Tippu Sultan – Kodavas – British : A Triangle of skepticism. Tippu Series Part 2: What other Western historians have said of Tippu

The British historian Wilks has managed to describe Tipu realistically. He criticizes Tipu as vain & arrogant, mediocre soldier & statesman, a despot to his English prisoners & Hindu subjects. Wilks declares: the leading features of his character were vanity & arrogance; no human being ever so handsome, so wise, so learned, so brave as himself. Resting on the shallow instructions of his scanty reading, he neglected the practical study of mankind. No man had ever less penetration into character, I accordingly no prince was ever so ill-served. Emphasizing Tipu’s religious fanaticism, Wilks states that Tipu promulgated his religion, by force.

Like Wilks, Bowring points out that Tipu urged on by religious bigotry, innate cruelty & despotism, though little of sacrificing thousands of lives to his ardent zeal & revengeful feelings. Various British texts, testimonies by British soldiers who had been Tipu’s prisoners, & others portray Tipu as barbaric Eastern ruler who abused his British & local prisoners, forcibly converting them to Islam, circumcising them, & enslaving them.

Mr. Sewin B. Bowring, formerly Chief Commissioner of Mysore in his work Hyder Ali & Tipu Sultan (1899) has given a number of instances of cruel treatment that was meted out to the Hindus in Mysore state. Lieutenant-Colonel William Kirkpatrick (1756-1813) also mentions the incident: In a letter written to his brother-in-law Burhanuddin Khan by Tipu during the siege of Nargund, Tipu ordered: “In the event of your being obliged to assault the place, every living creature in it, whether man or woman, old or young, child, dog, cat, or anything else must be put to the sword…” This is in stark-contrast to what Khande Rao did to Tipu himself. When Khande Rao plotted the destruction of Hyder Ali, the latter realizing that his life was in danger, escaped from the capital on the night of August 2, 1760 leaving behind Tipu & rest of the family who were placed by Khande Rao, to a guarded house near the mosque inside the fort of Srirangapatana. He however treated them kindly (within the rule of war). Later on the re-conquest of Srirangapatana, Hyder shifted his family to Bangalore palace for safety. On that day the young boy of TEN had learnt three lessons simultaneously from his father & Khande Rao. Abandonment from father (that’s why obsession with tigers); a God fearing Brahmin (Khade Rao) will not breach the trust & what is the meaning of power & wealth. The fear, guilt & scar of abandonment seem to have shaped his behavior towards humanity till his death. Also this is one of the reasons he enjoyed cruelty against other happy families & also had Purnaiya (Brahmin) as his Prime Minister!?!

Kirkpatrick (1811) writes further, “Colonel Munro [Sir Hector, 1726-1805] assures me, that it is an absolute fact that on one occasion he [Tipu] ordered all the male population of a particular village which had given him offence, to be castrated.

Professor Sir Thomas Arnold was a well-known scholar of Islam. He had taught at MAO College, Aligarh in the 19th century. He wrote: For India has often been picked out as a typical instance of a country in which Islam owes its existence & continuance in existence to the settlement in it of foreign conquering Muhammadan races, who have transmitted their faith to their descendants, & only succeeded in spreading it beyond their own circle by means of persecution & forced conversions. Thus the missionary spirit of Islam is supposed to show itself in its true light in the brutal massacres of Brahmans by Mahmud of Ghazna, in the persecution of Aurangzeb, the forcible circumcisions effected by Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan & the like. Tipu Sultan most systematically engaged in the work of forcible conversions.

In 1788, he issued the following proclamation to the people of Malabar:  From the period of the conquest until this day, during 24- years, you have been a turbulent & refractory people, & in the wars waged during your rainy season, you have caused number of our warriors to taste the draught of martyrdom. Be it so. What is past is past. Hereafter you must proceed in an opposite manner, dwell quietly & pay your dues like good subjects; & since it is the practice with you for one woman to associate with ten men, & you have your mothers & sisters unconstrained in their obscene practices, & are thence all born in adultery, & are more shameless in your connection than the beasts of the field, I hereby require you to forsake these sinful practices & to be like the rest of mankind; & if you are disobedient to these commands, I have made repeated vows to honour the whole of you with Islam & to march all the chief persons to the seat of Government.

The above proclamation led to an uprising. Tipu Sultan sent an army of more than 20-thousand to enforce the general orders that “every being in the district without distinction should be honoured with Islam, that the honour of such as fled to avoid that honour should be burned, that they should be traced to their lurking places, & that all means of truth & falsehood, force or fraud should be employed to effect their universal conversion.

Sir Thomas concludes: The history of Islam in Southern India by no means always continued to be of so peaceful a character, but it does not appear that the forcible conversions of the Hindus & others to Islam which were perpetrated when the Muhammadan power became paramount under Haider Ali (1767-1782) & Tipu Sultan (1782-1788), can be paralleled in the earlier history of this part of India. (The Preaching of Islam, London, 1913).

Today there is no harmony among people & the world peace hangs with a thin strand of thread not because of any religion but because of mushrooming barbarians like Tippu. Tippu died like a street dog & it should be lesson to every barbarian…

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Coorg Warrior 1837

The following article is a contribution from my Son:

I’m a big history buff, and have spent hundreds of hours pouring over facts and figures from Cahokia to Dwaraka, Alexander to Xerces and Hannibal to Rommel. I’ve replayed alternative histories, imagined ancient battles, and often found myself dreaming about discovering new civilizations or lost Incan gold!

But what recently blew my mind was my own piece of investigative history during my trip to India last December (2012). With all the excitement of an old Tintin story, spanning two cities, learning something new about Coorg (Kodava) History, to finding lost gold (yes GOLD), all in a span of 36 hours! Here’s my story….

During my cousin’s wedding, I overheard someone talking about how Coorgs have stopped sporting the once famous “Coorg Wildlife Society”* stickers on their vehicles, and were now moving towards what’s called the “Coorg Warrior” sticker. Apparently the Coorg wildlife society sticker was so widely available that everyone and anyone were sticking it on their cars and bikes. Additionally, you no longer had to join the society to get the sticker, so this also led to a slight drop in its use by actual Kodavas.

My Dad was gifted one of the warrior stickers by a cousin of mine, and when I was in Mysore, I got a chance to take a look at it as I was cleaning out my Dad’s car. The sticker depicted a common poise of a Kodava Warrior, taken from an old French or British picture of an ancient Kodava warrior brandishing an Odi Kathi (Fighting sword) above his head, and a musket/flintlock on his other hand. I say ancient because of the particular way in which he wears his traditional attire: Coorgs today wear their traditional black woolen Kupiya, tailored to a modern fit, with a white and gold turban, a red and gold ornate silk sash (Chaele) that wraps tightly around their waists, and a ceremonial dagger, the Peche Kathi tucked into the sash. The kupiya is worn over either a modern shirt/pant/tie combination or over a kurtha pyjama.

However, if you look at the Warrior’s attire,  you’ll notice how it’s fitting to his martial needs. He wears a cloth around his head, his kupiya is free flowing, and not rigid like the woolen ones of today, and he wears nothing on this legs and feet. His Cheale appears to merely be a cloth wrapped around his waist. Even the peeche kathi appears to be purpose built as a weapon and less of a ceremonial blade.

The sticker also had the following words on the bottom, “Coorg Warrior 1839”. Now that year really got me hooked and my mom suggested I find out what the significance of that date is. That night, a bit of wordsmithing and googling later, this is what I found:

a)      There was no particular significance of the date 1839 in Coorg history pertaining to that medal. Let me know if you know otherwise**

b)      There was however, significance to 1837, when it is recorded in multiple publications and sites that a Coorg Medal was issued by the British Government to some Kodavas for their loyalty to the British during an uprising in Canara, Karnataka in April of 1837.

c)       The reverse of the medal is the Coorg coat of arms (sans the rifle that is in the coat of arms used today). This coat of arms contains the Odi and Peeche Kathi, and also included the “thodanga”, which is girdle used to hold the Odi Kathi at the back of the warriors waist. A laurel wreath surrounds all of them, and an English inscription surrounds the wreath “For distinguished conduct and loyalty to the British Government. Coorg, April 1837

d)      On the front of the medal, I found what I was looking for: The Coorg Warrior. The medal, unlike the sticker, afforded the opportunity to build depth the warrior, and so I could clearly make out the warriors face, well defined calf and pectoral muscles, his rifle, the free flowing Kupiya, the dagger in his Chale.

I was quite stumped: mainly because of my own (and I suspect most Coorgs) lack of knowledge in the origins of the Coorg warrior pose. Here I had found we were not only citing the date wrong, but more so, we were using a something that the British created as a symbol of our warrior history!

Now, I’m not going to get into the obvious arguments of our allegiances, what were we doing helping the British when we should have been fighting to keep them out, etc etc etc. India in 1839 did not exist as a country, and we were really 500 states (or countries even) that either paid tribute to or were ruled over by the British Crown. The concept of the entire region being a country is quite debatable, so let’s save that for another time or offline. For now, treat this as a story of what happened: pure facts.

Anyway, the next morning, off we went to Coorg for my final trip there before I had to come back to the US. That afternoon, I found myself sitting with my close uncle and aunt (I them Papa and Mama) and the conversation obviously drifted into this exciting story that I told them. How we were using a British sign of loyalty to depict our warrior backgrounds, etc. The whole time I told the story, I noticed a growing gleam in my Papa’s eyes, his lips and manner itching to butt into my story, until finally; he said “no you’re wrong; the medal was given by the Maharaja of Coorg, to certain people for their bravery. We have one of those medals, and I can show it to you!”He instructs his daughter to get the special medal from the safe, and I thought he was kidding. But lo and behold, she appears with this:

Front-lightroom British Coorg History india indian Knowlegde Martial medal Warrior Kodagu kodava wealth hindu  medal 1837 Back-lightroom British Coorg History india indian Knowlegde Martial medal Warrior Kodagu kodava wealth hindu medal 1837

Goosebumps, flashbacks, everything came pouring out as I took the medal in my hands. I just couldn’t believe I was holding a piece of history so close to my people, right in my hands, a mere 24 hours after I first began my search for an answer! After much observation and translating, we confirmed that it was indeed given by the British and not the Maharaja, and we spent the next hour or so refreshing our memories and getting our history right!

References

*Coorgs, traditionally bound by geography and family ties to Coorg, have spread out of their homeland over the last few decades, moving into Mysore, Bangalore and beyond. Fiercely connected to their identity, we would look for ways to identify ourselves when we were out driving around in these cities. Now, wearing a Kupiya and riding your motorcycle is not for everyone, but most of us would stick the Coorg Wildlife sticker our Motorcycles and Cars. I had one on my bike’s petrol tank, and most cars have it at the rear windshields or on the boot(trunk) of the car.

** It’s possible that strict British industrial age policy of making goods in the British homeland necessitated the medal being produced and shipped from the UK. This could mean that they were probably distributed in 1839 for the actions of 1837.  However, that’s my interpretation. The real person to know for sure is the one who printed the sticker for the first time:-D

Reference:

1880-British-Military-and-Naval-Medals-and-Decorations (pg 26, Coorg)

http://www.scribd.com/doc/100191148/1880-British-Military-and-Naval-Medals-and-Decorations

Knowlegde is power

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I’ve been wanting to write for a long time now. My children have been forcing me to write… but it never happened for two years now. Finally, my daughter-in-law said “I always learn something from your mails and stories, why don’t you write in a blog! We set up a site way back in November 2012, which forced me to write… I spent two months wondering what to write… and finally settled for an interesting thought and observation I have.

I’ll start with a small advice which was passed on to me by my departed father: old men are wise and that too fathers are always wiser, right? His advice was about education vs. wealth. As an Indian I have grown up looking at the pictures of gods and goddesses all my life. I am sure most of you know that Goddess Saraswati is the goddess of education and knowledge and Goddess Laxmi is the goddess of wealth. I wonder how many people really thought of or glanced at the depiction of both of them in either the Vedic symbolism or in the Indian philosophical perspective. Vedas are one of the oldest books known to mankind, yet they are also relevant and even modern in its thoughts, that can cater to the unending quest of the human mind. There is meaning for everything if one really wishes to learn, everything is given for a certain reason with certain inner meaning.

Take for example Goddess Laxmi. The goddess of wealth stands on the lotus with wealth (gold coin to be precise) falling from her hand. Wealth provides comfort, luxury & material enjoyment for the body. On the other hand Goddess Saraswathi, the goddess of words, knowledge and inspiration, clad fully in pure white sits gracefully either on a rock or on lotus playing her veena (lute). In Sanskrit the word ‘Sara’ means ‘essence’ and ‘swa’ means ‘self’. Thus Saraswati means ‘the essence of self’. She is known as the awakener of the consciousness to right thinking or right states of mind. She represents intelligence, consciousness, cosmic knowledge, creativity, education, enlightenment, music, the arts, eloquence and power. While Goddess Laxmi represents material wealth related to body and senses, Goddess Sarswati represents the purity of thought, word and deed.

A deeper meaning is that knowledge and education is like a rock which once gained cannot be moved. They are solid foundation that, rain or shine, sits like the rock. It’s a permanent gift one can give to oneself. No matter how hard one may try, they will not be able to steal it from you. Wealth on the other hand, is fickle. Like how with every passing wind, the lotus standing on water will sway from side to side, wealth always sways unsteadily. Unless one is really careful, it’s difficult to hold on to the wealth. In an instant, wealth can be blown away. Over the years I have seen people born with a silver spoon losing their money in a short span of time. However, a few years of hard work and dedication to education will reap healthy benefits in the longer run.

Moral of the story is: Give primary importance to education: It is the true key to success. I remember my son when he was in first or second standard singing his school anthem will full gusto “Knowledge is power! Knowledge is power! (I don’t think he understood the meaning back then) An education can also help you to manage your wealth.

I know one might say Bill Gates is a school dropout. Well there is only one Bill Gates out of 7 billion in the world right? Unless otherwise you are pretty sure that you are born in the right place at the right time with right luck, (did you check your horoscope this morning?), give the highest importance to education. That’s what I have been preaching my children all along!!

Na chor haryam, na raaj haryam, na bhratra bhajyam na cha bharakaari,
vyaye krate vardhate eva nityam, vidhya dhanam sarva dhan pradhanam

Meaning: The wealth that cannot be stolen, neither abducted by state, nor can be divided amongst brothers, Neither it is burdensome to carry, The wealth that increases by giving, That wealth is knowledge and is supreme of all possessions.