How Tipu Sultan defeated the British at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780

Prof. Sheikh Ali

Mysore, India


The Battle of Pollilur is a very significant event of modern Indian history. It inflicted a very severe blow on colonialism. The historical background to this battle is necessary. The relations between Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan with the British were highly strained for a long time from 1750. From the Carnatic Wars, the historical background, in which there was breach of trust. Haidar Ali had gone on the request of the British to help them against the French in 1750 in the Carnatic War. He helped them defeat the French and restore order. But the demand was that for his services of Haidar Ali, the fort of Tiruchinapally would be given. When he demanded the fort, they did not surrender. From that time the relations were very strained. Then, Haidar joined the French. From 1750, there was a continuous struggle between the two. Then it led to the First Mysore War. In the First Mysore, the English joined the Marathas, Nizam in order to defeat Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan who again inflicted a very severe blow. In that war they almost entered the area of British in Tamil Nadu. They were about to capture the entire Government who rushed to the ships. Haidar won a very historic, very glorious victory over them. Then a treaty was signed, that whenever Tipu needed some help against his own rivals, in particular the Marathas, the British would come to the rescue. When the Marathas invaded, he asked their help, the British did not come. The breach again of the trust was there.

Hence, in 1780 in the month of July, the Second Mysore War suddenly. Haidar invaded Carnatic, the British. And then, the war began. In September, the British sent an army under Bailey. He came from Guntur to a small place between Kanjeevaram and Arcot called Pollilur. A very severe battle took place. The battle was so successful that Haidar inflicted a very severe blow. The entire British Army was either cut or captured- nearly 5,000 officers and sepoys. Then, Bailey was expecting Munroe would come to the help. Munroe was not able to come and he could not face Tipu and he threw all his weapons, guns, powder, weapons into the water tank of Kanjeevaram and rushed to his own place- Madras. Sir Hector Munroe was supposed to be the hero of Battle of Buxar. He defeated the Emperor of Mughals, Shah Alam and then ruler of Lucknow and Awadh called Shuja ud Daulah, and also Mir Kasim of Bengal. It was a very historic and decisive battle which laid the foundation of the British Empire in India. Such a man, Munroe could not face Tipu. He threw all his weapons and sought shelter near Madras. Then, Bailey and all his officers were captured. They were brought to Srirangapatam. Bailey died there.

The significance was that Mysore under Tipu became almost a military science for others. The British were so much frightened. They were alarmed that Tipu’s horses had almost wings to fly over their force. Tipu was always, from the beginning, thinking that there was a great danger to Indian sovereignty from the British. He had two very passionate aims or objectives in his life. One is the elimination of the colonials and the second is to make his own country very prosperous and very happy. For this, he never compromised his principles. He never deviated from goal. He thought that there was a great danger. He fought not one but four Mysore wars and won two of them.

There is a message which we have to remember that Hazrath Tipu Sultan Shaheed has given. Number one is the definition of history. History is nothing but the unfolding of drama of human freedom, political freedom, social freedom, economic freedom, freedom from want, from hunger and from superstition. He also said that death must be preferred to dishonor. He said don’t cut the tree to get a fruit. He also said that live the life of a lion not that of a jackal. He was very revolutionary and every time thinking that man must be bold enough to do the right and that he must live and die for a cause. We must also remember that in the Western countries, from the 14th century there was steady progress. Then renaissance came in the Italy, reformation in Germany, and revolution in France. These renaissances, reformation and revolution- Tipu absorbed and tried to install all these ideas in concept. He planted a tree for liberty outside his house and then he called himself, Citizen Tipu, which no ruler in the country had called himself. He had very revolutionary ideas. He tried to unify all the rulers against the Colonials. He was not successful. And then he tried even to get people from abroad. Napolean from France came all the way, but when his ships were burnt, he came overland. But unfortunately, he was himself defeated, he ran back. In the life of Napolean and the life of Tipu Sultan, the great contrast is both of them were not successful in their own efforts but then Tipu died like a martyr and Napolean himself became a prisoner and suffered miserably at St. Helena. Therefore, history many a time places the throne of honour even among those who have been defeated. Examples are there in life. Socrates was not successful. Hazrath Imam Hussain was not successful. Abraham Lincoln was not successful. But they are all immortals. They lived for a cause. Therefore he, Tipu must be remembered because he offered his blood to write the history of free India.