Tippu Series Part 5: What’s with Astrology & Tippu?

He was an unusually unpredictable character & a delusional soul… he claimed that he was a Muslim. However, since his passion for expansion weighed greater, he was addicted to astrology. He consulted astrologers, believed in omens, sought answers for his dreams… on behest of astrological predictions observed some Hindu believes to ward of trouble… Even spared some temples from destruction to avoid curse!! Yet he used conversion as a tool… perhaps he must have thought that they would be loyal?

He enjoyed the destruction of temples… His destruction of Hindu temples were innumerable. The intensity of Tipu’s raid was so terrifying that hundreds of temple priests from Kodagu fled to Mangalore along with their families. Many Priests had to dump the idols & the other holy artifacts into temple wells to protect it. Many priests lost their lives. Worship came to a permanent halt in several temples. Like the Maletirike Bhagavati temple at Virajpet some temple were covered with leaves in order to conceal their presence. The famous Omkareshwara (Shiva) temple of Madikeri faced mortal danger. To avert it from Tippu’s wrath the ruler of Madikeri removed the existing tower (Kalasha) of the temple & replaced it with a dome so that it appeared like a Mosque from afar. To this day it stands with its dome as a testament to Tippu’s destruction spree!

On the other hand it is on record that the Tipu addressed the head of the Sringeri Math, Sachchidananda Bharati, as Jagadguru (“World Teacher”; Saletore, 1999, p. 127) &, according to an eyewitness account, “went barefoot to [the] . . . Math to receive the Swamy’s blessings & to ask him to pass on a letter to the Marathas requesting them to take his side than that of the British” (Subhan, 2002, p. 43). Tipu patronized the temples of Sri Gandeswara & Sri Ranganatha. Subbaraya Chetty (1999) cites a list of grants from the Sultan to the Hindu temples & priests.

As the an astrology freak he consulted Hindu astrologer to find out right time to travel, start & wage wars, gave Brahmins dakshina to clear any bad omens. So much so, he was wearing a 41.2 gm oval yellow gold ring with the name of the Hindu God Rama inscribed in raised Devanagari given by Sankaracharya of Sringeri Math. He must have hoped that by wearing such a ring, he would reach the status of reverence like Lord Rama & his lies will be covered. {The famous ring was sold in Christie’s auction as part of the Raglan Collection on May 23, 2011 for 1.5 crore rupees. It was taken off the finger of the dead ruler by the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, as his personal spoil of war after the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799.} Astrologers obliged him fearing for their lives, their family & to protect their deities. Because of Tipu’s trust in astrology, astrologers managed to convince him that offering poojas on behalf of him at Sri Ranganath temple will give him immense power that he seeks. That’s one of the reasons few of the temples like Sri Ranganatha is still standing! Not because he was an apostle of secularism, peace & religious tolerant! {Sri Ranga did pay his debt by saving Tipu’s life once… read further!) Also it is said that Tippu used to dream & would seek meanings & solutions for his dreams from both Hindus & Muslim astrologers….. it is not surprising!! How could one sleep in peace after the evil destruction?

In 1960s when there was heavy rains & flooding in Lakshmanathirata River, many artifacts such as lamps washed up from the sand near my cousin’s home. He not only destroyed the two temples (there were very few temples in Kodagu) near my ancestral home in Napoklu, Kodagu but also along with it, set fire to the  homes of Kodavas & burnt everyone inside alive by not allowing anyone to leave. The atrocities meted out on Nairs (in general it is referred as Nairs but it is inclusive of all the Hindus of Kerala), Kodavas, Brahmins, Catholics in Mangalore, is beyond imagination. Interestingly, according to the folk lore, the origin of Badaga community of Coonoor (Tamil Nadu) with their uniquely beautiful culture & songs originated when their revered “Hethai“ managed to escape Tipu’s advances with handful of trusted people from Karnataka. Luckily they managed to make a living & to keep their culture & tradition alive. There are one too many untold tragic calamities befell on so many communities & families.

Tipu’s correspondences with the Sankaracharya of Sringeri Math reveal his scare for the foreboding of doom that he tried desperately to counter (Sharma, 1991). A firm believer in astrology, he often resorted to religious rituals & wore apotropaic objects & trinkets—Hindu as well as Islamic—either to avert a disaster or to attain success in his undertakings. A near contemporary historical account describes how, on May 4, 1799, the day Tipu died in the battlefield, he had ordered for all the ceremonies prescribed by the Brahmins to be duly performed, & having given them several presents, requested their prayers for the prosperity of his government. He also ordered to be slaughtered two elephants with all their golden trappings; . . . & large sums of gold mohurs were distributed amongst the beggars. (Maistre De La Touche & Mohammad, 1855, p. 307)

When the morning of May 4th came, Tipu was told that, the omens were not propitious. Since fighting was inevitable, He tried to ward off misfortune. Perhaps his black soul was so huge, even the elephants souls could not carry it away which stayed behind to welcome the death personally!! He appears to have developed a defeatist mentality of a doomed man several months before the siege of Srirangapatnam. Lieutenant Wilks writes of the Sultan’s apprehension of an impending dissolution of his empire based on a folk tale of cephalomancy he sincerely believed. {Cephalomancy: Divination by the study of the skull or head of a donkey or goat. Sometimes mentioned as the roasting of an ass’s head on hot coals}. According to this tale, the mysterious power of a crushed human skull showing some cracks caused the death of 40 persons. When Tipu noticed some cracks on the mast of the ship the Frenchman Ripaud had taken to the Isle of France, he was convinced that these cracks foreboded the destruction of his empire & thus “he readily made up his mind to throw himself unconditionally in his Lordship’s [Wellesley’s] compassion” after he had read the Governor General’s letter of January 9, 1799 (Wilks, 1810-1817/1869, Vol. 2, pp. 332-333). {Wilks does not mention how he obtained the information on Tipu’s reaction to Mornington’s letter of January 9, 1799.}

It’s very odd to write this… for all his offering to Hindu Gods & God men (Brahmins)… Sri Ranaga did save his life once, in the form of a Nair!!



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