Salute care for Tipu's heritage structure

It is the first time in India that a historical monument, a slice of history, was shifted without being razed.

It is gratifying to know that an 18th century armoury of warrior Tipu Sultan near the Srirangapatna railway station was successfully moved in one piece and translocated at a new site using the most modern technology.

It is probably the first time in India when a historical monument, a slice of history, was shifted lock stock and barrel without being razed to the ground to give way for development work.

This is sure to send a positive message on the imperative need to protect, preserve and publicise such historical monuments for their intrinsic values. Like time, machines take us to the past and help us reconstruct history of the bygone era.

Napoleon, at the height of his glory as the emperor of France and master of Europe is reported to have said on the necessity of history: “Let my son read and reflect on history for, history is true philosophy”.

The wrongs committed by a society as recorded in history is sure to act as a deterrent against their reoccurrence. But when a justification is needed for a governmental action, then again history comes handy to take umbrage. Governments that try to promote sectarian stand have the tendency even to tinker with history to justify their deeds.

As the recorded history becomes a guiding spirit even for the administrative processes, there is a covert attempt on the part of the governments to cite the past selectively to justify their stand so as to get a positive stamp of acceptance of their acts of commission and omission.

During the colonial rule, for example, James Mill, Vincent A Smith, Valentine Chirole and others who sang paeans of the “white man’s burden”, only oiled the wheels of colonial administration through their writing of Indian history. Even well-known Indophile and British economic historian Vera Anstey wrote that India was always receptive to innovative ideas and that the western concepts like the industrial revolution would have anyway swept the country even without the British rule.

This was a well-orchestrated left hand compliment to the Indian abilities to wilfully disarm the Indian nationalists and critics of British rule on the issues of de-industrialisation and de-peasantisation while she indirectly supported the nature of British rule. The role of such historians was as effective as the rule of the oppressive governors general and viceroys in the promotion of colonialism in India.

History as an exercise significantly involves an interaction with the present as much as with the past. It is about discovering what happened in the past and seeking to explain why it has happened. Had historians not bothered to dig up the past, we would have not been rich in knowledge that we possess today. Several of today’s problems and crises are because of our failure to learn from the past.

For the common man, experience serves as the best guide for the future. As Josh Billings correctly said, “experience is a school where a man learns what a big fool he has been.” It is undeniable that subjects taught in schools and colleges hardly change for decades.

Hitler’s notion of Aryan superiority was the creation of some European zealots and not based on history. Even the Swastika that he made infamous was the “Hakenkreuz” (hooked cross) and not borrowed from India. Such errors show that knowing history may be of some value.

Palaces in ruins

Forts and palaces in ruins and other artefacts remind us the past societies those heritage vestiges served. They mirror the people of those times, their lives and habits evoking curiosity as to what they were like, what they wore, what they ate, what institutions they created and what ideas they carried in their heads.

Historical artefacts demystify the past and bring history close to us for better understanding. Remnants of the past serve as sources to challenge the myths and to make interpretations.

The sum total of such interpretations form the body of knowledge that we call history. There would be no greater harm to history than to destroy such remnants of the past ages.

Tipu’s armoury is a living proof of his systematic military administration, the manufacture of various types of arms including the ‘Tipu’s war rockets’ the remnants of which were shipped to England by Col Congreve who by subjecting them to reverse engineering, developed modern rocketry.

The mindless attacks on in Afghanistan on Bamiyan by the Talibans that evoked universal condemnation for the total eclipse of an entire civilisation and the recent attack on the sets of shooting of a movie Padmavati, only indicate how impatient are we to accept the past the way it happened.

During the period of French Revolution of 1789, if only the unruly French mobs turned their ire on the cultural edifices the Bourbon rulers built, France would be poorer today of the marvellous palaces that are pride of their nation, like the Tuellires, Louver, Versailles etc. Destroying our historic and cultural vestiges is nothing short of erasing our rich cultural legacy and thus cutting the grass below our own feet.

(The writer is retired professor of History, University of Hyderabad)

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