766, the greatest threat to the East India Company came from the ruler of Mysore. In 1782 Tipu Sultan became the ruler of the province. His military and administrative skill made him the legend during his lifetime, feared and respected both by the English and his countrymen. England sent its best troops to try and defeat him and kidnapped his sons in 1792. He was finally killed in 1799, during a battle in which the British successfully gained control of the city Sarirangapatnam. The event marked a change in company military policy from defensive to offensive. Tipu’s possessions (‘everything that power could command or money could purchase’) were taken by victors and are now in collections all over the world. This sword, decorated with his emblem, the tiger, is from his treasury, but the gold ring is said to have been taken from his finger after the battle by Arthur Henry Cole, resident of Mysore.”
It needs to be remembered that Tipu Sultan was secular to the core. His chief minister Purnaiya was a Hindu, and so were several other prominent nobles at his court.
Tipu Sultan was a generous patron of several Hindu temples. This included the Sri Ranganatha temple near his main palace at Srirangapatna. He respected the Swami of the Sringeri Math and called him Jagadguru.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .