Tipu’s Sea of Wealth

Around 200 years ago, a number of Indian artefacts got added to the royal family’s collection at Windsor Castle, presented to George III and his successors. They were war loot, seized after the fall of Srirangapatana, the capital of Mysore in the year of 1799, belonging to the fallen war hero, Tipu Sultan.

Tipu’s Tiger (ca. 1790). Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Mechanical Organ consists of a life-sized wooden sem-automaton of a tiger mauling a prostrate figure in European clothes. An organ is concealed inside the tiger’s body, and when a handle at the side is turned, the organ can be played and the man’s arm simultaneously lifts up and down. Intermittent noises are supposed to imitate the wails of the dying man.

“Son, I don’t think it is prudent to take on the English. Victory against the English has come at a greta cost. It’s like I bought a draught of poison for one lakh gold coins. I shouldn’t have taken on the English. I may conquer all the lands that belong to the English, but I will never be able to dry up the sea. The English control the seas, and we will never defeat them as long as they have supremacy over the waters. If Mysore has to survive, you will have to extend a hand of friendship to them.”

Tipu was silent. He held his father’s hand as Hyder looked up at him. The Sultan of Mysore smiled for the last time and fell into a deep sleep, never to wake up again.

But Tipu would not let go off his father’s hand. Looking at the peaceful face of his father, he said, “Father, I vow to never disgrace your name. I see evil in the English. I can and will never bow to them. I will never let history say that Hyder Ali’s son capitulated to the treacherous English. They are an enemy like we have never seen before, and I would rather live the life of a lion for a day than that of a sheep for a hundred. I will not let you down.”

Excerpt from the book ‘Sultan: The Legend of Hyder Ali’ written by Shubendra

No other story can accurately describe two contrasting personalities of father and son duo, both equally brilliant as military strategist, just slightly differing in personalities. Almost sounds like a Salvatore brothers and the unprecedented dilemma doesn’t it? Like the tour guide of the day said “Since the son died in battlefield, he became more famous! But the father was better. He died in peace at least.” For thirty years, first Hyder Ali, Tipu’s father, then Tipu himself, had been at the forefront of the British consciousness – often described as thorn in ones’ side. Over the decades and through four Anglo-Mysore wars, embellished tales of “the tyrants” and numerous accounts of British prisoners of war created a legend – war hero for many Indians, and one of the most famous Indian in UK. So “profound” was his terrorising act, that he left a far lasting impression on British psyche – his choice of the tiger motif as his insignia standing in opposition against the lion, the British emblem. Sounds like an exaggeration but I kid you not! The war commemoration medals awarded to the British soldiers hailing from the ‘Fall of Srirangapatna’ fame, depicted a rampaging lion mauling a supine tiger. No further physical proof needed that can verify the strange “mind game” that this Mysorean king of no royal heritage posed.

Commemoration medal found in the Tipu’s palace

With Tipu’s demise, history was literally rewritten and reframed. For instance, Arthur Wellesley, later to become Duke of Wellington, on account of his victory over the Tiger of Mysore was placed in charge of Srirangapatana and further went on regaining a further repute as a strategist who overcame the Marathas in 1803.

Despite the stature of legend himself, what is more profound about Tipu was his absolute love and deication towards his father. As a military general for the Mysore kings, Hyder Ali spent substantial amount of years away from the comfort of home. However, despite the stories of war, numerous written account depict a relationship that is very typical to how families normally behave. After reading through many of my Tipu Sultan Kindle collection, it is clear to see why an entire palace was built in his father’s memory in 1784 AD. Soon after the end of second Anglo-Mysore war and the signing of the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784, the Daria Daulat Bagh was built on the banks of Cauvery in Srirangapatna. As the name itself says, (literally, ‘the wealth of the seas’), the palace has been quoted in various studies as “The delicate rhythms of Persia, the lush sensuality of Southern India, the restraint of European and Ottoman Turkish portraiture, all contributed to its uniqueness”. Built as a summer residence, it was constructed in the middle of a garden, using the Indo-Islamic style of architecture.

Daria Daulat Bagh, also known as Tipu Sultan’s summer palace

The Daria Daulat Bagh, located on the site of the Mahanavami Mantapa, from which the Mysore kings used to host the Dasara celebrations, was one of the three palaces on the island capital of Mysore. Despite being the chief residence of Tipu Sultan, the building boasts of a relatively undistinguished facade. I mean look at the exterior. It does give an impression of how I might have finally lost my head doesn’t it? But seriously, the inconspicuous look is just like a preface or prologue of a book. The reality far supersedes all your expectations! Trust me, I am not the only one who was this impressed by the quality of work that can be seen on the walls of Daria Daulat Bagh. It is said that Lord Dalhousie was so moved by the murals that he initiated one of India’s first heritage conservation projects in 1855. His note read “I trust that the building with all its memories and associations may long be preserved for the contemplation and reverence…

The reason why I have absolutely been in love with this building starts with a simple fact. Historically speaking, Karnataka has contributed significantly to the history of Indian mural painting in the form of palaces, temples, houses, etc., as a collaborative effort between its architects and mural artists who are known in this state as Bhittichitra. The murals of Daria Daulat palace have been quoted to be the most extraordinary murals in Karnataka since they are often seen as an informative pictorial representation of society from a time period in which several mix of cultures played a role in setting the foundation for the country’s unique political landscape within the realms of history. The palace paintings can be best described as unique on their own, with three different themes: floral designs and motifs, battle scenes, and portraits.

It might seem strange to see leaders holding flowers in the middle of a battle scene of such fervour. However, according to the characteristics of Deccani paintings, nobility is often depicted as figures smelling flowers sitting regally on top of animals of enhanced sizes. For instance, Tipu here is sitting on top of an elephant, whose size is larger than that of the cavalry. But since he is still under his father’s shadow, a comparative difference in the sizes has been shown to depict that very thought process.

Hyder Ali (above) and Tipu Sultan (below), both on elephants, traveling towards centre of action, leading their own units. Mir Sadiq, Tipu’s right-hand man is beside him while Sayid Gaffur is shown charging ahead

The battle scenes are encountered as your turn the corner from the entrance. The father-son duo had some staggering victories under their combined and individual military repositories, most famous being the battle of Pollilur in late 1780 and at Kumbakonam in early 1782. One unequivocal belief that they both shared was the fact that despite the obvious power struggle betweenthe British and the French, what sets the European armies apart from Indian troops was their technical expertise and superior discipline. You can see this very belief depicted in the murals of Daria Daulat Bagh palace. Since in the global landscape, British and the French were already at loggerheads, within Indian political landscape, you can see the same reigning sentiments. As such, the mural shows French mercenaries on the side of Mysorean army against the British troops. Tipu’s pride of the Pollilur victory against the company forces has been described by the court poets as:

The flash of his [Tipu’s] sabre struck the army of Bailey like lightining, it caused Munro to shed tears, resembling the drops distilled from spring clouds.

William Kirkpatrick, official translator of Tipu’s letters

Roughly 30 feet by 16 feet in size and 20 metres wide, the mural is considered amongst the list of largest murals in India. It is made up of two sections, divided by a door, it outlines in precise detail the different troops involved and the sequence of the battle. According to guided commentary of the day, the unknown artist(s) of these amazing murals chose to distinguish the Europeans by portraying the Britishers as clean-shaven as compared to whiskered French counterparts. A British force of 3800 troops, led by Colonel Baillie found itself surrounded on all sides by troops of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. The immediate attention for a visitor would be grabbed by the square defense formation taken up by the Madras unit of British army surrounding Colonel Baillie, who is metaphorically depicted inside a palanquin, a conveyance usually associated with woman. I wonder if it was intended as a direct taunt of supremacy on Tipu’s behalf. Considering the embellished reports on the Tipu’s residential palace following his demise, it wouldn’t be such a far stretch of imagination.

Expecting a reinforcements from Colonel Hector Munro at Madras, but aided by a small troop of 1000 men under Colonel Fletcher, the British force fought a short and fierce battle until two wagons of ammunition exploded from shots fired by Indian and French troops under the direction of Commander Mons Lallee. In fact, the Mysore rockets that were developed and deployed by Tipu Sultan’s army rose to fame and notoriety as one of the first weaponised metal rockets. The British, who suffered heavy losses because of these rockets, were quick to learn and adopt them into their arsenal. A vigorous technology programe under Col. Wilhelm Congreve at the Royal Artillery Laboratory at Woolwych Arsenal was established, and it was irrefutably established that the biggest sky-rockets that were available at that time, had a range that was half of the Mysore rockets. Not only did these rockets play a big role in the Anglo-Mysore wars, they also influenced the defeat of Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo, and inspired the discovery of the Bangalore Torpedo which was later used in World War I and II. Rockets developed by the British based on Tipu’s designs even find a mention in American national anthem – Star Spangled Banner.

Commander Lallee who can be seen holding a telescope as he is supervising the offensive assault taken under his direction.

The British yeilded to the combined onslaught of 100,000 troops under the leadership of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, where Colonel Fletcher was killed in action and Baillie and Baird were wounded and taken as prisoners along with 200 other men. Thus the Battle of Pollilur got immortalised in Kannada ballads (lavanies) as Lallee – Baillie yuddha. In fact,

In contrast to the obvious engagement of the Mysorean troops with their allies and their opposition, the top panel shows a leisurely depiction of the Nizam of Hyderabad, which stays in true with how history captures his role and personality during India’s first struggle for freedom. The war procession of Nizam Ali Khan shows a decidedly leisurely stroll where the man himself is smelling roses, while the procession of elephants carrying the empty howdahs behind him depicting a characteristic lack of commitment towards his allies – Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Afterall, according to the facts, Nizam Ali reneged on his 1788 treatise with Tipu and signed off his alliance with the Marathas and the English in 1791. Symbolism was a clear winner in this particular painting when it comes to depicting Nizam’s role and personality. Caricaturised as Nazim (by Kirmani in Nishan-i-Hydari) and Hujjam Nally Khan (in the Tarikh-i-Khudadadi), he is often depicted as ‘coming like a bountiful white cow’ and ‘departing like a black boar’ as shown in the central part of the mural below.

The wall of portraits is the next section of the building that will keep you captivated for sometime since your brain is literally trying to play a matching interface for all historical personalities with their facts and figures in the same tangent of visualising their bollywood depictions.

In my humble opinion, Indian movies do have a way of making history more “palatable” for those who are normally not that engaged with monuments of historical importance. The wall showcases the portraits of Tipu Sultan’s contemporaries which include: the Chittur Queen, Mohamed Ali, Balaji with his queen, the King of Tanjavoore, Veer Raj of Kodagu, Somanath of Sindha, the Nawabs of Archat and Kadolpa, Balaji Bajirao Peshva, Madakari Nayak of Chitradurga, and Rani Chennamma of Kittur – all encased in 18th Century architecture and costume.

Along with royal court proceedings, the wall also showcases some generic court lifestyles such as mosque prayers, musicians, smoking hookahs both by kings and queens, and so on.

Considering the limited female depictions, other than the one showing a group of ladies with hookah, my other favourite painting would be that of a group of six women including musicians and a dancer. One is holding a drum like a mridangam, another holding cymbals. Both instruments are a popular depcition in Indian art and sculptures such as at the 15th-century Vittala Temple in Hampi and in Belur temples.

The third person has a violin, a sign of cross-cultural influence introduced by the European trading companies jockeying and battling for political influence during the 18th century. The violin was part of their military bands but it also highlights Tipu’s cosmopolitan tastes. In the mural, the violin is held downwards, as it is usually held in Carnatic music, rather than the chin and outstretched arm, as is the norm in Western classical music. The musician next to her plays what looks like a been or pungi. This instrument made of the gourd is usually associated with snake charmers but has two separate reed pipes. This reminds one of Scottish bagpipes. The fifth musician, clad in what resembles a half-sari, holds a long-stringed instrument similar to the kind of tambura used in Carnatic music, usually made of jackwood with the tuning pegs with knobs clearly visible at the end.

Moving past the wall murals, the palace currently houses a collection of Tipu memorabilia, European paintings and Persian manuscripts including the military code of command as ordered by Tipu Sultan. In addition, There are sixteen framed line drawings here, which include: 1. Tippu Sultan’s fort commander, Ghulam Ali Khan, 2. Tatanajachar, 3. A door keeper, Feroznauti, 4. Ali Ramzar, a lawyer, 5. Badruse Zaman Dhan, the fort commander at Dharwad, 6. Tippu Sultan’s friend, Raja Khan, 7. Divan Ghulam Ali Khan, and 7. portraits of Tippu Sultan’s seven sons. Overall, it’s a small glimpse into the large personality that the man was.

The famous oil painting ‘Storming of Srirangapattanam’ by Sir Robert Ker Porter in 1800. This historical painting depicts tge final fall of Srirangapatana on 4th May 1799

In one sentence, there is not a single inch of the palace that will disappoint you. Where the historical paintings end, exquisite stucco and lavish floral designs take over. It is truly a masterpiece of art, a true homage to garden of the sea of wealth.

Pro Tip:

  • Being a hour away, transportation to Srirangapatnam is not too much of a hassle. The recommended option to book a taxi or rickshaw for an entire day and then roam around Srirangapatnam since there are many other spots in the area.
  • The palace is open daily from 9.30 AM – 5 PM. Photography is allowed as long as you don’t use flash photography, or take selfies or take group photographs.
  • You can also take a look at how my date with Tipu Sultan looked and went like in my recent post linked here.

Interesting reads:

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