Tipu Sultan is one of the enigmas of eighteenth century Indian history and has suﬀered more at the hands of historians than at the hands of his enemies. However, today he has come to be seen in a diﬀerent light and since 1947 serious research into eighteenth century Indian history, contributed much in rehabilitating him as a human being with extraordinary courage and leadership qualities.1 But when the question of his religious policy comes up, he is viewed altogether in a diﬀerent light and consequently a considerable controversy is built up around this issue and still requires the urgent attention of unbiased historiography.
The British historians with vested interests had maligned his name in history. The Indian historians, who served the then princely states under British sovereignty, tarred him with communal brush. And thus Tipu Sultan became an unmitigated Muslim fanatic, in the history of India.
The main argument is centering round the view of Tipu being a religious bigot, who destroyed many temples and confiscated the temple wealth. But the detractors of Tipu never quoted an incident that Tipu or his army destroyed any temple inside Mysore (Karnataka), Tipu’s own land. All of them are referring to Malabar, Tipu’s conquered territory, where his ravaging army is said to have destroyed temples. This allegation is not based on any historical evidences, but mostly on hearsay evidences.
Ravi Varma in his article, ‘Tipu Sultan: As known in Kerala’ states that: “there is ample evidence, available in many authentic records of his military operations in Kerala, to show that Tipu Sultan of Mysore was a fanatic Muslim tyrant who was responsible for the destruction of hundreds of Hindu temples, large-scale forcible conversion of the Hindus, and perpetration of unimaginable brutalities on the Hindu population in Kerala”.2
Ravi Varma also has given a list of Temples destroyed by Tipu, in his article. But Ravi Varma did not put forth any historical evidences to prove his allegations. Further his claim of 8000 temples destroyed by Tipu is unbelievably an exaggerated figure. On the contrary, many of the temples listed in his article had received sarvamanyam (tax-free land) from Tipu Sultan, according to available Inam Registers.3
Another allegation raised by Ravi Varma is that the Palayur Roman Catholic Church was destroyed by the ravaging army of Tipu. Interestingly, Palayur Church was the only Catholic Church which was patronized by Tipu Sultan in South Malabar, as evidenced by the Inam Register.4
Ravi Varma further alleges that the installed principal deity of Triprayar Temple was damaged by Tipu’s army. But according to the prevailing temple rituals, the sanctum sanctorum is closed in the night only after hearing ‘Sulthante vedi’, which is a firework, instituted by Tipu Sultan, as a gesture of respect to the principal deity. This was detailed to this researcher by one of the temple priests, when he visited Triprayar temple. It seems that the facts are distorted here, due to blind acceptance of hearsay and partiality of historical judgments. Velayudhan Panikkassery, eminent historian, in an article describes about Tipu’s sarvamanyam to Triprayar temple.5 Total 123.04 Acres of land was given to Triprayar Sri Rama temple by Tipu Sultan in 1776.6
As a whole, we can infer that the allegation of destruction of temples in Malabar, leveled against Tipu Sultan by Ravi Varma in his above referred article, is not believable for want of historical evidences.
On the other hand, there was an incident, where Tipu tried to protect a temple from destruction. Stephen Frederic describes the incident so: “In 1784, Athan Moyen Kurikkal, a local Mappila leader who was a revenue oﬃcial under the Zamorin and later on entrusted by Tipu to collect taxes for him, led a group of his supporters in an attack during which they burned the Manjeri Temple and leveled the Manjeri Raja’s House. Tipu Sultan then dispatched his troops to aid the Manjeri Raja, for although Athan Moyen was himself one of Tipu’s revenue oﬃcials, the Raja had expeditiously bartered part of his income with Mysore Sultan in exchange for undisturbed rule as one of his dependants. The Mappilas shattered the first Mysore expedition, by killing its commander, but eventually Tipu’s troops prevailed and both Athan Moyen and his son were imprisoned at Seringapatam”.7
Roland Miller also has given this incident in his account. He says how Athan Kurikkal then destroyed a temple belonging to the Manjeri Raja (Tipu had earlier warned Kurikkal not to do that). He got the Raja killed as well. The rebellion rose in intensity, Ghulam Ali was sent by Tipu to Manjeri to quell the riots and some 90 odd Mappilas were killed (of which 20 were killed by fellow Mappila rioters to avoid their capture by Ali and became martyrs or shaheeds). Athan Kurikkal and his son were captured and interned in the Seringapatam jail.8 In this connection, please note that Tipu Sultan had granted total 194.51 acres of tax-free land to Manjeri Temple (Mutharekunnath Bhagavathi Temple) as evidenced by Inam Register.9
From the above incident itself, it is evident that Tipu was not a temple destroyer instead he was a temple protector. B. A. Salatore described him as the ‘defender of Hindu dharma’ while discussing about the ‘Maratha raid on Sringeri Mutt’. He says, “People have indeed reason to be grateful to him for the prompt measures he took to resuscitate the cause of Hindu dharma in the great seat of Sankaracharya, when it was eclipsed by political calamity”.10
1 Mohibbul Hassan, History of Tipu Sultan, Delhi: Aakar Books, 1951
2 Sita Ram Goel (ed.) Tipu Sultan – Villain or Hero? Delhi: Voice of India, Article-1, pp. 3-7
3 Inam Registers kept in Kozhikode Archives are compiled by J. W. Robinson, Inam Commissioner during 1885-86. They contain data relating to the allotment of land on Inam basis for the maintenance of places of public worship like Temples, Mosques, Churches, Sathrams, etc. Particulars such as the nature and extent of the property allotted, by whom the ‘Inam’ was originally granted, the purpose for which it was granted, etc are recorded in detail. Entries in column Nos. 11 and 12 in these registers are authentic evidences of the fact that Tipu Sultan was highly magnanimous in granting tax-free lands for the maintenance and upkeep of various Hindu temples and for the entertainment of Brahmins, in the different taluks of Malabar.
4 Refer Inam Register No. 123 of Choughaut Taluk, page 27 and Title deed No. 10 dated 13/3/1866
5 Velayudhan Panikkassery, ‘Triprayar – Chettuva Manappurathinte Thilakakkuri’, in Janasamaksham (Mal) Monthly, October 2014
6 Refer Inam Register No. 123 of Choughaut Taluk, page 6 and Title Deed No. 4 dated 13/3/1866
7 Stephen Frederic Dale, ‘The Mappilas of Malabar’ in Islamic Society on the South Asian Frontier, London: Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980, p. 88
8 See, Roland E. Miller, ‘Mappila Muslims of Kerala’ in A study in Islamic trends, Delhi: Orient Longman, 1976
9 Refer Inam Register No. 122 of Eranad Taluk, pages: 5 & 50-54 and Title Deeds No. 9 & 10 dated 13/3/1866 and No. 51 & 52 dated 23/3/1866
10 B. A. Saletore, ‘Tipu Sultan as Defender of Hindu Dharma’ in Medieval India Quarterly, 1(ii), 1950, pp. 43-55
Sri Muhamad Ismail, a PhD Scholar from Kerala and former General Manager – Kerala State Rubco Ltd. is an avid researcher on Tipu Sultan and this article is only an excerpt from his soon to be published PhD Thesis on Tipu’s religious policies. In Ismail’s words, the example of the church and two temples mentioned here that Tipu protected are only three among several hundreds which Tipu protected as well as made donations to, that Ismail has uncovered in his research across the Madras, Bangalore, Delhi and Calcutta archives as well as his journeys across Kerala.