When Hanuman leapt across the road: The Masjid-e-Ala at Seringapatam

I will now tell you of a most curious episode in the life of Lord Hanuman. After having leapt all the way to Lanka at the instruction of Lord Rama and bringing back the ring of Sita to him, he was tired and resting in the shade of a small temple in Seringapatam, when Lo and Behold, he was made to leap again! But then, this was not far away to Lanka but just across the road. I am sure Hanuman managed this without any difficulty and is back to resting wherever he is now.

Curious, aren’t you, now? To know more you need to go back to the year 1760 and join a group of young brats who like most young children of their age are at play and often not upto any good. Haidar Ali had fled alone from Seringapatam to Bangalore, after the palace coup of Khande Rao who imprisoned his harem and children in a house in the fort, near the gate of the Devraya Peeth, which later began to be called the Ganjam gate of the fort. At that period according to Mir Hussain Ali Kirmani, a contemporary of Tipu, in front of this house there stood a Hindu temple, the open area around which was large.

He writes that at this time, Tipu Sultan then a young boy, like all boys of that age was fond of play, and as in that open space around the temple, boys of the Brahmin and ‘Kinhiri’ (Kannada) castes assembled to amuse themselves, he was accustomed to quit the house to see them play, or play with them. It happened one day during this period, that a Fakir, a man of saint like mind passed that way, and seeing Tipu gave him a life bestowing benediction, saying to him-‘Fortunate child, at a future time you will be king of this country, and when that time comes, remember my words – take this temple and destroy it, and build a masjid in it’s place, and for ages it will remain a memorial of thee.’

The Sultan smiled and in reply told him ‘that whenever by his blessing, he should become a Padshah, or king, he would do as he directed’. When therefore, after a short time his father became a Prince, and possessor of wealth and territory, he remembered his promise, and after his return from Nagar and Gorial Bundar, he purchased the temple from the worshippers of the image inside (Kirmani writes that the image was the figure of a bull, made of brick and mortar but he in all probability only meant the image of Nandi at the doorstep of every Hindu temple. Local folklore has it that it was an Anjaneya temple deicated to the Hindu Monkey God – Hanuman.)

Kirmani further writes that the Brahmins, with the money received from Tipu took away the image and placed it in the Devraya Peeth across the street and after the original temple was pulled down, the foundations of a mosque was raised on the site, with the plan of this mosque based on the Jumma Masid at Bijapur. The mosque took 2 years to build with the Darogha of Public buildings only finishing it’s construction after 2 years in 1789 at an expense of 3 lakhs of rupees. The mosque would be Seringapatam’s most important mosque and would go by the name of the Masjid-e-Ala meaning ‘Mosque of the Ruler’. It was also the primary Jumma Masjid of the kingdom. Here ends Kirmani’s narration of the circumstances behind the construction of the mosque.

Masjid-e-Ala at Seringapatam

Masjid-e-Ala at Seringapatam

How genuine can this anecdote be? Among the contemporaries of Tipu, only Kirmani mentions this. Punganuri, another contemporary – a Maratha Hindu, never shying away from criticising Tipu does not mention this incident and says that Khande Rao brought the young Tipu and family in a palanquin to a house near the mosque in Seringapatam. However I will give more credence to Kirmani here. Why? He was a radical Muslim and primarily responsible for steering Tipu to the ‘Muslim fanatic’ side in public memory. In all his writing in the Tarikh -e- Tipu Sultan, he portrays Tipu as a staunch defender and proponent of the Islamic faith and lays high emphasis on Tipu’s wars as a religious Jehad against the infidel English and Marathas. This is Kirmani’s version of Tipu just as Mohibbul Hasan’s or Sheik Ali’s version of Tipu is just the opposite portraying him as a secular ruler.

Minaret at the Masjid-e-Ala

Minaret with pigeoncotes at the Masjid-e-Ala

Coming to the point now, I would have expected Kirmani to mention that Tipu after being advised by the Fakir, goes forward in time to demolish the temple in the style of the Ghaznavid and Ghori heros of the past. But he mentions a very passive construction of the mosque with Tipu actually paying a sum of money to the custodians of the temple to move the deity to another place. There has to be some truth here, then because Kirmani does not polish it with militant Islamic rhetoric. Why did Punganuri not mention this? Probably because by the time Punganuri wrote his memoirs of Tipu, the site was accepted by the local populace as the site of a mosque and no ill feeling between communities existed because the Hindu image of Hanuman was actually intact and only moved across the street at Tipu’s expense.

I had read about this several years ago and was told about this much earlier in 1990 when I first visited the mosque. The narrative by the local guide was exactly similar to what Kirmani mentions. However, I wanted to study the mosque architecture and try to trace any remnants of earlier Hindu iconography or structures.

The graceful twin minarets of Tipu’s Jumma Masjid are decorated with an elegant arrangement of numerous pigeon-holes, and terminate in bulbous domes above balconies. An inscription on the wall of the mosque proclaims: ‘Each arch is like the moon – unequalled in beauty. The pleasing wind which blows from it is spirit- like, enhancing and refreshing.’

Here, on 23rd February 1792, at the close of the third Mysore War, Tipu met his principal officers to discuss the proposed terms of the peace treaty. The scene is described by Wilks: ‘Tippoo assembled in the great mosque all the principal officers of his army, laid before them the Koran, and adjured them,by its sacred contents, to give him their undisguised advice on the question he was about to propose. He then read to them the ultimatum of the confederates. ‘You have heard,’ said the Sultaun,’the conditions of peace, and you have now to hear and answer my question: shall it be peace or war?’ The officers unanimously replied that they were ready to lay down their own lives in the defence of their sovereign and his capital; but they were in substance equally unanimous that the troops were disheartened and had become undeserving of confidence.’

At the mosque, tiger stripes – the archetypal bubris have only been revealed within the last 15 years on the inside walls, a delicate pattern previously hidden by successive layers of white paint. The design of the mosque is as Kirmani mentions quite similar to the Jumma Masjid at Bijapur. But here in Tipu’s Masjid, towards the left side of the entrance is a deep water tank with steps to the bottom as in a typical temple tank. The tank is also not towards the center as seen in few mosques with fine fountains in them and not very deep so as to facilitate ritual ablution, the ‘wuzu’, but as mentioned displaced to the left side giving the impression that the tank was originally not in the plan but only had to be amalgamated into the plan.

Stepped Well Tank

Stepped Well Tank at the mosque

Around the mosque on one side along the walls is a pillared hall. As one observes the pillars, one sees distict Hindu motifs on them, especially on one pillar.

Pillared Hall at the Masjid

Pillared Hall

Pillar with Hindu 'Sardula' motif at the Masjid-E-Ala

Pillar with Hindu ‘Sardula’ motif at the Masjid-E-Ala

This pillar clearly shows Hindu motifs and may have been part of the earlier existant Hindu temple. As one proceeds further along the road from the mosque to the Flagstaff, one comes across a rather small but distict multipillared shelter, probably for travellers. I observed similar Hindu motifs on some of these pillars too. Could these pillars also have come from the same temple. So, was this temple already desolate and in ruins when the Fakir encountered the young Tipu? Anjaneya is not a major deity and is commonly found within fort walls as he is a martial deity worshipped by soldiers across late medieval India.

A clue to the present location of this image may be had from the Mysore Archaeological Report, 1912, pg. 3 which says – ‘The Jyotirmayesvara temple, which is also known as the Dalavay temple, is a large structure, though in unfinished condition. It is said that Dalavay Doddaiya, who began to build this temple died before it’s completion and that his son who began to build the Nandimantapa in front, also died before finishing it; The members of the Dalavay family do not visit it, this being a structure of bad memory. Attached to this temple is the shrine of the East Gate ‘Anjaneya’ also said to have been built by Dalavay Doddaiya. The image of Anjaneya which was preserved from Mohammeddan vandalism by being immersed in a portion of the Kaveri known as Gaurikada had it’s temple, it appears on the site on which the big mosque now stands.’

If Kirmani’s narrative is true, did Tipu go over the top in demolishing the Anjaneya temple, albeit after purchasing it and providing for the displacement of the image inside? Was this the same Tipu who would daily solicit the blessings of Sri Ranganatha just half a furlong away and send money to Kanchi to repair the temples damaged in cannon fire during the Anglo Mysore wars?

Maybe he believed that a mosque had to come up at the site as he ascended the throne because of the Fakir’s blessings. Maybe he believed that displacing an image from a minor temple with the consent of it’s keepers was only a smaller evil than not keeping a promise made to a saintly person. I cannot say. However, from a moralist point and considering that Tipu was the ruler of Mysore, of both Hindus and Muslims, was his act of pulling down the place of worship, however small of a particular faith even after obtaining consent of it’s keepers and replacing it with the place of worship of another faith, in this case his own, correct? I think not.

But Fakir’s blessing or not, the mosque was the scene was the bloodiest of confrontations on May 4, 1799 when according to Buchanan the two divisions of the British storming party met at the open place surrounding the mosque, into which the remnants of Tipu’s garrison withdrew, and with their destruction inside, the fighting nearly ceased. Next day, the wounded and bruised, many of whom were still in hiding inside the mosque were collected and the mosque became a field hospital where British surgeons tended to the wounded. In the end, the mosque had finally become the final place of refuge for Tipu’s defeated and humiliated men.

Lord Hanuman had leapt out of the mosque a long while ago.

– History of Tipu Sultan, being a continuation of the Nishani Hyduri; Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani, 1864
– A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar; Volume 1, Francis Buchanan, 1807
-Mysore Archaeological Report, 1912, Pg.3
-A Guide to Seringapatam and it’s vicinity; P. Stephen Basappa, 1897
-Photographs are courtesy of the author and flickrstrm


About Olikara

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

5 Responses to When Hanuman leapt across the road: The Masjid-e-Ala at Seringapatam

  1. very interesting. I just came across your blog and have been enjoying the read. i just wish i had seen your blog a few months earlier, when i visited Srirangapatna. It would have been great to visit will all this information. Maybe i will be able to go again someday and see all these places with a different viewpoint.

  2. olikara says:

    Thank you, Anuradha, for stopping by. Yes, you should visit Pattana again. I learn something new every time I visit the town.

  3. Pingback: Nailing a Lie: Tipu Sultan and the demolition of the Hariharesvara Temple | The Seringapatam Times

  4. Pingback: The Goddess and a Sultan: Hindu Coinage of Tipu Sultan | The Seringapatam Times

  5. Pingback: Nailing a Lie: Tipu Sultan and the demolition of the Hariharesvara Temple | Clearing the misconception

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