The Sword of Tippu Sultan
by Dr. K. L. Kamat
On the occasion of the bi-centenary of his death, we present a biography of
Sultan. He was a controversial ruler due to some of the atrocities attributed to his army
(especially on Konkani speaking Christians), but
Dr. Kamat has tried to evaluate him historically and above controversies.
"The Sword of Tippu Sultan" is also the title of a book by Bhagwan
Gidwani, and a controversial
TV serial in India. -- Ed.
First created: May 04, 1999
Last Updated: April 04, 2014
Tippu Sultan (1753-1799)
Childhood and Parentage
Tippu was born in Devanahalli (in Karnataka) on Friday, November
20th, 1753. At the age of fifteen he used to accompany his father Hyder
Ali, Ruler of
Mysore State, to different military campaigns. He was a devout Muslim. He had a very
inquisitive mind and fascination for learning. His personal library was consisted of more
than two thousand books in different languages. Tippu was a man of simple habits, eating
common food and leading pious life. He had a very dignified personality and impressed the
people who came in contact with him. He was an extremely active man and worked from dawn
to midnight for the welfare of his subjects. He himself drafted all his correspondence. He
took over the kingdom after his father's death in 1782 A.D.
Fighting the British
He could foresee the (British) East India Company's design to get entrenched on Indian
soil, and took a vow to foil it. For this purpose he negotiated with the French and
sheltered the Frenchmen who preached the French revolutionary doctrines to the public. A
"Jacobean Club" was established in Tippu's capital Srirangapattana, and the
French tricolor was hoisted. He also sought assistance from the Amir of Afghanistan and
the Sultan of Turkey. He had already defeated the British at Wandiwash in 1783. The
British were very scared of Tippu's growing strength, and they formed an alliance with the
Nizam of Hyderabad State and Marathas of Maharashtra State. The French deserted Tippu
after signing of the "Versailles Treaty" in Europe in 1783 when the American War
of Independence ended.
As long as the British fought alone, Tippu always defeated them. But he was no match
for their diplomacy, conspiracy and intrigue. Thus he was defeated in his Capital of
Srirangapattana, and forced to sign a humiliating treaty on March 22nd, 1792. As a result
he had to concede half of his kingdom and pay an indemnity of thirty three million Rupees
to the English and their allies. Frequent wars had drained his treasury, and hence he had
no hard cash to pay this huge amount. He was compelled to pledge two of his sons to the
conquerors. Governor General Conrnwallis took away these two youngsters to his
headquarters in Calcutta in Bengal. However, they could not suppress Tippu's spirits for
long, and he rebuilt his war machine in shortest possible time. He built a fine army and
modernized his administration on the European model. He was an able and fearless military
He built a chain of excellent roads, and constructed tanks and dams to promote
agriculture. He introduced the new industries, promoted trades and commerce, established
factories in Cutch, Masquat, and Jedda, and sent commercial missions to Oman, Persia and
Turkey. He invited foreign know-how to build factories to produce glass, mirrors and
ship-building. He aimed at making his kingdom the most prosperous state of India. Hence he
was also interested in latest scientific research all over the world. He introduced
sericulture on a large scale, and mulberry cultivation was started at twenty one centers.
He encouraged the textile industry by banning the export of cotton. The weavers from
Tamilnadu were invited and settled in his kingdom. Growing of sugarcane and
producing of sugar and candy were encouraged in Channapatna, Devanhalli and
Chikkaballapur. High quality tempered wire required for the string instruments was
produced in Channapatna. The livestock development got special attention. Tippu prohibited
the production and distribution of liquor and other intoxicants in his state of Mysore.
Tippu Sultan adopted the tiger as his emblem. His throne was shaped like a tiger,
carrying the head of a life-size tiger in solid gold (see also the boxed toy above). He was an enlightened ruler who treated his non-Muslim
subjects generously. He appointed them to different positions of authority, and gave them
complete freedom of worship. He conferred liberal grants to Sringeri,
Mangalore temples. He gave funds for the consecration of idols and presented them with
gold and silver articles. He also encouraged arts like music and dance and learning in
Tippu's accomplishments and popularity among his subjects and in the
neighborhood states were eyesore, for imperialistic designs of the English. Hence they
decided to finish him once for ever. Fourth Srirangapatanna war came very handy to them to
physically liquidate Tippu on May 4th, 1799. A small monument has been erected where his
dead body was found. Tippu had a good collection of weapons, but a particular sword was
his favorite. He fought his last war with the same sword. When he was critically injured,
a British intended to snatch sway the weapon, but Tippu killed him with the same sword
which he intended to possess! The victorious General Harris sent Tippu's war-horse, the
palanquin, and a howdah to the king of Coorg who sided with the British. After
confiscating most of the Tippu's territory, the famous sword was sent to London. This was
brought back after India's Independence (1947), but was about to be smuggled out of the
country when it was intercepted, and was retained in the country.
The Sword of Tippu Sultan
and Engravings on it
History of the Sword
On the verge of defeat, Tippu lay critically injured in the battlefield. But he
still had his favorite sword with him. It is said a British soldier tried to snatch away
the royal sword, but Tippu killed him with the same sword that he intended to possess!
After the war, the sword was sent to London with other loots. After India's independence,
it was brought back to India, only to be smuggled out as a collectible. The federal
authorities seized it in 1988 and retained in India.
The mechanical 'Tipoo's Tiger' was
captured at Srirangapattana in 1799 and was exhibited at the East India Company's
headquarters in Leadenhall Street. The tiger roars and the British officer screams.
Picture Courtesy :
The East India Company
Tippu, the Builder
The most famous and beautiful
artifact from Tippu Sultan's period is his summer place, the Daria
Daulat. It beautifully depicts some of the heroic wars Tippu fought and also many
social themes of the period.
Painting from Daria Daulat Bagh
Tippu built the "Gumbaz" at Srinagapattana in 1784 which is a square shaped
mausoleum with ivory-inlaid doors and black marble pillars. Tippu is buried here by the
side of his father Hyder Ali and mother Fatima Begum. Outside the tomb are the graves of
his relatives and commanders. Nearby the "Mashit-e-Aqsa" mosque, with a pair of
small minarets is located. A solar clock could be found outside this building.
Tippu built and fortified numerous forts, but unfortunately most of them are either
destroyed or are in ruins because of poor maintenance. The Bangalore fort, located in the
heart of the city has a temple of Ganesh where devotees offer prayers regularly. Tippu
also built many palaces which were demolished by the British after his death. However his
Bangalore Summer Palace is a great tourists' attraction. It is completely made of wooden
structures with five well decorated and painted arches.
"Sword of Tippu Sultan"
is the name of a novel by Bhagwan Gidwani based on his life. Based on it, a serial was telecast by
Doordarshan (the state run television in India) which became both popular and
controversial. On the 4th of May, 1999 Tippu's death bicentenary will be celebrated in
India on a large scale. Though the historians of India are of different views about his
role to dislodge the British from Indian soil, the common people have great admiration for
his heroic deeds. It is very interesting to note that seventh generation descendants of
Tippu Sultan have arrived at Srirangapattana, all the way from Calcutta to claim their
The Daria Daulat Bagh is a national monument and can be visited by tourists (1999).