History & Culture

Unearthing a historical treasure

Nidhin G Olikara gave a talk on the history of Mysore’s metal-case rockets

“Mysore was the forerunner of the military industrial economy in India,” said Nidhin G Olikara, from Shivamogga, who holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts (History), at a talk on Mysore Rockets at the Bangalore International Centre. The talk was a revelation as Nidhin traced the history of how the Mysore metal-cased rockets predate their European counterparts.

Nidhin narrated a gripping story on the unearthing of a cache of rockets in 2002. “In Nagara, 60 kilometres from Shivamogga, preparations for a wedding were happening at the house of a farmer, Nagaraj Rao. He had bought a piece of land, near the Nagara fort. He had a well which dried up, but needed water for the wedding guests. They had observed there was a ring of stones, which they knew was an old abandoned well and they started digging it manually. When they went to a depth of about 12 feet they started getting water. Along with the mud they started getting cylindrical tubes. They went to a depth of 30 feet and one by one they started getting the tubes. Gangadhar, the then curator of the Shimoga Shivappa Nayaka Palace Goa Museum, came there and took 100 of those tubes to the Shivappa Nayaka Musuem. It was entered as a note, that these were shells, which stayed for eight years in a gunny bag in the store room. In 2010, the then Deputy Director Siddhen Gowda had seen the two rockets at Woolwich on a training programme and he had seen photos of these pieces and wrote a monograph in 2010. It was still not taken seriously. It stayed there till 2013, still labelled as ‘shells’.”

At the time, Nidhin started looking for any reference to rockets. “It was then that I observed this monograph and went down to the museum. It had not been entered into the register, though.”

Unearthing a historical treasure

The Keladi Nayakas, after the eclipse of Vijayanagara, took over from North Canara all the way up to Kasargod. Bidanoor was one of the capitals which they called Nagara. Haider conquered Nagara and Mysore transformed from a small principality into one that took custody of the richest part of Karanataka — with access to the coast. Haider was besotted with Nagara and he changed the name from Nagara to Haider Nagara. Hosanagara is 7 kilometres away from Nagara. The capital was shifted to Hosanagara.”

Over the past few years, says Nidhin, there have been two debris clearances. “Over 3,000 rockets have been recovered. This was a brilliant opportunity for us to study what these rockets were.”

Nidhin adds: “We were given permission to study the rockets by the Karnataka State Archaeology, Museum and Heritage gave us permission to test them and write a report on them.”

The research team comprised of Nidhin, Shejeshwara, Assistant Director Archaeology Department, Government of Karnataka, professor Sharada Srinivasan, archaeometallurgist, professor HS Mukunda, combustion scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, Dr Ajay Sharma, GIS Mapping of Nagara and VK Divekar, who helped with lab tests.

The British, during the course of the Anglo-Mysore Wars, encountered the metal case rockets for the first time. “Major Dirom in 1792, during the course of the third Anglo Mysore War, writes of a shower of rockets, some of which entered the head of the column, causing death wounds and dreadful lacerations.”

Robert Home drew a large number of water colours of important forts, characters of that period, both British and Mysoreans, among those were two water colours of rocket men. “Tipu’s rocket man typically called a baan daar (keeper of arrows). Even though an iron case rocket is different from a wooden case rocket, it was still called a banaa (arrow), because the purpose was the same.”

“Even though I can not claim that the first iron rockets were used during Haider’s time, I still claim it was Haider, and especially Tipu, who used the rockets. He used them to the maximum extent.”

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 2:14:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/unearthing-a-historical-treasure/article30028648.ece

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