Tipu_Sultan_seated_on_his_throne (1)

Tipu has remained an enigma to many and his very name has become controversial due to the contradictions in his political exigencies. His self-contradicting policies in dealing with different communities have eventually lead to different perspectives through which history was constructed and his image built.

On one hand his tolerance to other faiths is reflected in his annual grants including land deeds and jewellery to 156 temples. His endowments to the famous Srikanteshwara temple at Nanjangud, his handout of 10,000 gold coins towards the completion of temple work at Kanchi, his gifts to Lakshmikanta temple at Kalale,  being the prominent ones. Consistent with this image of the Sultan, when the famed Sringeri Mutt was invaded by the Maratha army, he even issued a firman providing financial assistance for reinstallation of the idol and restoring the traditional worship at the Mutt. Not surprisingly, he was also instrumental in constructing the first-ever church in Mysore.

On the other hand his religious bigotry was instrumental in genocide and convertion to Islam thousands of Nayars of Malabar, Catholics of Dakshina Kannada and Coorgis of Kodagu. Elankulam Kunjan Pillai has recorded the atrocities in Malabar so – of the 7000 Namboodiri houses in Kozhikode, more than 2000 houses were destroyed by Tipu Sultan  and 4 lakh hindus were forcibly circumcised and converted to the muslim faith with the Sultan refusing to spare even women and children. Vatakkankoor Raja Raja Varma notes in his literary work that hindu temples in Malabar suffered the most due to the military operations of Tipu Sultan – burning down of temples, destruction of the idols installed therein and also cutting the heads of cattle over the temple deities were common entertainments of the Sultan and his army. The destruction caused by the Sultan in the famous ancient temples of Taliparamba and Trichambaram and the heavy taxes temples of Malabar were subjected to was consistent with his image as a religious bigot. Meanwhile, Tipu was also instrumental in changing the local names of places and introducing Persian vocabulary into administration. A few of the place names across Malabar that the Sultan “Islamized” were – Mangalapuram (Mangalore) was changed to Jalalabad, Cannanore (Kanwapuram) to Kusanabad, Beypore (Vaippura) to Sultanpatanam or Faruqui, and Kozhikode to Islamabad !!!. It was only after the death of Tipu Sultan that the local people reverted to old names.

Tipu was radical in more than one sense. On one hand he is credited with introducing missile or rocket technology in war, sericulture in Mysore, constructing a dam across the Cauvery, and confiscation of property from upper castes/Mutts, and re-distribution of it among the Shudras. While on the other he was irrationally obsessed with astrology and placed immense faith in it, fixing auspicious date and time for every raid. It is this obsession and dependence of him on a handful of Brahmin astrologers that has lead some political historians to opine that it was the politician in Tipu that gave donations, grants, and gifts to temples and Mutts while the religious bigot in him remained intact, eclipsed temporarily at such moments. He transforms in to a freedom fighter and anti-colonialist when he resists the British , where as he lends himself to be termed an imperialist for courting the French.

Whatever the truth may be, his opposing and often self-contradicting political and religious policies makes it difficult for Tipu to be reduced to a singular narrative of either tolerance or bigotry, as he remains represented by multiple traditions and narratives.