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.
Portrait of Tipu Sultan
Source: Allahabad Museum, Allahabad