A true paladin

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Today marks the 220th death anniversary of Tipu Sultan

Back when I was doing my ‘O’ Levels, the recommended textbook for the history portion of Pakistan Studies was History and Culture of Pakistan by Nigel Kelly. I vividly recall a picture in the book at the end of the chapter which enumerated and explained the causes of the downfall of the Mughal Empire. It was of Tipu Sultan proudly riding an elephant with many of his sepoys behind. What was astounding was the title. And encarved in my mind is the title ‘Tipu: The Monster of Mysore’.

Obviously, we were young back then and our main objective was to score good enough marks in the subject even if it meant to memorise a clearly distorted history. Tipu Sultan a monster? Preposterous.

Maybe the author was right as the great Muslim leader effectually manifested himself as a hydra for the British encroachment. British Imperialism began nearly 5 decades after Tipu embraced martyrdom.

The aforementioned book is still being taught to the students and although not a very significant topic for the exams, still Kelly left no stone unturned to defame one of the greatest Muslim leaders of the subcontinent. The disgust that our former colonial masters had for Tipu is clearly reflected in the arguments presented by the English author.

Born in the present day Bangalore in 1750 to Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan entrenched his name in the history of the Subcontinent as one of the most sagacious, ferocious and influential rulers that ever established themselves in united India. Tipu Sultan’s emblem was the Bengal tiger. Legend has it that once while hunting with his French friends, a tiger attacked them, his gun misfired and Tipu resorted to his dagger as the last resort and proved successful when he managed to kill it. Maybe it was the fear that the tiger instilled in him that inspired Tipu to use it to his advantage and adopt the tiger as his emblem. One that was to remain associated with him even centuries after he embraced martyrdom in 1799.

Special stamps and coins should be issued, and material should be revised to highlight his significance

Throughout his life, Tipu Sultan wore armour and fought numerous wars. Tipu fought the Marathas, rulers of Malabar, Sira among the locals. The British however proved to be the most disdained by Tipu. Napoleon Bonaparte was one of his closest allies when it came to opposing their common enemy. Several Anglo-Marathan wars were fought and Tipu proved to be a strong deterrent throughout.

Most of the recorded attributes of Tipu Sultan are either directly or indirectly associated with wars. However, this mystic was not only a very able military commander but also a very wise diplomat and administrator, and had many feats to his name. Unfortunately, neither the government nor the public has accredited this often misinterpreted Indian legend with the respect he very rightfully deserves.

Although frequently considered to be the brainchild of the West (Congreve invented it in 1804), the inspiration for the modern-day rocket came directly from Mysore! Tipu proved his agility and farsightedness when he deployed the Mysorean missiles during the Anglo-Mysorean wars. The British generals were so impressed by this unique innovation that they had the missiles sent to England to be studied and used by the British Army itself. These rockets found immense use in the future Napoleonic wars as well.

Among his innovations, Tipu introduced new coin types and renewed their denominations. Tipu abandoned the Hijri calendar and used the Maulidi system which was based on the Solar calendar starting from the year in which the Holy Prophet was born.

Tipu Sultan’s faith was undoubtedly Islam. He remained a devout Muslim throughout his life. However, controversies exist regarding his treatment of other faiths. Many English historians remark that Tipu was a tyrant who had no tolerance for other religions. However, it must be remembered that many of these historians were themselves involved in wars against Tipu and for obvious reasons there was a deep-seated resentment in their hearts for the Tiger of Mysore. Thus, the element of partiality comes in and the credibility of such authors is undermined. Even in History and Culture of Pakistan, Tipu is portrayed as a religiously intolerant tyrant who demolished several temples of those Hindus who refused to pay homage to him .Once again, Tipu’s role as a head of state should be kept in mind and all such actions (I’m not advocating the veracity of Nigel Kelly’s claims) should be viewed by a lens which does not point Tipu as a Muslim supremacist but as any ruler with a special allegiance to his faith. Furthermore, there are records accepted by the Hindu and English historians alike that Tipu made generous grants to at least 156 Hindu temples (mostly in the form of lands and jewels) and built at least one church in Mysore (now Mysuru). This also happened to be the first church in the area.

Alas, we haven’t done our part in honouring this great Muslim leader as he rightly deserves. One commendable step was taken by the PPP Federal government in 2012 when the crossroads at Hassan Abdal, which lies on the Southern route of the ancient Silk Route, was renamed ‘Tipu Sultan Chowk’ to honour the hero. In the same city one Jani Khan commemorates the Muslim Tiger on 4th May annually since the past two decades by holding a programme attended by many prominent politicians, bureaucrats and journalists.

But such is not enough to honour Tipu Sultan who sacrificed his own life while fighting the English in the Fourth Anglo-Maratha War in 1799 and still remains an enigmatic Muslim ruler who provoked many historians to try to decipher this mystic. The government should do its part and honour this legend. They could do so by issuing special postage stamps. It is an effective method as it has been done throughout history to commemorate the heroes of a nation, religion, and so on. Another action could be the issuance of coins emblemed with Tipu Sultan’s insignia. Moreover awareness should be created among the public about the importance of Tipu in our culture, and material circulated in the academic institutions be revised so that the youth can know the true unfabricated history of this colossal Muslim leader.

Tipu’s most famous saying justifies a mention: ‘A day lived like a tiger is better than a 100 years lived as a jackal.’

Let’s try to honour Tipu Sultan with the honour he so rightfully deserves as we mark his 220th death anniversary this year.