Mysore And The Metal Heads

Next in the series is the Mysorean rocket, the weapon that scored over other artillery and directed the world to the state

(Update: Mysore rockets displayed at Shivamogga Palace, open to the public.)


In July 2018, over three days, about 1,800 rusty cylindrical objects were excavated by a team from the Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage. 

Sized differently, between 19 cm to 30 cm in length, and between 3 cm to 7 cm in diameter, they sat in a dried-up well within an areca plantation that belonged to one Nagaraj Rao at Nagara, Hosanagara taluk, Shivamogga.

They soon joined more of their kind in a store room at the Shivappa Nayaka Palace (The Government Museum) in Shivamogga. 

News broke that they were indeed an addition to the superior, iron-cased Mysorean rockets, used most effectively against the British invasion in the Anglo-Mysore Wars of the 18th century by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan — who ever leaned towards technology and innovation — in defending their territory. 

Each missile had an explosive-filled iron tube, with sealed-off disc ends,  and was attached to a bamboo shaft or sword. The tube worked as a combustion chamber and the explosive sent the rocket farther than any war rockets had travelled thus far. 

Research also analysed that the residual pungent-smelling black powder on the rocket heads fit the composition of gunpowder.

“The rockets could injure or kill an army of enemy soldiers at a time on the battlefield. It terrorised them from a distance,” said Rajaram R Hegde, from the history department in Kuvempu University. 

The rockets could injure or kill an army of
enemy soldiers at a time on the battlefield

War rockets weren’t new. “They were prevalent even among the Nayakas of Keladi, who ruled between 1499 and 1763 AD. The book Siva Tattva Ratnakara mentions birusu bana (a form of rocket) in Keladi warfare,” he pointed out.

But technological advancement with the transition to metal war-rockets took a solid shape during the Tipu era, historical records narrate. 

The discovery of the rockets in Hosanagara also reiterated the indigenous manufacturing prowess of the Mysore kings.  

The availability of iron ore in the territory of Mysore propelled Tipu Sultan to set up research centres to aid better rocket technology. 

“In 1792, after the British Bombay Army had captured Shivamogga, they sent a detachment to Tadakanahalli near Honnali (now in Davanagere district), known historically for the manufacture of rockets. Moreover, several areas around Shivamogga were rich in deposits of haematite and magnetite schist. So, it’s possible that this was another rocket factory from where rockets were transported to Nagara,” explains R Shejeshwar, assistant director, Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage.

Thus, central Karnataka in the 18th century was instrumental in shaping technology.    

The fame of the Mysorean rockets began to travel as the British, at the receiving end of missiles’ destruction, took back some rockets to England for research after the death of Tipu Sultan. 

And based on these rockets, the Congreve rockets, designed by Sir William Congreve in 1804, were used by the British military in subsequent wars. 

The Mysorean rockets will be displayed in a specially allotted gallery at the Shivappa Nayaka Palace.


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