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Tipu Sultan - The Tiger of Mysore

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In this world, I would rather live two days like a tiger than 200 years like a sheep.
I would not compromise even the smallest piece of my motherland, even in exchange
for the supreme ownership of heaven, this earth and hell.

Tipu Sultan, known as the dreaded 'Tiger of Mysore', was a legend during his lifetime and is still regarded as an enlightened ruler in India. During the late 18th Century, he bitterly and effectively opposed British rule in southern India, posing a grave threat to the East India Company. It took almost 40 years, and most of the Company's resources, before Mysore was added to the areas of British-ruled India.

The state of Mysore in southern India is centred on the island fortress of Srirangapatnam, the capital in the 18th Century. Mysore was profitable and well organised, with good trade routes and a European-style army - in effect, everything the British feared. Inevitably this led to conflict between the British and the rulers of Mysore, resulting in four wars (1767-69, 1780-84, 1790-92 and 1799).

Tipu Sultan, whose full name was Sultan Fateh Ali Khan Shahab, was born at Devanahalli on 20 November, 1750, the son of Haider Ali, the ruler of Mysore, and Fakhr-un-Nissa. Haider Ali named his son after the great Sufi saint, Tipu Mastan Aulia.

Academic and Military Education

Though Haider Ali was illiterate himself, he provided his son with a good education. Tipu Sultan was well versed in the Kannada, Urdu, Persian and Arabic languages. He received military education from Ghazi Khan, who was a great warrior and also a military officer in the army of Haider Ali. Apart from the formal education, he got practical military training as well, participating in the wars that were fought by his father. Tipu Sultan was a brave soldier and a great general, and helped his father both in the First and the Second Mysore Wars.

The Second Mysore War

After the death of Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan became the ruler of Mysore on 4 May, 1783 in a simple ceremony at Bednur. The country was in the middle of the Second Mysore War against the English at the time. Tipu continued the war and was very successful, emerging as clear victor. Tipu's leadership defeated many English leaders such as Colonels Braithwaite and Bailey.

Tipu Sultan signed the Mangalore Treaty, on 11 March, 1784. This stipulated that:

  • The two parties were not to assist each other's enemies directly or indirectly nor make war on each other's allies.

  • The trade privileges granted to the company by Haider Ali in 1770 were to be restored although no additional benefits would accrue.

  • Both sides agreed to a mutual restoration of possessions (barring the forts of Amboorgur and Satgur) and Tipu undertook not to make any claims on the Carnatic in future.

  • Tipu agreed to release all prisoners of war.

  • Tipu was to restore the factory and privileges possessed by the Company at Calicut until 1779.

In 1780, during the Second Mysore War, the British had been defeated at the Battle of Pollilur. Tipu had the battle painted on the walls of his Summer Palace to celebrate his triumph.

The Third Mysore War

In 1786 Charles, 1st Marquis Cornwallis, was given British India to rule. In 1790 he reluctantly fought the Third Mysore War, having realised that Tipu posed too great a threat to be ignored. After three campaigns, Cornwallis finally forced Tipu into submission.

The Treaty of Seringapatnam1 was signed by Tipu on the one hand and the English and their allies (Nizam and the Peshwa) on the other. The treaty stipulated that:

  • The earlier treaties between the English and the rulers of Mysore stood confirmed.

  • Tipu was to cede half his territories, which were to be shared among the three allies.

  • Tipu was to pay an indemnity of 36 million rupees, 16 million immediately and the remaining 20 million in three instalments.

  • Tipu was also to order the release of all prisoners of war.

Pending fulfilment of these terms, two of his sons, aged ten and eight, were to be detained as British hostages. Tipu's sons were returned to him two years later.

The Fourth War and the Death of Tipu Sultan

The fourth, and final, Mysore War took place in 1799. British spies had reported that Napoleon was equipping a huge fleet to sail to India. Richard Wellesley, the Governor-General of India, knew that this would threaten the British position and so moved to destroy the one ally France still had in India, Tipu Sultan.

Tipu was too good a fighter and a leader to be subdued by normal means. The British had to stoop to the tool of treason – a weapon2 much used by them. Meer Sadiq, a trusted general of Tipu, was called upon, and was lured into betraying Tipu Sultan, causing the latter's death. In this war Tipu was also outnumbered, as the forces of the Nizaam of Hyderabad had joined hands with the Company against the Tiger of Mysore.

One of the regiments was commanded by Richard Wellesley's younger brother, Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington), who went on to become the governor of Mysore. The final assault was led by the Scotsman, Major General David Baird. Baird had been taken captive during the Second Mysore War, and had no love for Tipu.

By nightfall Tipu's lifeless body was found among the dead. He had been shot in the head and stripped of his jewels. His body was discovered where the fighting had been the fiercest.

The British lion had subdued the Mysore tiger and added another member to its pride.
- Professor Simon Schama
1This is an anglicisation of Srirangapatnam used by the British at the time.2The British East India Company had also used the same weapon to vanquish Siraj-ud-daula in the Battle of Plassey, using the services of Meer Jafar. Again they had also used the same weapon against the great freedom fighter Chandrasekhar Azad. The history of the Indian freedom struggle has records of numerous such incidents.

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