COLOMBO: The Karnataka government’s decision to observe November 10 every year as “Tipu Sultan Jayanti” and the Tamil Nadu government’s move to build a “Manimandapam” or mausoleum for the great Mysore ruler at Dindigul, are being bitterly opposed by Hindu right wing groups on the grounds that Tipu was a Muslim fanatic who forcibly converted Hindus and Christians.
But his biographer, Prof. Mohibbul Hasan, argues on the basis of records, that the “Tiger of Mysore” was essentially non-communal, and was basically development oriented. He says that Tipu ought to be appreciated for his non-communal rule and his success in turning his vast domain into the most prosperous princely state in 18 th.Century India.
To start with the dark side, W.Kirkpatrick, in his 1811 publication Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan, describes Tipu as an “intolerant bigot and a furious fanatic” who indulged in forcible conversions, mass circumcisions, destruction of temples and confiscation of temple lands. M.Wilks, writing in 1864, and H.H.Dodwell in his Cambridge History of India (1929) echo Kirkpatrick.
But Professor Hasan, who taught history in Calcutta, Aligarh and Jamia Milia universities, maintains, through rigorous research, that Tipu was not a religious bigot. If the British chroniclers reviled Tipu, it was because he refused to pay tribute to the British; tried to set the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas against them; and sought an alliance with the French, Hasan argues. He points out that even the hostile British acknowledged that Tipu gave a good development-orientated administration to his people.
Hindus in High Places
Hasan points out that a number of top functionaries in Tipu’s government were Hindus. Purnaiya was the Mir Asaf (in charge of Revenue and Finance). Krishna Rao was his Treasurer. Shamaiya Iyengar was Minister of Police and Post. Subba Rao was his chief Peshkar. Srinivas Rao and Appaji Ram were his close confidantes. His agents in the Moghul court were Mool Chand and Sujan Rai. The Faujdar of Coorg was Nagappayya, a Brahmin. The Asafs (revenue officers) at Coimbatore and Palghat were Brahmins. The chief of Tipu’s irregular cavalry was Hari Singh. Rama Rao and Sivaji, a Maratha, commanded his regular cavalry. Tipu sent one of his Hindu Generals, Sripat Rao, to quell the Nair rebellion in Malabar.
Helped Sringeri Math
In 1916, the Mysore government’s Director of Archeology, K.Narasimhachar, discovered a bunch of letters in the Sringeri Math which showed that Tipu had greatly helped the math and highly respected its Abbot, the Sringeri Sankaracharya. In 1791, the math was raided and pillaged by a Maratha chieftain, Raghunath Rao Patwardan, and the Sankaracharya had asked Tipu for help to restore the math. Deeply grieved, Tipu wrote back saying: “ People who have sinned against such a holy place are sure to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds at no distant date” and asked his officials to send cash and grains so that the idol of Goddess Sarada could be consecrated. He also donated a palanquin for the Sankaracharya and requested him to pray for the prosperity of his domain.
Tipu had contributed to the Lakshmikanta temple at Kalale in Nanjangud taluk; the Narayanaswami temple at Melkote; the Srikantheswara temple at Nanjangud; and the Ranganathaswami temple at Srirangapatnam.The greenish linga at the Nanjandeswara temple is known as Padsha linga because it was donated by Tipu the ruler. According to a Sanad, Tipu “ordered” the continuation of worship at the Tirupathi Venkatachalapathi temple. Biographer Hasan wonders if Tipu would have allowed the Ranganatha, Narasimha and Gangadhareswara temples to function while being within the Srirangapatnam fort if he was an Islamic bigot. Tipu was an ardent believer in astrology and consulted astrologers daily, first thing in the morning.
Far from appropriating temple lands out of Islamic zeal, Tipu had donated lands to Hindu temples and maths, according to temple records. And these Hindu institutions were to be found across the length and breadth of his domain. For example the Kothanuthala village in Cuddapah district was given to one Ramachar, a Brahmin, to conduct pujas at the Anjaneyaswami temple in Ganjikota. If Tipu appropriated lands it was only to end unauthorized occupation, Hasan says.
Politics of Forcible Conversions
However, Tipu did order forcible conversion of the Nairs of Malabar and the Hindus of Coorg. It is noteworthy that such conversions did not take place anywhere else in his realm. Tipu told his French General, Cossigny, that he ordered the forcible conversion of Nairs and Coorgis because these communities had staged rebellions repeatedly. It was reported that 70,000 were converted in Coorg, but this could not be true because the total population of Coorg was not that much, Hasan points out. Punganuri Ramachandra Rao says in his Memoirs of Hyder and Tippoo (1849) that only 500 were converted in Coorg.
Prof. Hasan admits that Catholics in Kanara were converted forcibly, but this was because they had helped the British defeat Tipu at Mangalore, he explains. According to Hasan, these conversions were an instrument of power politics rather than religious zeal as Tipu never tried to convert loyal subjects.
As the Wodeyar family did later under the guidance of Sir M.Visweswaraya, Tipu gave Mysore a progressive administration. J.Mill in his History of British India (1848), acknowledged that as a ruler, Tipu sustained an “advantageous comparison with the greatest princes of the East.” Tipu’s country was “ the best cultivated and the most flourishing in India,” he adds.
Tipu rationalized the administrative system; got rid of private middlemen; encouraged local industries and sought French industrial technology; sent trade delegations to Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Myanmar; built the first road network in Malabar; and tried to send one of his sons to France for a modern education.