Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah in defending his decision to celebrate Tipu Jayanti, claimed that “Tipu Sultan was secular (1), he fought against British in three wars, in a sense our freedom struggle began with Mysore wars- between English and Tipu. He (Tipu) being called a fanatic or claims that he converted Hindus is baseless. He didn’t do any such thing…”
As the CM and I are both Mysuru lads and since Tipu’s capital was Srirangapatna, a mere 19 km from Mysuru, one can say that the three of us come/came from the same neck of the woods. It is only fair that I support my friendly neighborhood CM and it is in this context that I present a few instances from the glorious life of the “Tiger of Mysore”, “The Sultan”, and “The great sword of Islam”
Any note of sarcasm in what follows is wholly unintentional and entirely incidental.
Circa 1783, Zein ool Abidin Khan, Mehdivi, the Foujdar (Military Commander) of Coorg and an intimate confidante of the Sultan had been bestowed with complete and uncontrolled authority over the region of Coorg. He used this power bestowed by the benevolence of the Sultan to good effect. He indulged in wanton rape and plunder and was particularly severe on the women of the peasantry compelling the most beautiful amongst them to submit to his lust and pleasure.
In response to this tyranny the people of Coorg rose in revolt under the leadership of Momuti Nair and Runga Nair the Polygars of the region. The peasants besieged the fort and locked up the Foujdar inside. When word reached Tipu Sultan he sent a relief convoy which was also defeated by the local peasant rebels.
Then the “benevolent” and “just” Sultan entered the battlefield himself at the head of a large army and supported by a French regiment led by Monsieur Lally. This huge army then proceeded to beat, crush, impale, behead, dismember, and shoot the “infidel” peasants to death. Those that ran into the forest were chased, rounded up like flock of sheep or herd of bullocks and presented in front of the “noble” sultan. Eighty thousand (80,000) men, women and children were given a choice – convert or die. Those that resisted were executed. Men were circumcised, converted to Muslims and inducted into the Sultan’s army. Women were handed over as trophies to the Sultan’s favourite soldiers and a few special women were inducted into the Sultan’s harem (2). This was a great act of compassion and secularism by the Sultan because by converting all the peasant-prisoners to Islam he ensured that there would be no discrimination and inequality in his kingdom.
In another act of secularism the noble Sultan changed the names of all forts/cities to Persian/Arabic ones. Thus Coorg became Zufurabad, Kalikote, Islamabad, Dindigul, Khalikabad, Mysore (my and my CM’s hometown), Nazzarbad, Bellary, Sumr Puttun to name but just a few.
Also, the Sultan in an effort to ensure that all people in the district of Coorg became Muslim, dispatched six to seven thousands of his servants belonging to the Shaikh and Syed tribes to go and “re-people” the region of Coorg (2) – essentially giving them a carte blanche to do as they pleased (i.e. rape and convert). This noble and secular plan however failed as many of these servants couldn’t adapt to the cold of Coorg and died thus preventing Coorg from becoming an Islamic paradise.
Circa 1790, the Sultan decided to turn his attention to the “rebellious” region of Calicut. The destruction that he and his army wrought is captured in these verses “When they marched into that country, they committed many cruel acts,” they lighted up the fire of plunder, “that at once they burned up everything it contained. “From the hoofs of their horses, the mountains and plains,”- “were all trodden to dust,” “and even from the rocks, trees, and stones,” “deep sighs arose, and wailing” (2)
Tipu entered Calicut seated on an elephant and a massive army of 30,000 soldiers armed to the teeth. Another 30,000 barbarians (troops) had preceded the Sultan’s retinue indulging their fancies which included butchering every person – man, woman, or child on the way. Mothers were hanged with their children tied to their necks – an act of compassion by the Sultan ensuring children were not separated from their mothers (3).
Brahmin infidels were the Sultan’s favorites and he reserved his special favour for them – Their “Cudumi” or “Shika” the tuft of hair on their head was cut and they were circumcised in order to be converted to Islam. As the Portugese missionary traveler Fra Paulino Da San Bartolom (Father Bartolomeo) notes in his “Voyage to the East Indies” the infidels (both Christians and Hindus) were stripped naked and tied to the feet of elephants. These elephants were then made to walk around till the time these infidels were torn to pieces and their bodies dismembered beyond recognition (3). Even as the slaughter was going on, in nearby Thrissur the Sultan’s army burned down and destroyed an academy of learning, a few schools and a University (3). The cutting of the “Shika” of the Brahmins was an attempt by the Sultan to civilize the lice-ridden, wild pagan idolaters and bring them into the fold of the “true” religion. The death by “elephant-stomping” was also an act of compassion by the Sultan as the idolatrous-pagans and infidels wished to die rather than convert – It was their “freedom of choice” and the secular and liberal Sultan allowed it in the true spirit of a Democrat. And what use is all this education, this useless education that keeps people as Idolaters and therefore their destruction is perfectly justified.
One more incident of the Sultan’s compassion shall be recalled to showcase his greatness before closing this eulogy. Melukote in Pandavapura taluk of Mandya district (about 50 km from Mysuru) is one of the most prominent centers of the Sri Vaishnava sect of Hindus and Ramanujacharya himself lived here for 12 years. The Pradhans of the deposed dowager Wodeyar Queen Rani Lakshmi Ammani were carrying out negotiations with the British to help remove Tipu Sultan (Haidar Ali, Tipu’s father was a slave bought by the Maharaja of Mysuru, but in a series of machinations that would make Machiavelli proud he not only deposed the King of Mysuru but also usurped his throne to become the Regent himself) (4)
The Sultan could not capture the Pradhans so he instead turned on those of their community – “The Mandyam Iyengars”. It was purely incidental and had nothing to do with the fact that the day chosen for the slaughter of those who were guilty by association was “Naraka Chaturdashi” the day of Deepawali for many in the South. On this day 800 of the Mandyam Iyengars were slaughtered in broad daylight, many decapitated and several hanged including according to some accounts women and children too. Many of the Mandyam Iyengars even till date do not celebrate Deepawali and observe it as a day of “Shrardha.” (5,6,7) Perhaps the Sultan in his benevolence chose the day of Naraka Chaturdashi to deliver the Mandyam Iyengars from their sorry earthly existence in order to attain Moksha – a perfectly secular thing to do.
If words such as Tyrant, mass-murderer, rapist, bigot, fanatic, savage rise up to your throat, then banish all such blasé and vile thoughts for we live in a secular socialist republic where the “minorities, particularly muslims shall have the first right over the resources of the land” Come to think of it, what really has changed for the Hindus of India? The CM is right. Let’s all come together and celebrate Tipu Jayanti.
- The History of the reign of Tipu Sultan, written by Mir Hussein Ali Khan Kirmani and translated from the original Persian by Colonel W. Miles