Today, Tipu Sultan is best remembered by the events that transpired on May 4, 1799, when he died fighting by the side of his men for Mysore. His valour and steadfastness that day is something that even his detractors, of whom there are legion, appreciate.
I will in the course of this post take you through the events of that tumultuous day and we shall constantly be by Tipu’s side till the end. For this article I will be collating several accounts of that fateful day written by several people of different backgrounds but most of whom were involved in one way or another with Tipu Sultan and the endgame of the Fourth Mysore war.
My reference sources here are:
- Beatson, Alexander (1800) A view of the origin and conduct of the war with Tippoo Sultaun; comprising a narrative of the operations of the army under the command of Lieut.-General George Harris, and of the siege of Seringapatam. (English Account -This is the primary British source)
- A review of the origin, progress and result of the decisive war with the late Tippoo Sultaun in Mysore: with notes; By James Salmond (1800) (English Account)
- History of Mysore under Hyder Ali and Tippoo Sultan. By J. Michaud (1801-09) (French Account)
- Memoirs of Haidar and Tippoo, rulers of Seringapatam (1849). Ramchandra Rao Punganuri. (Hindu Mysorean account).
- The history of Hyder Shah and of his son, Tippoo Sultaun. (1855) By M.M.D.L.T. revised and corrected by His Highness Prince Gholam Mohammed, the only surviving son of Tipu Sultan (Anglo-Mysore Muslim Account)
- History of Tipu Sultan being a continuation of the Neshani Hyduri; By Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani (1864) (Mysore Persian Account – under British Patronage)
- A brief Mahamadan version of the sieges of 1792 and 1799 (1897) By Stephen Basappa (Oral Muslim Local History Account narrated).
- The last siege of Seringapatam, E.W. Thompson (1928) (British Account)
- History of Mysore 1766-1799 AD(1946) By C. Hayavadana Rao (Mysore Hindu Account)
- History of Tipu Sultan.(1951) By Mohibbul Hasan (Extremely well researched Modern Indian Account)
- Tiger of Mysore; The life and death of Tipu Sultan (1970). By Denys Forrest (Well researched Modern English Account)
As I proceeded with this article, I was pleasantly surprised to realise that though the basic narrative of events remains the same, different narrations give out specific anecdotes that analysed in the full perspective of what happened that day add to our knowledge of the multi-faceted character of the Tiger of Mysore.
Now, may I begin?
When the British began their siege of Seringapatam, Tipu Sultan following their movement had stationed himself on the southern walls of his citadel, then he moved to the western angle from where he monitored the enemy positions and gave instructions to his men. However, when it became clear that the British attack would be delivered from the Northwest face of the fort, Tipu Sultan took up his residence in the Kalale Deedy, which was near a gate through which one entered the river Cauvery, near the outer rampart of the north face of the Fort.
This gate was constructed by Devraj a former regent of Mysore who hailed from the Kalale village, about 4 miles from Nanjangud, about 80 years ago. Tipu closed up this gate, on the side towards the river, about the year 1793. Here he occupied this enclosure within the gate, enclosed by curtains, forming an apartment in which he ate and slept. Near to this shelter, four small tents were pitched, for his servants and baggage. He remained there for fourteen days.
Tipu’s astrologers had apprised him well before that fateful day that the 4th of May, 1799, being the last day of a lunar month, was an inauspicious day; and around 9 in the morning of that day, the Brahmin astrologers waited upon him at the Kalale Deedy, and repeated the same unfavourable omen. They informed him that to mid-day and for seven ghadis (nearly 2 hours), the time was extremely unpropitious to him, and he should take care and stay with the army until the evening and give alms in the name of God.
Tipu then mounted his horse, and after inspecting the breaches in the defences, ordered a party of pioneers to repair them and returned to the Lal Bagh palace for a bath. After his bath, at about 10 in the morning, the Sultan then distributed among the Brahmins an oblation, consisting of the following articles : To the priest of Chennapatanam, he gave an elephant, a bag of til oil-seeds, and two hundred rupees. To different Brahmins, he gave a black bullock, a milch buffalo, a male buffalo, a black she-goat, a jacket of coarse black cloth, a cap of the same material, ninety rupees, and an iron pot filled with oil; and previous to the delivery of this last article, he held his head over the pot, for the purpose of seeing the image of his face, a ceremony used among the Hindus to avert misfortune. Further money and cloth was distributed to a number of poor men and women who assembled there.
He, soon after this ceremony, left the Palace, without going into the zenana to meet his women and children as was the custom, and returned in his palanquin to the Kalale Deedy. Obviously the defence of Seringapatam was all that weighed upon his mind that day. There he was met by two spies, who reported that the besiegers were preparing to storm, and that they would attack either in the course of that day, or at night. The Sultaun remarked, that it was improbable they would attempt an assault in the daytime.
Syed Gafur, one among his best commanders and confidantes who commanded near the Breach, also informed the Sultaun through a message that there seemed to be an unusual number of men in the trenches, as if an assault was intended; and he recommended that the Sultaun should give orders to the troops to be alert. Tippoo again expressed his belief, that an assault would not take place in the daytime., but he also informed Syed Gafur that if such an assault were to be delivered during the day, it should be repulsed. His confidence on the timing of the British assault would be proved wrong here.
It was near one o’clock when the Sultaun reached the Kalale Deedy. He immediately ordered his lunch to be brought, ate a morsel, and was about to take more when the sound of commotion reached his ears. The storm had begun. He received intelligence that Syed Gafur, was killed. He instantly washed his hands, and said ‘ we also shall soon depart’. He called for his sword and fusils. After he had buckled on his sword, he exclaimed, “Syed Gafur was never afraid of death: let Mahomed Cassim take charge of Syed Gafur‘s Division.”. However he prudently kept the news of Syed Gafur’s death a secret and told the men around him that Seringapatam’s walls were not made of wax, that it should be breached so easily and that Syed Gafur was no ordinary man to be felled so easily. He obviously did not want to demoralise his men.
The Sultan then ascended the north rampart, followed by four chosen men who carried his fusils, by a fifth who carried a blunderbuss, and by two or three eunuchs. He advanced towards the the western battery after crossing through a small postern on the river, called the ‘Hole Vuddi’ in Kannada. When within about two hundred yards of the Breach where the British flag was already hoisted, he stood behind one of the traverses on the rampart, and fired seven or eight times with his own hand, at such of the assailants as had advanced within shot. He kept firing while his men loaded the blunderbusses for him. At least 3 – 4 Europeans were personally felled by Tipu at this juncture.
When the Sultaun observed, that such of his own men as were in front had either fled or were killed, he retired along the north rampart all the while on foot. Here he complained of pain and weakness in one of his legs, which had been badly wounded when he was young and campaigning in Malabar, and, desiring his favourite horse might be brought, he mounted the horse and proceeded back towards the ‘Hole Vuddi’ gate that he unfortunately found closed.
He pressed on eastwards upon the rampart in order to cross into the inner fortress with an intention to rally his men and make a stand inside the walls now that the outer wall had fallen. He came to the slope at the new sally-port, in the inner, or new rampart. Here he descended, still on horseback, crossed the bridge which passes over the inner ditch. When he entered this sally-port or water-gate, it was so much crowded that he could not make his way into the town. The British storming party had found a wooden plank between the outer and inner walls that had been inadvertently left behind by Tipu’s pioneers who were repairing the breach and used this plank to cross into the inner fortress thus leaving Tipu and his immediate circle coming under attack from the British force pursuing them from the outer wall and now confronting them from the inner fortress itself that Tipu planned to enter.
As he was crossing to the gate by the communication from the outer rampart, he received a musket ball in his right side. He advanced through the crowd three or four paces in the gateway until he was stopped about half through the arch of the gateway by the fire of the British 12th Light Infantry from within, when he received a second and third ball in the right side close to the other, the mare he rode being wounded at the same time.
The Sultan having told his personal retainer Rajah Khan that he was wounded, this faithful servant proposed to him to reveal himself to the British; but the Sultan said, “Are you mad ? Be silent”.
Rajah Khan now endeavoured to disengage him from the saddle, in which attempt they both fell, together with the horse, amongst the dead and wounded men. Rajah Khan was at this moment shot through the leg. The fallen Sultan was immediately raised by some of his faithful adherents, and placed upon his palanquin under the arch, and on one side of the gateway, where he lay or sat for some moments faint and exhausted, until some European soldiers entered the gateway.
The firing had now nearly ceased below the arch or the gateway; and a British grenadier came up to Tipu and seized his sword-belt, with a view to strip it of the gold buckle by which it was fastened. The Sultan instantly stretched out his right hand, and snatching a drawn sword, which happened to lie within his reach, made a stroke at the soldier. The blow falling upon his musket, he made another stroke at another soldier with more effect: and immediately afterwards was killed, by a musket ball which penetrated his right temple and was later found lodged below his ear. It was about 2 in the afternoon now.
Thus was extinguished the life of the Tiger of Mysore. I have often wondered about that moment where the severely wounded Tipu and his personal retainer Rajah Khan are in the darkness of the water gate, surrounded by dead Mysoreans all around with almost no hope left, and Raja Khan asks Tipu to reveal himself to British knowing well that if his master did so, Tipu’s life would be saved.
However, Tipu remained the quintessential Tipu till the end reprimanding Raja Khan for even bringing that suggestion of surrender up. This was when Tipu’s character showed itself for the last time. That character and mettle which would forge Mysore, a state once comprising of 33 villages into a power that ruled over territory from Dharwar to Calicut.
15 years after Tipu’s death and on the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Great British Poet and Playwright Sir Walter Scott wrote “Although I never supposed that he [Napoleon] possessed, allowing for some difference of education, the liberality of conduct and political views which were sometimes exhibited by old Haidar Ally, yet I did think he [Napoleon] might have shown the same resolved and dogged spirit of resolution which induced Tippoo Saib to die manfully upon the breach of his capital city with his sabre clenched in his hand”.
Tipu had certainly shown himself to be made of sterner stuff than Napoleon, his friend and ally, when it came to the end.