Tipu Sultan and the Tiger Motif

Tipu’s adoption of the tiger emblem took several forms. The most well known are the natural representation of the Tiger as decoration(usually the head) and the tiger stripe alone. The tiger stripe is commonly called the babri (or bubri/bubris) from babur meaning tiger.

Two calligraphic designs bearing the tiger head were also used, one a tughra, a design in alphabets, made of the name ‘Tipu Sultan’ used as his seal, and the other a tiger mask made of the words ‘asad allah ul-Ghalib’ meaning ‘the victorious Lion of God’. Tipu was obsessed with Tigers and the tiger stripe appeared on his coins, walls, tent hangings, flags and even on his betel nut container. The bubri was stamped on his book bindings and even appeared as the royal watermark on his paper. He wore dresses on bubri patterned cloth. A well known artefact from his palace is the mechanical man eating tiger, now in the V&A museum in london.

Kate Brittlebank in ‘Tipu Sultan’s search for legitimacy’ concludes that Tipu would have aspired to convey both to his subjects as well as his enemies his enormous power, a power which in the mind of the South Indian both Hindu and Muslim was synonymous with the power of the Gods, the sakti of the warrior Goddess Chamundi and the barakat of Ali, the archetypal Muslim warrior, whose name is invoked by the devout in battle.

Several paintings of Tipu fighting a tiger barehanded are seen, and almost all these paintings are post Tipu. We do not know for sure if Tipu fought a Tiger barehanded but oral tradition recounts an encounter between himself and a tiger in the forests around Hyderabad when he was sent there by Haidar Ali to negotiate a treaty with Hyderabad. However this legend was prevalent in Tipu’s lifetime itself as can be observed from a mural seen painted on the ceiling of the Narasimha temple at Sibi, Tumkur constructed between 1795 – 1798 A.D. depicting a hunting scene with Tipu shown in the heat of action slaying a tiger with his sword single handedly.

The tiger motif is thus most powerully symbolic of the syncretic religious environment of those days and Tipu’s projection as a Muslim ruler in a predominantly Hindu domain.

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About Olikara

An engineer, history buff, collector of South Indian antiques.
This entry was posted in Tipu Sultan & his times. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Tipu Sultan and the Tiger Motif

  1. anish says:

    excellent blog on Tipu !
    try this : tigerandthethistle.net

  2. ibrahim says:

    ”Tipu was obsessed with Tigers and the tiger stripe appeared on his coins, walls, tent hangings, flags and even on his betel nut container.”

    Dear Nidhin
    I have never come across any coins of Tipu with tigers on it, it is mostly elephants as you may be aware of, are there any such coins with the tiger on them??

    • Olikara says:

      None of his coins have the tiger image on them but several of them across the copper denominations have the ‘bubris’ – stylised Tiger stripes on them.

  3. ibrahim says:

    thanks Nidhin, I have recently started collecting his coins, if you don’t mind can you post or email me the pics of such coins as I can understand clearer and will also help my collection

  4. ibrahim says:

    Dear Nidhin, got it. very evident in the pic 3. I have only got 1 paisa coins, will get it out and check. thanks a lot for the trouble taken – highly appreciated šŸ™‚

  5. Pingback: Fangs of the Tiger: The Seringapatam Matchlock & Other Guns of Tipu Sultan | The Seringapatam Times

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