The horrible truth about Tipu's gifts to Hindu temples

Sandeep Balakrishna
Sandeep BalakrishnaNov 10, 2015 | 17:09

The horrible truth about Tipu's gifts to Hindu temples

Among other things, one of the arguments put forth to whitewash Tipu Sultan's religious bigotry and well-documented record of atrocities against Hindus, their institutions, and way of life, is the "fact" of Tipu donating gifts to the Sringeri Shankaracharya Mutt. The correspondence between him and the then Shankaracharya to the effect is still preserved by the Mutt.

However, one swallow does not a summer make. Analysing the legacy of any historical or contemporary personality essentially involves looking at where the scale tilts as well as the person's personal proclivities, beliefs, motives, and most importantly, the context in which the he/she took specific decisions and carried out his/her actions.


Here is an excerpt from my book titled Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore.

If Aurangzeb was the most fanatical Muslim king who reigned on the Mughal throne in Delhi at the start of the 18th century, his counterpart who matched him in both bigotry and cruelty in South India at the close of the same century was Tipu Sultan.

Aurangzeb inflicted untold atrocities on Hindus, their way of life, their traditions, and their places of worship over a long period of 50 years. However, when we recall that Tipu inflicted the same - if not greater - kind of barbarism on Hindus in just 17 years, we realise the breadth and depth of his religious zealotry. Aurangzeb had almost all of India as the playground for his fanatical cruelty - Hindus in Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Kashmir, Punjab, and Haryana bore the extremities of his fanaticism. However, Tipu held sway over large parts of Karnataka, a few regions in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. Within this comparatively small area, he managed to foist every kind of brutality imaginable in such a short span of time. His atrocities were not limited to the lives of Hindus - it was all pervasive; it targeted their traditions, places of worship, society, and women.


The British historian Lewis Rice who wrote the History of Mysore and Coorg says how in the

"…vast empire of Tipu Sultan on the eve of his death, there were only two Hindu temples having daily pujas within the Srirangapattanam fortress. It is only for the satisfaction of the Brahmin astrologers who used to study his horoscope that Tipu Sultan had spared those two temples. The entire wealth of every Hindu temple was confiscated before 1790 itself mainly to make up for the revenue loss due to total prohibition in the country."

Equally, MH Gopal in his Tipu Sultan's Mysore: An Economic History says that

"Mussulmans were exempted from paying the house tax and taxes on grain and other goods meant for their personal use and not for trade. Christians were seized and deported to the capital, and their property confiscated. Converts to Islam were given concessions such as exemption from taxes…[Tipu] removed Hindus from all administrative posts and replaced them with Mussulmans with the exception of Diwan Purnaiah…Another change was the introduction of Persian as the medium of accounts in the revenue department. It was so far the practice in Mysore…to make out the revenue accounts in Kannada, fair copies of which were communicated to the amildars who had them translated into Marathi."


And then we have Tipu's barbaric raid on the Malabar. There is no atrocity that he didn't commit on the Hindus there, no measure for the rivers of Hindu blood he shed, no limit to the cruelties he inflicted. It is worth recalling William Logan's list of the Hindu temples that Tipu destroyed in the Malabar. It is also worth recalling the frenzy of rapture Tipu felt after his Malabar raid. He describes this rapture in his 19 January 1790 letter to his loyal servant, Badruz Juman Khan:

"I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam. I am now determined to march against the cursed Raman Nair."

This Raman Nair was the same Dharmaraja Raman Nair of Travancore. This determination cost Tipu dearly. As we have seen in earlier chapters, it directly led to the so-called Third Anglo Mysore war, which badly singed Tipu. His hubris lay in tatters, and he appeared to have softened at least outwardly.

His immediate objective was to recover half of his kingdom, which he had to surrender to the British, according to the 1792 treaty. He realised that in order to achieve this objective, he could not afford to antagonise the Hindus who formed the majority population in his remaining dominions.

It was in this circumstance that he gave grants and gifts to the Mutt at Sringeri. However, our self-proclaimed intellectuals and alleged historians hold such aberrations as proof of Tipu's amazing religious tolerance. But then, if we examine the conditions under which Tipu wrote honey-dipped letters to the pontiff of Sringeri and made lavish donations to the Mutt, a completely different picture emerges. Leela Prasad, in her Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town, quotes Surendranath Sen:

"Tipu was at this time [in 1793] hard-pressed by his enemies and wanted, therefore, to conciliate his Hindu subjects and at the same time to bring about the discomfiture of his enemies [the Marathas] by means of .superstitious rites."

Tipu meets the Sringeri pontiff.

This opens to us another facet of Tipu's personality.

Tipu placed immense faith in astrology. He filled his court with all sorts of soothsayers and astrologers. He would consult them for fixing auspicious dates and times before embarking on a raid. In his book Life History of Raja Kesavadas, VR Parameswaran Pillai narrates Tipu's obsession with astrology:

"With respect to the much-published land-grants I had explained the reasons about 40 years back. Tipu had immense faith in astrological predictions. It was to become an Emperor (Padushah) after destroying the might of the British that Tipu resorted to land-grants and other donations to Hindu temples in Mysore including Sringeri Mutt, as per the advice of the local Brahmin astrologers. Most of these were done after his defeat in 1791 and the humiliating Srirangapatanam Treaty in 1792. These grants were not done out of respect or love for Hindus or Hindu religion but for becoming Padushah as predicted by the astrologers."

The British colonel and historian, William Kirkpatrick, who discovered more than 2,000 letters (written in Farsi in Tipu's own handwriting) in Tipu's Srirangapattana fort (after his death) also echoes Parameswaran Pillai:

"…in his childish eagerness to give new denominations to everything, he should have suffered  Seringapatam [Srirangapattana] and Bangalore to retain their old names; especially as the  former appellation, having been derived from an idol, might, on that account, be supposed to have been particularly offensive to a bigoted Musulman. It is not, therefore, improbable, that some superstitious notion may have restrained him in these instances."

Tipu's confidence had been shattered by a series of reverses, which had finally culminated in the humiliating defeat of 1792. In this war, he had to cough up a huge sum of money, had lost half his territory, and had to send two of his sons as hostages. The haughty Tipu of the 1782-92 decade now faced an uphill struggle to recover his territory and regain his wounded pride. He had finally realised that in order to face a tough enemy like the British, he had to earn the confidence of his Hindu subjects who formed the majority population. He also understood that he would be in great personal danger if he antagonised them any further.

Therefore, it is more accurate to say that Tipu's donation to the Sringeri Mutt was born out political expediency and not religious tolerance. If he was indeed a tolerant ruler, why would he demolish so many Hindu temples throughout his kingdom and in that of others? Why would he engage in such rampant and large scale conversions of Hindus? Why would he, in his secret letters, address non-Muslims as kaffirs?

It was the politician in Tipu that gave donations, grants, and gifts to the Sringeri Mutt and a few other temples. The bigot in him remained intact, eclipsed temporarily by a humiliating setback.

Last updated: November 11, 2015 | 18:10
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