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Research and author: Ameen Ahmed
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The Hindu Wodeyar dynasty formed the Mysore kingdom in 1399 (1). It ruled the region until India’s independence, with a couple of breaks in between, from 1760 to 1799 and 1831 to 1881. Established as a subsidiary of the Karnata Empire (popular as Vijayanagar Empire), the Wodeyars began to spread their wings after Vijayanagar was sacked at the battle of Talikoti in 1565 (2). During its long existence it saw the rise and fall of many empires, including the Mughals and Marathas. Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar who ruled from 1673 until his death in 1704, is seen as its most successful king. This essay highlights how this far sighted ruler developed and sustained friendship with Aurangzeb to not only check their common enemy the Marathas, but also to reform his kingdom.
Mysore King Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar built or repaired many Hindu temples in his reign, like this Shvetha Varaha Swamy temple at Mysore.
Early Marathas and Mysore Kingdom
In early 17th century CE, supported by Maratha warriors like Shahji, father of Shivaji, the Adil Shahi rulers of Bijapur expanded south. The Muslim rulers of Deccan Sultanates of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur were said to be tolerant towards their Hindus resident and provided them opportunities in civil administration as well as the military (3). Shahji was one such Hindu who excelled as a military leader in both these sultanates. The Bijapur Sultans divided the Carnatic region into Carnatic Hyderabad and Carnatic Bijapur (Vijayapura). Each of these was sub-divided into north (Balaghat) and south (Payeenghat). Sira was part of the Carnatic Bijapur Payeenghat (4). Despite the Adil Shahis sweeping through the region, Mysore Kingdom remained a separate entity. Randaulah Khan, Bijapur’s Governor at Sira, attacked Srirangapatna, the capital of Mysore in 1639, located just about 170 km away. He was supported by his second in command Shahji. But they were both beaten back by Kantirava Narasa Raja Wodeyar (ibid., 3).
Mausoleum of Mallik Rehan, the Abyssinian commander of Bijapur Sultans at Sira, dates to 1650. To the far left of this is an open grave that is said to be that of Gauhar Taj, seven-year old daughter of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
While Randaulah Khan returned to the Bijpaur court, Shahji was given in jagir Bangalore, Kolar, Hoskota, Dod-Ballapur and Sira. He initially lived at Bangalore. During peacetime he also resided at Kolar and Doddaballapur (ibid., 1). Mallik Rehan, an Abyssinian, commanded the Bijapur armies at Sira from 1638 to 1650. Although he distinguished himself in a few decisive battles, particularly one near Bangalore in 1647, there are no records of him being able to subjugate the Mysore Wodeyars (5). In 1649, due to Shivaji’s adventures against Bijapur, Shahji was imprisoned by the Bijapur Sultan. Meanwhile, the Mysore Wodeyars were holding on firmly to Srirangapatna. Kantirava Narasa Raja Wodeyar defeated Kempe Gowda, the ruler of Magadi, in 1654, and forced him to pay tribute (ibid., 1).
Shahji continued his adventures after being spared death due to intervention of Shah Jahan and led the Bijpaur armies again, when he died in 1664 falling down from a horse at the age of 70, near Basavapatna town in preset day southern Karnataka (ibid., 1). Venkoji or Ekoji, who lived at Tanjavur (anglicized: Tanjore) took over Shahji’s jagir of Bangalore and areas south of it (ibid., 4). Soon Shivaji would venture into Karnataka. A man who wanted to shape his own destiny as well as that of his clan the Marathas, he gained notoriety as a plunderer of non-Maratha kingdoms. He is known to have looted and destroyed the towns of Hubbali (Hubli), Karwar and Ankola in 1670s in present day Karnataka (6).
Rise of Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar
Meanwhile, in 1672, Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar took over the reins of Mysore Kingdom. He took many steps to streamline the administration. He pioneered a regular postal system. He expanded the kingdom northward, incorporating many small territories that were in disarray due to Shivaji’s raids (ibid., 1).
The cat and mice game between the numerically superior Mughals and Shivaji’s men using their guerilla warfare tactics continued. Aurangzeb’s son Sultan Mauzum took the fort of Dharwar in 1673 (7). In 1675, Bijapur Sultan Adil Shah died and Venkoji became independent of Bijapur. But Shivaji, a son from his father’s first marriage, attacked the domains of his half brother Venkoji and forced him to partition half of his domains, in 1677 (ibid., 4). It is said that he attacked Srirangapatna in August 1677 and resorted to looting neighbouring areas after the Wodeyar defeated him (8). By the time of his death in 1680, Maratha soldiers had entrenched themselves in the environs of Ginjee, Vellore and Tanjavur (ibid., 1).
Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar kept up his pressure against the Marathas, capturing many territories that were the jagir of Venkoji. In 1682, he is said to have defeated a combined army of Basappa Nayaka of Ikkeri, Qutub Shah of Golkonda and Sambhaji, son and successor of Shivaji (ibid., 8).
The Jama Masjid, Sira, Karnataka is said to have been constructed in 1686, around a time when this region was taken over the Mughals led by Emperor Aurangazeb, according to a Persian inscription inside it.
Aurangazeb’s empire touches Mysore’s boundaries
Aurangazeb reached Bijapur in person in 1685. Among others, he was opposed by the sons of Randaulah Khan, the late Bijapur Governor of Carnatic Bijapur (ibid., 5). Having prevailed in the battle, Aurangzeb marched down to Sira and captured it in 1687.
The Subah (province) of Sira was formed in 1687 with the town of same name as its capital. It composed of the following seven parganas (districts) – Basvapatna, Budihal, Sira, Penugonda, Dod Ballapur, Hoskote and Kolar. The states of Harpanhalli, Kondarpi, Anegundi, Bednur, Chitaldroog and Mysore were given protection as tributaries. The commercially important Bengaluru Pete (town) was still held by Venkoji, who was in the process of selling it to Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar. But Khasim Khan, Aurangzeb’s first Faujdar Divan (Military Governor) of Sira, captured and sold it to the Wodeyar for three lakh rupees (ibid., 1). According to another source Kasim Khan was the Subhedar of Sira Subah (ibid., 5). Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar established friendly relations with Aurangzeb through Khasim Khan. This gave Mysore enough political stability to expand its territory in all directions, away from the Mughal boundaries. He extended Mysore’s boundaries to the south till Palni and to Midgeshi in the north (ibid., 1). The Mughals also continued capturing independent forts. The fort of Doddaballapur was captured in 1689 by Khasim Khan, according to a Persian stone inscription dated 1691 (9).
As Aurangzeb turned back north, his favourite son Kam Baksh Khan continued the campaign against the Marathas at Ginjee and started its siege in 1691. Among the Maratha Generals at Ginjee was a confidante of late Shivaji, Santaji Gorepuray. He defeated Khasim Khan, who either died on the battle field or then killed himself. Ginjee finally fell to Kam Baksh Khan in 1697 (10). At that point in time, the Mughal influence in south Asia was its zenith. It controlled directly, or through alliances with friendly kingdoms, an area that stretched from Vellore in present day Tamil Nadu, southern India to Kabul in Afghanistan north and present day Bangladesh in the east.
A view of the Nijagal hill fort near Tumakuru, India. It was constructed by Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar.
Aurangzeb’s governance and Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar’s administration
After his friend Khasim Khan’s death, Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar made a fresh resolve to strengthen relations with the Mughal Emperor. He sent an embassy to the emperor’s court at Ahmednagar in 1699. It returned in 1700 with the Emperor’s authority to sit on an ivory throne and an official stamp titled Jaga Deva Raja (anglicised: Jug Deo Raj), literally meaning ‘King of the world’ (ibid., 1).
A year later, Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar introduced administrative reforms in his kingdom inspired by Aurangzeb’s Governance. This included the Athra Kacheri (Eighteen Departments or Chavadis), one of which was the Benne Chavadi or the Animal Husbandry Department which focused on indigenous cattle. The Athra Kacheri particularly the Benne Chavadi outlasted Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar by over a century. The latter was inherited by Haidar Ali followed by Tipu Sultan, who refined it further and renamed it as Amrut Mahal (ibid.,1). Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar also built or resurrected many Hindu temples across Mysore Kingdom among which are the two Narasimha Swamy temples at Devarayanadurga, the Kote Venkataramana temple at Bangalore and Shvetha Varaha Swamy temple in the vicinity of Mysore Palace. Many literary works in Kannada and also Sanskrit were produced during his rule (ibid., 8). He died in 1704. Aurangazeb followed in 1707. The following subedars governed Sira until Aurangzeb’s death.
Atish Khan – 1694
Kurad Manur Khan – 1697
Dhakta Manur Khan – 1704
Pudad Ulla Khan – 1706
Dawud Khan or Dawud Khan Panni – 1707
During their rule over Sira, the Mughals commissioned many monuments including the big Eidgah, Jumma Masjid and Barqi Masjid, among others (12). According to locals, Aurangazeb was accompanied by his favourite daughter Gauhar Taj during his campaign here. She passed away at the age of 7 and is buried in a small roofless mausoleum in the necropolis surrounding the mausoleum of Mallik Rehan.
While the Maratha invasions of Bengal province (present day Bangladesh, West Bengal state, Orissa and parts of Bihar) are fairly well-known to history lovers of Indian sub-continent, the Maratha invasions of Mysore Kingdom as well as the friendly relations between Aurangzeb and his Hindu counterpart of Mysore Kingdom, Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar that protected the Kingdom’s inhabitants for over two decades are not well-known. In early 20th century, another far-sighted Wodeyar king Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar took the princely state of Mysore to great heights but he was not independent from the British. That gives credence to Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar being Mysore Kingdom’s most successful independent ruler. The fact that he was deep rooted in Hinduism, and yet established friendly relations with Aurangzeb to protect his kingdom and its Hindu inhabitants, is another proof that south Asia was not a Hindu vs Muslim binary during the rule of Mughals, in particular under Aurangzeb. This unknown facet of India’s history needs to be told and retold in this day and age.
Acknowledgement: I thank the scholars whose works have helped me research and write this document. I am, in particular, grateful to Prof. Rank Nazeer Ahmed, USA, Nidhin Olkara, India and Muneer Ahmed, India.
Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq (700-765 CE) was a giant among Islamic sages. He was the Shaykh of great Shaykhs, the teacher of Imam Abu Haneefa, Imam Malik, Abu Yazid al Bastami and Wasim ibn Atta. His scholarship embraced the esoteric as well as the exoteric, ilm ul ishara as well as ilm ul ibara, the sciences of kalam as well as the sciences of hadith, sunnah, the natural sciences and the historical sciences. He was al-hakim, an integrator, a true man of wisdom in the Quranic sense, a complete alim who understood that the Shariah applied not just to the world of man but to the world of nature as well. He applied his incisive knowledge to create Divine patterns in the world of man through Fiqh but he also saw those patterns in nature and in history and he taught them to his students. He was the inheritor of two secrets, one from Abu Bakr as Siddiq (r), the other from Ali ibn Abu Talib (r). He was a far-sighted savant who worked to bridge the gap between the Shia and the Sunni and between Islam and other faiths. No wonder the Shia and the Sunni, the Sufi and the Salafi, the traditionalist and the modernist all claim him to be one of their own.
He lived in exciting times. It was the age of faith. It was the age of reason. It was the age of intellectual consolidation. It was also the age of imperial expansion and political upheavals. It was the age when Islamic civilization came into its own. The seed planted by the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) sprouted, was tended to during this age by men and women of extraordinary vision and certainty of faith. The shape of this tree and the taste of its fruit were largely a legacy of what these great men and women did and did not do.
Just as a tree has many branches, the global Islamic community has many branches, each with its own beauty and its own unique characteristics: Shia, Sunni, Sufi, Salafi, Modernist, Traditionalist, the esoteric and the exoteric, the Arab, the Persian, the Turk, the African, the Pakistani, the Indian, the European, the Indonesian, and the Chinese. All of these branches grew out of the same trunk. The fact that they are different adds to the majesty and beauty of this tree and its global appeal.
Few scholars through the centuries have bridged the differences between Shia and Sunni, Sufi and Salafi, Modernist and Traditionalist and fewer yet have risen so high in their scholarship that they were claimed, with equal validity by the Shia and the Sunni, the Sufi and the Salafi, the Modernist and the Traditionalist. Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq was one such scholar. The Shias—Ithna Ashari, Ismailis, Alavis and Agha Khanis alike—consider him to be the sixth Imam. The Sunnis consider him to be a teacher of the great mujtahideen, Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Malik bin Anas. The Sufis of all tareeqas honor him as a major link in the chain of transmission of spiritual knowledge from the Prophet, the Salafis accept the ahadith transmitted through him, the modernists consider him to be the teacher of some of the best known empirical and rational scientists of the age, and the traditionalists follow his guidance in matters of faith and ritual. While the Sunnah of the Prophet is like the trunk of the tree that is the world of Islam, Imam Ja’afar was one of its main branches.
Yet another way to look at Imam Ja’afar is to consider him as the amalgam of Abu Bakr as Siddiq (r) and Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r). You recall that upon the death of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) many Companions considered Abu Bakr (r) to represent the consensus of the community while others felt that Ali (r) was the heir to Prophetic wisdom and was the one to be followed. The Islamic community split along these lines. Imam Ja’afar brought these two streams together through family relationships as well as scholarship. In him the esoteric and the exoteric, the consensus of the community and the Prophetic wisdom merged. Very few scholars had that privilege.
Lastly, Imam Ja’afar was a master both of Ilm ul Ibara and Ilm ul Ishara. Classical Islamic scholars divided knowledge into two broad categories, namely, that which was accessible to the mind and that which is accessible only to the heart. In the former category belong reason, logic, mathematics, science, sociology, hadith and the obligations and rituals of religion. This knowledge can be taught and can be learned from an Alim. It is called Ilm ul Ibara from the Arabic root Alif-Bay-Ray (a-ba-ra) which means to wade, like wading from one shore of a river to the other. This is the knowledge imparted to a pupil in a school or a university. The knowledge of the heart, on the other hand, is not accessible to the mind but only to the heart. In this category belong love, compassion, humility, piety, ethics and a consciousness of Divine presence. This knowledge cannot be taught. But a great Shaykh can help a pupil cleanse his heart and open it to the unlimited possibilities of ilm ul Ishara. Imam Sa’adiq inherited and was imparted Ilm ul Ishara from his father and grandfather, while he learned Ilm ul Ibara from the great ulema of the age.
Ja’afar ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq was born in the year 700 CE. His father Imam Muhammad al-Baqir was the son of Imam Zainul Abedin and the grandson of Imam Hussain ibn Ali. The year was the 83rd year of the Hijrah or 20 years after the tragedy of Karbala. We have specifically highlighted the chronology of Karbala, because it defined, as we shall see, many of the convulsions that took place during the lifetime of Imam Ja’afar. His mother Umm Farwah bint Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was a great great granddaughter of Asma Bint Umais who was married to Abu Bakr Siddiq. Therefore, through familial relationship Imam Ja’afar was related both to Abu Bakr (r) and Ali (r) and through Imam Hussain and Fatima az Zahra (r) to the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).
Imam Ja’afar received his early education from his father Imam Baqir and his maternal grandfather al-Qasim. The stream of knowledge, both esoteric and exoteric through Imam Baqir leads in an unbroken chain to Imam Zainul Abedin, Imam Hussain, Fatima az Zahra, Ali Ibn Abi Talib(r) and the Prophet. The stream of knowledge from his maternal side leads in an unbroken chain to Abu Bakr (r) and the Prophet. So it is that in Imam Ja’afar the esoteric and exoteric streams emanating from Abu Bakr (r) and Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r) meet. In addition to his training from his father and grandfather, Imam Ja’afar received formal education in the Quran and Hadith from eminent ulema of the age. He was also well versed in mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, anatomy, alchemy and the natural sciences.
It was a period of rapid expansion of the Umayyad Empire. Imam Ja’afar was only eleven years old when Tariq ibn Ziyad and Musa ibn Nossayr crossed the Straits of Gibraltar (711-712 CE) and in a campaign extending over seven years, conquered Spain and Portugal. At the eastern extreme of the empire, Muhammad bin Qasim subdued Sind and Multan (711-714) in modern Pakistan. Imam Ja’afar was seventeen when Omar bin Abdel Aziz became the Caliph in Baghdad. It was during the reign of this pious Caliph and his fair and just administration towards all subjects that conversion in Persia and Egypt gathered momentum. And Imam Ja’afar was thirty-three (733CE) when the Omayyad armies under Abdur Rahman I were stopped at the Battle of Tours in France and retreated to Sorbonne, thus marking the farthest reach of Muslim conquests in Europe.
Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq stayed above the political convulsions of the age, focusing instead on teaching and training the community. In this respect he presages the great Sufi Shaykhs who were to grace the canvas of Islamic history in later centuries, most of whom, with some notable exceptions like Shaykh Sanusi of Libya (d 1860), Shaykh Shamayl of Daghestan (d 1871), and Shaykh Abdel Qadir of Algeria (d 1883), shunned politics and political involvement, emphasizing instead the spiritual and ethical well being of man. This outlook was of immense benefit to Islamic civilization. Imam Ja’afar avoided the ruthless persecution that characterized Umayyad rule, focusing instead on scholarship and teaching. There was wisdom in this strategy. History owes a debt of gratitude to Imam Sa’adiq for his dedication to knowledge and teaching which produced great luminaries in the fields of jurisprudence, tasawwuf, science and mathematics.
Imam Ja’afar is known in history as one the greatest of Islamic scholars and teachers. The method of teaching those days was in a halqa or a circle where a shaykh imparted knowledge and wisdom to those who attended his halqas. It was the age when transmission of knowledge was through a discourse between a teacher and his pupil or a Sufi sage and his pupil. Such halqas were held in the house of a shaykh or in a mosque. Imam Ja’afar initially taught at the halqa started by his father Imam Baqir. As the attendance grew the halqas were held in the mosque of the Prophet in Madina. So great was his radiance that he immediately attracted a large number of students. Many of these students were learned and well known shaykhs themselves, much older than Imam Ja’afar and in some fields as learned as he. Such was the humility of the scholars those days. They did not consider it beneath their dignity to learn from a younger man more knowledgeable than themselves. Among those who frequented his halqas in the early years was Imam Abu Haneefa who said with reference to his association with Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq: “Were it not for the two years I spent in the company of Ja’afar as Sadiq, I would be wandering”. He referred to Imam Ja’afar as “the most learned scholar I have ever seen”. The reference here is to the transmission of spiritual knowledge. Shariah has both an external aspect and an internal aspect. The internal aspect of Shariah is the anchor to which the external aspect is tethered. Imam Abu Haneefa is known as Imam al-Azam (the Great Imam) in the field of jurisprudence. As acknowledged by Imam Abu Haneefa, the spiritual underpinnings of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence owes much to the spiritual knowledge transmitted by Imam Ja’afar as Sa’adiq and through an unbroken chain of transmissions and his lineage to the spirituality of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (r), Abu Bakr as Siddiq (r) and (for those who wish to immerse themselves into this deep ocean) to Noor e Muhammadi, the Light of Muhammad (pbuh).
Another great scholar who attended the halqa of Imam Ja’afar was Imam Malik ibn Anas, after whom the Maliki school is named. From a historical perspective, the Maliki Fiqh is based upon the rulings given by Ali ibn Abi Talib (r) during the Caliphat of Omar ibn al Khattab (r). Imam Malik (711-795CE) of Madina was younger than Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq (700-765 CE) and Imam Abu Haneefa (699-767CE). Imam Malik said of Imam Ja’afar: “I was his regular visitor for a period of time, and I never saw him once without praying, fasting or reciting the Qur’an.” In the next generation after Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Malik, Imam Shafii (d 820) of Damascus studied the teachings of Imam Abu Haneefa and Imam Malik and developed the Shafii school of Fiqh. The Hanbali Fiqh which grew out of a protest movement against the Mutazalites used the earlier schools of Fiqh as its basis. Thus all the major schools of Fiqh, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii, Hanbali and Ja’afariya owe a debt of gratitude to the knowledge transmitted by Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq.
Shari’ah has both an inner dimension and an outer dimension. It has an outward manifestation as well as an inner taste. If the major schools of Fiqh reflect both the inner and outer dimensions of the Shari’ah, it is due in no small measure to the insights offered by Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq.
Imam Ja’afar was not only a scholar of Kalam, Sunnah and Hadith. He was also a historian and a master of chemistry, astronomy, mathematics and natural sciences. One of his students Jabir ibn Hayyan, went on to distinguish himself as the foremost chemist and mathematicians of his age.
Imam Ja’afar taught the natural and historical sciences as well. His teachings reveal that he knew about the rotation of the earth around the sun, the existence of elements beyond the four (namely, earth, air, water and fire) that were subscribed to by the Greeks. He also held discourses on the nature of light and heat that are consistent with our own modern understanding of these subjects. One of his students was the well-known chemist and mathematician Jabir ibn Hayyan. Wasil ibn Ata (d 748 CE) who is generally credited with the founding of the Mutazilah (rational) school of philosophy also studied at the halqa of Imam Ja’afar.
The character of Imam Ja’afar was exemplary. He was pious, always engaged in remembrance of God. He emphasized the need for ethics, morality and justice in human affairs.
He taught reconciliation and brotherhood across interfaith and sectarian divides. Regarding the Sunnis he said: “Pray with their tribes, take part in their funerals, visit their sick and give them what is due to them”. How different was the approach of the great Imams from the parochial approach of today’s Muslims who are at loggerheads with each other, steeped as they are in the ignorance and prejudice accumulated over centuries of self-serving historical narratives!
he Rossmoor Interfaith Council hosts their Big Questions series on zoom. This month, we have Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, an Islamic Sufi speaking on “What is the Relationship between Science and Religion in Today’s World.”
Thank you all for joining me on this important discussion about the linkage between the American independence movement and that period of Indian history where Haidar and Tipu were fighting the same English colonizer. I for myself have been studying the history of Mysore, especially about the period Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, for about two decades now.
Both Haidar and his son Tipu Sultan are very well-known for bringing Mysore on to world stage especially with their innovations in technology, tax management, revenue collection, especially with making Mysore a small collection of about 30 odd villages to an empire that stretched right from Dharwar up in the north to the borders of Travancore in the south. A lot of us historians speak of Tipu’s rockets, his exploits but I believe and we know that the favourite topic for a lot of people including those with bouquets for Tipu and brickbats for him, especially in the charged political times that we are in now, is his religious policy. The organizers of this event have thrown upon me the gauntlet of speaking on this rather than another touchy issue. But for me this issue is not touchy at all because I have a set view on this point. And I am confident that today I will be able to convey my views to you. And I do not stand here to convince you of anything but only to share what I have learnt and what I make of this whole period of Mysore’s history.
It is my opinion that when you study a person you should first look at his teachers and parents. And when I look at Tipu I will also look at his father Haidar Ali and the kind of environment he grew up in. Haidar Ali started of his career as a mercenary. He started off as some from the lower ranks who quickly rose to power by his intelligence, his unique capability of taking people from diverse backgrounds along and by his martial strength.
Tipu was born in, there are several accounts of this, but it is believed that this date is correct i.e. Nov. 20, 1750. Tipu was born to Haidar Ali and Faqrunnisa. By that time Haidar was starting to grow in his ranks, but he was not well-known. Towards the 1760s Haidar Ali had of course taken over as the Sarvadhikari of the Dalwai of Mysore. He was acknowledged by the then Wodeyar king and lived and learnt under the tutelage of the brothers Devaraya and Nanjaraya. Haidar was a strict disciplinarian. As far as religious policies are concerned, he was a religious Muslim, a Sunni Muslim but also one who had took Hindus, Shias, Christians, agnostics, and all kinds of people with him. He also had a practice of discussing religion. He would actively take part in the festivities of his subjects, the Hindus. He was extremely devoted to the Ranganathaswamy temple of the Srirangapatna. There are records of the priests there, even after Tipu’s death, during the British time speaking very lovingly of Haidar’s devotion to the Ranganathaswamy temple. So, it is important to realize that Tipu grew in a family where there was already a feeling of communal or religious amity with the larger Hindu subjects.
When Haidar died and Tipu was put onto the Masnad, it was a no small measure due to the efforts of Diwan Purnaiah and other important personalities in Haidar’s close coterie. That could be Anche Shamaiah, Krishna Rao among several others, who were very instrumental. And Tipu never forgot that, especially with regard to Purnaiah, in putting Tipu up there on the throne.
Tipu began his role over Mysore as a Sarvadhikari. He still owed allegiance to the Wodeyars, who still sat there and were brought out on Dushshera day on Vijayadashami day to be shown to the people of Mysore. He began very well. He kept the same set of civil servants. In fact, Haidar had built the Brahmin bureaucracy so well. Tipu instituted a set of land reforms. He also started taking excess land from large temples, from large Agraharam trusts and redistributed excess land to tenant farmers; largely all of them who were Hindus, across castes. The temples were not divested of any of their income. They were given as much as was needed for the upkeep of the religious ceremonies there, the Brahmin priests there. A lot of the literature of that period speaks well about him. He continued the relations that Haidar made. In fact, he increased the amount of donations in terms of numbers of temples. So, you have a large number of temples at Melukote, Nanjangud, Sringeri, of course at Yediyur and several other names and several other grants and sanads have been found. Sringeri of course we know very well, during the 3rd Anglo Mysore War, the Marathas wantonly vandalized and desecrated this temple. Tipu spent a lot of money in renovating and restoring this temple. His donations to Sringeri not only involved money but also crystal lingas and a very interesting sapphire mantapa, which was a very interesting piece of stone, in which there was a Shiv Ling, a seven hooded serpent on it and a Basava in front made of gold. There are several letters of Tipu to the Sringeri Swamyji, the Guruji asking the Sringeri Guruji to pray for Tipu and to pray for Mysore. Tipu’s birth chart was sent to Jyothishas there to make prayers to Shri Sharada, the deity there, in Tipu’s name. Similarly, Tipu made extensive devotions. There is an interesting crytal ling at Nanjangud. Tipu interfered between two warring parties at Vijayamangalam, which is near Erode, and solved disputes among two sections of Hindus there, that is the left-hand caste and the right-hand caste- Yede yang Iyer and the Valey Iyengar. There are numerous such instances. In fact, after Tipu, when Buchanan travelled across Mysore as well as parts of Tamil Nadu, the Carnatic as they say, he met several groups of Brahmins who were angry at the English that they did not employ them in as many numbers as Tipu employed the Brahmins. Where I come from, near Shimoga, there was a rebellion in the 1830s wherein after the rebellion or during the inquiry into the rebellion the landed farmers said that Haidar and Tipu treated them very well compared to the later Wodeyars.
A much talked about event of Tipu harming the Hindus is the so-called massacre- yes, it was a murder of large group of people at Srirangapatnam, which was commonly called the Melukote massacre. So, there was this group of Tirumala Rao the ambassador of the Rani, the Wodeyar Rani Queen Lakshmamani. She and her family were displaced by Haidar and Tipu and kept under the state security and house-arrest with an allowance made to them. They were not harmed in any other way. Remember Tipu or Haidar, especially Tipu could have finished the whole family in one shot. He never did that. So Lakshmamani kept a steady correspondence with the British through her emissary who was placed at Telicherry and his name was Tirumala Rao. Events turned out so bitter that Tirumala Rao kept trying to pull Palegars– local chiefs away from Mysore (who were then with Tipu) and towards the British. He also actively started communicating Tipu’s war plans to the British. All this enraged Tipu who made an example of it by hanging to death several of Tirumala Rao’s cliquey members at Srirangapatnam. These were not women or children, but all grown men. There was a large number amounting to more than what is 100, it is said. This was not the first time that such an execution was carried out. Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar massacred a whole group of Lingayat priests. These were Jangama priests. He demolished several Lingayat mathas. Because the Lingayat peasantry refused to pay taxes and he wanted to make an example of this. So, this kind of execution of large groups of conniving treasoners, at least in Tipu’s eyes these people did treason to Mysore by collaborating with the British. So, these kinds of events happened before Tipu and they happened later too. Right near where I sit, there is a town called Honnali. Therein, Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who came after Tipu, in connivance with the British executed peasants at the great temple at Honnali. Near that he strung up several farmers and revolutionaries who revolted against the British and the Wodeyar rule. In fact, you have the seditions laws in India still wherein you do treason and you are punished. Tipu may have carried this to an extreme by murdering all of them but again remember that this was the period of the 1700s. In fact, this happened somewhere around 1784. We can make amazing claims sitting around 2020 but this was a long, long while ago. Overall Tipu maintained Hindus’ every group or every part of his establishment. There were Hindu clerks. There were Hindu Generals of cavalry. In fact, he had two large regiments of infantry which composed entirely of Hindus. His bodyguard contained groups of Brahmins, who would probably have been secretaries, clerks and a large number number of Marathas.
I have during my research stumbled upon several new pieces of evidence. There is something especially important here. A lot of anti-Hindu propaganda was being pumped into the atmosphere here courtesy the British and later historians who especially wanted to substantiate British rule over Mysore. So, a common question would be, and you see it in Iraq, you see it in Libya. You also saw it in Mysore then. In fact, William Dalyrymple wrote a nice piece about it at the onset of Bush war on Iraq, on how Tipu was demonized by the British. So, a lot of the historians are very, very choosey about what they pick. And, several other pieces of history which are still buried in archives and in temple palm leaf manuscripts, temple copper-plate grants, are all still buried there.There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Very interestingly, over the past year, I have been working on some records from Tipu’s library itself which are there in Calcutta. There is an interesting Kannada manuscript, which speaks of the stores there and Tipu’s endowments to the fort at Srirangapatna. And this has never been read before. The paper remains to be published but I will give you snippets of it here right now. So, Tipu speaks of daily sanctioning money for Kaveri pooja, the pooja of the River Kaveri which flowed in front of the fort. He speaks of the worship of the toaps, the large guns on the battlements of the fort. He speaks of a daily allowance which was to be given to the Mari temple, the local deity there, Mariamma deity in Srirangapatna. He makes large endowments which must be done every year for the Dushshera function. So, there is an amount of ghee, there is an amount of rice. There is an amount of sugar. All of which goes to the Prasadam or festivities. So, there are several such small private things. All of us have heard of his donations to Sringeri and Melukote. But you have this king here, who makes small donations to guns, who makes small donations to small Mariamma Gudi. So, this is not even a small temple, but it is well beloved for the people of Srirangapatna, especially to the soldiers there. So, he makes these small donations to her. So, these are all important pieces which tell you of his religious pluralism.
Remember that in 1700s, India was very syncretic. I do not know if this is known to many. This is important, because when Tipu as a small child fell ill. And Haidar, Tipu’s father, was campaigning in Chitradurga. We know that Haidar visited the temple to Tippe Rudraswamy which was at Nayakana Hutii near Chitradurga and he prayed for his son. And it is believed by many that the name Tipu may not have come from Tipu Mastaan Aulia because till that time Tipu’s name, there was no Tipu associated with that name. It came because Tippe Rudraswamy was also called as Tippe or Tippe Swamy and Haidar as an acknowledgment of that, of Tippe Rudraswamy listening to that prayer gave that name and called him Tippe Sultan. And the Tippe later became Tippu. So, this is current among Hindus of Chitradurga even today.
There is a lot of mud slung upon Tipu for his depredations in Malabar, Coorg and his treatment of the Catholics in Mangalore. Let me start with Malabar first. Malabar was first brought into the Mysorean ambit when Tipu’s father Haidar conquered Bednur. Parts of Malabar were already paying allegiance to the great Kings of Keladi and Ikkeri who ruled over Bednur. Haidar went into Malabar, brought a large part of territory under him. And, by the time Tipu ascended the masnad, rebellion had started there and in Coorg. Coorg was a gateway to the Malabar. There was Mysore, Coorg, Wayanad and then Malabar. So, what is to be remember here is that for almost near two millennia or more Kerala was rather immune from the winds of change that were blowing from the rest of India. So, when Tipu went into Malabar he encountered resistance not just of the military nature but also of the social nature. So, Kerala was the place, Malabar was the place, where caste system was so entrenched that even about 150 years after Tipu, Swamy Vivekanada called Kerala or Malabar a Brandashrama which is essentially a mental asylum. There you had certain rules that people of one caste need to walk so many feet away from a Brahmin caste. Or people of even a lower caste need to walk several feet away from a caste which is in the middle. Tipu said, get rid of all these rules. He passed edicts saying punishment would be given to them who used to discriminate between each other. He specifically said that women who uncover their breasts, he did not tolerate all this. It was essential that women of the lower caste in Malabar in Kerala to show, to walk with their upper part of their body bare before members of the higher caste. So, all this led to a great dissatisfaction among the landed gentry there who were largely Nairs and Namboodris. A lot of them fled before the army, a lot of them suffered also. There are records of damages to the temples there. But there is no record of Tipu ordering the temples to be broken into. In fact, it is seen, from again recent reviews of that particular period that a lot of the damage to the temples happened during the fights between the Mappillas of the Malabar and the British post Tipu. And a lot of the temples that were in a very good condition during Tipu’s time passed into ruin and disrepair after Tipu left. In fact, in just two talukas of Calicut contain records of grants that Tipu made to over sixty-five different temples and interestingly three churches as well. Tipu was very clear in this, that if any chief of Malabar pays taxes to Mysore, rules in the name of Mysore, he would not be touched. And this is true. So, it is not that everybody in Malabar fled. But recalcitrant chiefs who did not submit themselves to Mysore were fought at every event. Their lands were plundered in the same way as the Sringeri temples which the Marathas plundered and the whole of Mysore, which is a different story altogether. So, all of this was done. They were harassed at every turn. A lot of literature there poured heap and scorn upon Tipu. And let us not forget the great temples of Thrissur, the great temples in and around Malabar remained. They still flourished. There is no recorded evidence yet of other than oral folklore. In fact, you go to Kerala today and every second or third temple says that it was displaced. But when you go through the records, these temples did not even exist then. There is work that has happened right in the past few years on this also. The Muslim chiefs in Malabar were also taken to task. For example, the Bibi of Cannanore was kept on a short leash. The Mapilla merchants who controlled trade in Malabar, many of them were strung up and hung for resisting Tipu’s edicts on taxes, we have reports of that. In fact, at this very same time, a large community of Mysorean Muslims- the Mehdavis, were also brought to submission. A lot of them were exiled.
It was around this time that Tipu makes a foray into Coorg as well and I will tell you about this. Coorg was a gateway into Malabar, as I said. They were resistant. The Kodavas are still are a group of very energetic and brave warrior clans. And they tolerated no interference in their internal affairs. And they did not from the beginning to the end tolerate that they be ruled by Mysore. They fought Tipu, tooth and nail. Tipu went in, exiled en-masse, the numbers are still not clear. Some say sixty thousand. Some say the population there was not even so much. Yet it is true that Tipu passed several strictures against them. He gave several warnings to them. We have those letters wherein he warns them that if you do not submit to me, you will be made Muslim, very essentially because, if you were made Muslim you would obviously not be taken back as Hindus. You would be ostracized. You would not be let into the homes of other Hindus. You could not eat at their tables, and Tipu used this as a punishment. Where else would you be? It is more like a teacher saying or a mother saying “Hey Tommy, if you don’t eat your porridge. I will give you a spanking.” So, all Tipu’s letters say, “You don’t listen to me, you don’t obey me, you will be ordered with Islam”. This is ample evidence that Islam was used as a punishment for them. And several of them were taken into Islam also. A lot of them returned after Tipu fell but they were not taken back to Hinduism and they were still there as Kodava Mapillas. A large group of them are still around there. So, it is important to realize that Tipu used both in Malabar as well as in Coorg, religion, or conversion into religion as a form of punishment. The large majority of people in the Malabar stayed back. Many people were still around, even after Tipu left and we have ample evidence of this.
As for the Christians and Catholics of Mangalore, they were in connivance with the British. They lent money to the English. They gave away Mysorean secrets to the English and Tipu wanted to make an example of them because he felt if they were there as a large group it would be dangerous for Mysore. And Tipu brought them all to Srirangapatnam. This journey of exile, similarly as what happened to a large part of Coorgis or Kodavas as well was perilous because when you have large groups of people walking- men women and children walking over large distances, a lot of them succumbed and died en-route. But when they were brought to Srirangapatnam the Catholics of Mangalore were allowed freedom of religion. We have actual letters which Tipu sends to the Portuguese. He did not trust the English of course. When he asked the Portuguese to send priests, he specifically said ‘Indian priests. He did not even trust Portuguese priests. In Cochin you had many Syrian Christians, some of whom were Catholic. Under Portuguese pressure a lot of them had turned Catholic. He specially asked for Christians to be sent from there. Several Mangalorean Catholics were also asked to convert to Islam. Many of them willingly, and unwillingly, also became Muslim. We have records of this as well. A lot of them, after Tipu fell, went back to Mangalore and to the plantations and the professions they did. All this yes, I admit. His treatment of the Kodavas, the treatment of the Mangalorean Catholics, his purge of many ranks of the Kerala nobility happened for one reason- they did not accept suzerainty of the Mysoreans. We do not see this happening to the Telugus whose areas he captured. We do not find this happening to the Marathas or the Marathi Hindus. No. In fact we find a large number of Marathis taking service under Tipu both under the Brahmin clerical cadre as well as the military cadre. You have many Marathi Brahmins employed with Tipu.
So, what should come to our mind is, when Tipu did all this, was it done for the first time? Did no one else before Tipu do this? Did no one after Tipu do this? By this, I mean did they not punish recalcitrant subjects en-masse? Did they not exile them? Did they not harass them? That happened, yes. But Tipu is special to his detractors because he is a Muslim. And, in this charged political environment there are people who do not want to accept that what Tipu did 200 years ago, did at a time when there was no real concept of secularism as we know it. When the Muslim was not one group, but Muslim was still Sunni, Shia, Mehdavi and Wahabbi. Yes, the Wahabbis were there. I do not know how many of you know this. When he heard that the Wahabbis threatened the Holy Kaaba, he wrote a letter to the Ottoman Sultan saying he would send a detachment of his people of Mysoreans to purge what is today Saudi Arabia of this Wahabbi cult, who Tipu called ‘heretic’.
So, all of this happens because you look at history that happened there from a different eye- you look at it from today’s eye. And you must realize that as Voltaire said, ‘All great men have great falls’. And Tipu had some falls too. Yes. Yet, you cannot even remotely look at him as a religious bigot. No. Because he kept, he adored his subjects. He took good care of them. He made donations to Hindu temples, to Christian churches. He also requisitioned deities. He donated lingas. He requested temple priests to pray for him as his family. This is quite different. You pay money to a temple which is one thing. But you help to make a temple, you help to install a deity, an idol there, is different. You tell the temple authorities to make a prayer for him, to the Hindu deity, that is a different thing. Tipu indulged in this. This is not spoken about.
Tipu punished his subjects irrespective of religion. I have spoken about his punishment of the Muslim Mapillas, in Malabar. I have spoken of his punishment of the Mehdavis, they were Mysorean Muslims. When he did not discriminate in punishment, you obviously do not discriminate in the donations you do either. So, a lot of this is essentially because a lot of groups in India are angry, do not accept the fact that here you have a Muslim in the 18th century who regarded India and Mysore as his own and which was his own. And, who did not have any truck with the British and who all through the time unlike the Marathas, unlike the Wodeyars earlier, unlike the Nizam, refused throughout his career, throughout his rule, to even keep a resident in his court or to ally with the British in any fight with the other Indian powers. This mud of him being a bigot that is thrown upon him is all to serve one particular purpose. It is important to sift through the mud here and to take the gold that is there. I do not mean to convince you of anything. But I want to present you some of the facets of Tipu to you- many of whom would be Muslims or Hindus or Christians, to ask would such a man be a bigot? Thank you so much.