he date generally accepted for Tipu's birth at Devanahalli
is 20th November 1750, and although details of his childhood
are few and largely uneventful, descriptions of the adult
Tipu are many and varied. Beatson
describes him thus: 'His stature was about five feet eight
inches; he had a short neck, square shoulders, and was rather
corpulent: his limbs were small, particularly his feet and
hands; he had large full eyes, small arched eyebrows, and
an aquiline nose; his complexion was brown, and the general
expression of his countenance, not void of dignity.' This
is also the image familiar from many surviving Tipu portraits.
Here, Tipu is dressed entirely in green, a Muslim holy colour,
which he wore in later life. Kirmani also notes that his
green turban (Shumlehdar) was twisted 'after the fashion
of the Arabs.'
A more familiar portrait shows Tipu, clad in a white
muslin jama. A full-length portrait survives at the
Darya Daulat palace, attributed to Zoffany, which may have
been known to Thomas and William Daniell.
This is the image which Kirmani, one of Tipu's most poetic
biographers, sought to evoke when he wrote: 'In his courts,
splendour of kingly magnificence and majesty were well sustained;
he profited in sciences; wrote and composed with ease and
elegance.' Although he was 'not lavish in his habits,' while
travelling, Tipu wore 'a coat of cloth of gold, or of the
red tiger stripe embroidered with
gold.' Beatson also mentions Tipu's 'selection of the tiger
as an emblem,' and adds that Tipu was 'passionately fond
of new inventions…In his palace was found a great variety
of curious swords, daggers,
fusils, pistols, and blunderbusses; some were of exquisite
workmanship, mounted with gold, or silver, and beautifully
inlaid and ornamented with tigers'
heads and stripes, or with Persian
and Arabic verses.' 'He has been frequently heard to say,
that in this world he would rather live two days like a
tiger, than two hundred years like a sheep,' wrote Beatson
of Tipu. For two hundred years, the Scotsman's words have
been quoted whenever Tipu's name is mentioned.
Even in his life time, there were widely divergent opinions
about Tipu, and the spelling of his name often caused confusion.
Dirom notes: 'we wrote it wrong,
for instead of Teepoo we spelled Tippo …but have corrected
it from the medal stricken by Louis XVI from France in honour
of Tipu's ambassadors.' From another Scotsman, Sir John
Lindsay, we learn that Haidar
ensured that 'Tipu became an expert soldier, joined his
father in military campaigns. Tipu became ruler of Mysore
on his father's death in 1782, and proclaimed his policies
in numerous hokumnamas 'Religious tolerance is the fundamental
tenet of the Holy Quran…' (1787); 'Agriculture is the life
blood of the nation…' (1788); 'There can be no glory or
achievement if the foundation of our palaces, roads and
dams are mingled with the tears and blood of humanity…'
(1789). A new calendar was introduced; new
coinage proclaimed Tipu's regal authority; seven Government
Departments were established and new names given to forts
and cities - Mysore became Nazarabad; Devanhalli became
Yousfabad. 'All was innovation on his part and fear of further
novelties on the part of others,' reflected a confidant,
Syeed Hussain. 'All the world was puzzled as to what distinct
character should be assigned to a sovereign who was never
the same.' Beatson suggests that it was only his actions
'of recent date' i.e. in the years leading up to 1799, which
'conveyed the idea of an unsettled and capricious mind.
Every year, often every month, presented a new change of
system; and before it was at all comprehended, a fresh plan
was introduced, and as quickly abandoned.'
In India today, this reassessment of Tipu's character and
policies continues, gaining momentum (and political emphasis)
in recent years. Some of the headlines are as dramatic as
those of the 19 century melodramas:
'The first freedom fighter?'; 'Tipu Sultan: Villain or Hero.
An Anthology'; 'Tipu Sultan's Protection for Hindu Temples.'
Even the most comprehensive of recent reassessments - 'Tipu
Sultan's Search for Legitimacy' which discusses kingship
and Tipu's approach to it; and 'Sunset at Seringapatam,'
with its catalogue of surviving objects, do not offer a
final or conclusive solution. The question was succinctly
posed in an article written in 1997 by the Professor of
Sociology at the University of Poona: 'So who was Tipu?
A forward looking freedom-fighter and nationalist, or a
feudal religious fanatic?' Scotland's great author, antiquarian
and romantic, Sir Walter Scott,
has left us with one memorable definition. Commenting on
the abdication of Napoleon Buonaparte in 1814, Scott wrote:
'although I never supposed that he (Napoleon) possessed,
allowing for some difference of education, the liberality
of conduct and political views which were sometimes exhibited
by old Haidar Ally, yet I did think he (Napoleon) might
have shown the same resolved and dogged spirit of resolution
with induced Tippoo Saib to die manfully upon the breach
of his capital city with his sabre clenched in his hand.'
This was the spirit of the Tiger of Mysore.