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Uncomfortable truths about Tipu Sultan pseudo-Hindu mobs wouldn't want you to know

How the Tiger of Mysore saved Shankaracharya's Shringeri Math.

 |  Fortune Cookie  |  5-minute read |   13-11-2015
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For anyone, who has any knowledge of the Brotherhood of Gau Bhakts, the echoes of imperialist historiography in the Hindutva parivar's demonisation of Tipu Sultan, especially their cover-up of the protection he extended to the hallowed Shringeri Math destroyed by Maratha brigands, doesn't come as a big surprise.

From the time Veer Savarkar, the ideological parent of Hindutva, wrote his ignominious clemency petition that assured his freedom from the Cellular Jail in the Andamans in return of his assurance to serve the then government "in any capacity" to the time when he urged Hindu youth to join the British Indian Army in opposition to the Quit India Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi, the Brotherhood have found themselves on the same side as the British Raj and its apologists. And the general view of imperialist historians of India's Muslim rulers, especially the ones they dislodged, as being a bunch of religious bigots, is tailor-made for the contemporary flag-bearers of Hindutva.

The demonisation of Tipu Sultan dates back to the works of two contemporary chroniclers of the history of Mysore - Colonel Mark Wilks and Lt-Colonel William Kirkpatrick - who were themselves engaged in the eventual defeat of the Tiger of Mysore by Richard Wellesley, the first Earl of Mornington, in the Fourth Anglo Mysore War in 1799. Tipu had got the East India Company's goat by aligning with the French and not following in the footsteps of the subservient Nizam of Hyderabad, who got rid of his French troops as soon as Lord Mornington ordered him to do so.

The line sold by the imperialist historians found a ready buyer in Rao Bahadur Conjeevaram Hayavadana Rao, who, to please his employers, the Wodeyars, re-wrote the original Mysore Gazetteer, which had recorded Tipu's many acts of generosity towards temples, and made the Tiger of Mysore out to be an anti-Hindu monster. Tipu, and before him, his father Haider Ali, who had ousted his employer, Krishnaraja Wodeyar II, to become the ruler of Mysore, not only expanded the state's territorial boundaries, but also fought four wars against the East India Company. Naturally, they were not very popular with imperialist historians.

Unsurprisingly, Tipu's pseudo-Hindu crucifiers have conveniently ignored the fact that when in 1791 Maratha hordes led by Parshuram Bhave ransacked the Shringeri Math, one of the four centres of Hinduism established by the Adi Shankaracharya, and damaged the idol of the ishta devi, Sri Sarada Amba (even the plunderer Malik Kafur had spared Shringeri), the then Jagatguru, Sacchidananda Bharati III, turned to Tipu for help.

As recounted in the well-researched blog dedicated to the monarch (The Seringapatam Times), Tipu was then embroiled in the Third Anglo-Maratha War, yet he found the time to order the release of gold and paddy for the re-consecration of the temple and the repair of the idol, and he made a personal gift of a gold sari and blouse for Sri Sarada Amba. In the letter to the Jagatguru recording these remedial actions (this was among the 30 missives exchanged between the two, which were discovered in 1916), Tipu revealed his progressive side by noting: "Those who have committed such atrocities will suffer the consequences as stated in a particular shloka: ‘People do evil smiling but will suffer the penalty in torments of agony (hasadhvi kriyathe karma raudhrir anubhuyathe)’. Treachery to gurus will lead to all-round ruin, destruction of all wealth and the ruin of the family."

In the face of the violence his memory has engendered, these words of Tipu have a poignant ring about them. It was Tipu who, in 1785, freed Shringeri from the obligation to pay taxes and gave the Math complete control over the land and villages it owned. And the Math was not alone as a recipient of Tipu's munificence. The Mysore Gazettes have listed 156 temples that received annual grants, including land and jewellery, from Tipu. During his reign (1782 to 1799), Tipu also issued 34 sanads (deeds of endowment) to temples in his domain.

It's not without a good reason that till this day, priests at the Sri Mookambika Temple at Kollur in the foothills of the Western Ghats perform a "salaam mangalarathi" at 7:30 every evening in honour of Tipu, who's said to have visited it and present a ceremonial bell to the neighbouring Shankaranaryan temple. At the famous Srikanteswara Temple in Nanjangud, a Shaivite pilgrim centre, the emerald linga presented by Tipu continues to be worshipped. To the Vaishnava Lakshmikanta Temple at Kalale, Tipu donation four cups, a plate and a spittoon, all made in silver. Nearer home, he donated seven silver cups and a silver camphor burner to the Ranganatha temple at Srirangapatna, which was within shouting distance from his palace.

Left with no fig leaf, the pseudo-Hindus point to the atrocities allegedly committed by Tipu on the Kodavas of Coorg, with whom he was waging an expansionist war (notice the silence of the same Hindutva hardliners on similar atrocities that Tipu committed on Mangalorean Christians, whom he suspected of aiding and abetting the East India Company). And if he was equally intolerant of the Nairs of Malabar, it was because they were actively backing the British forces. Those were days when wars were governed not by the Geneva Convention, but by principle of "victor takes all". Tipu was fighting his wars according to the practices of his times, so he can't be judged by contemporary standards. If each nation and community now decides to settle historical scores, or get instigated by historical narratives constructed by imperialist officers at war with the subjects they were writing about, there'll be no end to war and bloodshed in the world.

Tipu Sultan was a nationalist monarch who let Hindu temples, starting with the most famous among them, the Shringeri Math, thrive in peace. He may have been a monarch trying to protect his kingdom from annexation, but so was the Rani of Jhansi. He may have rushed to another colonial power, France, for military help, but so did Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Do we consider the Rani and Netaji to be semi-nationalists? Should we then single out the Tiger of Mysore and blur the fact that he took on the might of the East India Company at a time when other rulers were capitulating without raising an arm?

Writer

Sourish Bhattacharyya Sourish Bhattacharyya @sourishb1963

The writer is a columnist for Mail Today, blogger at Indian Restaurant Spy and a founder member of the Delhi Gourmet Club.

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