Tipu Sultan's heroic deed

Tipu Sultan's heroic deed

Tipu Sultan's heroic deed

ABout pride Tipu’s Tiger

Across the length and breadth of Britain, there are lot of mementos of the Mysore wars, brought by British army officers, which are now being sold by their descendants. But there is one treasure of Tipu in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which will never reach the auctioneer, as the British want to keep it as a mark of remembrance of their victory over their greatest enemy in the subcontinent. It is a wooden toy — Tipu’s Tiger.

The toy is a wooden tiger mauling a British soldier, which was ordered by Tipu Sultan to be made during the end of the 18th century. The interesting part is that the toy has a miniature mechanical organ and when wounded, begins to emit the roars of the tiger, punctuated with the  groans of a Britisher being killed. To quote a historian — “There are some barrels in imitation of an organ, within the body of the tiger, and a row of keys of natural notes. The sounds produced by the organ are intended to resemble the cries of a person in distress intermixed with the roar of a tiger.  The machinery is so contrived, that while the organ is playing, the head of the European is often lifted up, to express his helpless and deplorable condition. The whole of this design was executed by order of Tippoo Sultaun.”   

It is said that Tipu Sultan had this toy made to represent his happiness at the death of Lieutenant Munro — the son of General Sir Hector Munro, who had defeated Tipu in historic battles of South India. It is well known that Tipu prided himself in being the tiger of Mysore — his throne being fashioned as a tiger throne, his army wearing uniforms of cloth with tiger stripe designs and even his famous guns showed the tiger insignia.

Once, one of Tipu’s courtiers narrated to him how the son of the British General facing him — General Munro, had his soldier-son killed by a tiger in the Sundarbans forest of Bengal. Tipu felt that this episode in which the tiger kills a Britisher should be depicted through mechanical toys. French engineers working in Tipu’s munition factory in  Srirangapatna told him that mechanical toys, which can reproduce the roars of a tiger and shrieks of human beings could be made in France. Tipu decided to cash on this device and had the Tipu Tiger created. As a musical instrument, it was kept by Tipu in his Rag Mahal (music room). The tiger roaring over the wooden victim with his stylised red coat decorated with green and white roses, low crowned black hat, black knee-breeches, was the emblematical triumph of the Tipu over the British.

After the death of Tipu in the siege of Srirangapatna in 1799, British soldiers entering his private apartments found this toy and the East India Company’s Board of directors dispatched it to London. During the 19th century in Britain, this strange toy elicited lot of interest and it is said that the famous British poet Keats has made a reference to ‘Tippoo’s Tiger’ in one of his poems. The Directors of the East India Company kept it in the company museum in the East India House, but, with the transfer of the company’s property to the Crown in 1858, it was removed to the new India office where it remained until 1874. Later The ‘tiger’ was allocated to what was later to be known as the Indian section of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Today, if you go to the Victoria and Albert Museum, you can buy  wooden souvenir models of the Tipu’s Tiger, which have electronic tapes reproducing the tigers groans and the dying soldier’s death gurgles.