Posted on: 9 November 2015

Tipu Sultan was a false hero
By Sandeep Balakrishna

To claim that he fought against the British for India’s freedom ignores historical truths and defies logic.

But what is astonishing is the manner in which this myth has persisted despite the availability of copious amounts of primary sources regarding Tipu Sultan which prove the exact opposite of what Tipu myth-makers claim. These include and are not limited to letters he wrote to various officials in his administration and military, letters he wrote to himself (in the form of a journal/diary) [iii][iii], eyewitness accounts by his contemporaries (Indian, French and British), land and other records. Indeed, we can construct an accurate picture of the life, times, character and legacy of Tipu Sultan using these primary sources even if we don’t want to rely on any history textbook about him — both that glorify him or otherwise. And that accurate picture is not pretty.

The most charitable description of Tipu Sultan after a survey of these sources is to call him the tyrant of Mysore. His 17-year-long regime was primarily a tenure of military and economic terror as far as Hindus were concerned. He razed entire cities literally to the ground and depopulated them.

As representative samples, we can examine his raids in Coorg and the Malabar for the extent and scale of sheer barbarism and large scale destruction.

In 1788, Tipu marched into Coorg and burnt down entire towns and villages. Mir Hussein Kirmani, Tipu’s courtier-cum-biographer describes how the raid resulted in the burning down of villages in Kushalapura (today’s Kushalnagar), Talakaveri, Madikeri, and other places. Additionally, Tipu in a letter to the Nawab of Kurnool, Runmust Khan describes how he took 40,000 Coorgis as prisoners and forcibly converted them to Islam and “incorporated them with our Ahmadi corps.” Already a thinly-populated country, Tipu’s brutal raid followed by large-scale prisoner-taking depopulated Coorg of its original inhabitants to a severe extent. To Islamise Coorg, he transported about 7,000 Muslim families belonging to the Shaikh and Sayyid sects to Coorg from elsewhere.

The intensity of Tipu’s raid was so terrifying that hundreds of temple priests fled to Mangalore along with their families. Worship came to a permanent halt in several temples. Some temples were covered with leaves in order to conceal their presence. The Maletirike Bhagavati temple at Virajpet is a good example of this. Equally, the renowned Omkareshwara temple in Madikeri was about to meet the same fate — the then ruler at Madikeri panicked at the approach of Tipu, removed its tower and replaced it with a dome so that it looked like a mosque from afar. The temple continues to retain this appearance till date. In his raid of Napoklu near Madikeri, Tipu destroyed the temples in the surrounding villages of Betu and Kolakeri.

Remnants of Tipu Sultan’s savage raid of Coorg survive even today — the forcibly converted Coorgis are today known as Kodava Mapilas (Coorg Muslims) whose last/family names are still Hindu — representative examples are surnames like Kuvalera, Italtanda, Mitaltanda, Kuppodanda, Kappanjeera, Kalera, Chekkera, Charmakaranda, Maniyanda, Balasojikaranda, and Mandeyanda.

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Portrait of Tipu Sultan

Source: Allahabad Museum, Allahabad

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I wish you were there to rewrite history.

Article courtesy of Hari Ravikumar.

Can you get above the biased version and write something exponentially neutral?

how is it biased when sources are quoted? do you know about 800-1000 yrs of jihad that took place in the sub continent.?

Every kannadiga should know this.....

Finally a version approaching the facts on ground

Religion is nothing but a tool for rulers. Parashuram Bhau and Raghunath Rao from Pune, attacked and pillaged Sringeri Matt during the time of Tipu. Hindu kings attacking seat of Hinduism. It is difficult for any ruler of one religion to rule without help from his subjects. What you presented is one of the many perspectives on Tipu Sultan and it is naive to think it is the only perspective.

Ignorance of Islamic history in India seems to be all-pervasive. Most of our so-called liberals have little or no knowledge either of what Islamic theology commands the faithful or of how the faithful have taken forward the command in the last 800 years in India. Of course we should have an unbiased study of history. If a ruler did something good, we should acknowledge but there has to be an overall evaluation. Given all the information we have about Tipu Sultan, he did more harm than good is my sense. And people are free to conduct independent research on the subject if they want to counter the views of the author of this article.

A very biased and narrow minded article..if we are going to believe in this article than thousands of the historians..British ..muslim and hindus are wrong and were fools...only this man is right... Rare book society should become PM Modi's mouth piece .. Rare Books socoety has earned its dignity and through unbiased and neutral stance.. Please dont distort history for glorifying your religion..or tool for abusing other ' religion...

Mr Gulam , why don't you you visit north malabar once to see the remains of the atrocities and damage he has done to the culture of then Hindu kingdoms and temples.

Absolutely! RBSI tries to present more than one view all the time. Please go through the other posts too.

RBSI always tries to present more than one version of history. This one is of Tipu as a tyrant from the Indian perspective. There are others which see him as a hero against the British and some others as a military genius. He was probably one of the most complex of all historical characters. I find your comments about RBSI offensive and silly. History and historical characters aren't always to our liking or our ideology. One has to observe the historical narrative with dispassion since no one has control over what actually happened. And many inconvenient things have happened. The politicians will distort and misuse it to create differences among people - but not an amateur historian. He will only learn from the different perspectives.

Please go through the dozen other posts on RBSI - on Tipu where he is seen as a hero

Frankly speaking, history must not be viewed from the lens of the present. There was no idea of the nation state in the Indian subcontinent till 1947. Our post 1947 historians have done a great disservice to the society by projecting the idea of nation state on to monarchial states. Loving & fighting for one's land of birth is one thing and patriotism or nationalism is another. By mixing the two ideas just to show the British in poor light or to justify the creation of India, Pakistan etc., these fallacies are created which are cause for much debate, division and heartburn. What we need is an approach to history that views the subcontinent as a whole rather than establishing the superiority or inferiority of a contemporary political view.

There seems to be an overemphasis nowadays on the atrocities committed in the name of Islam. A few years ago the emphasis was on how Muslim rulers supported and uplifted Hindus in their kingdoms of which also there are many examples. In my view both aspects have to be presented before people so that they can form their own independent judgment. No attempt at mind control should be made.

Historians are always biased and you probably won't get a very neutral view. It is not a question of being a hero or a villain. Indian history is a mountain of complexity. Talking about the same context, what do you think about this article:

The data overwhelmingly points to it. See for example, for the current scenario. For a more historical account, see Will Durant's writings about Islamic history. The emphasis of a few years ago was because of distortions to history made by Marxist Historians. Arun Shourie methodically exposes their lies and fraud in his work "Eminent Historians" (1998). In the wake of this, my only request to all serious students of India to look at the primary sources of Indian history and come to their own conclusions. It is better not to rely on other people's analysis.

I am on several FB groups and I find that RBSI is one of the few which is genuinely unbiased. Sometimes the posts on RBSI are not to my liking but then a few days later I find something that resonates with me. This kind of multiple perspective is essential if we want to grow as individuals. In fact, I don't follow any group that I 100% agree with :D

One more biased article.... Please don't screw history for the cause of religion.

Well said RBSI. Historical incidents and events cannot be measured on today's timeframe. There has been large amount of changes in the society today.

History is best described as India has often been described 'maybe everything is true'!


I never intended to be offensive about Rare book society..In fact I like it very much as it has been contributing to history and providing some very rare books and manuscripts to every body. ..hitherto known to few...I judged that keeping in line with high standards of Rare book society..this article was quite notbup to standards set by it.. and was offensive. Every body has his opinion..and if my views has hurt you..I must oppologize..

There is a difference between Hindu kings attacking and a Muslim one Kaushik Balasubramaniam. The intention and motives are different.

Ghulam Mujtaba : Thank you and no offence taken. My only objection is accept the past as it was and not to whitewash for political gains. Every historical character was a political survivor of his times and did not act as to how he would be judged by the future generations. Terrible and bad things have happened in the past - one has to only acknowledge, understand and move on. Not suppress or distort. The past has nothing to do with us in the present who only want to live in peace with each other.

I have recently come across a newly written book which contains very valuable information based on extensive research on Tipu. Hope to upload it soon on RBSI.

Vinod Razdan : Title of the book?


Perspectives never always over-ride the Historical facts.Where historical facts are not verifiable, there, perspectives may come into the picture.

I really love to read your posts and have never noticed any element of bias. Pl. keep it up.

Mr. Shourie also wrote Worshipping False Gods on Dr. Ambedkar which was almost banned and caused the BJP to disown him for a short period of time. Data is always a problem in Historical studies. Secondly, as we have seen with the climate change debate, people tend to play with data to prove their point in the real world. Better to have a non-conclusive approach towards history. Just state the different conclusions offered by differing viewpoints, explain the rationale and evidence behind those viewpoints, and leave the people to decide. That should be the approach. Let history be a leisurely pastime of knowing about the past rather than a cause for negativity in the present.

Thing is, Tipu Sultan is dead. India is not a collection of 600 independent kingdoms allied with the British anymore. India is not even one country. It is at least 3 countries now. Republic of India, formed on the principles of Westminster Model of Democracy introduced by the British is a very different entity rather than the monarchies of yore. That is what we have to keep in mind while analyzing the past.

First go to library read old History books pre1947 than coment

British & European historians and chroniclers of those times often suffered from the Crusader bias as well. The portrayal of Muslims as oppressors and British or Europeans as liberators was common. A very common narrative found in British accounts of their time in India is of the British being the liberator of Hindus from Muslim yoke. Quite a few Hindus subscribe to this British account and viewpoint. In fact, Ananda Math by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee conveys this viewpoint by saying that British dominance of the Indian subcontinent is an opportunity for Hindus to get rid of Muslim domination and to establish their own dominance of the subcontinent by taking advantage of the educational and commercial opportunities provided by the British in the form of Modern Universities in British dominions in India as well as the opportunity of global trade & employment in the vast British Empire.

History teaches lesson races not learning lesson are abject to repeat mistake that cost tham1000 years slavery. Facts are facts example go and see Khjurahu Temples 99% faces of Hindu God's Godes Gandharvs Apsras are disfigured by Muslim invaders. and more examples is name any single big tample in Northern India even in DELHI there is no temple of1000 year old as big as in South India North India culture is older than South

Rather than argue about rulers who are already history the focus should be on taking a leaf from the historic mistakes we have made and learn to direct our present day leaders to lead us justly.. ..we have the luxury of a vast history of being subjugated and colonised by foreign powers only because we are divided.. .lets not repeat past mistakes which have cost us dearly

I didn't find any "abuse of another religion" here. Tipu is not the epitome of his religion.. He is the executor of his own greed and malice. Everyone is.

How do you mean establish their own dominance? Then do you also mean we as Indians gained freedom from British rule to gain dominance? It's just freedom from oppression.. Or at least that's what we thought!

The History is sadly based on religion.

History is generally told from a perspective of a victor. Data from all sources needed to verify facts. Selective skimming of data is dangerous.

Screwing history for the cause of religion (or so-called religious harmony) is precisely what Marxist historians did in India since the early 70s.

The evidence seems to be strongly in favor of Tipu being a tyrant rather than a hero. Similarly, history of Hinduism (and even Buddhism and Jainism) have their ugly parts. IMHO, today the Indian muslim and the Indian hindu is not responsible for their ancestors. But we must acknowledge who the heroes of the past were. If we call both Akbar and Aurangzeb as heroes, then we're going to be in trouble. But if we hail Akbar for his magnanimity and condemn Aurangzeb for his atrocities, then we're fine. This will take us to the next step -- learning from our history. Instead of this if we distort history to appease muslims or hindus or sikhs or whoever, then we are going down a slippery slope :D

Tipu's army committed lot of atrocities in their Malabar raid which is well known. Many Hindus took refuge in Travancore to escape his dreaded army. Tipu himself would have had some good connections to famous temples like in Srirangapatnam . But his army's behavior during wars do not reflect that of Tipus's. At the same time, Tipu is a hero due to his fights with British empire. Emperor Ashoka killed so many people. But in that case both sides were Hindus. All Indian states were fighting with each other for centuries and many suffered. We are not celebrating Ashoka's jayanthi . No need to celebrate Tipu's too. Even in Islamic tradition , this kind of idolizing somebody is incorrect. This is just another vote politics.

History used to be told from the victor's perspective when there was no internet. Now nobody can claim authenticity of a single narrative as all mutually contradictory points of view are readily available on our desktop, laptop and handheld devices. Therefore, the study of history should also keep pace with the times.

Devika Naren The freedom of India was called Transfer of Power by the world powers and I think it is the right term to describe that event. One set of rulers went out. Another set came in. Life of tens of millions of ordinary people was destroyed in the transition process. And even after 68 years, we are struggling and fighting with each other to define our nationhood and who we basically are. Corruption and administrative problems galore hamper our economy.