Reevaluating Tipu Sultan: Navigating Claims of Secular Governance Amidst Accusations of Religious Bias

Tipu Sultan, one of the greatest rulers in late 18th century India, who fought the British till the end, was martyred on 4th May 1799. 

When the British broke through the city walls, French military advisers told Tipu Sultan to escape via secret passages and to fight the rest of the wars from other forts, but he refused. 

Tipu famously said “Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep”. He was buried the next afternoon at the Gumaz, next to the grave of his father.

He is accused to be a bigot by right wingers and his sworn enemies. But he was not. He was a secular to the core and his subjects loved him. 

Was Tipu Sultan anti-Hindu?

Both Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan were very secular in their outlook despite being practicing Muslims. However, due to a rather well thought out strategy, Tipu Sultan has been projected as a religious bigot who, these people claim was opposed to the adherents of other religion. Wilks, in his voluminous book on history of Mysore talks about large scale forced conversion under Tipu Sultan. 

There were some other English authors who have portrayed Tipu Sultan in the same, intolerant and prejudiced manner towards the followers of other faiths. However, this is merely propaganda and figment of their dirty imagination.

Had this been the case, there wouldn’t have been any non Muslim officer, either in the administration or the army of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. But we know that the two employed large number of Hindus at almost every level. 

Many top officers in Tipu Sultan’s court and his army were Muslims and notwithstanding the fact that his former diwan, Khande Rao, his longtime confidante had ditched him and was able to almost destroy him, Tipu Sultan continued to trust his other Hindu courtiers and officiers in his force. In almost every war that Tipu Sultan fought, he was accompanied by a large number of his devoted Hindu soldiers and officers who did their utmost to protect Tipu Sultan’s interests across his massive empire that his father had so valiantly created.

Mohibbul Hasan Khan, while detailing the top officials of Tipu Sultan in his court and army has a rather very long list. “Haidar Ali had appointed Hindus to posts of responsibility the State. Tipu followed the policy of his father. Thus Purnaiya held the very important post of mir asaf, while Krishna Rao was the treasurer. Shama Iyengar was the Minister of Post and Police, and his brother Ranga Iyengar and Narsinga Rao held high positions at Seringapatam. Srinivas Rao and Appaji Ram were Tipu’s Chief confidants, and were sent on important diplomatic missions. Mool Chand and Sujan Rai were his chief agents at the Moghul court. The Sultan also placed great trust in Nayak Rao and Nayak Sangana. His chief peshkar, Suba Rao, was a Hindu. Narasaiya, one of his munshis, was also a Hindu. Nagippaya, a Brahmin, was appointed faujdar of Coorg. 

A Brahmin was given the exclusive privilege of cutting the timber forests in Malabar. Another Brahmin was appointed asaf of Coimbatore and afterwards of Palghat, and many of Tipus amils and revenue officers were Hindus. In the army also Hindus held responsible positions. Нагі Singh was the risaldar of the irregular horse. Sripat Rao was appointed with Roshan Khan to reduce the rebellious Nayars. Sivaji a Maratha, held the command of 3,000 horse, and fought bravely when Bangalore was besieged by Cornwallis in 1791. A Brahmin named Rama Rao also served as commander of cavalry”, says Khan.

Wilks has heaped scorn upon Tipu Sultan and has targeted him in the worst possible manner. However, it was understandable. This may be due to the extreme hatred that Tipu had for English that. Wilks like some other English historians took to the extreme in condemning the Sultan of Mysore Tipu Sultan and making him look like an intolerant ruler who was bent upon destroying the Hindus and people of other faith. However, had he been so much cruel, as Wilks wants to make him look, Tipu Sultan’s closest allies, officers and nobles would have defected to English, Marathas or others much before his death.

Tipu Sultan’s affiliation was not new. When Hyder Ali passed away, the people who he entrusted to ensure seamless succession, at least half of them were Hindus. They included Purnaiya, Krishna Rao, Shamaiya and we know that they all were ready to lay their lives not just for Hyder Ali, but also Tipu Sultan.

There is no denying that Tipu Sultan was not infallible or perfect. No sovereign of that time was perfect. He might have made some excesses, like all other rulers of his time who were driven by their whims and power and not by any clearly laid out constitution as is the case now. However, he was above bigotry and prejudice. BA Saletore, while writing about Sulta Tipu’s religious policies says that “…inspite of his weaknesses, Sultan Tipu’s special claim to recognition at the hands of posterity is the honest endeavours he made to further the cause of the Hindu dharma in his kingdom. This will be evident when we study (a) his great care to preserve religious usage in a monastery which is now the State monastery of modern Mysore; (b) his gifts to Hindu temples; and (c) his genuine concern for the prosperity and status of one of the most celebrated religious centres in India”.

There are sufficient evidences to prove beyond any iota of doubt that Sultan Tipu gave gifts to different temples throughout his vast empire. There is ample evidence available even now that at least four temples his kingdom received royal gifts directly from Tipu Sultan. These temples include the Laksmikanta temple in Kalale, Ranganatha temple Seringapatna , Narasimha temple and Narayanasvami temple at Melukote. Tipu Sultan presented at least seven cups made of silver and a silver camphor bearer to Ranganatha temple in Srirangapattana. It is inscribed on cups diligently preserved in this historic temples. Narasimha temple at Melukote was gifted a kettle drum. Narayanasvami temple in Melukote was gifted at a silver spittoon, while the Srikanthesvara temple in Nanjangudu was presented a jewelled silver cup. Besides, he gave innumerable land grants to temples across his realm.

BA Saletore, while writing about this aspect of Tipu Sultan’s life says, “I think they bespeak a genuine desire on the part of that monarch to show marked favour to those temples in the welfare of which he may have taken some personal interest. There are two considerations which make us believe that Sultan Tipu was sincere in his motives when he made gifts to Hindu temples. First, the policy of making presents to temples had already been set by his illustrious father. Thus an inscription on a silver cup belonging to the Gopalakrsna temple at Devanahalli informs us that the silver vessel was a gift to the temple from Nawab Haidar ‘Ali Khan Bahadur. The inscription is dated in about 1760. 

Secondly, Sultan Tipu’s policy of giving gifts to Hindu temples was followed by his Muslim officials. Thus, for example, Japara Kana Bommani (Jafar Khan Bommani), the Amaldar of Badshah Tipu Sultan, presented the Siddhalingesvara temple at Edeyur, Kunigal taluka, with two bells. The gift was made, according to the inscription on the two bells, to (the god) Siddhalingesvarasvami by that Muslim official”. There is no denying that allegations of religious bigotry and intolerance against Tipu Sultan are figment of their imagination and due to their inherent anti-Muslim hatred and nothing else.

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