Controversy, confusion and accolades
History is always written and re-written by the victorious. It is always difficult, even impossible, to find the original account of what happened. Same is the case with Tipu Sultan’s life. Critics of Tipu Sultan tell us tales of how he ordered several Hindu temples and Christian churches destroyed and how he had people from religions other than Islam tortured and massacred. However, supporters claim that he was tolerant of other religions and in fact offered endowments to several temples during his tenure. Historians who are critical of Tipu Sultan resent the fact that he attacked several Hindu kingdoms in the vicinity, annexed them one by one and converted them to Islam. But supporters think of the attacks as necessary disciplinary actions. The incumbent Hindu rulers such as Maratha Peshwas, Malabaris and Travancoreans had several treaties with the British, thus giving the foreigners too many rights to the Indian soil. It is claimed that Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan captured those territories with the intention of keeping them at bay from the British.
We don’t know which ones are true. But here are some objective observations. Srirangapattana temple was left intact in the king’s own capital. So were Hindu and Jain temples in nearby Chamundi Hill, Somanathapura, Talakkad and Shravanabelagola. After Tipu Sultan’s death in 1799, the British did up the ante. They reversed their loyalty with several Hindu kings and defeated all of them. Little by little, they defeated all of India. The whole of India was under British rule for 150 years after Tipu Sultan’s death. However, the observations are not meant to support Tipu Sultan. For every temple left alone, we’ll never know if any were destroyed, their records erased from history. We don’t know if any of the temples that appear intact today had to be rebuilt. Tipu’s death did weaken Indian resistance against the British in south India and strengthened the grip of the Union Jack. But Tipu himself sought foreign help. He sought the alliance of the French, who were then strong on the shores of Kerala. His communication seeking Napolean Bonaparte’s help is well documented.
Lack of accurate knowledge is the only thing that’s certain. So given the fact that Tipu Sultan was born in India and that accurate accounts of his warfare and (mal)practices are not available, we’d like to give him the benefit of doubt and respect him as one of India’s freedom fighters. As someone who showed great valour in the face of foreign invasion and died fighting for the cause.
Srirangapattana is not big, nor was the Sultanate rule in the town long. But in their fifty years of rule, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan lived in troubled and war-torn times. Four of those wars changed the course of Indian history. Despite their troubles, the Sultanate also showed how life can be celebrated, with Dariya Daulat being the pinnacle of such celebration. They celebrated after-life in the form of lavish mausoleums. If you are on a trip to Mysuru, you should spend one day across the river on this small island which has been granted UNESCO Heritage status.
This article first appeared on India 360 blog, where we, a couple from Mumbai, describe our all India trip during 2017-18.