Tipu — Tiger of Mysore whose roar frightened even the British

Sharon Thambala-


Tipu Sultan, the 18th century monarch of the erstwhile Mysore kingdom in southern India, was indeed a “tiger” whose roar frightened even the British empire, which lost three wars and eventually failed to make him surrender.

Instead, Tipu attained martyrdom in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War in 1799 at Srirangapatna, about 20 km from Mysore in southern Karnataka.

“Tipu hurt the British empire where it mattered the most by stalling its East India Company’s political and economic interests,” recalled a historian.

Eldest son of Sultan Hyder Ali, Tipu (1750-1799) also fought against the Hindu kingdoms in the Deccan region to protect and enlarge his suzerainty.

Mysore is about 150 km southwest of Bengaluru.

According to chroniclers of his times, Tipu in 1785 restrained the local merchants from trading with the British and stopped them from exporting sandalwood, pepper and cardamom from the western ports.

It was not surprising that Tipu cultivated the French as his ally, as they were arch rival to the British, which was preying on the same resources in his kingdom.

Much to the chagrin of the British, the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ took the help of the French to fortify and modernise his armed forces in the 18th century.

Allying with the French also brought Tipu in direct conflict with the British, who considered him and his father Hyder Ali arrogant, dangerous and ambitious.

To annex Mysore, the British had to fight four wars with Tipu and his father during 1767-69, 1780-84, 1790-92 and finally in 1799.

Ali joined the Mysore state army of the Wodeyars as a soldier and rose up the ranks to become its Commander-in-Chief (Dalavayi).

With his exceptional military skills, Ali scaled heights to be appointed the chief minister of Mysore, relegating its Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar-II who reigned between 1734 and 1766 as a titular head and emerge as the de facto ruler of the kingdom.

During his reign, Ali made a strategic move to be friendly with the French and train his army like a European powerhouse.

With a strong and modern army, Ali annexed neighbouring regions and expanded his kingdom to include Bidnur, Canara, Sera, Malabar and Sunda.

Provoked and threatened by Ali’s actions, the British formed a tripartite alliance with the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad to declare a war on Mysore, thus setting off the first Anglo-Mysore war in 1767.

Ali’s skilful diplomacy hoodwinked the British by winning over the Nizam and the Marathas to his side even as his son Tipu was advancing towards Madras against the English.

Finally, the British under General Smith defeated Ali.

The first Anglo-Mysore War ended in 1769 with the Treaty of Madras, mandating the return of the conquered territories to each other and an agreement to come to the aid of each other, Mysore state and the British, in case of a foreign attack.

Ali hated the British and turned into their foe after they betrayed the agreement with him when the Marathas attacked him and annexed his territories, forcing him to buy peace at Rs 36 lakh and conceding an annual tribute.

Meanwhile, the British attacked Mahe, a French possession in Ali’s dominion, resulting in Ali declaring a war against them in 1780, which was the second Anglo-Mysore war.

Ali formed an alliance with the Nizam and the Marathas to defeat the British forces in Arcot in then Madras Presidency.

During the war, Ali died in 1782, forcing Tipu to carry on the fighting.

The war ended abruptly between Mysore and the British, with the Treaty of Mangalore, which mandated both the parties to return the occupied territories and the prisoners of war.

Mysore waging a battle against the British ally Travancore in 1789 was the main reason for the third Anglo-Mysore war (1786-1792), provoking Bengal governor General Lord Cornwallis to fight Tipu.

A defeated Tipu was forced to retreat, empowering the British to advance towards his capital Srirangapatna in 1792.

Fearing another invasion, Tipu inked the Treaty of Srirangapatna with the British in 1792.

According to the Treaty, Tipu had to give up half of his kingdom, comprising the regions of Malabar, Dindigul, Coorg and Baramahal to the British in 1792.

The British also levied a penalty of Rs 3 crore on Tipu, forcing him to surrender his two sons until he paid the war indemnity.

As years passed, the Treaty of Srirangapatna turned ineffective to bring peace between Mysore and the British, paving the way for the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War in 1799.

When Tipu refused to sign the Subsidiary Alliance and aligned with the French, the British attacked Mysore from all sides.

The Subsidiary Alliance treaty enabled the British to control the foreign policy and defence of an Indian kingdom, which entered into the agreement, while the Indian king was allowed to rule their region with reduced powers.

From the north, Marathas and Nizam pummelled Mysore, outnumbering Tipu’s soldiers in the ratio of 4:1, resulting in a decisive victory to the British in the battle for Srirangapatna.

After Tipu’s death and the fourth war, the Mysore territory was distributed between the Nizam of Hyderabad and the British.

The core area around Srirangapatna and Mysore was, however, returned to the Wodeyar dynasty, which reigned before Ali’s de facto rule.

The Wodeyars inked the Subsidiary Alliance with the British, placing a British resident in the Mysore court.

Mysore remained a princely state until 1947, when it joined the Indian union after the Independence.

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