The battle where we lost ‘Tiger of Mysore’, Tipu Sultan
It is not history’s job to speculate ‘what if’. Yet as you stand in front of a plain small obelisk with a stern notice, “The body of Tipu Sultan was found here,” near the northern fringe of the Srirangapatna Fort, in today’s Indian state of Karnataka, you do wonder what if the ‘Tiger of Mysore’, as Sultan Fateh Ali Sahab Tipu has often been called reverentially called, survived that fateful day, May 4, 1799?
You wonder, because history tells us that this brave ruler of the kingdom of Mysore between 1782 and 1799 was one of the most resolute opponents of the British East India Company’s aggressive colonial designs in the Indian subcontinent. One India’s most celebrated historians, Irfan Habib unambiguously terms Tipu Sultan as, “certainly a very important figure in the Indian resistance to Britain”
Beginning of the end
A relentless bloody battle raged outside the rampart of the Srirangapatna Fort between the troops of the British East India Company and those of the Sultan of Mysore on May 4, 1799. For the British it was a make-or-break battle, for the Company knew relentless in forging an alliance against British aggression in India, Tipu could ultimately stop its march in the subcontinent. Finally, Company forces breached the fort walls, and Tipu’s military advisers told him to escape immediately. The brave king refused. Instead he resisted the British till his last breath. The British colonial forces took a significant stride forward in the subcontinent over the body of a courageous patriot.
His talent and training
Tipu Sultan was born on November 20, 1750, at Devanahalli, near the modern city of Bangalore. His father Hyder Ali, at the time of Tipu’s birth was an important military officer of the Mysore kingdom, and by 1761 be came its de facto ruler. His mother was Fatima Fakhr-un-Nisa. Tipu Sultan was brought up under strict educational tutelage, which made him an expert in various languages, the Holy Quran, and Islamic jurisprudence. He was efficiently trained in battle-skills, including shooting, fencing and riding.
In Tipu Sultan the British had a formidable enemy: very well educated, trained in the art of diplomacy and was known to be a military genius. His mettle as a military leader was proven during the 2nd Anglo-Mysore War, when, taking charge of his father’s army he soundly defeated the British on February 18, 1782. When soon after this battle, on December 6, he assumed power after Hyder Ali’s death the British had reasons to fear the worst.
The British hurried to forge military alliances with the short-sighted Marathas and the Nizam, the ruler of the kingdom of Hyderbad, who clearly failed to see through the larger British design. This did result in the defeat of Tipu’s army in the third Anglo-Mysore War (1790-1792). But Tipu remained undaunted. The fearless farsighted Sultan soon initiated moves to forge a grand anti-British alliance with the Ottoman, Afghan and the French. There is enough historical evidence to prove that and alliance between emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and Tipu Sultan was not very far from fruition. And French military officers formed a key part of Tipu’s army.
The juggernaut of history, however, had other designs. The heroic Sultan’s opposition to the colonial British march was defeated in the context of larger historical factors. He died fighting, true to the epithet given to him, like a tiger.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)