Tippu, the Lion King

Today in 1783, the Last Mujahid Soldier King Tippu Sultan drove out the British forces from Bednore in India. Tipu Sultan was one of the last great Muslim freedom fighter leaders who fought the colonists who had set out to destroy the Muslim empire.

Tippu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore in South India as a contemporary of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Louis XVI, George III and Napoleon Bonaparte. In more ways than one, the paths of these historical figures crossed those of Tippu. It is an irony of history that the triumph of George Washington and the independence of America had an impact on the military fortunes of Tippu Sultan in far-away Mysore.

After the British General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown (1781), he returned to England and was hired by the East India Company. It was Cornwallis who organized a sustained and determined political and military offensive against Tippu Sultan that finally contained the Sultan’s explosive energies.

On April 20, the British who had taken much of the rest of the Mughal Empire submitted these terms to the Sultan:
Surrender to the East India Company the entire Malabar Coast in western India. Surrender more than half of Mysore territories to the British.
Pay 20 million rupees as war indemnity. (In 1799 a Mysore rupee had the purchasing power of more than 3,000 Indian rupees today).
And finally to accept the British as rulers.
These humiliating terms were totally unacceptable to the Sultan who is often quoted as saying, “To live like a tiger for one day is preferable to living a hundred years as a jackal”. The terms were rejected and Tippu decided to defend the liberty of the Ummah to his last breath.

A noble vision requires noble men to achieve it. This was not to be. The ethical rot that had consumed Bengal in 1757 was now gnawing at Mysore. Muslim civilization was in an advanced stage of decay. It now produced traitors and sycophants in abundance, and very few mujahids and ghazis.

At 1 pm on May 4th, the traitor Mir Saadiq, a finance minister of the Sultan, directed other traitors including Mir Nadim, the Qiladar (captain of the fort), to arrange for them to allow the British in. The troops were withdrawn from the western sector. At 1:30 pm, Mir Saadiq ascended the ramparts near the breach and waved a white handkerchief, signaling the British that a general assault could begin.

Tipu Sultan at once threw himself into the thick of battle, calling on the Muslim defenders to hold their ground. The Mysore flag with the blazing sun at its center, and tiger stripes radiating out, shone with added pride that summer afternoon. The British had already broken through the lightly defended outer ramparts, from where Mysore troops had been withdrawn at the instigation of Mir Saadiq. From there, in an enveloping movement, the British had advanced along the northern and southern rims of the fort. The appearance of the Sultan held the lines along the northern rim. In the fray, the Sultan himself received three bayonet wounds. But the enemy threw additional troops into the battle.

Altogether, 4,376 British and several thousand Indian troops were involved in the assault. The southern battlements, commanded by Sayyid who was in league with the British, offered little resistance, and the southern assault succeeded in breaking through to the palace, located towards the center of the island. The Sultan was now hemmed in. Undaunted, he led his stead forward. Loyal troops charged, cutting down the invading forces. An enemy bullet pierced the Sultan’s stomach. He fought on, like a wounded tiger, surrounded by mortal enemies.

Another round hit his shoulder, and the force of the round knocked him off his horse, and his turban fell. The wounded prince stood his ground on foot, his sword glistening in the afternoon sun, surrounded on all sides by red coats. The afternoon wore on, even as the lonely Sultan held off one charge after another. It is said among the Muslims of Mysore that the angels themselves stopped to marvel at this prince of valor. At last, the brave soldier fell, exhausted by thirst, enfeebled by blood loss from his wounds.

The sun was now about to set not just on the Fort of Srirangapatam but on India itself. As the Sultan lay semi-conscious, a British soldier reached for Tippu’s diamond-studded kamarband, hoping to claim it as his war booty. But the Tiger was only wounded; he was not dead. Out came the Sultan’s sword and in one swoop he inflicted a gashing wound on the intruder’s arm. Enraged, the soldier shot the Sultan in the temple and his soul departed to join those who fought for Allah’s cause, their souls not dead but residing with Allah Himself until the Day of Judgement, those who fought and gave their lives and did not betray the Ummah for worldly gains.

An epoch ended in the history of the Islamic people, and a new epoch began. The sun set on the age of soldier-kings. With him disappeared “the pride of India and the shield of the Caliphate”. Alone among the princes of India, Tippu had valiantly defended his independence against the encroachments of of a foreign power. From a global Muslim perspective, he was the only soldier-king in modern times, who stood his ground and lay down his life defending his realm against an aggressive and expansionist Europe. The age of merchants was about to dawn, in which the trader-barons of England would be the kingmakers of Asia. On Tipu Sultan’s tomb in Seringapatam, the words ‘The light of Islam and the faith left the world’.