Dropping Tipu from Textbooks: Demand not justified

Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), also known as the Tiger of Mysore

In the light of Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar seeking a report on the proposal to write off Tipu Sultan, the erstwhile ruler of Mysore, from History textbooks owing to Madikeri BJP MLA Appachu Ranjan’s appeal that Tipu was anti-Kannada and not worth the glorification, here are a few historical facts with regard to the warrior. 

According to the traditional source in history—Stalapurana — it is believed that Tipu was born with the blessings of a great Hindu seer Tipperudraswamy, the presiding deity of a small village named Nayakana Hatti in Challakere taluk Chitradurga district.

According to this story, Hyder Ali, Tipu’s father, had encamped at Nayakanahatti near the samadhi of Saint Tipperudraswamy during his expedition against Madakari Nayaka of Chitradurga. During his stay, Hyder had the good fortune of acquainting himself with the great sage in his dream and was told that he would be blessed by having a brave son.

Hyder did become the father of a courageous son and the newborn was named Tipu Saheb in memory of Tippeswamy. There is evidence of this fact in the samadhi mandir of the sage Tippeswamy constructed by Hyder Ali in the Indo-Islamic style of architecture.

The shikhara of the shrine is in the shape of a dome resembling a mosque that enshrines the seer’s mortal remains. The village is a pilgrim centre to both Hindu and Muslim devotees.

Tipu’s personality can be studied as two-sided— one depicting him as a valiant ruler who took on the British and a brilliant statesman who introduced several reforms that included every department — coinage, finance, trade, commerce and maritime.

He also made land grants to temples. There are records of his helping to restore the demolished ones. One such temple is in Sringeri. There are 30 reverential letters written by Tipu in Kannada to the then Sringeri pontiff who had appealed to the Sultan for help when Marathas attacked Mysore and damaged the temple.

Yet, the Tipu has another side — he adopted repressive policies elsewhere. His attacks on Coorg, Mangalore and Malabar regions and the religious bigotry he displayed are a testimony to this. This, coupled with brutalities of forcible conversions has dented his image. These facts cannot be brushed aside, just as we cannot brush away incidents of Tipu’s progressive measures.

An interesting fact about Tipu Sultan is that he had great repugnance for the British and had a strong will to drive them out. He was ready to make an alliance with any of their foes, particularly the French. His resistance was not national in character since the period (18th century) to which Tipu belonged was unaware of the ideas of nationalism.

A national awakening paved its way only during the beginning of the 19th century with the establishment of the Congress in 1885. Therefore, Tipu’s agitation against the British was mainly to protect his kingdom and not to liberate India from the British yoke. The two Anglo-Mysore wars waged by Tipu validate this fact further.

The third Anglo-Mysore war was fought in 1790 by Tipu’s invasion of Travancore which was an ally of the British. This prompted Lord Cornwallis to march towards Srirangapatna, the capital of his kingdom and defeat Tipu. Likewise, the fourth Anglo-Mysore war was mainly due to the rejection of the subsidiary alliance introduced by Lord Wellesley. Tipu refused to sign the alliance and subjugate himself to the British which eventually resulted in his death on the battlefield. He has been referred in history as ‘Tiger of Mysore’ and not ‘Tiger of India’.

Eulogising Tipu as a great patriot and freedom fighter leads to unwanted controversies since our independence movement had not begun in the early 1790s. If a few political leaders justify Tipu Jayanti celebrations based on the fact that he bravely fought against the British, then why turn a blind eye to Rani Chennamma who was the first Indian lady to rebel against the British? 

Any ruler’s legacy identified with a community is always a threat to peace and communal harmony and the jayantis of any personality to be celebrated must set examples of noble values for posterity.

Official language

On the other hand, the fact that Tipu introduced Persian as the official language and the controversy over him being anti-Kannada cannot hollow his personality as a powerful ruler because in a monarchical form of government, the king was the ultimate authority and all the legislative, executive and judicial powers were vested in his hands.

Tracing the history of political ideas and institutions in ancient India, different languages like Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Ardhamagadhi and a few Dravidian languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada are mentioned which were used by different dynasties at different times. With the invasion of Muslims and Europeans into India, it was natural that they introduced their own languages like Urdu, Persian, French and English. If we could accept different foreign powers as our rulers and accept their languages, and if British imperialism continues to be an important chapter in modern Indian history, why should the rule of Tipu Sultan be simply expunged from our history books?

Also, it is needless to question Tipu’s introduction of Persian as an official language. One must understand that history cannot be written as per the whims and fancies of a few politicians. It is a record of past events through the ages, based on archaeological and literary sources, chronologically arranged by a historian pursuing a methodology that comprises collection of data, critical examination, synthesis and finally exposition.  

Controversial historical personalities should neither become products of celebrations nor be in the clutches of contemporary politics. They should be left to academic study alone and should be judged from the perspective of their time and not measured by the yardsticks of today.

(The writer is Head of Dept of History, St Claret PU College, Bengaluru)

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