The legendary 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan’s legacy hasn’t had much luck of late, with his reputation often a subject of bitter dispute. Now the name, and what it signifies to different people, has become fuel for another controversy. This one came about after Union minister for minority affairs K. Rahman Khan announced in December that a minority university would be created in his name in Srirangapatnam, in Karnataka’s Mandya district, once the capital of Tipu’s kingdom and where his remains are interred.
Predictably, the suggestion has come like a red flag in the face of the ruling BJP and the state’s Hindutva lobby. The possible veneration of a “mass murderer” of Hindus, and that too under their watch? G. Madhusudhan, Legislative Council member from Srirangapatnam, calls Tipu an “earlier version of Osama bin Laden”. “The man had such contempt for Hindus. The whole of Kerala, especially Malappuram, saw that. He wasn’t just any other Muslim expansionist or emperor,” says Madhusudhan.
To be sure, Tipu’s rule is seen as a sort of inflection point in the history of the region’s community relations—its problematics, omitted in the sanitised official image, have for decades been a stock-in-trade of a parallel right-wing narrative. Tipu was essentially engaged in a cat-and-mouse fight with the East India Company for control over Kerala’s ports; the RSS focuses relentlessly on his violent trail. In this telling, the en-masse flight of upper-caste landed gentry from Malabar came in the backdrop of “mass killings, forced conversions, circumcisions and beef-feeding”. That the Pakistan navy has a ship named ‘Tippu Sultan’ is also something right-wingers have latched on to gladly.
Bangalore-based historian Suryanath U. Kamath, non-committal on whether it’s kosher to name a university after Tipu, agrees his approach to non-Muslims was “complicated”. “He was good to them inside his territory and by and large behaved well with them. But in Malabar and Coorg, he had hundreds murdered or converted,” he says.
Tipu Sultan’s gumbaz in Srirangapatnam. (Photograph by S. Satish Kumar)
The incessant talk of Tipu’s atrocities also eclipses some of his other acts that could be seen as friendly to Hindus, such as an annual grant to 156 temples in his kingdom and the close relationship he shared with Shankaracharya Sri Sachidananda Bharati iii. In fact, letters prove that he had even helped in reinstalling an idol at the math that was ransacked by the Marathas.
And while his “Islamist legacy” can be debated, there is little doubt about his other achievements, whether it is the development of modern rocket technology or using trade as a tool to spread his influence globally. It is this legacy that continues to be a big draw for tourists to Srirangapatnam. “Therefore, to call him a bigot would be erroneous,” says Ali. “A lot of our ideas of Tipu Sultan come from British colonial historians who were imprisoned by him or those who were not reconciled to his rule.” Noted filmmaker M.S. Sathyu feels it’s “high time” Tipu got due recognition. “He was a freedom fighter and Srirangapatnam is where his capital was, where it had all started. So what’s wrong?”
Some have even suggested that a less divisive figure be chosen to name the university. “Why not someone like Sir Mirza Ismail?” asks K.B. Ganapathy, editor of The Star of Mysore. “He was a Muslim par excellence, an educationist and a democrat.” A diwan of the Mysore kingdom, he was renowned for his administrative skills and was later even invited to join the Jaipur rulers in the 1940s, where one of the main roads is still named after him. “My point is, why go back 200 years to bring back a controversial figure? Tipu may have fought the British but he would have eventually brought in the French. Are they supposed to be any better?”
Reacting to arguments that Tipu’s atrocities preclude all encomiums, Irfan Habib, one of our foremost historians and emeritus professor at Aligarh Muslim University, says, “Even the rebels committed atrocities in 1857-58. That doesn’t mean we can say there shouldn’t be a road named after Bahadur Shah Zafar in New Delhi. The truth is, Tipu started the resistance against the British and for this he has a place in Indian history.” But the travesty perhaps lies in naming a minority institution after Tipu Sultan. The Congress, always a sucker for the politics of empty gestures, has reduced him to a Muslim figure. “This decision actually belittles his memory because there is nothing that he did for Muslims. What he did was for the entire country,” says Habib.
That the town of Srirangapatnam is synonymous with the legendary Tipu Sultan who died defending it is a fact of history (Where is Tipu’s Sword?, Mar 18). So I can’t understand why anyone should object to naming a university in the same town after him. That said, to portray him as a paragon of religious tolerance of the modern Nehruvian type would be completely naive. Torture and conversion was common—be it of the Nairs of Malabar, other Hindus within and outside his kingdom or the Christians of Mangalore. At the same time, it is equally a fact that he reconstructed temples in Mysore devastated by his opponents in attacks and also made grants to other temples. It is also a commentary on that era—religious feelings were not as heightened as today. Why else would Tipu and the Nizam not ally with each other if religion was all that mattered? Why would the Marathas attack Sringeri in the Mysore kingdom—the Vatican of the Hindus and the seat of the Shankaracharya? And guess what, Tipu actually renovates the temple after the Marathas withdraw!
Vikram Sampath, on e-mail
I am a Nair from north Malabar and grew up hearing horror tales about what Tipu did to my ancestors. And no, these stories weren’t told by someone from the RSS shakha, but by my grandmother who all her life voted for the Communists. I have seen so many temples in Wayanad, Kozhikode and Kannur districts that were destroyed by Tipu. Many temples still have the headless apsaras as dwarapalakas (gate-keepers).
Prasanth Nambiar, Melbourne
Letters exchanged between Tipu’s court and the Sringeri math, discovered in 1916 by the Mysore Archaeological dept (annual report pp 10-11, 73-6) show him expressing his indignation and grief at the news of the Marathas’ raid. In fact, Tipu’s interest in the Sringeri temple continued for many years, and he was writing to the Shankaracharya up to the 1790s. PS: if anything else was needed to prove Tipu’s credentials, his diwan Purnaiah was a Brahmin.
Imran Ahmed Khan, Bangalore
These history-changing historians like Irfan Habib are dangerous to say the least.
Vaibhav Srivastava, Calcutta
Tell the Saudis to build something in Tipu's memory in Saudi Arabia and then you can go to perform your pilgrimage. That lowly communal killer has no place in Indian history. The best thing the British did was to end the rule of this communal menance.
Tipu was a lowly communal jihadi and history books should treat him as such. He himself led killings and forced conversions and this is the motto of the communal thug
""Oh Almighty God! dispose the whole body of infidels! Scatter their tribe, cause their feet to stagger! Overthrow their councils, change their state, destroy their very root! Cause death to be near them, cut off from them the means of sustenance! Shorten their days! Be their bodies the constant object of their cares, deprive their eyes of sight, make black their faces ."
He deserves same fate as Kasav and his sympathizers.
Imran Khan can claim anything but TIPU LOOTED from outside Mysore and may have given some of the LOOT to Temples of Mysore. - It is the Travancore Army which "flooded away" TIPUs Army by using BRAINS without having to fight TIPU and British with Nizam finished him off. -------------------- Assam is the only other part of India not fully subjugated by Muslims and Lachit Barphukan defeated Mughals in the Battle of Saraighat (1671) using river warfare on Brahmaputra.
Tipu Sultan was an epitome of Secularism, under his rule the Srikanteswara temple at Nanjungud was presented with a jewelled cup and some precious stones. To another temple, Nanjundeswara, in the same town of Nanjungud, he gave a linga (and its counterpart yoni too, anyways not sure about the female sex organ). then to Ranganatha temple at Srirangapatana he gifted seven silver cups and a silver camphor burner.
If we visit Srirangapatana, we will find that Ranganatha temple was hardly a stone's throw from his palace, where he would listen with equal respect the ringing of temple bells, and the Muezzin's call from the mosque - Azan.
The kingdom of mysore reached the height of its military power and dominion under Haider Ali and Sultan Tipu.
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