Instant Justice – The Haidar Ali way

Haidar Ali’s rise to power as Mysore’s ‘Sarvadhikari’ from his humble beginnings as a common soldier was primarily on account of his courage, political sagacity and the gift of being the master of every situation he would encounter. The people of Mysore long accustomed to indecisive ‘Dalawais’ or regents who would rule in the name of different Wodeyar kings finally got in Haidar Ali, someone who was also impartial, easy to approach, decisive and firm.

An example of his quick thinking and decisive action can be seen from an incident that transpired in Coimbatore in the year 1767. He along with his retinue was out on a round of the town about 5 in the evening when a woman prostrated herself, and cried out – ‘Justice!’. Nawab Haidar Ali immediately stopped his carriage and made a sign to her to come forward, and demanded her request.

She answered ‘My Lord, I have but one daughter, and Agha Mohammad has ravished her from me’. Agha Mohammad was then about 60 years old and had been chief usher (Chobdar) to Haidar Ali for 25 years. A Chobdar (one who held the ceremonial staff – ‘Chob’ in Farsi) was a powerful position as it was he who was closest to Haidar and had his ears all the time. He would escort Haidar Ali into public functions, wearing a large gold collar as a mark of his dignity and loudly announcing the royal presence and also schedule his appointments with the rest of the public, even the nobility. So Agha Mohammad after his retirement was given a Jagir (landed property as a gift) as a reward for his services.

Haidar replied – ‘Agha Mohammad has been gone from here for more than a month; how does it happen that you have waited till this time without complaining?’. She replied – ‘My Lord, I have given many requests into the hands of Haidar Shah and have received no answer’. Haidar Shah was the incumbent chief usher to the Nawab. Haidar Shah upon hearing this advanced, and said-‘This woman, as well as her daughter are of infamous repute, and live in a disgraceful manner’.

The Nawab immediately gave orders to return to the palace and commanded the woman to follow him. The Chobdar Haidar Shah was in dread now as was the entire court for the Nawab’s temper was uncontrollable when aroused. The French commandant of the European guard under Haidar Ali tried to intercede on behalf of Haidar Shah to procure his pardon. Haidar Ali refused his request with much severity saying – ‘I cannot grant your request. There is no greater crime than that of interrupting the communication between a sovereign and his subjects. It is the duty of the powerful to see that the weak have justice. The sovereign is the only protector God has given them; and the Prince who suffers oppression to pass unpunished among his subjects, is deservedly deprived of their affection and confidence, and at last compels them to revolt against him.’ After this he gave orders to punish Haidar Shah, the Chobdar with 200 lashes on his back on the parade in front of Haidar Ali and the rest of the court.

At the same time, the Nawab commanded an officer of his Abyssinian horse-guard to depart immediately with the complainant to the country-seat where Agha Mohammad was supposed to be at. The orders were to the effect that if he found the girl there, she was to be delivered to her mother, and the Abyssinian officer return to Haidar Ali with the severed head of Agha Mohammad. However if the girl was not found there, he was still charged to conduct Agha Mohammad to Haidar Ali’s presence in Coimbatore.

As it turned out, the girl was eventually found with Agha Mohammad, whose head was promptly severed and brought to the Nawab’s presence. The girl was handed over to her mother.

It was well known to all in the town, that Agha Mohammad was enamoured of the girl and had carried her away by force, after the complainant, the girl’s mother refused to sell him her daughter as she subsisted by prostituting her out. Her daughter’s profession was the only means of the family’s livelihood.

This incident showed Haidar Ali’s adherence to justice at any cost. The complainant and her daughter’s ‘infamous repute’ was of no consequence to Haidar Ali. No citizen however small was to be prevented from meeting the ruler in person; such a denial was enough to get the errant Chobdar a whipping of 200 lashes. The mere fact that a girl in his kingdom, had been carried away, against her will, by one of his trusted noblemen was a justification for Haidar to dispense his justice on the spot.

Tipu Sultan also inherited from his father, Nawab Haidar Ali, the realisation that only a Just ruler could command the love and loyalty of his subjects. All through the rule of the father and son, the British were surprised that Mysore experienced no revolt among it’s citizens or any disturbance at all even though no year passed without war and turbulence between Mysore and it’s foes – the British, Marathas and Nizam.

The above incident gives us a clue to the answer.

The History of Hyder Shah Alias Hyder Ali Khan Bhadur; M.M.D.L.T., 1855


About Olikara

An engineer, history buff, collector of South Indian antiques.
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5 Responses to Instant Justice – The Haidar Ali way

  1. Waseem says:

    What a piece!
    News of this event must have spread like fire throughout the small cities and towns of Mysore state then. And it must certainly have captured the imagination of the people then.

  2. Nirmala says:

    Hi,i have a question about tipusultans possesions.can i contact you via email.i want to send you a picture.

  3. ibrahim says:

    Dear Nidhin,
    you point out that this incident occoured in Coimbature, and that then Hyder gave orders to return to the palace. This shows that there was a palace somewhere in Coimbature, has this palace also been lost in time?

    • Olikara says:

      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.’

      I have written about it in my article on Tipu’s palaces in this blog.

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