The splendour of Tipu’s court was reflected in it’s magnificient houses of state, the royal residences of Tipu Sultan. We may classify among his residences 4 major palaces and 3 minor ones.
The palace at Bangalore which still exists today was commenced in 1778 by Haidar Ali and completed by Tipu in 1791. The artist Robert Home writes that ‘the palace was grand and spacious, displaying to the four winds of heaven as many ample fronts, each composing a lofty hall, the wooden roof of which is supported by colonnades of the same material. The pillars are connected by scolloped arches; and the whole is superbly painted and gilt. The walls in front of the entrances to the East and West halls have balconies, richly carved, and raised by small pillars united by arches.‘ To Robert Mackenzie, the palace was ‘the most airy and elegant of any in the East‘, discounting those of Delhi and Agra. He greatly admired the paintwork and decoration of flowers in gold leaf, in the diwan-i-aam, as well as rich floor carvings and wall hangings, and he found extensive ivory inlay.
However, the largest and handsomest palace of Tipu was his residential palace in Seringapatam. Of this magnificient structure, only a mound and ruined walls remain. It lies within the fort and is a stone’s throw away from the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple. Surrounded by massive and lofty walls of stone and mud, it’s outward appearance was said to be very mean. But inside, the public apartments or audience halls were very handsome, with the throne room resembling to some degree that of the Lal Bagh pavilion: “a kind of colonnade painted green with red ornamental work, forming what is called the tiger stripe…Round the arched compartments of the roof, or ceiling, are disposed a variety of Arabic and Persian verses, applicable to the signs of the Zodiac, and importing the godlike superiority of the Sultan in his princely character.” Sadly, this palace was dismantled in the years between 1807 and 1809 on the orders of Colonel Wellesley. The wooden pillars of the palace were probably utilised for the Maharaja’s palace in Mysore. It was in this palace that the British grand Army accepted the surrender of Tipu’s son’s on that fateful day on May 4, 1799 and to which Tipu’s lifeless body was brought in preparation for the burial.
Another important palace of Tipu’s that was pulled down by the British was the Lalbagh palace, situated at the southeast tip of Seringapatam, on the south bank of the Kaveri.It was ordered to be pulled down by Sir Stephen Rumbald Lushington, Governor of Madras. He ordered the demolition commencing in such a manner ‘as to render available materials fo a small church suitable to the population of Nilgiris.’ The huge teak beams and other pieces of timber were brought to Ooty, and used in the construction of the church. The roof of this church is still supported by the pillars taken from the Lal Bagh palace. The main door with the massive key was also brought from the palace.
According to Fredrick Price, the Chief Secretary to the Governor, Lushington wrote on the 28th February 1829 (a couple of months earlier to the foundation ceremony itself) to the Superintendent of the Gun Carriage Factory at Seringapatnam directing him to pull down the old summer palace of Tipu Sultan there on the island and render available the materials from there for public buildings in the Nilgiris. A letter from Capt. Underwood dated 12th 1829 confirmed that al the timber required for public buildings under construction had already been supplied from Seringapatnam. The present day Kalhatty ghat road was not in existence then. The supplies reached Ootacamund via the old Sigur ghat (an ancient Toda / Badaga pastoral migration track) traversing past the Sigur foothill and up the Badaga village of Hulathi and on to Marlimund and Ootacamund. A church in Ooty for the British settlers there made out of booty from Seringapatam was a cherished though sadistic prize. So much for British pretensions of civility.
Thus of the 4 major places of Tipu Sultan, two palaces were pulled down deliberately by the British. The Dariya Daulat bagh was left unmolested because of it’s connection to the Duke of Wellington, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley who made the palace his residence soon after the defeat of Tipu. The Marquis of Dalhousie visited the palace in November 1855 and ordered the repair and re-painting of the wall murals and a general restoration of the structure to honor it’s legacy of being the former residence of the Duke of Wellington. The work was completed in a little over three years at a cost of Rs. 37,000.
The Bangalore palace also largely remained undisturbed because it was used by the British army as an office and store along with the fort that was turned into an English garrison and arsenal. In 1831, Bangalore’s public offices were also moved to the Tipu palace where they remained till 1866, when they were moved to the Attara Katcheri.
Of the minor palaces or residences, the Tipu palace on the Nandi hills, Nandidurg of yore, still attracts tourists who go there to savour the excellent weather of the hills, some 40 km from bangalore. This may not have been a palace in the strict sense of the term but a retreat home for Tipu Sultan when he was inspecting the Nandidurg fort that was a very important fortress at the very doorstep of Bangalore, his second largest town.
Tipu also had a provinicial palace in Coimbatore, that has dissapeared today. Francis Skelly in his despatch to Charles Stuart on 1st August, 1790 describes it ‘as an excellent house, with a handsome front, the chambers are large and lofty, and the walls covered with a kind of plaster, called chunam, polished so as to appear like marble.’ It was also found to contain ‘ivory, sandalwood and other things of value.’
There was also a small palace in the town of Mysore on Chamaraaja road, believed to have been used by Tipu Sultan, of a design very similar to the bangalore and Dariya Daulat palaces. This palace was sadly half pulled down under controversial circumstances in 1994 and completely demolished in November, 2010. There are still two views about whether Tipu actually built the palace or if it was built by Tipu’s descendants after his death. However the style of construction may point it to another palace of Tipu Sultan who founded a new city in old Mysore, and named it ‘Nazarbad’, which still exists as a thriving locality.
Tipu projected Mysore as a strong and prosperous state and this reflected upon the grandeur of his many residences. It is our beholden duty as citizens of free India to preserve the charm of Tipu’s palaces that survive and make sure that the ‘Wealth of the Sea’ for which Tipu and the people of Mysore fought so hard and long continue to flow to future generations to come.
References: Sunset at Seringapatam, Mohammad Moienuddin
Tipu Sultan’s search for legitimacy. Islam and Kingship in a Hindu domain, Kate Brittlebank
A Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar, Francis Buchanan
Narrative Sketches of the Conquest of Mysore, Anonymous
Website of St. Stephen’s Church, Ootacamund