King of Martyrs
"By what right do I commend my men to die for my cause if I should be afraid to lay down my own life? In the face of a common calamity, is the King to escape sacrifice and suffering? I should only make myself ridiculous in the eyes of others and of my own - if I cling to life needlessly. Would you advice a Tiger to follow the life-style of a jackal; would you?”
"Ladies and gentlemen, I drink to the corpse of India” said Lord Mornington, British Governor-General of India, calling for a toast on receiving the news of Tipu's death. This unkind toast might have been a vengeful reference to the toy in Tipu's palace showing a tiger standing over a fallen British soldier. It was taken to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for display, perhaps to show the sultan's barbaric nature.
Reading Indian history during the British Raj in our school days in Calcutta, we felt great pride in Sirajuddoula and Tipu Sultan's resistance to the British and sorrow for their death. The former was assassinated in 1757 after his defeat in the battle of Plassey. True to his words, Tipu, commonly known as the Tiger of Mysore, fought the British to his last breath. Dying tragically more than thirty years and five-hundred miles apart, they symbolised in our tender minds a courageous attempt to stop the British expansion and control in India. After the death of Sirajuddoula, the British East India Company got involved in the administration of Bengal. With the fall of Tipu in 1799, the most determined challenger to British hegemony in India, native resistance to its domination was nearly extinguished. India remained subjugated for nearly150 years thereafter. The epitaph on Tipu's tomb fittingly describes him as the 'King of Martyrs.'
| Tipu Sultan
Son of Sultan Hyder Ali, who was illiterate, Tipu had the benefit of a good education. He knew Kannada, Urdu, Persian and Arabic languages and learnt about warfare while fighting beside his father. Succeeding his father to the throne in 1782, he soon gained the reputation of a strong but fair ruler with a secular outlook. He proved himself a capable administrator. Tipu also showed his diplomatic and strategic skills by making an alliance with his enemy's enemy, the French, who were fighting the British in Europe and vying with them for supremacy in India.
Tipu was a ruler in an autocratic age. At times cruel, he would severely punish or execute even old, loyal followers of his father and others based on hearsay, suspicion or a fit of rage. However, he was magnanimous to the conquered enemy. He gave instruction to his commanders to link war to the battlefields-it should not be carried to innocent civilians. He was also a patriot with a vision to modernise his state and a mission to resist the British. In agriculture, he was ahead of his time. Having the wellbeing of the common man in his mind, he introduced land reform and moved away from a Zamindary to a Ryotwari system. The peasants became directly responsible for paying revenue to the state. He started cooperative banks in various parts of Mysore and gave dividends at varying rates-the small depositors getting a more favourable rate. He encouraged sugar- cane production by leasing fallow land to people, with no payment in the first year, gradually rising in later years. The state ran sugar mills for producing fine sugar.
In industry, he sought foreign expertise and technology for iron production, foundries, canon and gun making. The Mysore weapons compared favourably with the European guns. Some writers have criticised Tipu for being a statist-not encouraging private initiative and investments and for concentrating on industries oriented to war demands. Considering that it was the late-eighteenth century, Tipu's policies giving predominance to production by the state of certain important items were quite normal. Apart from the British who had an eye on monopolising the trade and commerce of his prosperous state, his neighbours-the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas were inimical to him and often joined the British. Consequently, Tipu had constantly to fight and defend Mysore. He also encouraged shipbuilding, ordering in 1793 the local construction of 100 ships. The ships built in Mangalore were known for their strength and durability. He had a ten-thousand man navy. Tipu arranged to bring silk worms from Bengal and established 21 silk-rearing centres in the state. Textile industry received Tipu's attention- fine muslin and other cloth were produced in Mysore.
Tipu had an international outlook, exploring opportunities for increasing trade with a variety of countries. He exported sandalwood (a state monopoly then and even now) to China. He opened 17 foreign trade centres outside Mysore- a few outside of India. A trading centre was opened in Muscat to sell Black Pepper and other spices. He was trading with the French profitably and gave them some privileges. Napoleon, then a general, had heard about Tipu as a strong ruler in India. He wrote to the French Directorate informing them of his intention to move to India after completing his Egyptian campaign and team up with Tipu to get rid of the British from India. Nothing came out of this.
Tipu was also a social reformer, issuing Furmans prohibiting adultery and polygamy. He deplored corruption in the administration and punished the corrupt irrespective of their position or religion. Tipu strictly enforced his policy of prohibition, advising the distillers and dealers of liquor to trade instead in food grains or find other professions.
One can conclude that the sultan was an able, energetic and enlightened 18th century ruler. Based on his personal experience, a contemporary European traveller provided a picture of Tipu's Mysore- “It was well cultivated, populous with industrious inhabitants, cities newly-founded, commerce extending, towns increasing and everything flourishing so as to indicate happiness.” Finally, a word about the circumstances of Tipu's death: The combined armies of the British, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas had attacked the Srirangapatnam Fort and breached its walls. Tipu stayed on in the Fort with his troops defending it against an overwhelming force. He was at the fourth gate and had killed three of the invading troops with his gun and sword. He got wounded in the face and throat and hardly able to speak. His troops put the heavily injured sultan on a palanquin. At that time, a British soldier came near Tipu and tried to snatch his sword. Tipu struck the soldier with the sword- the latter then fired and killed the sultan on May 4, 1799. He was buried beside his parents in the mausoleum he had himself built five years ago. Commenting on Tipu's death and the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814, Sir Walter Scott wrote, “I did think he [Napoleon] might have shown the same resolve and dogged spirit of resolution which induced Tipu Sahib to die manfully upon the breach of his capital city with his sabre clenched in his hand.” It was indeed a great tribute to Tipu.
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