Saturday, 4 May 2013

He lived and died like a Tiger

Today, May 4, happens to be the day the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, was killed in the battle of Srirangapatna, and even 215 years after his death, he still mains a controversial figure, a hero and freedom fighter for some,  a religious bigot and ill tempered person for others.
While many call him the first freedom fighter of India, there are others who say that Tipu (November 20, 1750-May 4, 1799) was dictated by avarice and the prevailing conditions of south India then. They say much of his actions was the result of his ambition to extend his kingdom. Whatever the contradictory stand, the trust lies somewhere between.
At the post, we would first like to remember Tipu as a man who laid down his life. Yes, it is true and there are sufficient historical records to prove that the Sultan did sue for peace but when he found the terms demeaning and humiliating, he decided to go all out for war. “It is far better to live like a Tiger for a day than to live like a jackal for a hundred years”, he said.
The British army was more than 50,000 strong and it was reinforced by troops sent by the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas. Tipu, all put together, had just 30,000 men. The British Army had arrived at Tipu’s capital after defeating the Mysore Army at several places.
Tipu was perfectly aware that the Cauvery would be fordable for all but four months in an year and in May when the British under General Harris mounted an attack on Srirangapatna, the river was just a little more than four feet deep and the northern part of the island fortress was weak. It had only three cannons. Tipu had taken extra precautions to ensure that the British could not enter the fort. He had stationed some of his best troops on the northern part and near the present Water Gate (from where today we go to the bathing ghats of Srirangapatna). Unfortunately, for him when the tome came for Namaz and lunch, he left for his palace which was nearby and this too today is in ruins and it is in front of the Ranganatha Temple.
British and even Indian records indicate that it was sometime around 1 p.m., when a group of British soldiers, 76 to be precise, managed to scale the breach on the northern part and enter the area between two forts. This they managed to do after Mir Sadiq, a minister of Tipu  and a Commander called back the men from guard duty to take their pay.
Mir Sadiq had entered into negotiations with the British. They had promised him the Mysore Kingdom if he joined them and helped them in the war. Tipu had earlier imprisoned Mir Sadiq when he was told about his confidant hobnobbing with the British. Mir Sadiq then had begged for mercy and he had also pleaded innocence, saying that his enemies had poisoned the Sultan’s mind against him. Tipu had pardoned Mir Sadiq and restored him to his position.
Sadiq had all along been in touch with the British and he had given them sufficient information about Tipu, his preparations, supplies and other details. But his greatest act of betrayal was the recall of soldiers and the raising of a flag near the present Water Gate to signal to the British that the coast was clear.
Tipu had pitched his tent here. There were two forts at Srirangapatna. The outer fort and an inner one. In Kannada, this place is called Kalale Doddi as it was constructed by Devaraj, a minister of the Wodeyar dynasty and the Regent of Mysore who hailed from Kalale, a small village near Nanjangud. Tipu had closed this gate around 1793.
Tipu had constructed a temporary shelter here by using curtains and he had pitched four tents around. He had with him his eunuchs, body guards and personal servants. It was from here, he was dictating the course of the war.      
Tipu went back to his palace around 10 a.m., where he took his bath and then came down to the Kalale Doddi. He once again looked out from the ramparts and ordered the soldiers to fill in the breach. He then retired  to his curtained enclosure and he had just taken a morsel when he heard several sounds or rather shouts. When he realized that the British had hoisted the Union Jack on his beloved fort, he  rode into the thick of battle on horseback. He was told that one of his most trusted men, Syed Ghafoor, was killed. Tipu decided against publicising news of the death and asked another able commander, Mohammad Quasim, to take over.
When Tipu saw the British scaling the outer wall and entering the space between the outer and inner fort (there is no trace of the inner fort today It was destroyed by the British in the war and subsequently pulled down), he jumped into the fray. It is here that the second betrayal occurred. Even as he was fighting the British with a band of loyal followers and soldiers, including a few women bodyguards,  the gate of the inner fort as deliberately closed, pinning the Sultan in the narrow space and giving him little room to manouvre.
The British began closing in on the small but fierce band of Mysore soldiers who kept up a relentless defense. They quickly realised that they would have to overcome this band if they were to enter the inner fort. One of the British soldiers managed to shoot Tipu’s horse, which then fell taking its master with it. Tipu’s man servant, Raja Khan urged the Sultan to reveal his identity. To this the Sultan had only a glare and the words, “Are you mad”.  His turban slipped to  the ground and his robes were covered with blood and dust. The British could not make out Tipu from others and he died a martyr’s death.
Once his band was silenced, the British had it easy and by afternoon, the battle was almost over. The British soon entered the town and began ravishing and raping Srirangapatna. By then, there were several rumours floating around about Tipu. Some said he had fled: Others said he was in hiding and that he would launch a fierce counter attack. The British along with Mir Sadiq and others began checking the bodies for Tipu as yet another rumour said he had been killed.
Tipu’s body was identified by his faithful servant, Raja Khan. Even them the British dare not believe that the Tiger was dead. Some among them said they saw the Sultan alive. It was then that Lord Wellesley felt the Sultan’s pulse and declared him dead.
The British immediately summoned a palanquin from the palace and placed Tipu’s body in it. The palanquin was then conveyed to the palace where it was laid in state. He was then given a State burial with the British troops escorting his body to the Place where his father Hyder Ali, was buried.
When Tipu’s body was about to be buried, the skies opened up and it began raining so heavily that one of the British officer,  Lieutenant Richard Bayly of the British 12th regiment wrote, “I have experienced hurricanes, typhoons, and gales of wind at sea, but never in the whole course of my existence had I seen anything comparable to this desolating visitation.”
It seems even Nature had conspired against Tipu. Had the rains struck Srirangapatna a day earlier, there could have been no chance of the British fording the river.
However, one of the most outstanding tributes to Tipu was paid by Sir Walter Scot, the novelist, who referring to the abdication of the throne of France by Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Although I never supposed that Napoleon possessed, allowing for some difference of education, the liberality of conduct and political views which were sometimes exhibited by old Hyde Ali, yet I did think he might have shown the same resolved and dogged spirit of resolution which induced Tipu Sahib to die manfully upon the breach of his capital city with his sabre clenched in his hand.”
What the post would like to say is that unlike other Emperors and Kings, Tipu neither bent nor bowed before the British. He could have entered into a peace treaty with the British and kept his Kingdom. He did not and we have to appreciate this aspect. He fought to the end and he died a martyr’s death. You can love him or hate him, you cannot ignore him. To this day, even more than 200 years after his death, Tipu continues to inflame extreme views and passions. What is lost in this confrontation is his everlasting contribution to Mysore State and the jolt he and his father gave the British several times.    

1 comment:

  1. Hi Samyuktha,

    You have mentioned about the storm that happened on the day of Tipu's uncle of mine who is a kind of historian told me about it when I was a teen and since then i have noticed that every year we have a big storm in Mysore and S.Patna on or about the 4th of May..happened this year too..on Saturday the 4th May 2013..