Tippu's Cannons emphasise Bangalore's heritage identity

The recent discovery of two cannons of Tippu Sultan, unearthed while civil work for the metro rail project was underway, only validates the contribution of the Tiger of Mysore to the history of Bangalore and Karnataka.

It is only logical that these cannons were found 200 years later in the vicinity of Tippu’s summer palace and his fort which garrisoned his troops. More importantly these cannons are a testimony to the metallurgy of 18th century India considering they have remained in tact.   

Historical objects of this dimension and importance being unearthed in the centre of an urban conglomeration like the City Market and Vanivilas Hospital in the city is a rarity. Urban centres usually would have either depleted all such findings or is restricted to smaller objects like coins or tools.

Therefore this discovery revives a key interest in the military administration and technology of Tippu’s period. It also offers scope to rethink the historical importance of Bangalore as a heritage city.       

Tippu as a ruler was a far-sighted visionary who had raised and maintained an efficient military. His infantry or foot soldiers were modelled along European lines but used Persian words of command. He had well organised artillery, which in addition to the famous Mysore rockets, was also endowed with cannons.

While the strength of his army varied according to requirements, there was a consistent effort to maintain well equipped and numerically substantial artillery. In fact after the 1793 Anglo-Mysore War, Tippu surrendered to the British along with 30,000 infantrymen and 2,000 artillery units. This only suggests the emphasis on employment of artillery in his war strategy. 

The cannons were always an integral part of his strategy of fortifications. These cannons were positioned on specially built platforms along the wall of the fort.

Tippu’s cannons were frequently referred to as Tiger Cannons because of their overall design of Tiger heads and stripes at the mouth of the cannon. One of a pair of this tiger cannon is displayed at Powis Castle, Welshpool in the United Kingdom.

This expertise in artillery technology was also enhanced by the ruler’s relations with the French which encompassed political and military spheres. He actively assisted the French to establish a Jacobin Club in his kingdom to support the spirit of the French Revolution.     
The Tiger of Mysore corresponded with the legendary French general Napoleon Bonaparte and considered the French as his allies to evacuate his major rival the British colonialists from India.

The Mysore Army also had a sizeable French officer corps in addition to soldiers. However, unlike his compatriot, the Nizam of Hyderabad, Tippu Sultan did not allow the French to emerge as a pressure group in his kingdom.

In fact, notwithstanding his close rapport with the French, the French officers and troops in his army gradually declined to around 20 soldiers by 1794. A few years later in 1799 when the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War was fought, Tippu’s army only had only four French officers and 45 soldiers.

Questions and predicaments

Discoveries such as these generate a number of questions as well as predicaments. Most fundamental of all dilemmas would be the friction between retrieval of history vs urban development and growth. In a society such as ours, riding on the crest of centuries of history, communities become desensitised to one’s own legacy, either due to abundance of historical identity or because the identity of the locale gets diluted due to migration into or out of the area.

 Migrant’s centre such as gated communities have a very limited engagement with the local historical traditions. As a result while individual traditions beginning from family are zealously nurtured, institutional traditions be it of a city or region or nation is silently ignored.

From devalayas to dargas embodiments of our historical past have fallen into disuse. For instance the absence of any palpable excitement in the City regarding the cannons is perhaps a representation of the disinterest towards one’s roots.

Coupled with this negligent attitude, is the immense pressure of the necessity of urban development. Mammoth metropolis will engulf the peripheral agrarian, industrial and craft production belts.Tanks, lakes make way for infrastructural zones.

From Begur to Madivala in one extreme to Hesarghatta, Yelahanka at the other end, all have witnessed rapid erasing of their historical identities and disengaged communities have not really helped in the reversal of the situation. Bangalore as an urban centre has not been an exception to thls trend.

This has led to a restricted locating of Bangalore as being only an electronic city, an information hub, with a very limited choice of historical site. So it is a city of jobs, opportunities, but lacking historicity of places such as Mysore.

In this context if discoveries such as the cannons, the tank of Kadu Malleshwaram are indexed to tourism, than a heritage grid can be created for this fort city. If agencies such as INTACH, which worked on the restoration of Tippu’s fort,  are entrusted with restoration of these sites too, there will be enhancing of the cultural-historical identity of an old town like Bangalore.         
(The writer is an associate professor of  history at Christ University, Bangalore) 

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