History- Important places, persons in news

Explained: How to read Tipu Sultan’s place in history


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anglo Mysore Wars

Mains level : Read the attached story


  • Karnataka CM has announced that his government is trying to remove Tipu Sultan’s history lessons from textbooks in the state.
  • It is held that Tipu used tyranny and cruelty against Hindus & Kannada rulers.
  • However the removal of Tipu from textbooks will fundamentally alter the history of early modern India.

Who was Tipu Sultan?

  • Tipu was the son of Haider Ali, a professional soldier who climbed the ranks in the army of the Wodeyar king of Mysore, and ultimately took power in 1761.
  • Tipu was born in 1750 and, as a 17-year-old, fought in the first Anglo-Mysore War (1767-69) and subsequently, against the Marathas and in the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-84).
  • Haider died while this war was on, and Tipu succeeded him in 1782.

Why remove his name?

  • The right wing activists has long underlined Tipu’s cruel treatment including torture, forced conversions, and the razing of temples in the course of his conquests, as the central feature of his personality.
  • In the hills and jungles of Kodagu on the Kerala-Karnataka border, as well as in Kerala, Tipu is not seen as a hero.

Reason lies in history

  • Both Tipu and his father Haider Ali had strong territorial ambitions, and invaded and annexed territories outside Mysore.
  • Haider annexed Malabar and Kozhikode, and conquered Kodagu, Thrissur and Kochi.Tipu raided Kodagu, Mangaluru, and Kochi.
  • Tipu’s keenness to subjugate Kodagu was linked directly to his desire to control the port of Mangaluru, on whose path Kodagu fell.
  • In all these places, he is seen as a bloodthirsty tyrant who burnt down entire towns and villages, razed hundreds of temples and churches, and forcibly converted Hindus.
  • The historical record has Tipu boasting about having forced “infidels” to convert, and of having destroyed their places of worship.

What is the counternarrative to this understanding of Tipu Sultan?

  • In this narrative, Tipu Sultan is the fearless “Tiger of Mysore”, a powerful bulwark against colonialism, and a great son of Karnataka.
  • He has been seen as a man of imagination and courage, a brilliant military strategist who, in a short reign of 17 years, mounted the most serious challenge the East India Company faced in India.
  • He fought the forces of the Company four times during 1767-99, and gave Cornwallis and Wellesley bloody noses before he was killed heroically defending his capital Srirangapatnam in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War.
  • With Tipu gone, Wellesley imposed the Subsidiary Alliance on the reinstated Wodeyar king, and Mysore became a client state of the East India Company.

Tipu’s pioneering work

  • Tipu reorganized his army along European lines, using new technology, including what is considered the first war rocket.
  • He devised a land revenue system based on detailed surveys and classification, in which the tax was imposed directly on the peasant, and collected through salaried agents in cash, widening the state’s resource base.
  • He modernized agriculture, gave tax breaks for developing wasteland, built irrigation infrastructure and repaired old dams, and promoted agricultural manufacturing and sericulture.
  • He built a navy to support trade, and commissioned a “state commercial corporation” to set up factories.
  • Tipu battled nearly all powers in the region, irrespective of the faith of his opponents.

Secular Tipu

  • His army had both Hindus and Muslims, and among the populations that he slaughtered in Kerala, there were sizeable numbers of Muslims.
  • Just as there is evidence that Tipu persecuted Hindus and Christians, there is also evidence that he patronised Hindu temples and priests, and gave them grants and gifts.
  • He donated to temples at Nanjangud, Kanchi and Kalale, and patronised the Sringeri mutt.

Assessing Tipu’s reign

  • The existing narrative does not seek to whitewash or deny the accounts of Tipu’s brutality, but it does seek to understand these specific incidents within the larger historical context of late medieval and early modern India.
  • Tipu is only one of several historical figures about whom sharply differing perspectives exist.
  • This is because in much of India, history is frequently seen through ethnic, communal, regional, or religious lenses.
  • On the other hand, his destruction of temples and forced conversions of Hindus and Christians feeds into the right wing narrative of the tyrannical and fanatical ruler.
  • It is misleading to argue that if Tipu fought the British, it was “only to save his kingdom” — because so did every other pre-modern ruler, in India and elsewhere.


  • It is important to be aware that much of the criticism of Tipu is rooted in the accounts of those whom he vanquished — and of colonial historians who had powerful reasons to demonize him.
  • It serves no purpose to view Tipu’s multilayered personality through the prism of morality or religion.
  • It is not necessary that he be judged only in terms of either a hero or a tyrant.