Tippu Sultan: A synonym to Cruelty and Fanaticism

By Prof C I Issac published on December 28, 2015



In the light of Karnataka Government’s decision to celebrate Tippu Sultan’s birth anniversary officially, it is necessary to examine the annals of the history. Hyder Ali, a traitor and usurper of Mysore kingdom and his cruel and savage son Tippu together fought against British East India Company, is a half-baked truth. While one examines the chronology of their battles, their first and foremost prey was Hindus and native Christians, according to Sultan’s religion Kafirs (non-believers). To them their annihilation is the fulfillment of God’s will. According to their religious convictions these people deserves nothing less than death. The other aspect to be accounted is during their time two colonial forces were competing for the sway over Hindustan. Unfortunately both father and son followed a pro-French policy. Wooing either French or British, both were suicidal regarding to general Indian interest.  Let us examine the true character of Mysore Sultans. Above all, regarding to the experience of native rajas, Tippu was a traitor also. Thus he deceived the native Kings by sharing their secrets to the French enemy. For instance Tippu Sultan informed his French allies general in Malabar, Man Galon, about Pazhassy Raja’s strength and output of his chivalrous militia: “the small tiny kingdom of Pazhasi Raja has killed in battle about 1000 Europeans and 2000 Indian sepoys in various encounters. They could trounce the English not only in the hills but also on the plains”. (A. G. Somanath, The Story of Pazhassi Raja, Kozhikkode, 2005, p 10)

The military expeditions of Hyder Ali and his son Tippu Sultan of Mysore proved to be a nightmare to the Hindu social fabric of Malabar. The authors of the book ‘Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect’ says “Tippu Sultan, the very cruel son of a cruel but respected father”, by quoting an English Naval officer of the day named Donald Campbell. Furthermore “Tippoo, on contrary (when compared with Hyder Ali) was so perfectly savage, that cruelty seemed to be, not only the internal habit of his soul, but the guide of all his actions, the moving principle of his policy, the rule of his public conduct, and source of his private gratification”. (Hermione de Almeida and George H. Gilpin, Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect, Burlington, 2005, p 158). Moreover, Lt. Col William Kirkpatrick (1756-1813) Published Letters of Tippu, and in the letter No. 85 dated July 10, 1785, addressing to Burhanuddin Khan, brother-in-law of Sultan, which instruct the total demolition of the conquered territory in the following words; “every living creature in it, whether man or woman, old or young, child, dog, cat, or any living thing, else, must be put to the sword”. (Lt. Col William Kirkpatrick (Ed. & Trans), Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan to Various Functionaries, London, 1812, Letter No. 85, 10 July 1785). In Hyder Ali and Tippu, the ambitious agenda of imperial expansion as well as narrow religious designs were well reflected, rather than the anti-alien feeling. In their entire military expeditions to the south, these two gave higher priority to ravaging Hindu rajas, and their territories along with non-Muslim places of worship rather than attacking British or French garrisons. Instead of attacking the British otherwise French garrisons in Malabar, they attacked the native Hindu rajas, and conquered their territories, massacred those reluctant to embrace his religion and in short he converted the Hindu population to the religion of Islam at the point of the sword. “The worst of Tippu’s tyrannical proceedings was that he ordered the conversion of all Hindus indiscriminately, whether of high or low caste, and all who objected to acknowledge the prophet were menaced with death”, P. Shungoonny Menon, A History of Travancore, (rpt.) Cochin, 1983, p 158 ).

Mysore sultans spared Mahe, a French settlement in Kerala, during their armed expeditions towards Kerala. The French and the British were equally dangerous to our national security, both were agents of imperialism, but Mysorian rulers did not take this aspect into account while they invaded Kerala. Then France was the chief arms and ammunition supplier of Mysore. That is why they spared Mahe. On the other hand Pazhassy Raja kept distance away from both, because they were enemies of equal grade. For that reason Mysore sultans’ military expeditions could not incorporate under the category of Indian national movement. Above all before the intolerance of Mysore sultans thousands of Hindus – Brahmins, Menons, Nairs, Tiyas, Ezhavas, etc., – deserted Malabar (North Kerala) and sought asylum in the princely state of Travancore (South Kerala) in order to ‘keep their faith’. Cherumas (Cheramas) like lesser jatis of Malabar subjected to brutalities of fanatic sultans. Those lesser jatis converted to Islam at the point of the sword of Sultans still forced to live as outcasts in the Malabar Muslim society is the dark side of the state of art.

Hyder Ali, immediately after his occupation of Malabar, through a royal decree denied all privileges enjoyed by Nairs through ages and put the Nairs at the bottom of the jati hierarchy of the land. “The Nairs were the special target of the fury of the Mysore rulers. Several of their women and children were sold as slaves and they were even declared as the lowest of the castes”, (A. Sreedharamenon, Survry of Kerala History, Kottayam, 1970, p 305). Hence the paradox of the affair was that the Mysorian rulers offered restoration of their privileges on condition of their conversion to Islam. (William Logan, Malabar Manual, [Mal. Translation], Kozhikode, 1985 p 457). Hyder Ali and Tippu were very particular in razing the temples to the ground in the conquered regions. Even today also one can see the ruins of hundreds of such razed-to-the-ground temples left over by the Mysorian armed forces expedition in different parts of the Malabar region of Kerala.   “They resorted to forcible conversion and destruction of temples in order to achieve their political aim. Further, local Muslim (known as Moplahs) population had sided with the invaders in their campaigns and thus roused the bitter hostility of their Hindu brethren”. (A. Sreedharamenon, op cit, p 306). Then again the existing tradition of the land was of religious harmony. ‘The Zamorins of Calicut insisted the Hindu fishermen community that one or more sons of every family should bring up as Muslim. This   was sufficient evidence to the age-old Hindu approach towards the Muslim community of   the land and the communal harmony, which existed there’. (See William Logan, op cit, pp 210-211).

Under this barbaric and fanatic approach of the Mysorian rulers, communal harmony in Malabar was disturbed; thus the apostatic crisis born out of the Mysorian conquest had far-reaching consequence in the socio-religious relations of this region. The age old communal harmony of Malabar was disturbed forever. The history of Muslim intolerance acquired its vulgar transaction in Kerala with the Moplah riot of 26th November 1836. (William Logan, Malabar Manuel first published in 1887, (Mal. Trans Kozhikkode, 1985), p 636 & Dasharathi, Malabarile Mappila Lahalakal, Kozhikode, 1972, p 62, 66). In between 1836 and 1853, in a short duration of seventeen years, Malabar witnessed 22 blood-spattered Moplah riots. It was continued without hindrance until 1921. All were the enduring impact of the jihadi expeditions of Mysore Sultans. As a protective measure, in 1855, the East India Company formed a special armed constabulary, Malabar Special Police (MSP), in order to suppress the Moplah outrages alone. The 1921 riot was the most monstrous of all. Annie Besant writes in her book, The Future of Indian Politics: ‘Moplahs murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatize. Somewhere about a lakh of people were driven from their homes with nothing but their clothes they had on, stripped of everything’. The frequency of Moplah unrest after Tippu partially ended with the major riot of 1921. Behind it there were a range of reasons.

When Muslim rulers of Mysore invaded Malabar, the Muslim soldiers of Hindu rajas as well as the Muslim social fabric of Malabar shifted their loyalty to them without any scruples. This aggravated the intensity of the social crisis in the Malabar in the later years. Conversely, in 1680, a Mughal cavalry invaded and conquered Travancore. After the conquest of the territory, the leader of the military expedition (Sardar Khan of the cavalry) issued a decree demanding the total conversion of the subjects of Travancore to Mohammedan religion. But the trustworthy and loyal Muslim soldiers of the then ruling Rani persuaded the Mughal authorities to abstain from the apostatic act. (P. Shungoonny Menon, Tiruvitamcore Charitram – Mal tran. of A History of Travancore From the Earliest Times – Trivandrum, 1998, pp 87, 88). Hence, at the time of the Mysorian invasion, the Muslim counterparts of Malabar took a different stand, bringing about a gulf between the Hindus and Muslims which continues as a blow to its age-old communal harmony.

Tippu Sultan himself claimed that he was the only Muslim who could convert fifty thousand Hindus to Islam within a short time of twenty-four hours! According to him it was an all time record in the long history of all Muslim rulers until then. (V.D.Savarkar, Quoted from Col. Mark Wilkes, see Bharata Charitrathile Aru Suvarna Ghatangal, – Mal tran.- Ernakulam, 1990, pp 208 ff ).Though Tippu was an ally of French in India, he did not spare Christians. In 1784 Tippu seized 60,000 Christians from Mangalore region and brought to Mysore and forcefully converted to Islam.  (Abbe J. A. Dubois – Missionary in Mysore – Letters on the State of Christianity in India, First published in 1823, Rpt. AES, New Delhi, 1995, pp 74,75). Before his religious convictions he could not tolerate his Christian colonel, Sarappal Chetty. Tippu ordered the demolition of his parish church at Srengapatam. It is because of his strong objection that moves were put on shelf for the time being. After his death the Christian Church of Srengapatam was razed to the ground. (Harvest Field, magazine, Madras, 1893 September, p 93). Thus in Tippu religious convictions were dominant rather than the political designs. That is why during his doomsdays the non-Muslim societies and rajas extended their support to the East India Company.

Nevertheless, there were several stories regarding Tippu’s patronage to Hindu temples; this was partially true and simultaneously hypothetical creations of the contemporary political needs. During the last days, Tippu Sultan was under a psychosis that all his defeat in the battles was due to a curse caused by Hindu-temple-destruction-programme; hence as penance for the sin he gave financial assistance to certain prominent temples, including Guruvayoor, which he had once himself razed to the ground.(V.D. Savarkar, op cit, quotes from Epigraphica Carnatica by Benjamin Lewis Rice, op cit, 211).

Above all, they were very particular in handing over the administrative charges of the conquered Hindu territories, to the Muslims, showing the religious priorities in their military expeditions. Let us examine the absurdity of the secularist historiographer’s view on Tippu’s liberal donations to a few temples. He was a man of superstitious beliefs. Thus before every expedition he consulted with astrologers.  Lewis Rice remarks (in his book History of Mysore), “In the vast empire of Tippu Sultan, on the eve of his death, there were only two Hindu temples having daily poojas (worship) within the Sreerangapatanam fortress. It is only for the satisfaction of Brahmin astrologers who used to study his horoscope that Tippu Sultan had spared those two temples. The entire wealth of every Hindu temple was confiscated before 1790 itself mainly to make up for the revenue loss due to total prohibition in the country”. (Quoted from Kerala and Freedom Struggle, National Seminar Papers, Cochin, 1999, P. G. Haridas, p 9). Almost all historians are accepting the fact that astrology and dreams were the weakness of Tippu. His act of the exemption of Guruvayoor was not born out of his generosity but of his instinctive faith in astrology. The Guruvayoor and Srengapatam temples were saved by his Brahmin astrologers by en-cashing this weakness. ( Dasarathi, Malabarile Mappila Lahalakal, Kozhikkode, 1972, p 53). However the seeds of communal hatred, once sown by the fanatic Mysorian rulers during the days of their military expedition of Kerala, still emits the venom (kalakoodam) of communal hatred. In later years, the religious differences generated by the Mysorian attack were properly utilized by the British administration for their imperial ends.

The fanatic approaches of the Mysorian rulers and the extended loyalty of the Moplahs towards the invaders merely born out of the religious solidarity, infringed the age-old socio-political tranquility of Malabar since the 18th century. The native Moplahs’ shifting their loyalty in favour of the Muslim counter parts of Mysore posed serious threat to the age-old identity of Malabar. During the military expedition of Hyder Ali, the Moplah soldiers of Pazhassy Raja deserted him en-bloc (15th March 1766) and joined his enemy. (William Logan, op cit, p 448). The Moplah fanatics, joined Hyder Ali in communal orgy; their swords even not spared the innocent Hindu women and children and they looted, polluted and pull down innumerable temples. ( Ibid. p 449).

The erosion of the patriotic spirit of native Muslims (Moplahs) during the expedition of Mysorian forces is noteworthy. Really, it proved the fact that they were basically not against any alien powers, but were against native Hindus. This particular situation that emerged in the Malabar region forced Pazhassy Raja to take an anti-Mysorian stand during the military expeditions of Malabar by Mysore sultans. Thus he is  forced to support the East India Company’s actions against Tippu. At the same time he was not in favour of the British paramouncy. A careful examination of later political events of Malabar is a sufficient testimony to this conclusion.

Most of the post-colonial and Marxist historiographers accounted it as  a part of mere agrarian resistance, by showing their preconceived notions and intolerance. The same historiographers are not reluctant to incorporate the notorious Moplah Riot of 1921 as agrarian revolt and include it in the freedom struggle! Similarly they are enthusiastic to eulogize the Mysore assailants Hyder Ali and Tippu without considering their brutality towards innocents at the receiving end of the social pecking-order.

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