Friday Review

Mysore’s legacy in Scotland

The view of the 12th century edifice at Edinburgh castle that houses the National War Museum.

The view of the 12th century edifice at Edinburgh castle that houses the National War Museum.  

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The legend of Tipu Sultan is still alive in far away Scotland

It is an irony that Tipu sultan, the ‘Tiger of Mysore’, whose birth anniversary celebrations in India became a contentious issue recently, in Scotland whose soldiers and commanders fought for the dissemination of this great warrior king, the only Indian monarch to have died on the battlefield fighting the British, is cherished and commemorated in song, dance, drama, opera, in novel and in paintings. A wealth of personal effects and curiosities of Tipu Sultan have found way to numerous art galleries and museums in Scotland, particularly in its capital Edinburgh.

The participation of the Scots in the affairs of the East India Company began immediately after the unification of Scotland with England through an Act of Union in 1707. Since then Scottish people began coming to India as soldiers, generals, writers, administrators, traders, merchants and missionaries. But they excelled in their service as military generals and commanders. A separate Regiment of foot, the ‘75 Highlanders’ 75th .Highlanders was raised in Scotland to deal with Tipu Sultan. Scottish generals like Sir Hector Munro, Baillie, Beatson, Fraser, Gordon, Dunlop and others participated in the military operations against Tipu. The Scots, more than the English were in the forefront of the British forces in almost all the Mysore wars fought between 1760 and 1799.

After Tipu was finally dismembered by the British under the command of General Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, the images of Tipu Sultan as well as Srirangapatnam proliferated in Britain. No other Indian ruler, against whom the British fought and won, captured the imagination of the average Britisher at home, as much as that of Tipu Sultan. There were tales of mythical proportions in circulation about his valour, reckless energy and merciless acts of tortures meted to the captured British soldiers. It is said that British housewives used to threaten their weeping babies with the ‘arrival of Tipu’ to silence them

The images of Tipu Sultan and his capital, Srirangapatnam became subjects for paintings and art sketches throughout Britain. When Ker Porter’s Panorama a single large painting of Tipu Sultan was displayed in Edinburgh, there was euphoria among the Scots to have a glimpse of it. The celebrated British painters J.M.W. Turner and J.S. Cotman painted scenes of Srirangapatnam and other places in Mysore besides the portraits of Tipu. Sir David Willkie, the famous painter of the day was commissioned by the widow of Sir David Baird, and his poignant painting Discovering the body of Tipu Sahib on 4 May, 1799, was exhibited in 1838 in the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The Scottish General David Baird had spent several years in Srirangapatnam as a prisoner of Tipu before avenging in the final assault on Tipu.

Alexander Allen an artist of great repute travelled to India to personally see the hill forts in Mysore kingdom before he produced captivating sketches. William Darnell and Beckford also produced several sketches that survive even today. Holmes’ Select Views of Mysore, and Hunter’s Picturesque Scenery in the Kingdom of Mysore also evoked great enthusiasm in Britain. The Mysore wars offered exciting subjects and artists who never even visited India responded to the popular appeal of the Tiger of Mysore. As a result of such prolific paintings, the image of Tipu was so much etched in the collective memory of the Britishers that decades later, when Raja Ram Mohan Roy visited England, he had to confront hostile crowds as he was mistaken to be a descendant of Tipu Sultan. The head gear he wore was similar to the huge turban Tipu wore.

Returning soldiers of Scotland provided Sir Walter Scott with anecdotes for his novels on India. Several dramas and stage plays depicting Tipu and his fall were written and enacted at the Royal Corbug theatre in Edinburgh. Events at Srirangapatnam also appear in the writings of the novelists like Charles Dickens, Wilkes Collins and Jules Verne.

The remnants of Tipu Sultan’s dismantled throne, his numerous swords, daggers, bejewelled sword-belts, hukkas, ivory caskets, and several other artefacts were displayed in Glasgow and Edinburgh besides London.

Tiger in Museum:

In 1999, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, as a part of the bi-centennial celebrations of Tipu’s death, held a special exhibition and decided to make Tipu’s Toy Tiger as a special exhibit along with several other Tipu’s memorabilia. But as the antique Toy Tiger was advised by exerts not to be moved from Victoria & Albert museum, fearing damage in the transit, a replica of it was made for the occasion.

The Toy Tiger is an awesome life size wooden toy seen devouring a European in military uniform. This impressive toy has cast a spell over generations of admirers since 1808 when it was first displayed in the Indian section of Kensington Museum now called Victoria & Albert Museum. The Toy in its body has a mechanical pipe organ hidden and by turning a handle, creates wailing shrieks and a loud roar. The design of this Toy Tiger is said to have been inspired by the death of the son of the Scottish General, Sir Hector Munro, a bête Notre of Tipu Sultan.

Tipu’s Memories at Edinburgh Castle:

The most significant of Tipu’s memories lay at the imposing castle in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. This historical castle, perched on a hillock with a commanding site, is a national symbol of Scotland. Inside the castle is located National War Museum’in which the ‘the Battle Honors” of the Scottish Regiments are displayed. Here are seen numerous ornamental swords belonging to the several prominent Scottish Generals who saw action in the Mysore wars. Swords presented to Generals as souvenirs and medals are also on display What is surprising is the words, ‘Carnatic’, ‘Mysore’, and ‘Srirangapatnam’ carved in stone, are seen on the wall of this Museum indicating the importance the Scots bestowed on their combats during the wars against Tipu.

At the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), held annually in August with several programmes of music, theatre, opera and dance, Tipu’s memories also come alive . The closing ceremony of the EIF held at the Castle is marked by spectacular display of fireworks. The scene is suddenly shrouded in darkness and bellowing smoke as rockets and explosives presents dramatic images of a big hill-fort under siege. This is an imitation of the Mysore wars when Scottish soldiers in India were familiar with such sights when deadly fires were showered on them from the impregnable forts like Nandidurg, Savandurg and Ootradurg in Tipu’s kingdom. It is said that four tons of explosives are used that evening for the celebration of such fireworks. Tipu Sultan, the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ must have died two centuries ago, but his enduring legend continues to be celebrated in far away Scotland with genuine nostalgia.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2019 4:57:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/mysores-legacy-in-scotland/article8365531.ece

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