Tipu Sultan (1750-99)
Tipu Sultan or Tipu Sahib was born in Devanhalli on 20th November 1750 to Haider 'Ali (1721-82) and his second wife Fatima, or Fakr-un-Nissa. Haidar 'Ali was a soldier, who had risen through the ranks of the Mysore army to the point where he was able to unseat the Hindu raja and establish himself as de facto ruler in 1752. In 1782 Tipu succeeded his father as Sultan of Mysore, which was the strongest, best governed and most prosperous state in India.
Tipu was a devout Sunni Muslim with leanings towards Shiism and named his kingdom Saltanat-i Khudadad (God-Given State). The large majority of his subjects were Hindus of different denominations and only ten per cent were Muslims, both Sunni and Shia. He was very interested in Sufism and commissioned a number of written works on the subject. He was extremely superstitious and often took the advice of astrologers. He fed Brahmins and paid the expenses for Hindu ceremonies performed to invoke success for his arms. However, in his relations with both Indian and foreign powers, like his father, he was not influenced by religious considerations, but only the political and economic advancement of his kingdom (Hasan 2006, pp. 378-79).
Tipu, who famously uttered: "I would rather live a day as a tiger than a lifetime as a sheep" adopted the royal tiger as his personal emblem. The association of a tiger with a dynasty was not unique to him, but he took the use of this to new heights and customised everything that might be associated with him, including his throne, ornamentation on his buildings, arms and armour, textiles such as tent panels, the uniforms of his courtiers and soldiers, and was even said to have a tiger-stripe or bubri motif as the watermark on the paper he used for official edicts. When travelling outside his court, he was known to wear a red coat emblazoned with bubris. The tiger was symbolic of power and Tipu objects are easily identified by this decoration. Tipu even dreamed of tigers and recorded such an incident in his notebook, which was discovered by Col. William Kirkpatrick after the fall of Seringapatam (William Kirkpatrick (transl.), Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan, London, 1811). He saw himself as the royal tiger, the instrument of God, appointed to devour God's enemies, in particular the British. He even went so far as to order the walls of houses in the city to be painted with scenes of tigers mauling Europeans and there were stories of enemies being thrown into the tiger-pit within the palace.
Tipu Sultan was the East India Company's most tenacious enemy and the Company badly wanted to take over Mysore and seize its considerable mineral riches. Tipu was a tough and brilliant general: in the course of five wars against the Company, he inflicted on them the most humiliating defeat ever suffered by the British at Indian hands - the Battle of Pollilur in 1780. This was a tactically brilliant victory by Tipu, and led to the capture of no less than one in five of all British soldiers in India. In total, more than 7,000 British men, along with an unknown number of women, were held captive by Tipu.
Tipu, it is now clear, was one of the most creative, innovative and capable rulers of the pre-colonial period. Tactically, the Mysore forces were fully the match of those of the East India Company and their weapons, which were based on the latest French designs, were much superior to the Company's old matchlocks. He studied European economic methods and put in place a number of extremely imaginative measures which quickly transformed the economy of Mysore. He imported French technology and welcomed French artisans to train the craftsmen of Mysore. Tipu sent envoys to southern China to bring back silkworm eggs and established sericulture in Mysore - an innovation of his that still enriches the region today. He set up a department of animal husbandry to breed superior strains of draught cattle and horses, and he built a network of new roads. More remarkably still, he created what amounted to a large State Trading Company with its own ships and factories dotted across the Persian Gulf, through which he began to open up a profitable trade with the Middle East.
His substantial library, which contained some 2,000 volumes in several languages, was full of books not only about theology, ethics, Sufism, cosmology and Islamic jurisprudence, but also on history, poetry, the sciences, mathematics and astronomy and "was a library to do a Mughal prince proud", as one scholar later commented, although the greatest of all the arts of the court of Tipu are the metalwork and jewellery. Tipu clearly loved the beautiful objects which filled his carefully amassed treasury and, as one observer described, he "passed the greatest part of his leisure hours in reviewing this various and splendid assemblage of his riches".
The fall of Seringapatam and the division of spoils
By April 1799, the Siege of Seringapatam had begun under the leadership of the British commander David Baird, who had been held captive by Tipu for 44 months. Tipu was showing every sign of resisting with his characteristic ingenuity and tenacity. As one British observer wrote, "He gave us gun for gun... while the blaze of our batteries, which frequently caught fire... was the signal for the Tiger sepoys to advance, and pour in galling vollies of musketry." By 4th May the British were ready for the assault. That day the British took the city by surprise when most of Tipu's sepoys had gone to rest to escape the intense afternoon heat and within a few hours Seringapatam was in British hands. Baird was taken to the fallen Sultan's body, which lay in a heap of dead and wounded in one of the gateways to the city, having suffered three bayonet wounds and a bullet through the head. It is not certain whether he was killed by a British soldier or one of his own.
Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Beatson wrote the following year: "Those who have served in this campaign, victorious and brilliant as it has proved, will however, I believe, agree that the infantry of the Sultaun were not inferior to our sepoys; and that, had he been joined three or four months ago by four or five thousand French troops, which he had every reason to expect, the event might have been very different" (A. Beatson, A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun; comprising a narrative of the operations of the army under command of Lieutenant-General George Harris, and of the siege of Seringapatam, London, 1800, pp. ci-civ, Appendix No. XXXIII).
Following the fall of Seringapatam, there ensued several days of indiscriminate plunder not only of the palace and its treasury, but also of the houses of the city, home to 100,000 people. Arthur, Lord Wellesley was appointed Governor of Seringapatam Fort and instructed to restore law and order. Wellesley wrote to his mother: "Scarcely a house in the town was left unplundered, and I understand that in camp jewels of the greatest value, bars of gold etc have been offered for sale in the bazaars of the army by our soldiers, sepoys and followers..." (quoted in Moiennudin 2000, pp. 25-6) .
Major David Price, who later wrote his memoirs of these momentous events, was appointed Seringapatam Prize Agent, giving him responsibility for the division of the spoils, along with six other officers. He wrote: "The wealth of the palace, which was sufficiently dazzling to the eyes of many who were much more habituated to the sight of hoarded treasure than we were, seemed, at that moment, in specie, jewels and bullion, and bales of costly stuff, to surpass all estimates."
The exact process for the distribution is not clear from contemporary accounts, although auctions of at least part of the booty were held in May and June 1799, the vast majority of his possessions losing their provenance forever. The Prize Agents were staggered by what they found in Tipu's treasury: gold, jewellery, arms and armour, palanquins, furniture and the finest cloths. The jewels were found in large dark rooms, strongly secured, behind one of the durbars, and were deposited in coffers. The first day of counting alone yielded one million, two hundred thousand sultany pagodas, all neatly sealed up in bags of 1,000 (the equivalent of half a million pounds sterling). This was following the night of looting. Jewels too had disappeared, yet those remaining were worth the equivalent of £360,000 and some of the most senior officers had to take their part of the prize money in jewels. Even though so much had been taken by individual soldiers, great quantities of treasures remained and the most important pieces were reserved for the British Royal Family or the Directors of the East India Company. It was the latter who received "Tippoos Tiger", the mechanical royal tiger in the act of devouring a European officer, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (VAM 2545 IS), together with numerous items from the palace wardrobe.
Tipu's splendid gem-set octagonal gold throne, two tiger finials from which were sold through these rooms (Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Art, 2nd April 2009, lot 212 and 7th October 2010, lot 370) was broken up at the order of the Prize Committee to the regret of the Governor-General, who wrote from Fort St George that that if it could be reassembled, it ought to be acquired by the Company to present to the King. In a letter to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in January 1800, Arthur Wellesley wrote: "It would have given me great pleasure to send the whole throne entire to England, but the indiscreet zeal of the Prize Agents of the army had broken that proud monument of the Sultan's arrogance into fragments before I had been apprised even of the existence of such a trophy" (quoted in Buddle, Rohatgi and Brown 1999, p. 25). Some years later in 1842, Surgeon-Major Pulteney Mein, an eye-witness, wrote in response to an article in a journal, which had reported the siege, that "this gorgeous throne was barbarously knocked to pieces with a sledge hammer", such was their eagerness (Moienuddin 2000, p. 49).
This fine gem-set pendant is a rare intact survival from the treasury of Tipu Sultan. Very little jewellery from Tipu Sultan's treasury is known and of the pieces that have survived, the majority have been put into Western settings. When Major General Harris returned to England, he was carrying £142,000 in cash and a chestful of jewels as his war booty. The jewels that were not sold were reset by his descendants to suit the fashion of that period, an example of which, a diamond and emerald suite known as "The Seringapatam Jewels", can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where they are on loan from the Harris (Belmont) charity (published in Moienuddin 2000, p. 108, no. 2 and pl. 11).
The form of this pendant would have been universally recognisable within the Indian subcontinent as a powerful amulet. Its nine stones (navratna) each represent one of the planets of the Hindu cosmology: ruby for Surya (Sun), pearl for Chandra (Moon), coral for Mangala (Mars), emerald for Budha (Mercury), topaz for Bhaspati (Jupiter), diamond for Shukra (Venus), blue sapphire for Shani (Saturn), zircon for Rahu (the ascending node of the Moon) and cat's eye for Ketu (the descending node of the Moon). It was a symbol of celestial relationships and a manifestation of the divine plan for every living creature and a symbol of the universe. For a full discussion on navratna, see Oppi Untracht, Traditional Jewellery of India, London, 1997, pp. 30409.
Tipu took several measures to synthesise Hindu and Islamic beliefs and cultural concepts without giving any scope or cause for dissensions and contradictions within society. Coins minted during his reign carried the images of Hindu gods, such as Shiva, Parvati, Sharada and Krishna with Kannada and Persian numerals. He was known for his preoccupation with astrology, in this case specifically Hindu, though he regularly consulted both Hindu and Muslim astrologers. Significantly, a navratna pendant was set into the back of the huma bird that was once mounted on top of the canopy of Tipu's lavish throne, now in the Royal Collection Windsor (RCIN 48482).
The mark of Tipu Sultan
On the reverse of the pendant is a control mark bearing the name "Haidar" in Arabic contained in a bubri-shaped stamp. This mark can be found on all types of metal and even on wooden stocks. It does not seem to be a hallmark of quality or standard, but more likely was used only on items that were made in or passed through Tipu's royal workshops and signifying state ownership. Similar use of a mark with the first letter of "Haydar" can be seen, like the full version, on Tipu's weapons, where it is chased, stamped, engraved or inlaid into the metal (Stronge 2009, pp. 34-6), for example on a pair of silver-mounted pistols made for Tipu by Asad-e Amin in Seringapatam and dated AH 1223/ 1794-5 (Robin Wigington, The Firearms of Tipu Sultan 1783-1799, Hatfield, 1992, TR23, pp. 109-11), and on several other pieces formerly in the Robin Wigington collection. Interestingly, the throne finial of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Bowser bore a similar bubri-shaped mark on the inside of the collar (see illustration).
Two other devices were also known: one with "Assadullah al-Ghalib" in Arabic in mirrored form to resemble the face of a tiger, as seen on the pommels of a pair of silver-mounted pistols probably made for Tipu's personal armoury by Muhammad-e Almas and dated AH 1220/ AD 1791-2 (ibid., TR26, pp. 115-16); and another in the form of a shield or talismanic square containing the letters "HIDR", on the same pistols.
These marks with variations based on the name "Haidar" do not appear on items until after the death of Haidar 'Ali and are probably not an illusion to Tipu's father, although it conveniently suggests him, but rather to the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, the Imam 'Ali. 'Ali was also known as "Haidar", "the lion" and as "Assadullah", the "Lion of God" (Stronge 2009, p. 36).
This pendant, a rare survival of an intact jewel from Tipu's famed treasury, adds another piece to a still very incomplete picture of this most significant 18th Century court, a complete understanding of which has been denied as a result of the wide dispersal of Tipu's treasury, and is an important addition to the existing relics of the Tiger of Mysore's reign.
Asiatic Annual Register (AAR), 1799-1802;
Archer, Mildred,Tippoo's Tiger, London 1959;
Archer, Mildred, Christopher Rowell, Robert Skelton, Treasures from India. The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, National Trust 1987;
Beatson, A., A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun; comprising a narrative of the operations of the army under command of Lieutenant-General George Harris, and of the siege of Seringapatam, London, 1800;
Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Art, London, 2nd April 2009;
Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Art, 7th October 2010;
Buddle Anne, Pauline Rohatgi and Iain Gordon Brown, The Tiger and the Thistle. Tipu Sultan and the Scots in India 1760 1800, Exhibition Catalogue, Edinburgh, 1999;
Buddle, Anne, Tigers around the Throne. The Court of Tipu Sultan (1750-99), London, 1990;
Bowring, Lewin B., Rulers of India.Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, Oxford, 1893;
Filliozat, J. and P.Z. Pattabiramin, Parures Divines du Sud de l'Inde, Pondicherry 1966;
Forrest, Denys, Tiger of Mysore. The Life and Death of Tipu Sultan, London 1970;
Hasan, Mohibbul, History of Tipu Sultan, Delhi 1971;
Kirmani, M.H.A., William Miles, transl., The History of the Reign of Tipu Sultan being a continuation of The Neshan Hyduri, London, 1864;
Mohammed, Gholam, History of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, London, 1855;
Moienuddin, Mohammad, Sunset at Srirangapatam. After the Death of Tipu Sultan, Hyderabad, 2000;
Oriental Art (Periodical), Vol. XX, no. 4, 1974, p. 357: Advertisement placed by Douglas Wright Ltd of Curzon Street, showing the Pultney-Mein/ Bowlby finial;
Price, Major David, Memoirs of the Early Life and Service of a Field Officer on the Retired List of the Indian Army, Woodbridge, 1839;
Schimmel, Annemarie, The Empire of the Great Mughals, London 2004 (English translation);
Sotheby's, The Tipu Sultan Collection, London, 25th May 2005;
Stronge, Susan, 'The Sublime Thrones of the Mughal Emperors of Hindustan', Jewellery Studies 10, 2004, pp. 52-67;
Stronge, Susan, Tipu's Tiger, London, 2010;
Untracht, Oppi, Traditional Jewelry of India, London, 1997;
Wiginton, Robin, The Firearms of Tipu Sultan 1783-1799, Hatfield, 1992
An important gem-set gold Navratna Pendant from the Treasury of Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore (1750-99), Mysore (Seringapatam), late 18th Century
An important gem-set gold Navratna Pendant from the Treasury of Tipu Sultan