The night of reckoning

The night of reckoning

I could’ve passed by the open door oblivious to its significance if not for the towering minarets that rose from behind the high walls along a path hewn from the earth not far from where the Bangalore Gate of Tipu Sultan’s fort in Srirangapatna lay.

From the street, the door parted on young children clad in white and coloured kurta pajamas and skull caps moving about the open courtyard fronting a covered verandah where low wooden reading platforms and copies of the Koran lay in two neat rows on a worn carpet covering the stone floor. 

Across the courtyard, opposite the covered verandah, small rooms made up the inside of the outer wall along its entire length, on all sides. I learnt later that the teaching staff stayed there and so did some of the students. Two water taps lay to one side, adjacent to several tombs discoloured by the elements over the years. Two young pupils were quenching their thirst at the tap while a third one looked on, patiently awaiting his turn at the tap. 

Middle-aged men with trimmed black beards and clad in the same attire as their students were engaged in a game of cricket with their young wards.

Masjid-e-Ala

The Masjid-e-Ala is also known as the Jama Masjid. A tutor, breaking away from the game of cricket with his students, told me that Tipu Sultan used to pray here during his reign. On his ascension to the throne following the death of his father, Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan built the Masjid-e-Ala in 1784 and is said to have performed the first Imamath himself. Topped by domes the double-storied, octagonal minarets look over the countryside and the river Cauvery nudging the ramparts a short distance away. The two minarets rise from a high platform and can be reached by a flight of steps said to number two hundred. Pigeon holes open into the sides of the minarets all the way to the top. The platform houses a large prayer hall to the west. 

The Masjid-e-Ala was our last stop before heading to the bus-stand at Srirangapatna for the return journey to Mysore city.
 
I circled the high platform enclosed by verandahs and staying quarters across the open passage that ran around the platform. 

A large water tank with a row of over eight water taps at knee level and a low seating of cement and bricks fronting each tap lay to one side of the passage circling the main structure. There, nudged by excited cries of young Muslim students delighting in the fall of the wicket of a fellow student, I paused for a moment to relate the joviality within the high walls to the tumultuous night of May 4, 1799 in the fourth Anglo-Mysore War when Tipu Sultan fell to the advancing British troops led by Captain David Baird, the man the Sultan had imprisoned for four years in Colonel Bailey’s dungeon after the battle of Pollilur in 1780 before releasing him in 1784. 

Fate had other ideas for the Sultan as Captain David Baird’s men breached the fortress on the banks of the Cauvery and came marching in only to be met by the Sultan himself. A violent struggle followed before Tipu Sultan fell not far from where I now stood in the masjid’s courtyard watching an innocuous game of cricket. 

On our way to the Masjid-e-Ala, we had passed the spot where Tipu Sultan made his last stand on May 4, 1799, rather, where his body was found once the skirmish was over.  
We had started our day by first visiting the Gumbaz where Tipu Sultan is laid to rest alongside his parents, Hyder Ali and Fatima Begum, in an imposing structure well known for its ivory inlaid doors, pillars, and carved stone windows, before heading to the Daria Daulat Bagh that Tipu Sultan built in 1784 to serve as his summer palace and where a museum now showcases the reign of the Sultan in its many details. Murals, paintings, pencil sketches, coins, medals, and arms among other things bring alive the period in its actual setting.
   
Other historical sites
The other sites of historical interest within the fortifications of Srirangapatna are Colonel Bailey’s dungeon, the spot where Tipu Sultan was killed, Tipu’s palace site, the Masjid-e-Ala, and the Ranganathaswamy Temple. 

There was no one around as we emerged from the rickshaw, gravitating to the plaque that said simply, The Body of Tipu Sultan Was Found Here. Enclosed by low walls, the plaque stands in the middle of a square, marking the spot where he fell. The square is empty except for the lone plaque as if in its isolation it seeks to remind one of the moment when isolated from the men he led into battle the Sultan fell alone. 

To the north, the square is lined by coconut palms, along the banks of the Cauvery. It is easy to let the swaying fronds lull one into meandering aimlessly at the spot where India’s history took yet another decisive turn, strengthening the British further and paving the way for their conquest of India. 

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