Tipu Jayanti: End of a farcical gambit
by B S Harishankar on 18 Aug 2019 21 Comments

The new Karnataka government under B.S. Yediyurappa has ordered the Kannada Culture Department to stop celebrating Tipu Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan that the State has been observing for the past few years, in November. The order has not raised any ripples in the state, barring statements by former chief minister Siddaramaiah who initiated the celebrations.


The Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah insisted that Tipu was a patriotic ruler who laid down his life fighting the British, and sanctioned Rs 60 lakh towards celebrating his anniversary. The state-sponsored Tipu Jayanti was objected to by Mohandas Pai, Gauri Lankesh, Shashi Deshpande and Ramachandra Guha, while Girish Karnad supported it and demanded that Bengaluru airport be  named after Tipu Sultan (Everything you need to know about Tipu Sultan’s anniversary controversy, India Today, Nov., 2, 2016). Left historians supported Tipu as a benevolent and secular ruler (Tipu a misunderstood patriot: Historians, The Times of India, Sept. 30, 2015).


Soon after inaugurating Tipu Jayanti celebrations, Siddaramaiah demanded a separate state flag for Karnataka. He also insisted that by being a resident of the state, any person should first be a Kannadiga (Karnataka needs its own flag, says CM Siddaramaiah, The Times of India, Oct. 15, 2017).


Fearing public protests, chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy skipped the Tipu Jayanti celebrations in 2018, citing health reasons. Kumaraswamy had opposed the Tipu Jayanti celebrations when in opposition, but decided to go ahead with the celebrations after the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition came to power (Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy to skip Tipu Jayanti celebration, The Times of India, Nov. 9, 2018). Public protests in Karnataka against Tipu Jayanti have been sidelined or suppressed by media outside Karnataka or Sangh Parivar blamed for the same.


In a tradition followed for decades, Catholics of Dakshina Kannada district felicitate members of three Hindu families in gratitude for having protected them during the attack by Tipu Sultan. The Our Lady of Remedies Church, Kirem (30-km from Manguluru) was attacked by Tipu Sultan’s army in 1784. Three families of the local ‘Bant’ community succeeded in foiling the attack. Till date, the members of these families are honoured by Our Lady of Remedies Church, Kirem.


This tradition is held at Damaskatte, Kinnigoli, every year. In 2018, the function was held on November 28 at Our Lady of Remedies Church, Kirem, during the annual feast of the church. The local Christians are still grateful to the Hindu families who stopped the destruction of the church, which is one of the oldest churches in Manguluru Diocese in Karnataka.


On November 6, 2015, the United Christian Association (UCA) held a protest outside the deputy commissioner’s office in Manguluru, supporting the agitation by Hindu organizations against the Siddaramaiah government’s decision to celebrate Tipu’s 165th birth anniversary. Alban Menezes, UCA spokesperson, said that Tipu in February 1784 destroyed the Milagres Church in Manguluru, built in 1680. Menezes said Tipu also imprisoned 60,000 Catholics, suspected of being British spies. In 2013, the UCA had joined the Sangh Parivar in opposing the naming of a central university in Srirangapatna after Tipu (Why Mangalore’s Catholics are joining RSS against Tipu Sultan, The Hindustan Times, Nov. 10, 2015).


UCA member Robert Rosario said Tipu Sultan was responsible for destruction of many churches in the coastal region, and committed atrocities on Christians (Tipu responsible for destruction of temples, The Hindu, Nov. 7, 2015). In the coastal belt of Mangaluru, Tipu destroyed 25 of 27 churches. The Bavutagudde masjid and several other masjids were built on the remains of churches he destroyed (Exorcising the ghost of Tipu Sultan, The Pioneer, Nov. 15, 2017).

Tipu Sultan sought to legitimize himself as an Islamic ruler with the blessings and support of the Ottoman Caliphate (1517–1924) in Istanbul. The Ottoman dynasty was the last Sunni Islamic caliphate of the late medieval /early modern era, with prestige across the Islamic world from Anatolia, the Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe. In 1782, Tipu sent an embassy to Istanbul seeking confirmation of his title to the throne of Mysore from the Sultan of Turkey.


Azmi Özcan in his work (1997) Pan-Islamism: Indian Muslims, the Ottomans and Britain, 1877–1924, says that in 1787, Tipu sent an embassy to Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid I requesting urgent assistance against the British East India Company. He also sought permission from the Ottomans to contribute to the maintenance of the Islamic shrines in Mecca, Medina, Najaf and Karbala.


India was colonised by various European powers: Portuguese, French, Dutch and British. Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali used their French-trained army in alliance with the French against the British, the Marathas, rulers of Malabar, Kodagu, Bednore, Carnatic and Travancore. In 1782, French Admiral De Suffren ceremonially presented a portrait of Louis XVI to Haidar Ali and sought his alliance. In 1779, the British entered the Malabar, captured Mahe and intercepted the French aid on which Hyder Ali depended.


The Jacobin Club of Mysore was founded in 1794 by French Republican officers with the support of Tipu Sultan for framing laws comfortable with the laws of the Republic. Tipu declared himself Citizen Tipoo, planting a Liberty Tree at the club. When the Jacobin Club sent a delegation to Tipu Sultan, 500 Mysore rockets were launched as part of the gun salute. Franics Ripauld was elected President Citizen, and they declared their hatred for all rulers except Citizen Tipu.


In February 1798, Napoleon wrote a letter to Tipu Sultan appreciating his efforts in resisting British annexation and plans, but this letter was seized by a British spy in Muscat. The idea of a possible Tipu-Napoleon alliance alarmed the British Governor, Lord Wellesley, who prepared for a final encounter with Tipu Sultan. There is a French cemetery in Harohalli, where the French who came to aid Tipu Sultan are buried. The land for the cemetery was granted by Tipu Sultan.


According to historian Narasingha Sil (2013), Tipu destroyed at least three major Hindu temples in Karnataka: Harihareswara temple at Harihar, Varahaswami temple at Srirangapatnam, and Odakaraya temple at Hospet. Records such as Malabar Manual of William Logan, historical sketches of Col. Wilks, historical studies of Kerala by K.P. Padmanabha Menon, K.M. Panicker, and A. Sreedhara Menon, official reports of the English Company, and records of the Chirackal, Zamorin and Palghat royal families besides those from Trichur, Guruvayoor, Thirunavaya and Perumanam temples, clearly present the brutal invasion of Tipu Sultan in Malabar.


Some famous temples desecrated by Tipu in Malabar include Triprangot, Thrichembaram, Thirunavaya, Thiruvannoor, Kozhikkode Thali, Mammiyur, Parambatali, Trikkandiyur, Sukapuram, Tirunavaya Angadippuram, Tiruvanjikulam and Vadakkumnnathan shrines. The Trikkavu Temple of Ponnani was converted into a military garrison.


Rolland E. Miller in Mappila Muslims of Kerala (1992) narrates the impact of Tipu’s bigotry and conversions on Mappila Muslims of Malabar, and observes that there are contemporary efforts to rehabilitate his image.


Under the Census of India Special Studies Project (Kerala), S. Jayashanker (2002) compiled a narrative of temples in each district, giving comprehensive data of temples attacked and desecrated by Tipu Sultan during his invasion of Kerala.


Major Alexander Allan, who knew the Sultan, observed: “It is impossible that Tippoo could have been loved by his people. The Musalmans certainly looked up to him as the head of their faith; by them, perhaps, his death is regretted but they could not have been attached to him, by affection” (Hayavadana Rao 1948, History of Mysore, 3 Vols).


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