Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Tipu Sultan’s Contested Legacy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Tipu Sultan

Mains level: His legacy


Central idea: The article examines the controversial nature of Tipu Sultan’s legacy and the differing opinions about his reign and his place in Indian history. It discusses the contrasting views of Tipu Sultan as a hero and patriot who fought against British colonialism, or as a tyrant who persecuted Hindus and Christians.

Rise of Tipu Sultan

  • Tipu Sultan was born on November 10, 1750, in Devanahalli, present-day Bangalore.
  • His father was Hyder Ali, who rose through the ranks of the army of the Wodeyars, the Hindu rulers of Mysore.

Rise to power

  • Hyder Ali seized power from the Wodeyars in 1761 and ruled for 20 years, a period in which the kingdom of Mysore had slowly expanded by capturing disputed areas at its borders.
  • During this time, Tipu was educated in both matters of statecraft and warcraft, participating in his first battle at the age of only 15.
  • When Hyder Ali died in 1782, Tipu’s primary motivation was to consolidate the territory he had inherited from his father.
  • Specifically, the rebellious provinces of Malabar, Kodagu, and Bednur, were crucial to Mysore’s strategic and economic interests.
  • His rule in these areas is what is often cited as proof of his bigotry and authoritarianism.

Contribution to freedom struggle

  • In the course of India’s freedom struggle, Tipu Sultan became a symbol of resistance against British rule.
  • His death while defending his fortress of Srirangaptna against British armies in 1799 was valorised as the ultimate sacrifice for the motherland.

Reforms carried out by Tipu

Administrative reforms

  • Tipu Sultan also pioneered administrative and economic reforms.
  • He introduced new coins, started a new land revenue system in Mysore, as well as introduced sericulture or silkworm cultivation, which continues to employ many Kannadigas to date.
  • Furthermore, some claim that upon hearing of the plight of lower caste women who were not allowed to wear blouses, Tipu personally supplied them with cloth.

Modernization of weaponry: Advent of Rockets


  • Tipu is credited for the introduction of iron-cased rockets in warfare.
  • While rocket-like weapons had previously been used in War, Tipu’s army used what can be termed as the first modern war rockets in the Anglo-Mysore Wars.
  • These rockets were used to devastating effects against much larger British armies, driving them to panic and disarray.
  • The British used Tipu’s models for their own rockets, which would go on to play an important role in the Napoleonic Wars.

Scientific temper


  • Tipu’s fascination with European culture was a result of what he saw while fighting Europeans.
  • Tipu wanted Mysore to be a modern rival of the European powers and made investments in technology accordingly.

Why is Tipu branded as a tyrant?

  • Warfare in Tipu’s time was brutal and those who rebelled were dealt with an iron fist. It was common practice to set strong examples to forestall future opposition.
  • The punishments Tipu applied to rebels or conspirators included forced conversion and the transfer of people from their home territories to Mysore.
  • The forced removals occurred from both Kodagu and Malabar, the former as a response to continued resistance against Mysore rule– as a result of their resistance and perceived treachery in the Anglo-Mysore Wars.
  • The right’s narrative of Tipu’s bigotry emphasizes Tipu’s militarism as well as his perceived attacks on “Hindu” rulers and subjects.

Historian’s justification of Tipu’s actions

  • Tipu’s actions are questionable by today’s standards, they were commonplace in the 18th century among rulers of all faiths.
  • He was a tyrant, but his motivations were not necessarily religious zealotry.
  • Rather, he was a pragmatist who ruled within the accepted conventions of kingship and warfare at the time.
  • He undoubtedly ordered forced conversions in areas he annexed, Tipu also patronized various temples and Hindu shrines, including the Sri Ranganatha temple at Srirangapatna and the Math in Sringeri.
  • Both these actions were to solidify his position as a ruler — the former to crush dissidents and the latter to gain legitimacy among his largely Hindu subjects.

Tipu’s legacy: looking at the past from the prism of the present

  • Today, there has been an increased spotlight on his autocratic tendencies and brutal repression in annexed territories, with an increased emphasis on his religion.
  • Both portrayals fall short, missing the complexity of Tipu’s character and material circumstances.


Crack Prelims 2023! Talk to our Rankers

(Click) FREE 1-to-1 on-call Mentorship by IAS-IPS officers | Discuss doubts, strategy, sources, and more

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch