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Making a Secular Hero, Out of Communal Tipu Sultan

By: Nithin Sridhar
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A three day International Conference on Life and Achievements of Tipu Sultan concluded here in Mysore on Monday, 18th January. It was organized by Directorate of Archaeology And Museums, Mysore. Dr.B.Sheikh Ali, former Vice Chancellor of Mangalore and Goa Universities, speaking at the valedictory function said "Tipu Sultan practiced religious tolerance and was a revolutionary of his time. Several people had wrong notion that Tipu as not tolerant to other religions". K.B.Ganapathy, Editor-in-Chief of Star of Mysore, a local newspaper while delivering his presidential address stated "There are misconceptions about Tipu Sultan among masses that are under the impression that Sultan had initiated forcible religious conversion". He added "If Tipu had initiated forcible conversions, he could have had the entire Kodagu populace converted to Islam during his rule over the region" (1) Before on January 16th, while inaugurating the conference Mr B R Jayaramaraje Urs, Secretary, Department of Kannada and Culture had described Tipu as a secular-minded ruler.(2)

However, these remarks are far from truth. The new generation of scholars point to the correspondence between Sringeri Shankaracharya Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya and Tipu Sultan during 1791-92 and 1798, and argue that Tipu was upholder of secularism and respected Hindu religious heads and places of worship. However if one goes through the letters and edicts issued by Tipu Sultan to his principal military commanders, the governors of forts and provinces, their argument falls apart.

The letter of January 19, 1790, sent to Budruz Zuman Khan by Tipu himself says: "Don"t you know I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam? I am determined to march against that cursed "Raman Nair" very soon (reference is to Rama Varma Raja of Travancore). Since I am overjoyed at the prospect of converting him and his subjects to Islam, I have happily abandoned the idea of going back to Srirangapatanam now". Previously, in the letter dated March 22, 1788, to Abdul Kadir: "Over 12,000 Hindus were "honoured" with Islam. There were many Namboodiris (Brahmins) among them. This achievement should be widely publicised among the Hindus. There the local Hindus should be brought before you and then converted to Islam. No Namboodiri (Brahmin) should be spared." In the letter dated January 18, 1790, to Syed Abdul Dulai: "With the grace of Prophet Muhammed and Allah, almost all Hindus in Calicut are converted to Islam. Only a few are still not converted on the borders of Cochin State. I am determined to convert them also very soon. I consider this as Jehad to achieve that object."(3)

The above clearly, shows the "secularism" of Tipu Sultan. Further, these historians try to portray Tipu as a nationalist as he fought against British. But the renowned historian, Dr. I.M. Muthanna, says in his Tipu Sultan X-Rayed that Tipu was a traitor as he invited the French to invade India. The letter, dated April 21, 1797, written by Tipu and classified as No. 4 in the Persian File of Records, (4) reads: ""Since I manifested my friendship in writing to you, my messengers have arrived with the following intelligence which will not be displeasing to you....I inform these events in order to prove to you that it is now the moment for you to invade India. With little trouble we shall drive the British out of India. Rely on my friendship." This shows the expansionist agenda of Tipu Sultan.

According to the official report of Col. Fullarton(5) of the British forces stationed in Mangalore, "(During the siege 1783) Tipu"s soldiers daily exposed the heads of many innocent Brahmins within sight from the fort for Zamorin and his Hindu followers to see. It is asserted that the Zamorin rather than witness such enormities and to avoid further killing of innocent Brahmins, chose to abandon the Palghat Fort" Further he states- ""It was not only against the Brahmins who were thus put in a state of terror of forcible circumcision and conversion; but against all sections of Hindus. In August, 1788, a Raja of the Kshatriya family of Parappanad and also Trichera Thiruppad, a chieftain of Nilamboor, and many other Hindu nobles who had been carried away earlier to Coimbatore by Tipu Sultan, were forcibly circumcised and forced to cat beef."

The world-famous Protuguese traveller, Fr. Barthoelomeo, writes in his book Voyage to East Indies (6): "Tipu was riding on an elephant behind which another army of 30,000 soldiers followed. Most of the men and women were hanged in Calicut, first mothers were hanged with their children tied to necks of mothers. That barbarian Tipu Sultan tied the naked Christians and Hindus to the legs of elephants and made the elephants to move around till the bodies of the helpless victims were torn to pieces. Temples and churches were ordered to be burned down, desecrated and destroyed. Christian and Hindu women were forced to marry Mohammadans and similarly their men (after converting Hindu men into Islam) were forced to marry Mohammadan women. Those Christians, who refused to be honoured with Islam, were ordered to be killed by hanging immediately."

The cruelties which Tipu Sultan committed in Coorg, has no parallel in history. On one occasion, he forcibly converted over ten thousand Hindus to Muhammadanism. On another occasion, he captured and converted to Islam more than one thousand Hindu Coorgis before imprisoning them in the Sreerangapatanam fortress. The atrocities committed by Tipu Sultan in Bidnur in North Karnataka during and after its capture by him, were most barbarous and beyond description. After the capture of Mangalore, thousands of Christians were also forcibly sent to Sreerangapatanam where all of them were circumcised and converted to Islam. Then he marched upto Kumbla on the northern borders of Kerala, forcibly converting to Islam every Hindu on the way.

In Malabar, the main targets of Tipu Sultan"s atrocities were Hindus and Hindu temples. According to Lewis B. Boury (7), the atrocities committed by Tipu Sultan against Hindus in Malabar were worse and more barbarous than those committed against the Hindus in Hindustan by the notorious Mahmud of Ghazni, Alauddin Khalji, and Nadir Shah. According to the Malabar Manual of William Logan (7) who was the District Collector for some time, Thrichambaram and Thalipparampu temples in Chirackal Taluqa, Thiruvangatu Temple (Brass Pagoda) in Tellicherry, and Ponmeri Temple near Badakara were all destroyed by Tipu Sultan. The Malabar Manual mentions that the Maniyoor mosque was once a Hindu temple. Vatakkankoor Raja Raja Varma(8) writes- "There was no limit as to the loss the Hindu temples suffered due to the military operations of Tipu Sultan(in Kerala). Burning down the temples, destruction of the idols installed therein and also cutting the heads of cattle over the temple deities were the cruel entertainments of Tipu Sultan and his equally cruel army. It was heartrending even to imagine the destruction caused by Tipu Sultan in the famous ancient temples of Thalipparampu and Thrichambaram. The devastation caused by this new Ravana"s barbarous activities has not yet been fully rectified."

About the atrocities in Kozhikode, L.B. Boury(7) writes: "To show his ardent devotion and steadfast faith in Muhammaddan religion, Tipu Sultan found Kozhikode to be the most suitable place. Kozhikode was then a centre of Brahmins and had over 7000 Brahmin families living there. Over 2000 Brahmin families perished as a result of Tipu Sultan"s Islamic cruelties. He did not spare even women and children. Most of the men escaped to forests and foreign lands." The propaganda that Tipu Sultan was tolerant and fair-minded towards the Hindus in Mysore is also without any foundation, as explained in "History of Mysore" written by Lewis Rice as well as M.M. Gopal Rao. According to Lewis Rice, during the rule of Tipu Sultan, only two Hindu temples inside the Sreerangapatanam Fort were having daily pujas while the assets of all other temples were confiscated. Gopal Rao says- "Muslims were exempted from all taxes. Even those who were converted to Islamic faith were also allowed the same concessions,"

The Mysore Gazetteer says that the ravaging army of Tipu Sultan had destroyed more than 8000 temples in South India. The temples of Malabar and Cochin principalities had to bear the brunt of plunder and destruction. According to the Malabar Gazetteer, the important temples in the towns of Tali, Srivaliyanatukavu, Tiruvannur, Varakkal, Puthur, Govindapuram, and Talikunnu were destroyed by Tipu"s ravaging armies.

Inspite of enormous evidences present as mentioned above which clearly show that, Tipu Sultan was no "secular" and "tolerant", still this myth is being portrayed in academic circles. It is high time that, truth be laid down in public. It is high time to voice objection against whitewashing of history by vested interests. We, people of India should gather courage to call a spade a spade.

Nithin Sridhar

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References & Notes:

1- Star of Mysore (January 19th, 2010)

2- http://www.newkerala.com/news/fullnews-32202.html

3- K.M. Panicker, Bhasha Poshini, August, 1923

4- Cited by Dr. I.M. Muthanna, Tipu Sultan X-Rayed


6- Cited in Cochin History by K.P. Padmanabha Menon

7- Cited in Malayalam article by P.C.N. Raja first published in Kesari Annual of 1964

8- History of Sanskrit Literature in Kerala

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