Chaqmaq Jang: The Martyr of Canara, Henje Nayaka

The story of Tipu Sultan is incomplete without the stories of countless characters that surrounded him. Of these characters there were many that stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the fight for a united and triumphant Mysore as well as many characters who opposed him tooth and nail in their own quest to safeguard the freedom of their lands that Mysore laid claim to. And this leads us on to another question. How do we pass judgment upon the stories of those who opposed Tipu? The Marathas, the Wodeyar family in house-arrest,  the Nizam, the Ghorpades of Sandur, the Kodava Rajahs, the Raja of Travancore, the Nawabs of Savanur….and many more. Were they traitors to the ‘Indian’ cause?

But, was there even a dim idea of ‘India’ then?  I believe there was. As Tipu was growing up, the Marathas had just spilt the blood of countless of their men while fighting the alien Afghan for dominion over ‘Hindustan’ on the parched earth of Panipat.  Tipu would time and again write to neighbouring and farther Indian rulers soliciting assistance against the British who he would remind his addressees were in India to usurp their lands. India for him then was ‘Hindustan’ most of which including Maratha and British territory too still owed allegiance, but only in name to the Great Mogul in Delhi.

Yet, the same Tipu would also be quick in ravaging territories of his neighbours even at the slightest pretext. So, what must be understood here is that towards the end of the 18th C, the Moguls were no longer an effective binding force over the numerous states that constituted this ‘Hindustan’ and the English and to a smaller extant the French had come to be regarded as the most formidable powers in the subcontinent. These European powers that had been in India for nearly a century and a half now, had seen the collapse of all central authority and the consequent emerging of regional states with internecine strife between them. These feuding states would time and again use the military might of the Europeans powers in India against their neighbours and in the process increase the material as well as territorial powers of the Europeans.

Throughout the duration of the Mysore wars, and even earlier during the Carnatic wars which would be the curtain raiser for the former, the opponents of Haidar Ali’s as well as Tipu’s Mysore fought them to preserve their territorial integrities as well as independence like the Kodava and Travancore Rajas or like the Marathas and Nizam reacting in offense to Tipu’s refusal to kowtow to them as previous Mysore rulers had done. All of these opponents of Mysore at different periods of time used the British as allies promising them wealth as well as parts of Mysore’s territory in return for this assistance. The British for their part made sure that no Indian power grew to such an extent as to threaten British interests. For these Indian states, the Europeans were just a temporary power or at best a well armed party of merchants who could be used and later sent away. To Tipu Sultan’s credit, he was the only Indian ruler of that time who understood English intentions well and unsuccessfully tried to impress upon his contemporary kings that the English would stay to rule over them and could not be wished away unless there was Indian unity against the common enemy.

So in these circumstances if we assume that all who fought Tipu were disloyal to their land or did not have the interests of their subjects in heart, we will only be doing a grave disservice to their memory. Many among them may have been lacking in intuition and wisdom but certainly not in courage or loyalty to their people and land. One among such unheralded opponents of Tipu was Henje Nayaka, the son of a common farmer from the ancient principality of Soonda in the Canara district of Mysore. Soonda (Sonda, today) is the corrupt Kannada name of the ancient town of Sudhapura which was ruled by the Nayaka Rajas who were vassals to the Vijaynagara rulers and in all probability related to the Keladi Nayaka rulers. The town was said to have contained at one time a hundred thousand homes. Though this may very well be an exaggeration the country around the town was nonetheless well cultivated and rich. From the west, the Gangavali river and from the east, the Aganasini rivers irrigated vast areas of Areca plantations as well as verdant paddy fields. The last of the Soonda Nayaka rulers Immadi Sadasiva Raya was expelled by Hyder Ali from his dominion and escaped to Goa around 1763. After this Soonda like the other parts of Canara fell under the rule of Mysore. By this time, Bednur had fallen and the old House of Keladi was also extinguished at Hyder’s hands.

It is around this time that we first hear of Henje Nayaka who was the son of Lingappa Nayaka a farmer from the village of Kodibag , near Karwar. He was from the Komarapantha caste which comprised of farmers who also doubled as soldiers in the armies of the Keladi Nayakas as well as of Vijayanagara before it. Much of Henje Nayaka’s story is fleaned from folklore of that period as well as local oral histories called ‘Kaifiyats’. They speak of Henje Nayaka leading an army of Peasants against Tipu’s oppressive taxation of the farmers of Canara.

The theory of the revolt on account of oppressive taxation needs further questioning. Mysorean revenue regulations were far more efficient than they had been under the Raja of Soonda. The principle of land tenure was that a tenant and his heirs’ occupied land so long as they cultivated it and paid a mutually agreed rent. But if they failed to fulfill these conditions, the Government was entitled to transfer the land to other tenants. The cultivators of non irrigated   lands paid a fixed money rent amounting to about one third of the crop and those of irrigated lands paid in kind about one-half of the crop. However in Canara, all rents were paid in cash. Monro, who would later play the role of the architect of the land settlement system in British India was the administrator here just after Tipu’s death says of revenue collection under Mysorean rule said – “there was no instance in which the Sircar’s share was more than one third. In many it was not one-fifth, or one-sixth, or in some cases, not one-tenth of the gross produce”. So, while Tipu’s revenue system was well organized and the farmers more comfortable than during earlier periods, the heavy handedness of certain Mysorean officers in Canara may well have led to a revolt of the peasantry there. Many of Tipu’s Amildars and Shanbogues whose responsibility it was to collect taxes from the farmers would enrich themselves at the expense of the poor ryots and pocket the excess tax collected. That Mysore could pay off the indemnity levied on it by the victorious allies after the 3rd Mysore war well in time is testament to the severe taxation that the peasantry must have faced during those turbulent years. Besides, Tipu’s practice of putting up the Mysorean bureaucracy as revenue collectors in all provinces instead of farming revenue collection out to the old established families of that area may also have pinched Henje Nayaka, who hailed from a family much allied to the earlier rulers, into assuming leadership of the local revolt.

Local accounts of the revolt of Henje Nayaka speak of his intense animosity with Mysore and his men engaging in several skirmishes against enemy forces stationed around Karwar. It was around this time that the Mysoreans got hold of two of Henje Nayaka’s sons. The story goes that Tipu threatened Henje Nayaka that his sons would be brought to harm in case he did not desist from harassing the Sarkar’s forces and till the time he submitted to Mysore, the sons of Henje Nayaka would remain as hostages in custody of the Mysoreans. These were two young men would have been as dear to Henje Nayaka as were Princes Abdul Khaliq and Muiz-ud-din to their father Tipu Sultan. These sons of Tipu had been taking hostage by the British as per the terms of the Treaty of Seringapatam after the Third Mysore war.

How did Henje Nayaka react to this development? Did he submit to Mysore fearing for the safety of his sons as many Poligars and feudal lords did to Haidar and Tipu accepting their suzerainty and sending annual Peshcush or tribute to the Mysore treasury? A clue to this can be found in the accounts of Francis Buchanan as he traversed through the recently conquered dominion of Mysore in the year 1801. After passing by Sadashivgarh, he speaks of the people who live nearby – “Much land in this vicinity has fallen into the hands of government and , owing to the deprecations of the Comarapeca robbers, has become waste. One of their chiefs, named Venja Nayaka, was the terror of the whole country, and forced even Brahmans to adopt his caste. Two of his sons were hanged by Tippoo..…”

So, now we see how Henje Nayaka responded to Tipu’s threat. No retreat, No surrender. One would be lying to oneself if one does not feel poignant thinking of that scene of the two young sons of Henje Nayaka being led out to hang for the sake of their father who would not forsake his country for the lives of his children. One can only feel the heavy heart of a father when on the morning of February 26, 1793 Tipu stood on the rampart over one of Seringapatam’s gateways watching his two sons depart as hostages to the British camp. After that day Tipu exerted himself to ensure that the indemnity due to the British from Mysore was paid well before time so that he could see the young Princes back. Henje Nayaka was also a father like Tipu Sultan and he would have faced the execution of his children with a broken and heavy heart. Could Tipu having gone through the same harrowing circumstances not spared Henje Nayaka’s children?  But then, war is Hell. And maybe, the war brought out the worst in Tipu in this case, not the best.

The tide was to turn soon when Tipu fell sword in hand facing the British assault on May 4, 1799 in Seringapatam. Canara now fell to it’s British victors. Henje Nayaka got some respite now and back from hiding. Yet his reputation followed him. Buchanan continued writing about him – “…until, terrified by the firmness of Major Monro’s government, he continued obstinate in his evil practices. Soon after that gentleman’s arrival, he made his submission, and continues to behave like a good subject. I found him very ready to give me assistance in procuring supplies, and means to transport my baggage; and from the mildness of his manners, until informed by the officers of revenue, I had no idea of his disposition, which was barbarous in the extreme.”

It was common practice of the British colonists to ridicule those who did not ally with them. For as long as Tipu was alive, he was demonized and projected as a tyrant. As long as Henje Nayaka remained an obedient servant of the British he was tolerated but once he began to assert his independence he became ‘barbarous’. A clue to the reason for his ‘emerging barbarism’ may be gleaned from the profession of the individual who ‘corrected’ Buchanan’s interpretation of Henje Nayaka’s character – the Officer of Revenue. Buchanan on further discussion with him discovered that the Peasants in Canara actually now paid more rent to the British than they did to Tipu ! This he believed was on account of Monro’s care and strictness in the collection of revenue. There was according to Buchanan, no room for the ‘corrupt practices’ which in the Sultan’s government was very prevalent. These unknown or misunderstood by Monro were not corrupt practices per se but only ‘adjustments’ between the village accountants and peasants which would ensure that expected revenue collections went hand in hand with the well being of the tiller of land and also factored remission of taxes in circumstances of drought and other calamities. This  merciless taxation would have perturbed Henje Nayaka a great deal and he raised the standard of revolt again. The British again tagged his community of Comarpanthis as cultivator-soldiers but from birth ‘strongly inclined to be robbers’. A people whom the Vijaynagar and Keladi kings trusted well enough to make them Lords of the region suddenly became robbers for the British. Henje Nayaka and his followers once again retired to the hills and took up the banner of revolt, this time against a new enemy, the British.

After several more skirmishes, Henje Nayaka on a fateful day in 1801 just a while after the meeting with Buchanan was tricked into an ambush by the British on the banks of the river Kali in Kodibag. He fell fighting and was 65 years old at this time. Both his foes and his friends knew him by the title Chaqmaq Jung – ‘Chaqmaq’ coming from the spark of the flint lock gun, which he was adept at handling and Jang meaning courageous in war, which he was!  He had lived an eventful life seeing the glory of the Soonda Nayakas as well as it’s capitulation to Mysore. Unperturbed he took arms against Mysore and later the British in midst of this sacrificed his two sons at the altar of freedom for Soonda and lastly himself.

In my opinion the martyrdom of individuals like Henje Nayaka are no less than the martyrdom of Tipu Sultan. Though inveterate foes, the hearts of both beat for the liberty and well being of their own people and the glory of their respective motherlands.



A journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar; Francis Buchanan

History of Tipu Sultan; Mohibbul Hasan

Tipu Sultan’s Mysore – An Economic Study; M.H. Gopal

Solstice at Panipat; Uday Kulkarni



This article would not have been written had it not been for the assistance of Lakshmeesh Hegde, Historian and Writer from Sonda. Working as a faculty in History at an institution in Mangalore, he has published over 400 articles and 9 books so far and is a very good researcher. With interests varied from the History of Canara and Sonda to the Yakshagana dance form and the traditions of the Havyaka Brahmin community of Canara, he may be contacted at

The Channabasaveshwara Temple in Ulavi, N. Canara was gifted an Elephant Bell by Henje Nayaka as an offering to the deity Channabasava to whom Henje Nayaka prayed for deliverance when caught in a large whirlwind during one of his encounters with the British. The temple still treasures this bell.


Posted in Anecdotes in Kannada history, Tipu Sultan & his times | 1 Comment

Fangs of the Tiger: The Seringapatam Matchlock & Other Guns of Tipu Sultan

This is the third and final in a trilogy of articles providing the reader with an introduction to Tipu Sultan’s technologically advanced and vigorous arms industry. We started with studying about the process and economics of steel production in Mysore moving on to the second article dealing with Tipu Sultan’s scientific exchange with European powers and his perseverance to stop the drain of bullion from Mysore to Europe. In this final article we look up a few of Tipu Sultan’s handguns that I have selected as the finest representatives of the repertoire of skills that his gunsmiths possessed.

By the mid 1750s Haidar Ali had schemed and fought his way to power in Mysore where he eventually took control of both state and crown. Around this time while the armies of the myriad Indian kingdoms still relied upon the matchlock which was used by the elite troops only with the majority of the soldiers using the Swords and other edged weaponry, the flintlock action gun was being adopted by the more enlightened native rulers and was even being manufactured   in such places as Lucknow, Pondicherry and Hyderabad. As a soldier at the siege of Devanahalli in 1749, Haidar Ali observed the superior skill of the French and Indian Sepoys amongst them trained by Marquis de Bussy  in the use of the flintlock and the advantages the former enjoyed over the matchlock.

He subsequently became one of the early pioneers to equip an Indian army with flintlock guns on account of which he even picked up a nick name ‘Chaqmaq Jang’; alluding to the ‘chaqmaq’ which is purse-like tinder lighter containing flintstones and combustible material. On the lower edge or the bottom of the purse is fixed a broad band of iron. When a light is required a flintstone is held in one hand and the ‘purse’ in the other, with the bottom edge striking sparks on to the tinder.  Unfortunately, no firearms produced by Haidar Ali can be identified. This does not mean that they weren’t there. It was not a practice in those times in India, for a gunsmith to identify his work. Armory marks were prevalent but not gun maker marks.  Firearms were as a rule made to supply demand and they were made in two or three common patterns making it very difficult today to establish their exact place of origin.

Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan nurtured and encouraged Mysore’s Iron Smelts and Forges which churned out large quantities of some of the world’s best steel that the father and son put good use to in their drive to rid Mysore of her foreign aggressors. But raw material alone would not be able to match the European trained and equipped armies which confronted Mysore at every step. Tipu Sultan made every effort to procure the best of weaponry along with technicians and technology – gunsmiths, cannon casters, shot casters that France had to offer and on top of that, at the best commercial terms to Mysore.

What makes Tipu’s firearms truly unique in their design, both superficially and physically, is the incorporation of the bubri or the tiger stripe. Although this mark as an art form was widely used throughout the world of Islam, and in India even before the advent of Islam, Tipu’s particular pattern of the bubri was very much his own choice. It was an S-shaped figure, wide at the middle with a hollow center, and with re-curving ends of equal size. It is sometimes decorated with pellets.  Expanding the bubri theme further, the plantain plant was used to great effect. It, too, was engraved on gun and pistol barrels but with it’s leaves actually adopting the bubri shape and often enclosing calligraphy.

Gold, Silver bubris were inlaid in his gun and pistol barrels and were cast in relief on his bronze cannon and mortar. In the field of decorations and design using a specific decorative motif, no firearms manufactory has worked so consistently within such closed confines over a 20 year period.  The Bubri was adopted in about 1780 and continued in use till the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799.  As the self-styled Tiger of Mysore it is appropriate that the striking and rather menacing form of ornament should have been his.


The Bubri Motif of Tipu Sultan from the Royal Shamiana of Tipu Sultan; Pic Courtesy: Sotheby’s

Another motif frequently found upon Tipu’s arms is also derived from the Tiger. It is the cipher written in Arabic ‘Asadullah Al-Ghalib’  meaning ‘The lion of God is the Conqueror’. When the Arabic characters are carefully arranged and then mirrored, they remarkably resemble the face of a tiger.



Asadullah Tiger Head Cipher

Another device found on Mysorean firearms is the heart shaped or Rectangular shield with four quarters containing the four letters ‘HIDR’ which stand for Haidar, Tipu Sultan’s father. The device is either inlaid in gold or silver, or engraved, and like the other motifs served as a type of armorial marking. The ‘HIDR’ device was obviously influenced by the shield shaped badge of the Honourable East India Company which contained the letters ‘VEIC’ arranged in four quarters of a shield denoting the ‘United East India Company’.

H-I-D-R Cipher/Control Mark



VEIC Herald

Further, in regard to Tipu’s firearms the following 5 features are to be generally seen:

  1. The S shaped cock of the firearm is of Tipu’s unique design being formed a large bubri terminating  at the throat, with a tiger head holding the flint in it’s
  2. The grip of the small end of the butt sweeps downward to the butt plate of the gun.
  3. The tang of the barrel has a ‘shell’ carving  which has two elongated bubris running down on either side of it, resembling the leaves of the plantain plant.
  4. The thin iron ramrod is threaded at the tail end with a threaded hole to secure cleaning tools.
  5. The ramrod pipes are unusually short and astral in section.

The barrels, locks and mounts were decorated most tastefully with the victorious Tiger being the preferred theme of decoration on the weapons manufactured at the Royal workshops (Karkhane Huzur). The artists’ imagination would run riot on the ample space that gun barrels afforded.  God and Silver smiths would work most intricate patterns on butt plates and trigger guards. The top flat of the barrel was retained for calligraphy.  The gunsmith’s name, name of the town where it was manufactured, date of manufacture, the talismanic HIDR shield and a control mark would invariably adorn this portion of the barrels of the important pieces. Control marks on the Mysorean firearms were of 3 distinct types:

  1. The name Haidar would be mentioned within a bubri stamp.
  2. The letter H , in Arabic small in size within stamps of various sizes.
  3. The letter H , in Arabic big in size within stamps of various sizes.

The control marks are found on firearms from both the Royal and Public workshops. The Royal workshop churned our firearms for Tipu’s personal use as well as for the use of members of his court and diplomatic gifts to other states. The Public workshops provided arms for the Mysore army. So they may not denote high quality but only provenance to the Sultans workshops. While some of the weapons of the lowest quality are not stamped, the control marks on Tipu’s pieces are filled with gold or silver sheet en suite with the décor of the arm. The control marks on munition grade pieces are either left plain or in some cases is filled with brass.

When Seringapatam was taken by storm on 4 May, 1799 a vast armory, military stores and treasure were captured.  Lt-Col Alexander Beatson writes in his book ‘ A view of the origin and conduct of the war with Tippoo Sultaun’ : ‘In his palace was found a great variety of curious swords, daggers, fusils, pistols and blunderbusses; some were of exquisite workmanship, mounted with gold, or silver, and beautifully inlaid and ornamented with tiger’s heads and stripes, or with Persian and Arabic verses.’  Out of that vast store of weapons only those which are Tipuesqe in character and those few which are stamped with his peculiar marks described above can be positively identified today.

I have at the beginning of this article mentioned that Tipu’s father had initiated the task of reforming the Mysorean military establishment including tactics as well as ordinance. The transformation of a Matchlock equipped army to a Flintlock equipped army had already begun under him. While matchlocks would continue to be used in Indian armies till way into the mid 18th Century, Tipu and his father had discarded its use in Mysore by the 3rd quarter of the 18th Century.

The firearms that I have chosen to exhibit in this article  are what I consider to be the finest among the ones that can be positively identified as being entirely of Mysorean manufacture produced between the years 1782 – 1799 when Tipu was the   ‘Sarvadhikari’ of Mysore.  Since I will be going into the technical aspects of the actual working of these firearms, I hope that the reader will not grudge me providing them with a brief idea of how a Matchlock and a Firelock gun actually work.

The Matchlock:

Mechanism of a Matchlock

Part List:

A – Flash pan cover        B – Flash pan (with touch hole)   C – Serpentine (or cock)

D – Trigger                     E – Slow match (i.e. a lit rope)    F – Sear

G – Pivot                       H – Flat spring                         I – Tumbler link

J – Barrel                      K – Lock plate

To fire a matchlock, the soldier would perform the following steps


  1. He would load the barrel with gunpowder and after it insert a ball into the barrel.
  2. He would then pour a little extra gunpowder into a flash pan (B) after pushing the flash pan cover (A) to the side. The cover was used to keep the flash pan safe from the elements, until the moment of use. The flash pan had a tiny touch hole leading into the
  3. A cord of hemp or cotton called match (E) would then be attached to a curved lever called the Cock (C). The cord would then be lighted at one end and start burning very slowly.
  4. After taking aim, the trigger (D) connected to a lever (F), which was connected to a tumbler link (I) was pulled. This caused the serpentine C to be pulled towards the flash pan B and lights the gunpowder charge in the flash pan. The fire in the flash pan burnt through the touch hole and ignited the main gunpowder charge inside the barrel which exploded in that constricted space of the barrel and discharged the ball towards the target. A flat spring (H) then returned the lever back to its normal position.

The matchlock wasn’t always reliable though – many a time, the gunpowder in the flash pan could be blown off or become wet in the rain, or the slow match could go out. Sometimes when the trigger was pulled, the contents of the flash pan would ignite, but it wouldn’t burn through the touch hole and therefore fail to ignite the main gunpowder charge inside the barrel. There was always a chance that the open flame from one person’s matchlock could set off another person’s supply of gunpowder as soldiers would all be in close proximity setting off their charges. Besides, the glow of the match could give away a person’s position at night time and the slow match also had a distinct smell that could let people know that a person carrying a matchlock was nearby.

The Flintlock:

The flintlock mechanism is amazing from an innovation standpoint as it solved so many of the problems of the time using the fairly primitive tools and technology already available then.

The basic goal of the flintlock is simple: to create a spark that can light the gunpowder stored in the barrel of the gun. To create this spark, the flintlock uses the “flint and steel” approach. The idea behind flint and steel is straightforward. Flint is a very hard form of rock. If you strike iron or steel with flint, the flint flakes off tiny particles of iron. The force of the blow and the friction it creates actually ignites the iron, and it burns rapidly to form Ferric Oxide. The sparks are the hot specks of iron burning. If these sparks come near gunpowder, they will ignite it.

Lock Mechanism of a Flintlock

The main parts of a flintlock are:

The hammer, which holds and accelerates a piece of flint

The mainspring, which powers the hammer

The frizzen, which is the piece of steel the flint strikes

The pan, which is the place where a small quantity of gunpowder waits to receive the sparks.

This weapon has a hammer, which has jaws at the end, to which can be screwed on a piece of flint. It has a steel “frizzen” facing the piece of flint. To operate a Firelock, the soldier would perform the following steps

  1. One would first half-cock the hammer. This was a “safe” position from which the hammer would not normally spring back.
  2. Then one would pour a measure of gunpowder down the barrel and wrap a lead ball in a small piece of cloth or paper and ram it down the barrel on top of the gunpowder. The ball/cloth combination should have a nice, tight fit.
  3. After this, placing a small amount of gunpowder which is finer and more combustible than the regular gunpowder charge, in the flintlock’s pan the gunner would snap the frizzen in place over the pan. The frizzen also protects the powder in the pan from outside elements.
  4. He would now pull back the hammer from it’s ‘safe’ position to where it would be farthest from the pan.
  5. The trigger is now pulled to fire the gun.

When the gun is fired, the flint strikes the frizzen and shaves off iron to create sparks with the hammer holding the flint falling down to uncocked position. The hammer’s blow also snaps the frizzen back to expose the gunpowder in the pan. The pan’s gunpowder ignites aided by the sparks falling upon it, and it flashes through a small hole in the side of the barrel to ignite the gunpowder inside the barrel and shooting   the ball out of the barrel.

Unlike the matchlock, this weapon doesn’t require the user to carry a lit match at all times to discharge the weapon. Hence it is much safer to use, especially in larger groups of soldiers or near gunpowder supplies. It can also be used more reliably in rainy weather and the time lapse between pressing the trigger and the shot being discharged was far less than the matchlock thus providing the quarry with far less time to adopt a defensive posture.  Having understood how Matchlocks and Firelocks work, let us move on to the purpose of this article – to show you some of the best of these pieces manufactured in Tipu Sultan’s Mysore. I will start describing each of these pieces by alluding to a particular problem that each piece contrived to solve.


In the beginning of 1789, Alexander Read, a British Officer, estimated on ‘good authority’ the Mysore forces as below:

Four cushoons or Brigades each composed of 300 cavalry,  70 artillery,     2842 infantry, 50 rocketmen and 50 pioneers                                            –   13248

22 cushoons and bar or infantry with firelocks              –    78864

2 bodies of silladars (Lancers)                                            –     4500

A party of looties (irregulars)                                              –     500

Fighting camels                                                                      –     500

Young charters trained to arms  ( Asadilahi Troops)     –     3000

Infantry with matchlocks        (Kandachar militia)        –    30000

Total                                                                                         –  130612

The  observation of ‘fighting camels’ is interesting here because although camels were a part of many an army’s train in South India right from Vijaynagara times asmay be observed from depiction of camels on the wall friezes at the Hazara Rama temple in Hampi, they were primarily used as pack animals for carrying men and material. Tipu used them very effectively as fighting animals. Each camel had 2 soldiers mounted upon them, with one soldier reloading his weapon and the other firing his. This enabled a continuous fire from atop the camels into the enemy massed below. For the camel rider-soldier, maneuvering the camel as well as shooting from atop the moving camel presented the problem of ineffective fire as the rounds would often miss their target. Tipu surmounted this problem by providing a swivel blunderbuss to his mounted soldiers. The blunderbuss was fitted with a swivel that enabled the shooter to turn the gun o er a 360 degrees circle, though in most working situations a swivel arc of fire of more than 180 degrees across 2 quadrants was not needed as the rider would turn the camel towards the target being aimed at.

The blunderbuss is a muzzle loading firearm with a short, large diameter (caliber) barrel, which is flared at the shooting end of the barrel (muzzle) and frequently throughout the entire bore, and used with shot and other projectiles of relevant quantity and caliber. The muzzle was flared with the intent not only to increase the spread of the shot, but also to funnel powder and shot into the weapon, making it easier to reload on camelback. It was typically loaded with a number of lead balls smaller than the bore diameter. When fired the gun would release all the lead balls at once making the weapon very effective against massed troops on the opposite side of the barrel. It eliminated the need to aim at the enemy; it was enough to point at him from an effective distance and fire.


Bukmar in Farsi means ‘Stinging Wasp’ an apt name for this Mysorean firearm whose discharge of pellets would inflict similar agony on one’s flesh as when one was stung by a vicious wasp.  The blunderbuss was not a weapon unique to Tipu’s army as it had been used by armies in Europe since the 17th C. What is important here is how Tipu identified the efficacy of this type of firearm for his Camel corps and manufactured them in Mysore.

Bukmar from Mysore; Pic Courtesy: Thomas DelMar

This flintlock blunderbuss has a slender iron barrel formed in two stages with a belled muzzle, inlaid in silver at the median with the tiger mask cipher of Tipu Sultan, as well as  a brief inscription, decorated with scrolling foliage incorporating plantain leaves and Haidar talismanic square at the breech. The engraved tang is inlaid in silver with a brief inscription again. It has a beveled bubri shaped lock, inscribed with bubri shaped cock with jaws chiseled as a Tiger’s head in steel.

The stock is made of hard wood , carved in low relief about the lock with a bubri on either side of the tang. The butt is carved and has engraved brass mounts including pierced bubri shaped side plate as well as a trigger guard with a five point leaf shaped finial. The escutcheon (shieldlike surface on the wooden stock) is engraved with a tiger mask. The ramrod consists of three small molded pipes and the firearm is fitted with steel swing swivel as well.


Tiger Mask Cipher of Tipu Sultan on the barrel


HYDR Talismanic square at the breech-1223 Mauludi Era (1794/1795 AD)


Bismillah inscribed on the barrel Tang in Bubri script



Bubri shaped Cock with Tiger head jaw. Observe the place of manufacture ‘Pattan’ inscribed on the Lock under the Pan Pic Courtesy: Thomas DelMar


The Tiger mask cipher is engraved in Brass on the escutcheon on the wooden stock.


The breech tang with the Arabic numerals 313 inscribed over it

This number represents a curse in the Urdu language which is read as ‘Theen Therah’ – Theen for 3 and Therah for 13. Strategically situated close to the charge with which the weapon is loaded, it is intended that on firing, the target is both cursed and then destroyed.

Since this particular blunderbuss that we are studying is missing it’s sling swivel, I will show you a contemporary blunderbuss with a sling swivel – this particular one  of British manufacture, 1775 A.D.


A contemporary British Swivel Flintlock blunderbuss – 1775 A.D.

Swivel Gun

An Iranian Qizilbash firing his camel mounted swivel cannon, Picture Courtesy: Farrukh Husain, London

This is how a scene of a Mysorean soldier shooting his Bukmar mounted atop his camel and swinging the weapon around in the target’s direction as and when needed would have looked. But, do we have any depiction of such a camel mounted soldier in Mysore. For this, we need not look far but only at Robert Home’s Painting that was done on the spot where the Mysorean Princes were taken as hostages by the British in the year 1792.


Reception of the Hostage Princes by Marquis Cornwallis, Robert Home

Robert Home’s famous Painting of  the ‘Reception of the Hostage Princes by Marquis Cornwallis’ painted in 1793-94 has a number of Camel riders stationed on the side of Tipu’s forces just behind his ‘Tyger Men’. So, this is the closest that we can come to any contemporary image of the Camel-men in Mysore’s army. Camel mounted soldiers were not new to the East but it was Tipu who used them efficiently in battle in the Deccan. And equipping them with the bukmar would help create a posse of  armed Camel-men who sowed terror into the hearts of Mysore’s opponents by tearing their flesh with the fire balls of metal that spewed from their  bukmars.

This gun carries no inscription of it originating either from the Karkhaneh-ye-Khas, the Royal armoury or the ‘Karkhaneh-e-Aam’, the Public armoury. It just mentions the place of manufacture – Patan and the year of manufacture – 1794/1795. The gun itself is made of wood, steel and brass devoid of any silver of gold work. All this points to the fact that this is well made  piece with quality of work not at par with the guns that came out of the Royal or even the public workshops but far better than the regular munitions grade pieces that were used by most of  Mysorean army men. This shows that the Mysorean Came Corp occupied an important place in the military hierarchy. The gun was not particularly difficult to manufacture, yet the beauty of the piece looking at the bell shaped barrel end, the engraved cock and the swivel mechanism also testify to the efficiency of the Mysorean armorers.


A well-trained soldier in an 18th Century army could load and fire a firelock musket three or four times a minute.  The  elaborate step-by-step infantry drill of the eighteenth century armies, including the French drilled Mysorean one was designed to make this possible. The rate of fire fell, however, as the musket became fouled with powder residue and it became harder to ram home the ball and powder charge. Also there was a high misfire rate as the numbers of consecutive loading and firing increased. Volley fire was practiced by Mysorean  infantry too wherein a line of soldiers would let off their flintlocks just as the line behind them was loading theirs. This shortened the time between consecutive discharges of musketry and was a common practice in modern armies of that time.

Of the 15 odd seconds that it took for a soldier to discharge his firelock, more than 10 seconds were consumed by the act of taking out the ram rod, ramming in the powder and lead and putting the rod back into place, usually along the barrel of the gun. If this loading time could be shortened, more vollies of fire from an infantry line could be managed. This was where the Mysorean armory rose to the occasion and produced firelocks that could fire multiple shots from a single barrel without reloading!


Superimposed loads are loads that are placed in the barrel, one on top of the other, so that there is an alternating sequence of (from the breach end) powder, ball, powder, ball, etc., for the desired number of charges. Each charge is accompanied by a corresponding touch hole that allows ignition of that charge. Each ball behind the first acts as a seal, to prevent ignition of the next charge.

A very ingenious innovation, a superimposed flintlock is muzzle loaded in the same way as any other flintlock with a charge and then another complete charge is rammed down on top.

SuperImp Flnt

Images: 1. Flintlock in Transverse View 2. Crouching Tiger Butt 3. ‘Tiger’ Lock with Priming Screw 4. Blued Breech with silver Tiger Fore- Sight

The  blued barrel is decorated with silver koftgari bubris in a close-set regular pattern over its full length ahead of the breech and fitted with a silver fore-sight cast as a tiger in high relief. The trigger-guard and escutcheon are each decorated in continuation of the Tiger theme, with two short ramrod-pipes, the third cast with a tiger mask, silver fore-end cap, original iron sling-swivels and ramrod. The entire rear half of the gun is finely chiselled in relief as a seated tiger, the jaws of the cock forming the tiger’s head, heightened with silver bubris throughout, the eyes and subsidiary detail inlaid in gold, inscribed with both the date and a ‘Haydar’ talismanic square in gold on the haunches, fitted with safety-catch chiselled in the form of a miniature tiger moving on the back of the principal subject.


Lock – Hammer and Frizzen with Rolling Shutter Pan Mechanism

A gold-lined ‘Haydar’control mark along  with a band of three gold cartouches filled with the maker’s signature, the place and date of manufacture, and a ‘Haydar’ talismanic square, with decorated breech tang inscribed with the silver magic numbers ‘313′, can be seen on the flintlock.


Breech with Chamber for Superimposed charge

The breech is a two-stage octagonal one  formed with an additional chamber for the superimposed charge and the pan incorporating a rotary tap-action chamber for the sequential priming and ignition of successive charges, finely inlaid with with strips of stylised bubri ornaments framing both the an inlaid  quatrain and the royal Sun device of Tipu Sultan.

So, how does this flintlock work? How does it enable the shooter to fire two rounds one after the other without loading the powder and ball in between the two shots?  At the breech of the barrel are two touch holes, instead of the usual one hole, leading from the pan to the base of each charge. These have to ignited separately and this is achieved by having a tightly fitting tolling shutter in the base of the pan which serves the rear charge only. Thus, when the pan is primed and the forward charge has been fired, the rolling shutter, hollowed to contain further priming  powder, is turned through 180 degrees by means of a wing nut on the outside of the pan, exposing the fresh priming, and at the same time, permitting passage to the rear touch hole.

To operate this firelock, the soldier would perform the following steps

  1. He would first half-cock the hammer. This was a “safe” position from which the hammer would not normally spring back.
  2. Then he would pour a measure of gunpowder down the barrel and wrap a lead ball in a small piece of cloth or paper and ram it down the barrel on top of the gunpowder. The ball/cloth combination should have a nice, tight fit.
  3. He would then again pour the same measure of gunpowder down the barrel and after that ram another ball of lead into it. So at this point we have inserted 2 alternate charges of powder and ball in the same gun barrel one after the other.
  4. The gunner now places a small amount of fine gunpowder in the flintlock’s pan to prime the forward charge – the charge that is towards the muzzle of the
  5. He would now pull back the hammer from it’s ‘safe’ position to where it would be farthest from the pan.
  6. The trigger is now pulled to fire the gun. The flint strikes the frizzen with the resultant friction causing sparks to fly from the retreating frizzen which burns the fine powder in the pan. The flame reaches the front charge through the first touch hole at one end of the pan and the ball is discharged.
  7. Once this is taken care of, the gunner turns the wing nut at the base of the pan by 180 degrees activating the rolling shutter which is tube like with a cylindrical slot in it. The tube consequently rotates exposing the slot to the outside. This slot is connected to the rear of the barrel and thus to the charge first rammed into the gun, via a touch hole in the barrel. A small amount of gunpowder is put into this slot thus priming the rear charge. The gunner would snap the frizzen in place over the pan.
  8. Once again the hammer is half-cocked and the trigger pressed. Sparks from the frizzen burn the charge in the slot and subsequently burns through to the rear charge and discharges the ball that was rammed into the barrel first.

So, in a very short span 2 consecutive shots are discharged from the gun! Where it would take a gunner with a regular flintlock over 30 seconds to fire 2 shots, in this case with the superimposed load flintlock, the same 2 shots could be discharged in a span of about 20 seconds. This saving of 10 seconds between consecutive volleys was extremely useful on the battlefield where the opposing army with soldiers firing at you with regular flintlocks would be unable to shoot at you before you shot a round at them.

In my opinion, the technology incorporating the rolling shutter with twin touch holes on this flintlock reflects the apogee of the technical might of the Mysorean industrial state. From an engineering perspective, what were the points that the gunsmith would have to keep in   mind while designing this kind of a flintlock?

  1. The barrel would have to bored to precision. Remember, that what separated the first charge from the second was only the first ball enclosed in a wad of cloth or fibre.  Unless the barrell was bored uniformly and the soldier trained well to ram the ball tight there was every danger of hot exploding gases from the second charge after being expelled reaching to the first charge behind it and the resultant multi charge explosion causing the entire breech to burst! So, Mysore’s gunsmiths had learnt the art of boring gun barrells to perfection. Contemporary British accounts after the sack of Seringapatam record the British discovering machines that Tipu’s gunsmiths used to bore more than one barrell at the same time.
  2. The heart of this flintlock is the rolling shutter mechanism, which upon activation provided the priming charge access to the second touch hole leading to the first charge. Again, if this circular tube controlled with a wingnut is not made to precision, we would have encountered problems like the shutter tube getting stuck because of the powder, grime and heat around it as well as the danger of it’s improper seating around the second touch-hole leading to flame and gas from the first priming escaping through the second touch hole and creating a simultaneous combustion of both the charges leading to catastrophic failure of the barrel tube at the breech.

This particular flintlock was manufactured in the Royal workshop at Patan – Srirangapatna, as can be made out from the inscriptions on the gun and would have been intended for Mysorean royalty. It is improbable that like the blunderbuss, this kind of  flintlock would have been manufactured in large numbers in the Public Workshop, if manufactured there at all, on account of the complexity of the mechanisms involved.

While the effectiveness of this kind of flintlock is beyond doubt it also required a soldier with very good training to operate it as he had to ensure that he inserted the correct amount of charge and rammed the first ball in properly to ensure smooth firing. He would also have to keep the touch hole as well as the pan clean with tools available with him to prevent the touch holes from getting clogged up as well as for proper buting of charge in the pan and the shutter. Thus only a relatively limited number  of these flintlocks would have been made at the Mysorean armory.

Though guns with superimposed loads were known in Europe right from the 17th C, they only started to be manufactured in larger numbers only in the early part of the 19th C. That the Mysorean armory was up to the challenge of manufacturing such a weapon which was scarcely found in Europe as well at that time shows the technological prowess of Mysore at that time.




Seringapatam Matchlock

This matchlock is one of a select group manufactured in the  Mysore Public Armouries for making and finishing small arms under Tipu’s patronage. These have been made dual-purpose, in that they can easily be adapted for use as a flintlock, which it resembles from a distance. So we have a gun here that can be easily disassembled and reconfigured either as a Matchlock or a Flintlock.

The barrel, is a re-used Indian barrel. It has 4 convex flutes with silver calligraphy on the top, two flutes and two rows of bubris on either side also in silver. There is a Haidar control mark and ‘Patan’ stamp at the first girdle, which is also decorated with silver trellis work and calligraphy. Past another 8 convex flutes, we have another girdle with floral trellis and bird patterns. The muzzle has a brass foresight. The short section between the rearmost girdles is inlaid with the maker’s signature, the date and place of manufacture all in silver;  the butt-plate finial, the side-plate and the trigger-guard all formed as series of bubris and the gun retains it’s  small ramrod-pipes, brass fore-end cap, original brass sling-swivels, along with the original iron ramrod.


Matchlock with Match inserted in the hollowed Serpentine Cock

Inscriptions on the Matchlock

On the Barrel:-

karkhana   (Workshop)

1225   (Mauludi Year 1796/1797)

Patan, Abd-al-Qadir

“tofang-e-kebriya’ist sultan-e jahan ara

Ze Haydar bar ‘adu fath-e-muhammad shod zafar peyda”

(It is a magnificent gun of the World-adorning Sultan

Through Haidar, the victory of  Muhammad over the enemy became triumphantly apparent)

On the Lock:-

The talismanic square with the letters H/Y/D/R

This firearm was made to be fired by flintlock ignition. There is no integral pan as on the standard matchlock barrel, and the lock can be described as a matchlock which can be adapted for use with flint. Normally the serpentine is in the upright position and it is retained there solely by the bolted catch corresponding to the standard safety catch bolting the tumbler. The pan cover is fitted with a roller bearing riding on a standard frizzen spring.


The Lock


The mechanism of the Lock


When the trigger is pulled, the serpentine is rotated downwards by the action of the sear on the tumbler being activated solely by the pressure of the trigger finger. The movement of the tumbler, through the linkage, also cantilevers the pan cover open. It’s opening is accelerated by the action of the frizzen spring, so it snaps open smartly. When the trigger is released the serpentine returns to the upright position under pressure of the sear spring. The pan cover may then be operated manually.


To Meer Kumruddeen Ali Khan ; dated 11th (Extra) Ahmedy,

(28th March)

Your letter, informing us of your arrival at Chekry, and applying for a supply of gun-flints, powder, &c., has been received, and its contents are  duly understood. Send to Burhanuddeen for gun-flints, powder, and whatever else you may want. The Sipahdar  Mahomed Ali, has no doubt joined you by this time with the troops under his command, orders for this purpose having been repeatedly dispatched to

him. That part of your forces which was at Kurpah has also marched from thence, and will soon join your army. What more?

The letter from Tipu to Meer Kumuruddeen Ali Khan who was his one of his Meer Marans, the highest ranking officer in Mysore is evidence of the importance of armament stores, specifically flint for a marching army.

Although any quartz bearing material can be used to strike a  spark from hardened steel, only flint or other, similar micro-crystalline quartzose material was strong enough to hold a sharp edge for reliable, and  continued use.   Gunflint making in many regions was a typical cottage industry. Flint was mined locally by hand. Labor was usually organized according to three main steps. The cracker or quarterer broke raw nodules into suitable sizes for making cores. The flaker produced long blades from these cores. The knapper finally segmented the blades, and trimmed the finished gunflints. The ideal gun flint is tabular in shape with a sharp sloping front face. Flint was available in India and mined locally but some of the best flint was imported from England and France as well.  Only in 1805-06, 42,658 C. Rs. worth of powder and flint was imported by the East India Company to their Indian possessions. The value of a flint was even less than a paisa!

While Tipu Sultan would not have depended upon imports for goods as vital as flint for his army, getting flints to armies on the move and stocking them safely was not easy. And this is why only in Mysore, was a unique firearm invented and used which was aptly   named by her British foes as – The Seringapatam Matchlock!

But, what makes them so unusual is that they are matchlocks, produced towards the end of Tipu’s reign when his armories had been producing high-quality flintlocks of the most up-to-date design for nearly twenty years. We have already discussed earlier in the article, how matchlocks predated firelocks by several centuries and why firelocks were superior to matchlocks in terms of both technology used as well as convenience.

There was also no shortage of flintlock firearms in Mysore as many thousands of them were captured by the British after the fall of Seringapatam. For almost 2 decades prior to Tipu’s death, his armouries had already been turning out excellent examples of these pieces. As a matter of fact, from the Return of Ordinance and Military stores found at Seringapatam dated  20 May, 1799 it is interesting to note that there were 99000 flintlock arms captured and only 320 Matchlock guns! This was back in 1799, when all Indian armies were largely fighting with shield, saber and matchlocks; which only goes in showing how modern for its times was the Mysorean army!

So what could be a reason for Tipu to outfit a flintlock gun with a regressive matchlock mechanism? Contemporary and later visitors to Mysore and scholars  noted that Tipu’s unique designs were at best “…intended to be no more than another piece of inventiveness with which to feed his insatiable appetite for the mechanically unusual.” Much of this writing off Tipu’s scientific zeal as mere ‘whim and fancy’ was rooted in British prejudice against Mysore’s formidable strength.

An example of this attitude may be seen in C. Buchanan’s writing about  a canon boring machine operated with water and purportedly designed by French engineers for Mysore that he saw in the environs of Seringapatam during his travels through Mysore, Madras and Malabar around 1800-1801. He derides Tipu Sultan when he observed the machine had been altered to be operated by bullocks instead of water forgetting that now the machine could be operated at any place where bullocks were available instead of only at those places where power was obtained from water, primarily water falling down from a height.

It is my opinion that the reasons for the design of the Seringapatam Matchlock were the following:

  1. Some of the disadvantages of the flintlock system being a great number of misfires as the flint chips and wears away, fails to spark, with resulting wear to the tempered face of the frizzen. It is a main object of this invention to provide in combination with a flintlock mechanism, through conversion by the invention to the use of matches within the flintlock mechanism, resulting in a superior method of producing a more intense and reliable primary ignition and effective delivery of the improved ignition to the flashpowder within the cavity of the flashpan and the adjacent prime-hole.
  2. As seen in the letter from Tipu to his Meer Maran, flints were not always in abundant supply and the outcome of wars depended upon each gunner having good quality flints upon him. So, in eventualities, however rare where a flintlock was made useless because of lack of flints, it could be speedily transformed into a matchlock with the replacement of the lock mechanism and vice-versa from a matchlock into a flintlock.

It is to Tipu’s credit that he encouraged his gunsmiths to work around the problem of  finding flints for the flintlock and they in turn invented a mechanism found nowhere else in the contemporary world and patented only as late as 1983, of all places in the United States! Not many of these Seringapatam matchlocks were made from the fact that till date only 5 known examples exist. It is most probable that this gun was only made available to his chosen troops in Seringapatam. As the figures of captured ordinance show, matchlocks were hardly used in the Mysorean army and could only be found in the hinterlands among the ‘Kandachar’ or irregular troops.

Tipu was immensely proud of this and other products from Mysore and in a letter to the Executive Directory of  France, dated 29 July 1798, Tipu has included an account of presents for ‘5 French Chiefs’ and ‘their wives’. The gifts included:

Guns – 3

Matchlock – 1

Another Kind of Gun -1 , all of which he states were manufactured in Mysore. In view of the date of the letter and 1 of the guns being described as a matchlock, it is most probable that the Proud Tipu was gifting the Seringapatam Matchlock to his French allies.  Another letter to the French King, Louis XVII himself has Tipu saying mentioning – “A double barrelled gun made in the arsenal of the Sarkar together with an embroidered dress is sent for the noble rank and will arrive”.

Under Tipu’s orders, scholar and theologian Zainulabedin Shustari compiled a military manual for the  Mysorean army, called the Fateh-ul-Mujahidin or ‘The Truimph of the Holy Warriors’.  This manual deals with the military maxims and observations of Tipu Sultan with respect to military maneuvers and training.  A copy of this manuscript was carried away by the British in 1791 and partly translated into English with 21 copies finding their way to the India Office library alone.

An illustrated copy of the manuscript dated 1782/3 has on its margin a detail of an ink and watercolor illustration of one of Tipu’s infantrymen in 2 different stages of loading his firelock.


Illustration of Tiger Soldier in action with his firelock, Fateh-ul-Mujahidin

The soldier is observed here in two stages of using the firelock, first using the ramrod to load the charge into the barrel and in the second, cleaning the touch hole using a cleaning tool. The touch hole would get clogged with ash and grime over several firings; this would cause the charge to misfire or just ‘flash in the pan’. So frequent cleaning of the touch hole as well as the pan was necessary to ensure passage of the fired priming charge through the touch hole into the barrel.

Firelock-men were drilled through the year on their weapons, often taught by experienced French officers on the latest infantry techniques. No wonder Tipu’s men stood their ground in battle after battle with British and European trained Sepoys. The latest methods of training along with the best possible weaponry made the Mysorean army, though small in numbers when say compared to the Marathas or the Nizam’s,  a very formidable fighting force towards the end of the 18th C.  The Mir Sadar Cutcheri (Ordinance and Garrison Department) supervised the stores and manufacture of arms and ammunition. It was in charge of the garrisons and kept the army accounts as well. Ghulam Ali Khan, was the Mir Sadar or Head of this department and had eight officers or Bakhshis serving under him. This network of bureaucrats reporting to the court at Seringapatam itself ensured a steady supply of workmen and material right from the smelting irons to the flintlocks.

There is no evidence that the manufacture of firearms was continued in Mysore after Tipu’s fall in 1799. It must be assumed that his gunsmiths would have dispersed after the fall of the Khodadad  Sarkar. The Indian workmen moving on to other pastures and his European artificers deported from Mysore. In a newly conquered country, it is highly unlikely that existing munitions factories would have been left intact. Of  the ‘eleven armories for making and furnishing small arms’, nothing remains today.

But the inscriptions on the arms provide us with some clues about his gunsmiths and location of his arms factories. The factories at Patan and Nagar come up prominently as do Muhammad Almas,  Asad Amin,  Sayyid Masum, Sayyid Hasan and Sayyid Ali among the names of gunsmiths. We have arms from both Patan and Nagar bearing Sayyid Ali’s name which means that gunsmiths were also moved across factories.  Tipu even gave a new name to firelocks, which were called ‘bundook’ till then. At least in the nomenclature of the scribes at court and inscriptions on the firearms themseves, they were henceforth to be called ‘Tofang’.

Such was the allure of the weaponry from Mysore that only a few survive today, in museums all over the world and  private collectors owning the rest. They were so eagerly sought after as objects of curiosity that most of them were brought back to England by the early years of the 18th C, which account for the fact that there are virtually none of Tipu’s personal arms to be found in India today.

The reason of British interest in Tipu’s ordinance can be summed up in an observation made by a contemporary English visitor to one of his arms factories after his fall – ‘A degree of perfection has been achieved in every stage of the process, truly astonishing to those of our officers who visited the different workshops.’ The English were petrified at the idea of Tipu himself. Here was a brown ruler who unlike his contemporaries around him did not waste time and resources in wine, women and outlandish palaces. He would not borrow money or men from the East India Company nor would he ally with any European power against an Indian foe. Add to this the fact that he built up an army along modern European lines and armed them with armament equal to European arms that he made in his own factories. This was the quintessential Tipu the British were frightened of. And in vanquishing and felling him in that gateway on that afternoon of May 4, 1799 they had vanquished their greatest foe in India then. This was exactly why the English valued as war trophy any Mysore weaponry that they could lay their hands upon!

But what about the Mysoreans  who worked Tipu’s factories and manned his defences and loaded his firelocks? Did they forget him after his bones became dust and his factories ravaged with neglect and time? No, the memory remained for a long while after Tipu. The evidence for this lies in a percussion cap pistol sourced from Kollegala, near Mysore which is now in a private collection.


Native Percussion Cap Pistol from Mysore Circa 1840 A.D. Pic Courtesy: Private Collection

This kind of pistol which was the next advancement in firearm technology after the firelock uses a small cylinder of copper or brass with one closed end containing a small amount of a shock-sensitive explosive material such as fulminate of mercury. The cap is placed over a hollow metal “nipple” at the rear end of the gun barrel, on a chimney. Pulling the trigger releases a hammer that strikes the percussion cap and ignites the explosive primer causing the resulting flame to travel through the hollow nipple to ignite the main powder charge. Percussion caps were made in small sizes for pistols and larger sizes for rifles and muskets. They solved the problem of flintlocks misfiring in wet weather to a large extant.

Percussion cap pistols were first introduced circa 1820 and did not really become popular till the 1840s. So this particular piece would be from that period. This pistol is of Indian manufacture  quite crude in construction and uses as it’s lock an old flintlock lock stripped off its parts.


Observe 3 Bubri marks on the Chimney – 2 parallel bubris in horizontal and 1 by its side in vertical

What is striking about this piece is the observation of 3 bubris marks on the chimney. What are bubris marks doing on a piece produced in Mysore more than four decades after the fall of Tipu and his Kingdom? It could only mean one thing that there was some gunsmith in some corner of Mysore who inscribed the bubris onto the piece remembering the value that stamp once held! We will never know if this gunsmith had worked half a century ago in Tipu’s gun shop or had worked with the previous generation who probably had. What is amazing is that the memory of that stamp of quality still held! There could be no greater appreciation of Tipu Sultan’s role in fostering this arms industry, than this.

Thus ends the third and final of my trilogy on Mysore’s Firearms industry during the rule of Tipu Sultan. I can only hope that the reader, whichever part of the world he may hail from, is inspired to cultivate the same inquisitive mind that Tipu possessed and which transformed the Mysorean arms industry in the span of less than a generation.



No study of the firearms of Tipu Sultan is complete without the mention of the Late Robin Wigington, a dealer-collector based out of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. He was Tipu obsessed and his home in Stratford, where his collection was housed, backed on to the river Avon where he kept a boat painted with Tipu bubri stripes. His interest in Tipu predated the hysteria over him seen over the last decade. From the 1970’s, Robin started acquiring Tipu pieces and writing about them primarily in the prestigious Journal of Arms and Armour Society. He never believed in keeping knowledge acquired from his study of these arms to himself; his book “The Firearms of Tipu Sultan 1783-1799”, published in 1992 is testimonial to his efforts. As his collection grew, he set up a private museum to display the major pieces and make them known to a wider audience. He is no more with us now and is up there with Tipu Sultan perhaps, discussing niceties with him over Sherbet.

Much of his collection, after his passing away was disposed through his estate in collaboration with the esteemed auction house Sotheby’s in ‘The Tipu Sultan Collection” Sale of 25 May, 2005.


  1. The Firearms of Tipu Sultan, Robin Wigington; John Taylor Book Ventures, 1992
  2. Sotheby’s – The Tipu Sultan Collection; 25 May 2005, London
  3. Thomas DelMar Ltd., in association with Sotheby’s
  4. Tipu Sultan’s Mysore – An Economic Study, M.H. Gopal; Bombay Popular Prakashan, 1971
  5. Confronting Colonialism-Resistance and Modernisation under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, Edited by Irfan Habib; Tulika, 1999
  6. The Tiger and the Thistle, Tipu Sultan and the Scots in India; NGS, 1999
  7. Tigers round the Throne, The Court of Tipu Sultan; Zamana Art Gallery, 1990
  8. History of Tipu Sultan, Mohibbul Hasan;Aakar Books, 2005
  9. Sunset at Srirangapatam, Mohammad Moienuddin; Orient Longman Ltd., 2000
  10. History of Tipu SUltan, M.H.A.Khan Kirmani;Asian Educatioanal Services, 1997
Posted in Tipu Sultan & his times | 3 Comments

Technology Transfer and a Cashless Economy: Tipu Sultan’s efforts to imbibe European Science and keep Indian Gold in India

Tipu Sultan’s interest in imbibing new technology was evident from the beginning of his reign. His embassy to France’s Louis XVI which left Indian shores in July, 1787 carried requests to France to dispatch to Mysore ‘seeds of flowers and plants of various kinds, and for technicians, workers and doctors.’ This request was made by Tipu’s ambassador to France, Darwesh Khan who ‘delivered his address to the King in low tones’. The King informed the ambassador that such craftsmen and technicians, who could improve the manufacture of arms and introduce new industries in his kingdom could be arranged for.

The transcript of Tipu’s letter to the French King received from the reports of British Intelligence at the French court to London is preserved in the India Office library records makes for interesting reading. The letter requests for 10 masters for casting cannon; 10 gunsmiths; 10 foremen for casting incendiary bombs; 10 workers of Sevres porcelain; 10 glass workers; 10 wool-carders; 10 watch-makers; 10 textile-makers; 10 printers of  Oriental languages; 10 weavers; one skillful doctor and one surgeon; one Engineer; one caster of bullets; clove plants; camphor trees; fruit trees of Europe; seeds of flowers of various kinds; seeds of linseed and 10 workers necessary for their cultivation.

We also know how many French artisans agreed to enter Tipu’s service: 10 casters of cannon; 10 gunsmiths; 10 casters of bullets; 10 porcelain workers; 10 glass makers; 10 weavers of cloth; 10 tapestry makers; 10 watch makers; 10 farmers and workers of hemp;2 printers of Oriental languages; 1 physician; 1 surgeon; 2 engineers and  2 gardeners.  This list makes interesting reading because it is a comprehensive list of all what Europe at that time had to offer. While there were other rulers in India, contemporaries of Tipu who would spend vast sums of money buying and using European arms, watches, cloth and books; here was a ruler who aspired to learn these trades from the Europeans and manufacture these very items in his country.

The Iron and Steel industry in Mysore had already reached a high level of scientific proficiency and output by the end of the 18th C. These forges in Tipu’s time were optimized for labor efficiency and the wages earned by the labor force were on par or better than contemporary workmen in neighboring states controlled by the British.

Similarly ambassadors whom he sent to Constantinople in 1785 were instructed to seek besides military assistance, technicians who would be able to make muskets, guns, glass, chinaware and other things. However there is no record of Tipu having received any help from the Ottoman Caliph primarily because of British subversive activity in Constantinople and the Sublime Porte’s displeasure at Tipu’s camaraderie with France which had by then with Napoleon Bonaparte’s sword arm started to nip into the Turkish Empire in the Middle East.

Another aspect of Tipu’s economic prudence can be seen in how Tipu offered to pay for armaments procured from France and Turkey.  Early in October 1788, the French sent proposals to Tipu for a commercial treaty proposing that Tipu allow the French company to purchase the annual produce of pepper in Mysore along with sandalwood, cardamom, cotton yarn, wool, gum, ivory and other goods. These imports would be paid for in cannon, muskets, ammunition, men-of-war, silk, woolen goods or other articles from Europe, as demanded by Tipu. Only, in case there was a balance, it would be paid for in bullion or silver. As for the military assistance in the form of technicians requested from the Ottoman Caliph, Tipu offered to send such workmen as were available in Mysore and required by the Caliph, This cashless trade served two purposes.  The first was to provide a market abroad for Mysorean goods and workmen, but the most important of them was to stop the drain of bullion out of Mysore.

Mr. Montgomery Martin who in 1835, did a survey of records in India House from 1807-1814 of the condition of provinces in Bengal and Bihar for  his book,  ‘Eastern India’ writes  “It is impossible to avoid remarking two facts as peculiarly striking – first the richness of the country surveyed and second, the poverty of  it’s inhabitants…..The annual drain of British Pounds (BP) 3, 000,000 on British India has amounted in thirty years, at 12 percent compound interest to the enormous sum of  BP 723,900,000 sterling….So constant and accumulating a drain, even in England, would soon impoverish her. How severe then must be its effects on India when the wage of a labourer is from two pence to three pence a day.’

Sir John Shore says in his minute of 1787 – “The export of specie from the country for the last twenty-five years have been great and particularly during the last ten of that period…..Upon the whole, I have no hesitation in concluding that since the company’s acquisition of the Dewany (of Bengal), the current specie of the country has been greatly diminished….; and that the necessity of supplying China, Madras and Bombay with money, as well as the exportation of it by Europeans to England, will continue still further to exhaust the country of it’s silver….”

Dadabhai Naoroji in his bold for that time book ‘Poverty and Un-British rule’ makes the point that the export of Indian Bullion by the British to China to finance the Opium trade and to England, remittances of English surplus in revenue from Indian trade as well as savings and bribes earned by company servants in Gold and Silver exhausted India of its bullion forcing an import of the precious metal into India. Dadabhai calculates from the returns of 1801 to 1869, only a paltry amount of 34 shillings per capita remained for all possible wants, commercial, social, religious, revenue, railways and other public works. And having no precious metal left to pay for the heavy English drain,   India began to pay in goods which now began to affect supply of raw material for our own trade and Industry. By 1869, the debt that India owed to England had climbed to an astounding 82,000,000 British Pounds !

Tipu even thought of establishing depots in foreign territories for the purpose of commerce. These centers were to buy rare goods and send them to Mysore for sale, and also sell rarities of Mysore in the foreign markets. Including the two existing depots at Cutch and Muscat they were to be 17 in number. The Sultans purpose in establishing these trade depots can best be expressed in his own words:-  “Sending in charge of your deputies or agents to other countries, the  produce  of our dominions, and disposing of the same there; the produce of those countries must be bought hither in return; and sold at such prices as will afford profit.”

The Revenue regulations of Mysore drafted under Tipu’s supervision himself is a very important source which helps us understand the importance Tipu gave to Mysore’s Iron and Steel Works. This book of regulations was to be compulsorily retained , read and followed by all Government functionaries throughout the extant of Mysore’s possessions from Malabar to  Dharwar.

Instruction no. 68 in the booklet read thus:- If the Reyuts (Farmers) in discharge of their rents, shall offer Gold, Silver, Copper or Brass, these articles are not to be disposed of to traders, but are to be purchased for government; according to the current price of the Bazaar(Market), and to be entered in the accounts of the office, and to be forwarded with the account of them to the Cutchery, at the same time with the supplies of stores. If in breach of these rules, you shall allow these articles to be disposed of to merchants, and receive the purchase money on account of government, you shall incur the displeasure of Government.

This showed Tipu’s adamancy that even payment of taxes in bullion kind should not be disposed off to merchants but be sent to the seat of Government at Seringapatam for deposit in the treasury. It was this surplus of precious metal in the treasury that helped Mysore to pay off the 33 Million Rupee indemnity imposed upon it by the British and their allies after the 1792 Mysore war in 16.5 million Rupees cash and bullion and the remaining within a year!

Tipu’s preferred policy of commerce in kind and not cash helped Mysore to stay bullion rich and thus prosperous during Tipu’s reign. “Tippoo   prohibited” writes a later contemporary of his “the importation of any foreign commodities so that the Canara merchants carried specie always out and thus the country so far as Arcot was drained of its gold.”  Though this was a misrepresentation of Tipu’s policy, as Tipu only prohibited trade with hostile countries and paid in cash when payment in goods was declined, the statement by the British observer shows how Tipu had managed to keep the flow of precious metals reverse of what it would be just seven decades from then in an India that had by then fallen under British dominion.


  1. Tipu Sultans Mysore – An Economic Study, M.H. Gopal; 1971
  2. History of Tipu Sultan, Mohibbul Hasan; 1951
  3. The Mysorean Revenue Regulations, Translated by Burrish Crisp; 1792
  4. Poverty and Unbritish rule in India, Dadabhai Nauroji; 1901


Posted in Tipu Sultan & his times | 3 Comments

Preparing the Sinews of War: The Method and Economics of Iron and Steel production in Tipu Sultan’s Mysore

Mysore’s transformation into a technologically advanced state was precipitated on account of the special circumstances that it found itself in towards the middle of the 18th century. Regular skirmishes with the British made   Tipu Sultan realize that the Europeans could only be defeated on the battlefield by employing superior technology and tactics against them. Fortunately for Tipu, the natural resources that Mysore possessed would become his greatest ally in this search for technological parity with the European adversary on the battlefield.

According to Francis Hamilton Buchanan, who is 1800 was sent by the conqueror of Mysore, Lord Wellesley, Governor General of India to Mysore to collect data on the climate and natural resources as well as the condition of peoples and their agriculture and manufactures, there existed in many parts of Mysore iron forges for the manufacture of iron. The iron was made partly from the black sand which was found during the four months of the rainy season in the channels of all the torrents in the country which the monsoon currents brought down from the rocks or from an ore called ‘Canny Kallu’ found in the rocks themselves.  However, only iron from the black sand could be made into steel. And it was this iron that would be the bedrock of Mysore’s gun-making industry.

Buchanan discovered Iron being smelted in various talukas near Tumkur, a distance of about 70 kilometers from Bangalore – Madhugiri, Chinnarayanadurga, Hagalawadi and Devarayadurga. The first 2 talukas contributed iron ore in the form of black sand from channels described above that would be used to make steel for sword blades, cannon, muskets, stone cutter chisels, etc  and the rest gave iron ore mined out of rocks which was used for all other purposes, primarily agricultural and household.

The work people in the smelting houses were four bellows-men, three men who tended the charcoal and three women and one man collecting and washing the sand. They worked only during the four months when the sand was to be found; and for the remainder of the year they cultivate the ground, or supply the inhabitants of towns with firewood. There are four men working in shifts at the bellows with the more skillful among them taking out the iron and building up the furnace. In each furnace the worker first put a basket of charcoal weighing about half a bushel (which is about 7 kilogram). He then would gather as much as he could of the black sand that he could lift with both hands and put in double that quantity. After placing another basket of charcoal, the fire was stoked by the bellows as often as necessary. This process of loading the furnace with charcoal and black sand is repeated every time the earlier load of charcoal is burnt.

In all, Buchanan noted that each smelting saw an input of about 20 kilograms of dry black sand which after smelting gave a mass of iron weighing about 9 kg wight. The iron was now taken to the forging house where there were 3 hammer-men, 1 man to manage the forceps, 2 bellows-men and 4 men to apply charcoal, which is made from Bamboo. Here, this mass of iron was again burnt and hammered into 11 wedges of iron, each conveniently shaped like a plough-share and hence easily trade-able as one. So, in the end about 47% of iron was procured from the ore, which though quite impure was malleable, a prime requirement for all tools from plough-shares to sword blades. Every day 3 furnaces are smelted and 33 wedges are forged.

So, at this stage we have these iron wedges extracted from ore that was mined from river beds in Mysore. How did the Mysoreans convert this into what could easily rank among the world’s best steel? Dr. Benjamin Heyne in 1814, wrote about the production of steel from these iron wedges after keenly observing the process in Mysore. He writes “ In order to convert the iron into steel each piece (wedge) is cut into three parts, each of which is put into a crucible carefully made of refractory clay, together with a handful of the dried branches of the  ‘Avaram’ tree and a few fresh leaves of the ‘Vonangady’ shrub. The mouth of the crucible is then closely shut with a handful of red mud, and the whole is arranged in circular order with their bottoms turned towards the center in a hole made on the ground for the purpose. The hole is then filled with charcoal, made of any wood except from the Banyan tree and large bellows are kept blowing for six hours, by which time the operation is finished. The crucibles are then removed from the furnace, ranged in rows on moistened mud, and water is thrown on them while yet hot. The steel is found in conical pieces – button like at the bottom of the crucibles, the form of which it has taken.”

The Mysorean method of production of steel could be said to be superior to the contemporary European method of  cementation by charcoal alone, which used to take anything between six to seven days, on the one hand, and fourteen to twenty on the other. By contrast, under the Indian method carbon and hydro-carbon acting jointly on iron formed steel within four to six hours. It is very likely that the Avaram wood and the Vonangady leaf were used for fuelling the furnace as they acted as de-oxidants.  De-oxidation is important in the steelmaking process as oxygen is often detrimental to the quality of steel produced.  Recent studies on ethanol and methanol extracts from the   Avaram plant have shown it’s superior anti-oxidant properties.  The excess of iron in the ore was gradually eliminated in the process of reheating. Steel of the kind required could be obtained by interrupting the process of de-carbonizing when wanted.

Let us now having looked at the Steel making process in Mysore move our attention to how the workers employed in this industry were organised and the method as well as amount of their remuneration. The Forging house studied here by Buchanan produced 33 iron wedges a day. Every 4 days, after production of 132 wedges they were divided amongst the workers as follows:

The incomes (in Kind) of the workers at the Iron Forge are as detailed below:

Proprietor:                                                         35 pieces

Panchala, Foreman at the forge:                10 pieces

Foreman at the smelt:                                     8 pieces

Bellows-men:                                                     5 pieces

Two of the women, at 5 each:                       10 pieces

Remaining 16 persons, at 4 each:               64 pieces


TOTAL:                                                               132 pieces

So, the workers would distribute the produce among themselves. In currency terms let us evaluate the value of these pieces. Buchanan mentioned that 4 pieces of iron made from the sand sold for a Fanam, which was a small Gold coin in circulation in Tipu’s Mysore. So, in currency terms let us now examine the earnings of each of the workers over a monthly period (30 days) iterating the data forward from the one calculated earlier for number of wedges produced (132) over a 4 day period. 5 Fanams were worth a Silver Rupee which was worth 960 Copper Kasu in Tipu’s time.

The incomes (Cash values) of the workers at the Iron Forge are as detailed below:

Proprietor:                                                         263 pieces =>   65 Fanams – 144 Kasu

Panchala, Foreman at the forge:                75 pieces    =>  18 Fanams – 144 Kasu

Foreman at the smelt:                                     60 pieces =>   15  Fanams

Bellows-men:                                                    38 pieces  =>     9  Fanams – 96 Kasu

Two of the women, at 5 each:                       10 pieces  =>      2 Fanams – 96 Kasu

Remaining 16 persons, at 4 each:               64 pieces  =>    16 Fanams


TOTAL INCOME OF WORKERS:                  132 pieces  =>    125 Fanams – 480 Kasu

Since a rupee was worth 5 Fanams, we may state that the entire output of a contemporary Mysore Forge produced a revenue of 25 Rupees 2 Fanams – 96 Kasu to its labour over a 4 day production cycle. The proprietor earned a sum of 13 Rupees – 144 Kasu each month. For a season of about 6 months that the forges worked in a year leaving out the Monsoon and other unproductive months, the Proprietor earned an income of 78  Rupees – 4 Fanams – 96 Kasu.

Let us now go forward again and see the expenses incurred by any one of the individuals associated with the forge. The proprietor, like today’s Contractor was supposed to defray all other fixed expenses for a whole season of work.

The expenses incurred by the Proprietor of the Iron Forge are as detailed below:

Forest keeper, for permission to make charcoal:  100 Fanams

Village chief for permission to gather river sand:   40 Fanams

Furnace Rent:                                                                        15 Fanams

Custom House (Tax):                                                          30 Fanams

For a pair of Bellows each – Smelt & Forge:                66 Fanams

Sacrifices to propitiate Gods:                                           15 Fanams

Charity for Brahmins:                                                       10 Fanams

TOTAL EXPENDITURE :                                                  276 Fanams => 55 Rupees – 1 Fanam

Profit made by the proprietor is  (78  Rupees – 4 Fanams – 96 Kasu) – (55 Rupees – 1 Fanam) = 23 Rupees – 3 Fanams – 96 Kasu 

What needs to be remembered here is that the Proprietor was the contractor who arranged men and materials for the purpose of forging Iron. He did not have to spend time at the forge and was free to pursue farming or trading or any other employment that he chose to which provided him with additional earning power.

We are also fortunate to have access to information about the payment to workers at the Steel Forge. Here, we are informed that the number of people employed in converting the iron wedges to steel is thirteen. A head workman makes the Crucibles, loads them and builds up the furnace. 4 teams of workmen, each consisting of 3 persons, one to tend to the fire, and 2 to work the bellows. Each team therefore, labors in the working season only four hours a day; except every fourth day when they must work 8 hours. They are all cultivators and in their leisure time, they manage their fields. Here too, there is besides the 13 men a proprietor who advances all money required to the workmen, and who receives payment when the steel is solid. Fifteen Pagodas ( 52 Rupees – 6 Fanam) worth of iron is purchased as raw material for the furnace. Of this 15 pagodas (a standard Gold coin prevalent in South India) worth of iron, 2 are given to the head workman and 1 each distributed among the remaining workmen and proprietor. All this iron is then handed over by each of the 13 people to the head workman, who for three months in employed in making the crucibles, loading them and preparing the furnace..During this time, the 12 workmen would bring him clay, repair the hut where the furnace was and make charcoal; but all this labor was only done in intervals when needed and they were free the rest of their time to work in their fields.

After the steel is produced, every man takes the measure of steel produced by the iron he gave to the head workman as pay. In many cases, the proprietor would have advanced sums of money to the laborers for their daily needs which he would now collect from them. Another quantity of iron worth 15 pagodas is purchased and this is done again till in a season 45 pagodas worth of iron is made into steel. It is again the proprietors responsibility to supply his team of workers with necessary advance on their pay to be recovered later as well as the general expenses attending the forge.


The incomes of the workers at the Steel Works is as detailed below:

45 Pagodas of Iron produce 1800 iron wedges divided into 5400 pieces of steel of which:

4500 pieces of good steel @ 2.5 pieces/Fanam:                                        1800 Fanams

900 pieces of poor steel @ 6 pieces/Fanam:                                               150 Fanams

Deducting Expenses:                                                                                       – (247) Fanams

Deducting Cost of Iron: (1 Pagoda = 10 Fanams)                                    – (450) Fanams

Net Profit:                                                                                                              1253 Fanams

This profit, divided among 15 labor, gives 83.5 Fanams income to each individual. This is an income of about 7 Fanams per month for a workman with a single share. The foreman gets double of this at 14 Fanams per month  as he spends all his time in the Workshop.

The expenses incurred by the Proprietor of the Steel Works are as detailed below:

Forest keeper, for permission to make charcoal:   110 Fanams

Village chief for house rent:                                            15  Fanams

Custom House (Tax):                                                          30 Fanams

For a pair of Bellows:                                                         42 Fanams

Sacrifices to propitiate Gods:                                          30 Fanams

Charity for Brahmins:                                                       20 Fanams

TOTAL EXPENDITURE :                                                  247 Fanams => 49 Rupees – 2 Fanams

This expenditure is shared by each worker, in proportion to his quantity of steel. The whole profit of the proprietor is the 3 Pagodas worth of iron converted into steel, for which he would already have advanced 40 odd pagodas to buy the 45 pagodas worth of iron required by the steel work over the year. This he manages with his own capital or with cash borrowed from a moneylender.

Let us now for each kind of Forge, summarize the wages/profit earned by the owner of the forge as well as the basest of workers there.  Since we do not have access to the investment made by the proprietor of the Iron forge we can only assess his Profit in terms of % of Expenses/Income which gives him a  dividend of 70%. At the same time the remuneration of the most menial of workers is 1 Fanam for every production cycle of 4 days giving him a wage of  7 Fanams – 96 Kasu in a month.

In case of the Steel Forge we may calculate the ROI (Return on Investment) as:

(Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment)/ Cost of Investment which in our case is (in Fanam worth):

The team together takes home (1253 – 450) / 450 = 1.7 or an astonishing 170% ! The least paid of labor earns 7 fanams a month.

Let us now compare the wages of a higher 30 Fanams / month and lower 7 Fanams / month with contemporary wages in India. The  Returns Register of the PWD (1830-31), Bengal Presidency  mentions the daily wages of a Laborers on Zamindari estates in the districts of Dinagepore, Bakegunj, Dacca, Murshidabad, even the Parganahs of Calcutta as 2 annas per diem. This means monthly wages hovered at 3 Rupees – 12 annas in East India Currency. The years 1790-1800 were very depressed times in Bengal due to  famine and the wages would have been lower. Even if one wishes to disregard the wages in British Bengal looking at the depressed conditions there, one may move to the relatively prosperous and neighboring Bombay Presidency where the Bartle Frere Price Commission Report of 1864 gives the minimum wage was only 7 Rupees – 12 Annas per month in 1863 and notes that the early decades of the 19th Century saw much lower wages on account of the depression .which continued more or less till wages improved in the 1850’s on account of the US Civil war demand for Cotton, construction of the Railways and the Indian War of Independence.

Contrast this with the wages of the most menial of workers at the Mysore forge at the turn of the 18th C who made between 7 -8 Mysore Fanams in a month which comes to about 2 British Rupees – 4 Annas each month. One also has to keep in mind the fact that in the forges of Mysore,  these workers were not needed to work more than 4 hours a day and were free to work the rest of the time in their fields or as hired labor elsewhere thus adding to their monthly income.


A Blunderbuss produced at one of the Royal Workshops in Mysore


Steel Barrel of the Blunderbuss with Bubris Etched

As discussed earlier, Ore was extracted from rocks in another way. Buchanan visited a village near Tumkur where the ore  was being mined and found a man with a pickax digging up on the side of a hill. Until he got a perpendicular face five or six feet wide and as much  high. Before him he has then a face containing ore, more or less intermixed with clay, sand, and hematite and covered with two to three feet of external soil. He would go on to physically scoop out the ore, and matters with which it is mixed; and having beaten them well with his pickax, and rubbed them with his hands, pick out the small pieces of ore throwing away the sand, clay and other matter.

This stone ore was made into iron in exactly the same way as described above for ore from black river sand. However the smelting process slightly differed. The ore was smelted twice a day. At each time, an amount of cleaned ore is put into the furnace and wrought iron to the weight of about 20% of the ore is produced. This iron is heated after cutting into wedges, in a forging furnace and beaten at once by 3 men, with hammers weighing 7 – 9 kilograms each. The iron, very malleable is now ready for sale. This iron was primarily used to fulfill Mysore’s Household and Agricultural requirement. It would also be used in making war equipment like Shells, round shot, horse accouterments, sword and lance blades for the Kandachar militia, etc.


Part of Horse Armour manufactured in Mysore, 1799 AD Courtesy Pvt. Collection


Observe the Bubris struck along the borders of the Armour

The forge at Hampapura by the banks of the Kabini river was one of the factories that regularly supplied iron wedges to the Sarkar and Buchanan records that Tipu’s father, Haidar Ali made an allowance of a Fanam per Maund (appx. 38 kilogram wt.) of iron sent to the Government. So, what needs to be remembered here is that Tipu himself or in his time did not actually kick-start a new Industry in Mysore; it was already there, but he only actively incentivised, encouraged and regulated their activities. And in doing this he was able to bring up methods of production as well as the output to levels yet unseen in the rest of South India. Another very important contribution of his was his policy of encouraging foreign Craftsmen to come to Mysore and produce new Cannon and other armaments inducing in this process more modern methods of forging and manufacture.

Tipu Sultan’s embassy to France’s Louis XVI which left Indian shores in July, 1787 carried requests to France to dispatch to Mysore ‘seeds of flowers and plants of various kinds, and for technicians, workers and doctors.’ The King informed the ambassador that such craftsmen and technicians, who could improve the manufacture of arms and introduce new industries in his kingdom could be arranged for. The transcript of Tipu’s letter to the French King received from the reports of British Intelligence at the French court to London is preserved in the India Office library records makes for interesting reading. The letter requests for 10 masters for casting cannon; 10 gunsmiths; 10 foremen for casting incendiary bombs; 10 workers of Sevres porcelain; 10 glass workers; …one Engineer; one caster of bullets;  We also know how many French artisans agreed to enter Tipu’s service: 10 casters of cannon; 10 gunsmiths; 10 casters of bullets; …. 10 watch makers;….2 engineers and  2 gardeners. Obviously, manufacturing the best weaponry would also mean ramping up science, quality as well as scale of Metal production to the best standards of that time. This is Tipu’s primary achievement.

At Kankanhalli, the iron foundry was under the exclusive preserve of the army manufactory. This factory, like today’s ordinance factories in India appears to have been conducted entirely on Government account and for it’s exclusive benefit.

The Revenue regulations of Mysore drafted under Tipu’s supervision himself is a very important source which helps us understand the importance Tipu gave to Mysore’s Iron and Steel Works. This book of regulations was to be compulsorily retained , read and followed by all Government functionaries throughout the extant of Mysore’s possessions from Malabar to Dharwar.

Instruction no. 78 in the booklet read thus:- If there are ten iron-foundries in your district, you are by encouragement, to increase them to double their number; and according to the indents and musters sent from the Huzoor; you are to have iron Dubas and steel Kuhuttes made and forwarded. Whenever an order comes to your Kuchery for iron shot and Dubas, you are to forward them without the smallest delay;Ironmongers may make all sorts of implements of iron, but you are to take care that they do not sell shot. You are also to ascertain where there are mines of iron and steel; and obtain from thence the utmost possible quantity of each of those articles, which you are to take the greatest care of.

Instruction no. 122 read thus:- You are to cause the name of your district to be stamped on all the iron implements and shot which are made in your district and are to send them through your Cutchery to Agran Puttun.

We see Tipu asking his Amildars who were Civil officers in-charge of each district to encourage and expand the production of Iron and Steel as well as to keep an open eye of sources of ore and acquire them for the Sarkar. We see a very interesting point made of the output of the forges. Along with iron implements they produced Dubas , Kuhuttes and iron shot. Kuhuttes (from the Dravidian Katthi for Knife) were sword blades for the use of the Sarkar, iron shot were round metal balls used in muskets and cannon for ammunition. But what is enlightening here is the use of the word – Dubas (From the Hindustani Dubba for box) are Cylindrical Shells, something unique throughout the Armament world of the 18th Century to Mysore and Tipu. These Dubas or Cylindrical Shells were Rocket casings into which charge and fuse would be put, ends sealed and a steel blade or long bamboo attached  to the shell with leather strips and sent flying into the sky bringing fire and terror into the hearts of Mysore’s enemies. Tipu also goes further asking the foundries to mark the shot and implements  with the name of the district as a quality check so that the item could be verified at any time against both inventory as well as Quality.

To sum up, we have now seen a well developed and advanced Iron and Steel industry in 18th Century Mysore which made use of the best of the resources the land had to offer with a well organised Labor force being paid wages which were far ahead of corresponding wages in British occupied territories nearby. All of this together helped to change Mysore from a petty principality of 33 villages to World power status.


The currency conversion ratios used are as follows:

British: 1 Pagoda = 3.5 Rupee = 42 Silver Fanam = 3360 Kasu

Tipu: 1 Pagoda = 2 Rupee = 10 Gold Fanam = 1920 Kasu

The conversion key were the following ratios:

1 Tipu Pagoda = 3 British Indian Rupees

1 Tipu Pagoda = 2 Tipu Rupees (Double Rupee – Haidari)

1 British Rupee = 16 Annas


  1. A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar, Francis Buchanan; 1807
  2. Iron and Steel Production in Eighteenth Century Mysore, Nikhiles Guha; 2002
  3. Tipu Sultans Mysore – An Economic Study, M.H. Gopal; 1971
  4. History of Tipu Sultan, Mohibbul Hasan; 1951
  5. The coins of Tipu Sultan, Rev. Geo P. Taylor; 1914
  6. The Standard guide to South Asian Coins and paper Money Since 1565 A.D.; 1st Edition
  7. The Mysorean Revenue Regulations, Translated by Burrish Crisp; 1792
  8. Poverty and Unbritish rule in India, Dadabhai Nauroji; 1901
  9. Medicinal values of Avaram, International Journal of Current Pharmaceutical Research – V. Joy, M. John Paul Peter and others; 2012
  10. Of Damascus Sword Blades, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society – Henry Wilkinson; 1837
  11. Tipu Sultan to Zynal Aabideen, 6th Nov. 1786: Select Letters of Tipu Sultan, William Kirkpatrick, Letter no. CCCXCIV
  12. Tipu Sultan to Raja Ram Chander, 13th June, 1786: Select Letters of Tipu Sultan, William Kirkpatrick, Letter no. CCXCIV
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Rarely in the world of historical artefacts does the name of the collector become synonymous with the subject of his obsession, especially when the subject itself is based around the weaponry of such a significant and prestigious figure as Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore.

Robin Wigington was a gentleman dealer who was born into the world of antiques. His father was the owner of an arms and armour shop in Henley Street, Stratford upon Avon and Robin followed in his footsteps when he opened up his own shop in Poets Arbour, a two-storey establishment built in the 1930s to originally store a private collection of antiquarian books. The shop was a hidden treasure in Shakespeare’s home town and, for a short period of time, it was transformed into a museum to show the personal collection of its proprietor. Robin’s fascination with Tipu started early and he was in an established position to dominate the field, acquiring any piece that could be directly associated to the Sultan by either provenance or inherent decoration.

He assembled the largest and most complete collection of firearms from the workshops at Seringapatam, which he published in 1992 in a lavishly illustrated book titled Firearms of Tipu Sultan. This still stands as a permanent record of the working ateliers of the Sultan during the short period before the storming of the citadel by the British army and the ultimate demise of its patriarch. Through this intellectually amassed collection and its subsequent publication we have a full and thorough understanding of Tipu’s firearms but the few swords that Robin collected seemed to have been relatively ignored. Published in various forms by Robin himself and the various sale catalogues of the collection after he passed away, the swords remain in a confused state of identification.

The collection itself in a virtually complete form was first offered for sale through Sotheby’s on 25th May 2005. Within this sale there were two swords and a detached hilt that were associated directly to Tipu Sultan and a third complete sword which was rightly declared it as ‘Tipuesque’ and as a pastiche created after Tipu’s death.


Tipu Sultan’s Sword and scabbard Ex-Wigington Collection

This brief discussion is centred on one of these swords which is of a rare and unique form, with a blade that incorporates a bubri pattern within the surface and retains a brass hilt of zoormorphic iconography with the tiger as its dominating motif. The blade is the only one if its type known, and is clearly made by a master craftsman with the bubri pattern inherent in the steel throughout its full length. Sotheby’s date this sword to the workshops at Seringapatam, circa 1782-1799 which follows the opinion of its previous owner. Wigington also suggests that it was made for the cabinet of arms which held the Sultans favourite weapons. He goes on to speculate that the gold inlaid inscription which runs along that blade was an adornment added by the British officer that was awarded the sword after the battle.


Inscription on blade, Castillian Motto

The emblazoned caption ‘No Me Saques Sin Razon No Me Embaines Sin Honor’ (Draw me not without reason, Sheath me not without honour) is a Castillian motto seen on arms of the mid to late 18th century and its presence on a sword apparently made in its entirety in Seringapatam is extremely unlikely, hence the speculation of it being a later addition. He further adds that the scabbard, a plain iron example made specifically to fit around the unusually shaped hilt, is also European and added later. However, the sword itself lacks the details of Indian workmanship and both the hilt and the blade is more likely to be like the inscription and scabbard, and wholly European in origin.


The hilt is of a form known to be directly associated with Tipu, and the sword thought to have been taken from Tipu’s fallen hand and now in the Royal Collection at Windsor is a perfect example. Another sword with a comparable hilt is in the collection at Powis Castle, originally owned by Lord Clive. Both the Clive sword and the Royal Collection example can be taken as a benchmark in the quality associated with Tipu himself and they share a masterful refinement that is distinctly lacking in the Wigington piece.

The hilt has an insubstantial feel and the form of the tiger seemed insipid and characterless, seemingly modelled directly from the Royal Collection sword but without the finesse of Tipu’s famed atelier.The gilded finish lacks depth and the iconic Tipu elements in the langet, quillons and pommel are flat and unconvincing. The two rivets, piecing the body of the grip, are not seen on Indian arms but are of a more European and Middle-Eastern fashion.

The blade, in its magnificence of manufacture, is not pattern-welded in an Indian style but the bubris have the feel of a European ‘damascus’ gun barrel. Indian pattern-welded blades can be manually manipulated during the forging process to form distinct patterns but these tend to be relatively random, unless the swordsmith has a notable skill. Even so, the pattern retains the overall finish of an Indian blade which is not present in the Wigington sword.

As a whole, the sword seems to be entirely a European concoction, with the elements declared as later additions by Wigington probably of the same late date and origin as the hilt and blade.

The term ‘Tipuesque’ was defined by Wigington as meaning something that bears or takes the shape of the stylised bubri tiger stripe, which was the mark of Tipu Sultan. So he deemed the term to mean a piece directly associated with Tipu within the period of his reign. However, the term has progressed past this early definition and it is now used to distinguish a piece made in Tipu style after the fall of Seringapatam i.e. created in honour of the Sultan but after 1799.

Tipu’s reputation resounded across the British Empire and during his short reign he represented the last bastion of ferocious native resistance that stood in the way of total dominance. The limited number of swords in the captured spoils of war were shared out amongst those deemed worthy, and accordingly an industry was created to satisfy the growing desperate need to have a sword directly associated with Tipu Sultan himself. This sword would seemingly be from this latter period, made to represent what would have been a lavish example of the Sultan’s famed and distinguished armoury. The sword is Tipuesque certainly, but unfortunately only in the more modern definition of the term.


A multitude of thanks are due to my dear friend and Gentleman arms collector and researcher  B. who prefers to remain anonymous for this wonderful article.



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Mirror into Character: Tipu Sultan and his Coinage

Tipu Sultan is a fascinating figure in the pages of history. Known just not for his bravery on the battlefield but also for his social reforms, inventions and innovations. A man brimming with energy all the time who even on the eve of war with Marathas  was writing back home instructing as to where the silk worms procured need to be kept. A man who would pay attention to every little detail in his kingdom – so how could coinage escape his attention.

Tipu brought about many innovations in the coinage of Mysore, it would not be incorrect to say that he revolutionized the coinage system of Mysore. Before Tipu and his father coins in the tiny kingdom of Mysore were issued on the pattern of Vijayanagara coins and in a very limited variety of Gold and Copper coins.

Kanthirava Narasaraja I (1638-62) Gold coin

Kanthirava Narasaraja I (1638-62) Gold coin

Hyder, father of Tipu also issued a limited variety of Gold, Silver and Copper coins. The Gold and Copper coins were styled on the pattern of existing Mysore coins whereas the Silver coins were styled on the pattern of Mughal coins. His Silver coins had the name of Shah Alam II the puppet Mughal emperor of the time. However the most distinguishing feature of his coins was the use of the Persian letter ‘Hay’ or ‘He’ which was the initial letter of his name. Hyder was unlettered and he used the ‘Hay’ as his signature.

Another distinguishing feature being introduction of use the elephant legend on Mysore Copper coins which would later become a hallmark of all of Tipu’s Copper coins and which he would greatly improvise like no other ruler.

Haidar Ali's - Siva Parvathi Pagoda (Bahaduri Pagoda)

Haidar Ali’s – Siva Parvathi Pagoda (Bahaduri Pagoda)

Haider Ali's Shah Alam Silver Rupee

Haider Ali’s Shah Alam Silver Rupee

When Tipu came to power he brought about remarkable changes in the coinage system of his kingdom. He not only introduced a great variety and denominations of coins in Gold, Silver and Copper but also changed the dating pattern on them, from the 5th year of his reign the dating on his coins changed from Hijri era to Mauludi era. In addition he gave his coins unique names.

Also, unlike the contemporary rulers of the time and the practice of having the name of the ruling king on the coins Tipu never had his name struck on any of his coins which points to an important characteristic of his personality. Another feature of his coins is that though he never had his name struck on them he continued to have Hyder’s initial ‘He’ on them which shows his immense love towards his father in an age where the young prices were eager for their father to die so that they could become the king. Tipu however discontinued the use of having the name of the Mughal emperor on the his coins clearly asserting his independence.

Tipu Sultan (1782-1799), Quarter Rupee or Baqari with Hyder's initial 'he' on the obverse

Tipu Sultan (1782-1799), Quarter Rupee or Baqari with Hyder’s initial ‘he’ on the obverse

His invention of Mauludi dates were primarily for 2 reasons:

1)To be fair to the farmers in collection of tax from them as the tax was collected based on the lunar cycle whereas the harvest depended on the solar cycle. The solar cycle was as per the Hindu calendar followed by the majority of Tipu’s subjects who would align their sowing and harvest seasons as per that calendar.

2) I strongly believe that Tipu being  very systematic he wanted all his communication and information to be clear however with lunar dates it is difficult to exactly predict future dates because of the inherent dependence on the sighting of the moon and hence the lack of clarity on future dates. Also it must be noted that different regions would have different dates under the lunar calendar.

Getting back to his coins he named his Gold coins after the Prophet and the Sunni Caliphs and his Silver coins after the Shia Imams which again no ruler in the whole of Islamic history from either sect has ever done which points out to his open mindedness and accommodating nature.

It has been pointed out by many that he was a Sunni Muslim with Shia leanings to which I would say that he choose to take the best from both sects as he did with his Mauludi calendar by borrowing from the Hindu Calendar and developing his own Islamic calendar.

Tipu Sultan, Gold Ahmadi

Tipu Sultan, Gold Ahmadi

Tipu also occasionally issued special coinage according to circumstances. Here are two instances when  he issued them:-

1) When the Marathas raided Sringeri and not only plundered the temple wealth and property but also displaced the idol of  Goddess Sharada, the then helpless Jagadguru of Sringeri, Sri Sacchidananda Bharati III wrote to Tipu asking for help. It is then that he wrote back to him presenting various gifts to the temple which also included  special gold coins known as Rahathi having the image of Goddess Sharada  on one side specifically minted to be sent to Sringeri for the consecration of the idol of the Goddess and meet other expenses associated with it. This shows his affection towards his Hindu subjects in the kingdom.

2) When Tipu came to Power he wrote to the court in Delhi and made a ‘Nazrana’ of  Gold Mohars to the Mughal emperor at the same time explaining to him that he does not believe in having the name of ‘rulers of the age’ stuck on coins as he believes that it “contravenes the prescription of our liturgy” so that the Mughal ruler does not become offended in any way in not finding his name on the coins. However it appears that this did not go well with the Mughal Emperor and when Tipu found about this he later sent new Gold Mohars with the name of the Mughal Emperor inserted on them, however this was again a special coinage only for the ‘Nazrana’ purpose. This shows that he was flexible with his thoughts and didn’t believe in imposing it on others.

He names his copper coins after planets and stars which highlight another important characteristic of his personality that being of his interest in astronomy. This is also brought about from the fact that his library had about 20 books on the same subject.

He named the first 3 denomination of his copper coins as Mushtari (Jupiter) for double paisa, Zohra (Venus) for paisa, Bahram (Mars) for half paisa, it must be noted that the denominations are named according to the size of each planet – Mushtari being the highest denomination among copper coins is named after Jupiter the largest planet of the solar system and so on. It may be noted here that initially the Mushtari or double paisa was known as Usmani but Tipu later changed it to Mushtari most probably to bring uniformity in naming.

Tipu Sultan Copper Coin, Zohra

Tipu Sultan Copper Coin, Zohra

He continued the use of Elephant motif introduced by Hyder towards the end of his reign on all his copper coins which shows that he respected the feelings of the local populace as it was the copper coins which were most used and circulated by the majority of the local population in their day to day transactions. The local population were used to see figures on coins either of deities or animals and elephants figures had been used on them since Vijaynagar times. No other Muslim king in India before or after Tipu used animal figures on coinage as profusely as Tipu did.

However what stands out about the elephants depicted on Tipu’s copper coins is that the engraving not only resembles like a real elephant but the elephants are also most beautifully decorated and shown in various poses – stationary, marching forward, taild up and down, carrying his flag and on some coins bordered with his distinctive tiger stripes – ‘the bubri.’ The elephants depicted on the copper coins of Tipu are the best looking ones when compared to all other coins with elephant motif on them before as well as after him.

Tipu Sultan, Copper Coin, Zohra

Tipu Sultan, Copper Coin, Zohra Observe the ‘Bubri’ stripes along the coin edge

Another less noticed and hardly understood feature on his copper coins is the use of Arabic letters on them during the last 4 years of his reign between 1224 and 1227 AE starting with ‘Alif’ in 1224 and ending with ‘Say’ in 1227 with his death.

Tipu Sultan, COpper coin Zohra, Letter 'Alif' on Reverse

Tipu Sultan, COpper coin Zohra, Letter ‘Alif’ on Reverse

Tipu Sultan, Copper coin, Zohra with Letter 'Te'

Tipu Sultan, Copper coin, Zohra with Letter ‘Te’ on Reverse

I believe that his courtier Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani points to this in his Nishan-E-Haidari  where he says:

During the latter part of the Sultan’s reign by the advice of certain infidel or atheistical persons he used or adopted letters from the Koran of the characters of Osman, may God be pleased with him, which are not read, and which letters from the days of the prophet Adam to the days of the seal of the prophet (Muhammad), no one of the Kings of Arabia, or Persia, had ever dared to use, and which no learned historical, or sacred writer had deemed it proper to employ.”

What he exactly meant by this no one knows including the translator of the his work Colonel William Miles and I would leave it to a future date or other researchers to decipher this. However I believe this has also partly to do with the use of the Arabic letters on his coins during the last few years of his reign. But this makes it clear that Tipu was never afraid to challenge the norms, customs and traditions prevailing in the society and experiment with new things.

To conclude I would say that his coinage stood out just like him and points to many of his unique and salient features which we stand to ignore.


  1. Coinage of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan. A Typological Study, Danish Moin.
  2.  2.Select letters of Tippoo Sultan to various public functionaries, Tipu Sultan. Translated from Persian by William Kirkpatrick.
  3. Neshani Hyduri, Mir Hussein Ali Khan Kirmani. Translated from Persian by Colonel W. Miles.
  4. Dawn of a new Era : Tipu Sultan and his Mauludi Calendar, Nidhin George Olikara (
  5. The Goddess and a Sultan: Hindu Coinage of Tipu Sultan, Nidhin George Olikara (
  6. Picture References: Coin India Galleries, Todywalla Auctions, Baldwins Auctions, Columbia Edu and Mohammed Masood Collection


Mohammed Masood, who penned this article is a young collector of Tipu Sultan’s coinage with an interest in Numismatics and Mysore History. His diligence as well as steadfastness in pursuing his hobby is praiseworthy. As seen here, he may also turn out into a brilliant writer some day.


Posted in Anecdotes in Kannada history, Tipu Sultan & his times | 4 Comments

Tipu Sultan – as Protector of Hindu Temples

Tipu Sultan is one of the enigmas of eighteenth century Indian history and has suffered more at the hands of historians than at the hands of his enemies.  However, today he has come to be seen in a different light and since 1947 serious research into eighteenth century Indian history, contributed much in rehabilitating him as a human being with extraordinary courage and leadership qualities.1  But when the question of his religious policy comes up, he is viewed altogether in a different light and consequently a considerable controversy is built up around this issue and still requires the urgent attention of unbiased historiography.

The British historians with vested interests had maligned his name in history.  The Indian historians, who served the then princely states under British sovereignty, tarred him with communal brush.  And thus Tipu Sultan became an unmitigated Muslim fanatic, in the history of India.

The main argument is centering round the view of Tipu being a religious bigot, who destroyed many temples and confiscated the temple wealth.  But the detractors of Tipu never quoted an incident that Tipu or his army destroyed any temple inside Mysore (Karnataka), Tipu’s own land. All of them are referring to Malabar, Tipu’s conquered territory, where his ravaging  army is said to have destroyed temples. This allegation is not based on any historical evidences, but mostly on hearsay evidences.

Ravi Varma in his article, ‘Tipu Sultan: As known in Kerala’ states that: “there is ample evidence, available in many authentic records of his military operations in Kerala, to show that Tipu Sultan of Mysore was a fanatic Muslim tyrant who was responsible for the destruction of hundreds of Hindu temples, large-scale forcible conversion of the Hindus, and perpetration of unimaginable brutalities on the Hindu population in Kerala”.2

Ravi Varma also has given a list of Temples destroyed by Tipu, in his article.   But Ravi Varma did not put forth any historical evidences to prove his allegations. Further his claim of 8000 temples destroyed by Tipu is unbelievably an exaggerated figure.  On the contrary, many of the temples listed in his article had received sarvamanyam (tax-free land) from Tipu Sultan, according to available Inam Registers.3

Another allegation raised by Ravi Varma is that the Palayur Roman Catholic Church was destroyed by the ravaging army of Tipu.   Interestingly, Palayur Church was the only Catholic Church which was patronized by Tipu Sultan in South Malabar, as evidenced by the Inam Register.4

Ravi Varma further alleges that the installed principal deity of Triprayar Temple was damaged by Tipu’s army. But according to the prevailing temple rituals, the sanctum sanctorum is closed in the night only after hearing ‘Sulthante vedi’, which is a firework, instituted by Tipu Sultan, as a gesture of respect to the principal deity. This was detailed to this researcher by one of the temple priests, when he visited Triprayar temple.  It seems that the facts are distorted here, due to blind acceptance of hearsay and partiality of historical judgments.  Velayudhan Panikkassery, eminent historian, in an article describes about Tipu’s sarvamanyam to Triprayar temple.Total  123.04 Acres of land was given to Triprayar Sri Rama temple by Tipu Sultan in 1776.6

As a whole, we can infer that the allegation of destruction of temples in Malabar, leveled against Tipu  Sultan by Ravi Varma in his above referred article, is not believable for want of historical evidences.

On the other hand, there was an incident, where Tipu tried to protect a temple from destruction.  Stephen Frederic describes the incident so: “In 1784, Athan Moyen Kurikkal, a local Mappila leader who was a revenue official under the Zamorin and later on entrusted by Tipu to collect taxes for him, led a group of his supporters in an attack during which they burned the Manjeri Temple and leveled the Manjeri Raja’s House.  Tipu Sultan then dispatched his troops to aid the Manjeri Raja, for although Athan Moyen was himself one of Tipu’s revenue officials, the Raja had expeditiously bartered part of his income with Mysore Sultan in exchange for undisturbed rule as one of his dependants.  The Mappilas shattered the first Mysore expedition, by killing its commander, but eventually Tipu’s troops prevailed and both Athan Moyen and his son were imprisoned at Seringapatam”.7

Roland Miller also has given this incident in his account.  He says how Athan Kurikkal then destroyed a temple belonging to the Manjeri Raja (Tipu had earlier warned Kurikkal not to do that). He got the Raja killed as well. The rebellion rose in intensity, Ghulam Ali was sent by Tipu to Manjeri to quell the riots and some 90 odd Mappilas were killed (of which 20 were killed by fellow Mappila rioters to avoid their capture by Ali and became martyrs or shaheeds). Athan Kurikkal and his son were captured and interned in the Seringapatam jail.8   In this connection, please note that Tipu Sultan had granted total 194.51 acres of tax-free land to Manjeri Temple (Mutharekunnath Bhagavathi Temple) as evidenced by Inam Register.9

From the above incident itself, it is evident that Tipu was not a temple destroyer instead he was a temple protector.  B. A. Salatore described him as the ‘defender of Hindu dharma’ while discussing about the ‘Maratha raid on Sringeri Mutt’.  He says, “People have indeed reason to be grateful to him for the prompt measures he took to resuscitate the cause of Hindu dharma in the great seat of Sankaracharya, when it was eclipsed by political calamity”.10


1              Mohibbul Hassan, History of Tipu Sultan, Delhi: Aakar Books, 1951

2                     Sita Ram Goel (ed.) Tipu Sultan – Villain or Hero?  Delhi: Voice of India, Article-1, pp. 3-7

3              Inam Registers kept in Kozhikode Archives are compiled by J. W. Robinson, Inam Commissioner during 1885-86. They contain data relating to the allotment of land on Inam basis for the maintenance of places of public worship like Temples, Mosques, Churches, Sathrams, etc.  Particulars such as the nature and extent of the property allotted, by whom the ‘Inam’ was originally granted, the purpose for which it was granted, etc are recorded in detail.  Entries in column Nos. 11 and 12 in these registers are authentic evidences of the fact that Tipu Sultan was highly magnanimous in granting tax-free lands for the maintenance and upkeep of various Hindu temples and for the entertainment of Brahmins, in the different taluks of Malabar.

4              Refer Inam Register No. 123 of Choughaut Taluk, page 27 and Title deed No. 10 dated 13/3/1866

5              Velayudhan Panikkassery, ‘Triprayar – Chettuva Manappurathinte Thilakakkuri’, in Janasamaksham (Mal) Monthly, October 2014

6              Refer Inam Register No. 123 of Choughaut Taluk, page 6 and Title Deed No. 4 dated 13/3/1866

7              Stephen Frederic Dale, ‘The Mappilas of Malabar’ in Islamic Society on the South Asian Frontier, London: Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980, p. 88

8              See, Roland E. Miller, ‘Mappila Muslims of Kerala’ in A study in Islamic trends, Delhi: Orient Longman, 1976

9              Refer Inam Register No. 122 of Eranad Taluk, pages: 5 & 50-54 and Title Deeds No. 9 & 10 dated 13/3/1866 and No. 51 & 52 dated 23/3/1866

10           B. A. Saletore, ‘Tipu Sultan as Defender of Hindu Dharma’ in Medieval India Quarterly, 1(ii), 1950, pp. 43-55


Sri Muhamad Ismail, a PhD Scholar from Kerala and former General Manager – Kerala State Rubco Ltd. is an avid researcher on Tipu Sultan and this article is only an excerpt from his soon to be published PhD Thesis on Tipu’s religious policies. In Ismail’s words, the example of the church and two temples mentioned here that Tipu protected are only three among several hundreds which Tipu protected as well as made donations to, that Ismail has uncovered in his research across the Madras, Bangalore, Delhi and Calcutta archives as well as his journeys across Kerala.


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