Bengaluru: Secular? Brutal? Or a man of his times?

Bengaluru: Had Tipu Sultan, the controversial ruler of the Mysore state, been around to answer secularist claims today, he would have been astonished. The 'Tiger of Mysore', has been reduced to being seen from a political lens, to garner sympathies from certain quarters and provoke others.  "It's all politics," maintains Sahebzada Mansoor, the seventh generation descendant of Tipu.

Mansoor and his family, as is their custom, visited the birthplace of Tipu Sultan in Devanahalli on Saturday morning. This was a special visit for it also marked the inauguration of a replica of one of Tipu's rockets. "We go there, garland the statue and light a lamp. The government has to do this, if not the CM, then the Kannada and Culture Minister. Of course, it doesn't happen."  

A stone plaque, installed in the 1700s, declares the spot as the birthplace of Tipu. A small park stands in the area now, set up in his memory and was maintained, at the start, by ITC. "Now, we take care of sections on our own while the corporation maintains the rest," says Mansoor.  

His frustration is understandable: For years, the remnants of Tipu's clan have tried to salvage what is left of their heritage but have never been able to extricate themselves from the relentless sway of politics. Each year, on Tipu's birthday, Mansoor and his family, some of come to Bengaluru from Kolkata, visit the birthplace of Tipu Sultan, in Devanahalli. The situation hit a crescendo in 2015, when the Siddaramaiah government, eager to mend fences with isolated groups, decided to declare Tipu Jayanti official. "The BJP arrived immediately to cause dissent, protect their support the Kodava community and make sure the Muslim vote is secure. The Congress wants to prove that they are honouring Tipu Sultan. They could have named a university after him or developed his birth place, yes?"

The spot in Devanahalli, which also marks Hyder Ali's first major triumph, has been more or less forgotten. "It's a controversial site but there is no security, not even a CCTV. Even public toilets have cameras! There is no lighting or fencing either."  The debate around Tipu Sultan has dwindled to a depressing binary: was he 'secular'. The  Kodavas, Mandyam Iyengars and Syrian Christians have tales to tell of his brutality.

Historian Vikram Sampath writes that he ordered the hanging of around 700 members of the pradhan community, in broad daylight, on Diwali. Sampath adds that some Mandyam Iyengars still observe Diwali as a day of mourning. Over 60,000 Syrian Christians were taken captive and told to convert or die. Next door, in Kerala, repeated attacks on Malabar wreaked havoc among the Nair community. The 1780s brought in the Captivity of Kodavas at Seringapatam and around 85,000 people (B.L. Rice) were captured, converted or killed.  

Mansoor counters them all. "He abolished the blouse tax imposed on women in Malabar," he says. "When he conquered the area, he found that the women were made to go topless. He abolished that. Was there a backlash from the Nair community? No, they were quite happy," he says. Rubbishing the idea of Tipu waging religious war against Hindus and Christians, he says, "It was about war. Some Tamilians and the Nizams in Hyderabad had aligned with the British, which he absolutely hated. Then again, he also waged war in Bhatkal, where traders from Iran and Iraq had settled. Nobody talks about that, do they? Muslims made up 12 percent of the population at the time, so naturally he appears to have killed more non-Muslims. It wouldn't serve any political purpose to highlight all this. The BJP doesn't see beyond Kodagu and the Congress doesn't want to lose the Muslim vote in Telengana."  

When French officers who came to India to help build the armoury asked him for a house of worship, he built one of the earliest Basilicas of Karnataka, in Srirangapatnam. "He was also the man who introduced the banking system and silver coinage in Bellary. Banking and interest-based systems are not in keeping with Islam. Still, Tipu knew that this was the way forward and he went ahead with it."

Hyder was a Tumakuru native

“Hyder Ali, father of Tipu Sultan was from Sira province in Tumakuru district and hailed from a family of warriors. He lost his father at the young age of eight. Subsequently, he moved to Srirangapatna in the erstwhile Mysuru province where a close relative of his worked in the army. Hyder joined the army as a soldier but evinced keen interest in learning the naunces of military from his relative. His bravery and valour became obvious when he led a battery of the army to wage a war against another chieftain near Chikballapur. Since the local chieftains were neither brave or enterprising, Hyder emerged stronger and one day declared himself the Sultan of Mysuru. The other chieftains were ornamental as Hyder took charge of the entire administration. Hyder went on to expanding his province by waging war.

Tipu Sultan was born on November 10, 1750 and underwent rigorous training in military techniques and administration. Hyder ensured that his son got the best education in order to make him a good ruler.

Hyder sent his son to wage war against those who tried to created problems. According to an estimate, Tipu Sultan expanded territory of his kingdom from 40,000 sq miles to 80,000 sq miles. Hyder died in 1781-82 and Tipu stepped in to his shoes. During his reign, he expanded his state to Kodagu,  Kerala and coastal areas.”

— Prof P V Nanjaraje Urs, a noted historian

The curse of Tipu Sultan and why HDK stayed away!

The belief reportedly goes that whoever "celebrates" Tipu,  will have to pay for it. Supporters of this belief cite the examples of actor Sanjay Khan, who almost lost his life during the shooting of The Sword of Tipu Sultan, liquor baron Vijay Mallya who brought Tipu's sword back to Karnataka from England and is now holed up in the same country as a fugitive, and of Siddaramaiah who lost power after he started celebrating Tipu Jayanti.  Gowda family is a firm believer in fate and anciet curses. "They fear that celebrating Tipu can be bad for them. The JD(S) was not at all interested in Tipu Jayanti. They are celebrating it this year only because of coalition compulsions," said a close aide of the family

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Note from Kannada.Club :

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