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


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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 wqrd – 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
Posted in Tipu Sultan & his times | 2 Comments


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.


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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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On Talking Terms: Haidar Ali and Lord Ranganathaswamy in Mysorean Folklore

The study of Folklore is an extremely important tool in the construction and deconstruction of historical events and personalities within specific contexts.

The ascendancy of the father-son duo of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan in South Indian politics during the middle of the 18th Century has left behind several anecdotes that have passed down from generation to the next, as well have been collected by historians and news writers, contemporary and later.

Among these anecdotes that have passed into folklore and are in danger of being forgotten today are a set of them showing the peculiar relationship between Lord Ranganatha of the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in Seringapatam and the unlettered Haidar Ali.

Haidar, it is said would converse with Lord(Sri)  Ranganatha who would appear to him in his dreams. Before attempting any arduous task, Haidar would take the opinion of Sri Ranganatha. Once, when an enemy troop had entered Mysore, Haidar started with his army to oppose the enemy. When the enemy was met, they were seen to have the upper hand and Haidar was pressed between the river Godavari on one side and the enemy on the other. Confused and despondent, Haidar prayed to Ranganatha. Immediately the Godavari dried up allowing the Mysoreans to pass. When the enemy troops followed them, the Godavari was in flood so that the enemies could not cross over. Haidar returned to Seringapatam and went straight to the temple to offer his thanks. After praying, he started out again with his army to oppose the enemy and returned after conducting a successful war.

Another anecdote is woven around the temple festival called the Kotharotsava. This festival would take place in the month of Dhanur from the 21st day onwards. Each day grand shows or a festival – ‘Utsavas’ to the Lord would be held.  For these celebrations a big Kothara – ‘stage’ constructed largely of wood and decorated with lamps and green cloth would make a grand appearance in the city. This decorated stage  would be called the ‘Kothara Mantapa’ or the Ranga Mahal (on account of all the colorful programs organised on it each day of the festival). Each day the members of the Royal family would participate in worship on the Kothara, but on the ninth day of the Kotharotsava, the Lord would be worshipped by the Maharaja himself. Renowned musicians and dancers in the Kingdom would vie for the honor of being invited to perform here. Members of the nobility, the Wodeyar family as well as members of Haidar’s Zenana (womenfolk) would gather in the temple to occupy a vantage point to witness the celebrations.

In the year 1774, on the eighth day of the Kotharotsava, a fire struck the celebrations and the Kothara suffered grave damage, causing great grief to the Maharaja and uproar among the populace who saw this incident as a bad omen. Haidar rose to the occasion and the story goes that he ordered his workmen to construct a stone Mantapa at the very same place. The next day, which was the ninth day of the festival  where the Maharaja would ascend the stage to worship Sri Ranganatha,  the Mantapa was ready ! From that day onwards this new Mantapa got the name of ‘Pathala Mantapa’ or ‘Stone Stage’. To this day, the Kotharotsavas are celebrated on the ‘Pathala Mantapa’.

Both these anecdotes illustrate Haidar’s great devotion to Sri Ranganatha. Acknowledging this devotion which was well known and well documented, can we move further and make an attempt to trace the historicity of the events narrated? The first anecdote speaks of Haidar meeting the enemy at the Godavari river which dries up at the behest of Lord Ranganatha to allow Haidar’s besieged men to pass. The Godavari river originates in Maratha territory and drains into the Indian Ocean from the Nizam’s lands. Both the Marathas and the Nizam were at war with Haidar jointly or separately throughout most of Haidar’s term as Sarvadhikari of Mysore.Haidar led several campaigns against them with varying levels of success. However, the maximum distance covered by the Mysorean army would be across the Krishna river into Maratha and Nizam territory, but no campaign of Haidar involved him travelling to the Godavari. So, this “Godavari’ narrative in my opinion seems to be a simple case of hagiography, but at the same time provides evidence of Haidar’s reverence for Sri Ranganatha as well as his martial prowess.

The second anecdote of the Kotharotsava has two angles to it. The first being that a fire ravaged the Kothara and the second being the construction of the ‘Pathala Kothara’ and it’s association with Haidar Ali. While there is no contemporary evidence available to us of the fire that ravaged the Kothara in 1774, there does exist a dream in Tipu’s dream register of a devastating fire afflicting the temple area.

The Collapse of the Gate
Date: In the month Bahari, of the year Shad, 1223, from the birth of Muhammad, between the 9th and 15th as per the Mauludi calendar. Corresponding to May 1795 as per the Gregorian calendar.

The Dream as narrated by Tipu Sultan
“Around the tower at the gate of the temple, the unbelievers had tied rods of wood at great heights for the purpose of illumination and had fixed lights on them. In a moment the lights went out and the rods fell and the gate collapsed. There was such a crash that all the buildings shook and this servant of God also came out of the building some-what disturbed.

I asked people to come out of their houses quickly and inquired about the people who were residing in the many houses that were situated so close to the temple. People went and brought the news that the gate had collapsed but the people living in the neighborhood were all safe. In the meantime morning dawned and I woke up.”

Tipu may have been referring to this incident in his subconscious, through the dream register. The terms like ‘tower’, ‘rods of wood’, ‘illumination’, ‘collapsed’ sound very similar to the incident in folklore. The second part of the anecdote may be verified with current evidence of the existence of the ‘Pathala Mantapa’ and it’s known association with Haidar Ali.

The temple of Sri Ranganatha was the axis around which the social and religious life of the people were woven. In his devotion to this Deity, Haidar Ali was only playing the part of a loyal Mysorean. One among the people he was sworn to serve as ‘Sarvadhikari’ of Mysore.



Sri Ranganatha Swamy Devasthana Mahatmaya, S. Narasimha Rangan

Mahmud Husain, The Dreams of Tipu Sultan

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The Queen who tamed the Tiger: Maharani Lakshmammanni, Queen Mother of Mysore

The decline of Vijaynagara saw the emergence of several independent  smaller states in the South of India. The one that would emerge most powerful among them was Mysore. Mysore’s history contains several characters, prominent among them being Kantheerava Wodeyar, Chikkadevaraja Woderayar, Nanjaraja, Haidar Ali, Tipu Sultan, Diwan Purnayya and Mummadi Krishnarajendra Wodeyar. Unfortunately, history has been rather unkind to one personality in Mysore’s history, Maharani Lakshammanni (1742 – 1810 A.D.), the dowager Queen of Krishna Raja Wodeyar II (Immadi), without whose guiding hand, the narrative of that turbulent era she lived in would have been different.

It was during Immadi Krishnaraj Wodeyar’s period that Mysore had successfully transformed itself from a Kingdom with suzerainity over a handful of villages to one that encompassed territory stretching from the coast of Honnavara to the coast of Calicut. The individual who was primarily responsible for the feat would prove to be Immadi’s nemesis later on – the Sarvadhikari of Mysore – Haidar Ali Khan ‘Bahadur’. Immadi, twice married already was married to Lakshmammani, daughter of Katti Goplaraje Urs, scion of the prominent ‘Bettada Kote’ line of the Mysore Royal family and someone who had distinguished himself in Mysore’s Trichnopoly affairs as a Killedar.

It was during Haidar Ali’s campaign in Malabar in 1766 that Krishnaraja Wodeyar II died in Srirangapatana. Soon after the death of Immadi Krishnaraja, his elder son Nanjaraja Wodeyar ascended the throne. Nanjaraja passed away at the young age of 22 years, rumored to have been poisoned at the hands of Sarvadhikari Haidar Ali, who was beginning to see a streak of independence in the young King. Bettada Chararajendra Wodeyar occupied the throne at Haidar’s pleasure after this and he died in the year 1776

By this time the old Dowager Queen Devajjammani had passed away and Rani Lakshmammani, her daughter in law, the new Maharani was the new Dowager Queen. It was at this momentous time in Mysore’s history without a King that she for the first time exerted her will and made it known to Haidar Ali that the successor should be the nearest lawful heir. It was however, Haidar’s desire that his own choice should prevail. He was determined to see a pliable King on the throne to suit his own purposes

To fulfill this end, Haidar set aside the Maharani’s choices and in a theatrical spectacle installed a young boy of three years, Chamaraja on the throne of Mysore. He would be called Khasa Chamaraja Wodeyar, the word ‘Khasa’ being legitimate. This incident marked the completed ascendancy of Haidar Ali over the Royal family and it made Maharani Lakshmammanni determined to restore the sovereignty of the Wodeyars over Mysore at all costs.

Around this time, the British were rapidly gaining an ascendancy over Indian affairs. They had gained the Diwani of Bengal and held all the other Indian Princely powers in thrall. Already having subverted the powers of the Nizam and the Arcot Nawabs as well as independent states like Tanjore and Madurai, Haidar Ali was the only thorn for them in the South. Keeping this in mind, Maharani Lakshmammanni decided to actively court the British to her side in this power struggle.

For some time the British had an idea of uprooting the ‘usurpation’ of Haidar and assisiting in the restoration to power of the Mysore Royal Family who had constantly been sending feelers on this objective to them. As early as 1767, when Charles Bourchier was Governor, he was inclined to support the Hindu Dynasty ‘provided the King’s family will exert themselves and contribute all in their power to shake off Hyder Naigue’s yoke’. After Haidar had overruled the Maharani’s choice of successor the Mysore throne, she deputed her Pradhan or Chief Minister, Tirumala Rao, to Lord Pigot, then Governor of Madras on a secret mission. Tirumala Rao hailed from a respected Sri Vaishnava Ayyangar family in Mysore that traced it’s descent from Govindachari, the hereditary guru of the Vijaynagara kings. Tirumala Rao had earlier been in the service of the state, even under Haidar’s government as a writer in the Finance department  as well as in the Department of Posts and Police. He had a while ago fled to Tanjore, a Maratha prinicipality under Tulsaji who governed with British protection, apprehending persecution on account of his closeness to the Mysore Royal family. As Lord Pigot was superceded by George Stratton at Madras and unable to meet him, Tirumala Rao returned to Tanjore and was there introduced to Mr. John Sullivan, British Political resident at Tanjore. This contact helped him in good stead for the next six years as the Mysore Royalist’s de facto Ambassador in residence at Tanjore.

Haidar and his son Tipu Sultan’s aggressive and successful First and Second Mysore wars had made the British restive and seeking out new approaches in trying to bring Mysore to it’s knees. Knowing this well, Maharani Lakshmammanni addressed a letter to Lord Macartney, Governor of Madras (1781-1785) offering “ ‘to pay one crore or ten millions of Arcot Rupees for the expense of the camp, and grant to the company a Jaghir to the amount of fifteen lakhs per annum, and thirty six lakhs more annually for the payment of the Company’s troops to defend the Kingdom’, if his Lordship would condescend to comply with her agent’s request and help to restore the Kingdom to those to whom it rightfully belonged to.” The result of all this and further correspondence was a treaty known as ‘The Rana Treaty for the Restoration of the Hindoo Dynasty of Mysore’ signed by Mr. Sullivan and Tirumala Rao and further authenticated by the Rev. Schwartz who was an old Mysore Missionary Hand. The treaty was further ratified by the Government of Madras on 27 November, 1782. The uniqueness of this treaty was a clause that said ‘If the Company failed to reduce ‘Hyder Naig’ and were obliged to make peace with him, the Company would take over the protection of the loyalists and reimburse them of the money advanced to them’. So the treaty was one wherein the Rani looked for the restoration of the hereditary right of her House and the British looked for the accompanying pecuniary benefits.

Already in September, 1782 as the ‘Rana Treaty’ negotiations were progressing, the  British dispatched an army under the command of Colonel Lang started to proceed towards Coimbatore. In March, 1793 this army accompanied by Tirumala Rao arrived at Karur which was carried after a gallant struggle on both sides after about 10 days. Finally the Hindu Colors of Mysore were hoisted on the ramparts of this frontier post of Coimbatore. Colonel Fullerton decided to proceed towards Srirangapatana through Satyamangalam during the absence of Tipu in the capital. His march was very successful with him managing to take several of Tipu’s forts as well as reduce refractory Palegars who were raiding Company territory. Around   this time, the English army was advised by the company to suspend the war that seemed to be going successfully for them after which Tipu concluded peace with the British at Mangalore which he was at that time besieging. Much of these events coincided with the period around and just after the death of Haidar Ali.

During the early part of Tipu’s siege of Mangalore, the loyalists made an attempt to do away with Tipu and reinstate the Royal Family with important members of the plot occupying senior positions in the new court. Primary among the plotters were members of the Sri Vaishnava Ayyangar community who during the Wodeyar and also Haidar’s time contributed a large share of the administrative cadre. The dispossessed Palegars of Mysore, many of whom along with their retainers were placed under house arrest in Srirangapatna, some elements of The army both Hindu as well as Muslim, British prisoners of war as well as British promise to come to the aid of the royalists played a large part in the formulation of the plot. But the plot failed even before it took off. Tipu’s retribution was swift as well as merciless. The royalists were arrested one after the other and put to death in several barbaric ways. 700 members of Tirumala Rao’s family were put to death in Srirangapatna. Contemporary references to the plot make no mention of the Rani’s role in it. However it is hard to believe that such a large plot involving very important personnel of Tipu’s inner circle would have been carried out without the knowledge as well as encouragement of the Rani.

This failure only hardened the Rani and Tirumala Rao’s heart and they went full steam ahead trying to subvert the Muslim influence in Mysore. As Tipu was making plans to attack the British in the Carnatic and in Malabar, the agents of Rani, Tirumala Rao and his brother Narayana Rao camped at Tanjore and then at Coimbatore provided the information to British about the plans and arrangements made by Tipu against the English. Thirumala Rao made frequent visits to Madras and kept the British alert about the movements the Tipu. The Rani had by now established a very good diplomatic relationship with Campbell, the British Governor of Madras. Around 1790, the Governor of Madras sent a force under General Meadows accompanied by the agents of Rani towards Karoor, after capturing which, captured Vijayamangalam and Dharapuram too. Dindigul also fell the British arms. On hearing this, Tipu left Coimbatore and retreated to Srirangapatana with his army. This led to a situation where Governor General Lord Cornwallis laid siege to Srirangapatana in 1792, with his allies. Tipu sued for peace. General Meadows who had all along the course of the war was against the conclusion of war and wanted to capture the fort and restore the old royal family. Cornwallis was however adamant that Tipu only be disarmed but left alone after giving up half his territory, paying a huge indemnity and offering his sons as hostages so that the power of the Nizam and Marathas could be kept in check. This caused utter disappointment to the Rani and her agents.

After the reverses in the 3rd Mysore war, Tipu intensified his diplomatic over reach with the French as well as other large powers as the Turks and the Afghans. All this information was being conveyed to the British in Madras as well as Calcutta by trusted agents of the Rani who were employed in several departments in Tipu’s state.

In 1796 Khasa Chamarajendra Wodeyar, the nominal king of Mysore died. But Tipu never showed any interest to install successor from the royal family on the throne. This act of negligence of Tipu was deeply resented by the royalists and enhanced their sympathy towards Rani. Even Haidar for all his overbearing attitude towards the Royals always made sure that at least a pretense of loyalty to the Wodeyars was kept up. Tipu had by this time discarded this thin veil of pretense too. This decision would cost him a Kingdom.

The arrival of The Earl of Mornington, Richard Wellesley and Tipu’s continuous and open overtures to the French only hastened the urge of the British to finish him once and for all. Finally on that fateful day on the 4th of May1799, Tipu arose from his lunch after having propitiated Rani Lakshmammanni’s family deity Sri Ranga and rode out into battle sword in hand. By the evening his lifeless body would lie in his palace as Srirangapatna was being sacked by the victorious British and it’s allies.

Thus ended the brief but tumultuous Muslim interregnum in the affairs of Mysore. On the 8th of June, 1799 Wellesley wrote to the Commissioners- ‘I authorize you to place the Rajah formally upon the Musnad, and to appoint, in the Rajah’s name, Purnaiah to be his Dewan.’ On the 30th June, 1799 the 5 year old boy King Krishnaraja, Khasa Chamarajendra’s son was placed on the throne of Mysore. He would be aided in his duties by Maharani Lakshmammanni who would be his Guardian. A life time of sacrifice and dogged determination had paid off for the Queen Mother.

In the end, we see a woman who came out as a widow from the seclusion of a Harem and took upon herself the mantle of delivering Mysore from the grip of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, both usurpers of her family right. She was practical as well as shrewd. She knew how to mould people into instruments of her will. She was persistent in her efforts, courageous enough not to escape from Mysore, thereby deserting her people   even under the hardest of circumstances.

A calumny often held against her is that she teamed up with the British and that in the end she deprived her trusted lieutenant and lifelong servant Tirumala Rao from the Diwani of Mysore. It was imperative to ally with the British against Tipu as only they were in a position to oppose him militarily. That being said, the ‘Rana Treaty’ she helped draft was a balanced treaty which ensured that Mysore retained it’s revenue and administrative powers even at the cost of paying for British expenses incurred in the war. Her treatment of Tirumala Rao was something that she could not control as the decision of conferring the Diwani on Purnaiah was Lord Wellesley’s which turned out after all to be a very prudent decision. It must not be forgotten that until the end, Maharani Lakshmammanni was grateful to Tirumala Rao and often took his name with affection. The letter to Wellesley from the Maharani on 25th June, 1799 even after her hearing of Purnaiah’s Diwani, where she reminds the English of her promise to award Tirumala Rao the hereditary Diwani and 10 percent of revenues of the state  are a testimony to this fact. That being said, one cannot but grieve over the ill luck that fate meted out on such a son of Mysore as Tirumala Rao.

Her notable qualities of devotion to her subjects, loyalty to the throne of Mysore, piety and charity were among the reasons why Tipu Sultan in-spite of knowing about her repeated attempts at dethroning him was unable to bring her to any physical harm as he was aware of the enormous respect she commanded among the people of Mysore.

As I noted at the beginning of this paper, Maharani Lakshmammanni’s name is often forgotten when speaking about the notable personalities of Mysore. They who are guilty of this  omission are guilty of forgetting history itself


  1. History of Mysore, Vol III, C. Hayavadana Rao
  2. Tiger of Mysore, Denys Forrest
  3. Maharani Lakshmammanni and her relations with Tipu Sultan, Dr. M. Susheela Urs
  4. The Mysore Pradhans, M.A. Narayana Iyengar, M.A. Sreenivasachar
  5. History of Tipu Sultan, Mohibbul Hasan
  6. The problem of writing a proper History and the forgotten chapter in the History of Mysore, Dr. M.A. Jayashree, Sri M.A. Narasimhan


This biographical note was presented by me on December 25, 2015 at the National Conference of Bharteeya Itihasa Sankalana Yojane in Mysore , where the Seminar focus was upon ‘Indian Women through the Ages’. I am of the opinion that Mysore or even the South of India has not seen a Woman abler than Maharani Lakshmammanni in the past 200 odd years of History.


Posted in Anecdotes in Kannada history, Tipu Sultan & his times | 5 Comments