I am attempting here, to rebut the oft parroted argument propounded a century ago that Tipu Sultan was responsible for the desecration and plunder of the Hariharesvara temple in Harihar, Karnataka.
“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”
― Joseph Goebbels (Minister of Propaganda, Nazi Germany, 1933-1945)
Kate Brittlebank is a scholar who I have greatly admired over the years for her almost single minded dedication to unravelling more facets of the person Tipu and his kingship in Mysore. Her seminal work ‘Islam and Kingship in a Hindu domain-Tipu Sultan’s search for Legitimacy’ published in 1997 is among the best works to have emerged on Tipu Sultan’s Mysore in the latter part of the last century.
Over the years that I have been read her work, one sentence in it conspicuously stood out. It ran thus:’The Mysore Archaeological Survey reports at least three Hindu temples within the realm as having been destroyed by Tipu: the Hariharesvara temple at Harihar was apparently plundered and part of it converted into a mosque; the Varahasvami temple in Seringapatam was demolished with the image being later taken to Mysore, and set up again in 1809; and the Odakaraya temple at Hospet is said to have been destroyed.’
At the same time, I have also written about the destruction his army spread through the Malabar during the course of his Padayottam with a special emphasis on the Syrian Christian community there and the displacement of an Anjaneya image before the construction of the grand Jama Masjid in Seringapatam.
Kate’s statement has been picked up by several writers, bloggers, magazines, etc. and this may be verified by almost verbatim copies of her assertion in several recent works related to Tipu Sultan. No author less than the venerable M.V. Kamath referred to this statement in his article on Tipu in the ‘Organiser’.
Kate Brittlebank gave the source of the quote related to the Hariharesvara temple as MAR(1912), pp22. The Mysore Archaeological Reports (MAR) were a model of scholarship and research for the rest of British India then. They were written annually with an intention of showcasing the Mysore state Archaeology departmental research with emphasis on progress in translating inscriptions and excavations through the year. Eminent scholars like Sri R. Narasimhachar, Sri. Shama Sastry, Sri. Narayana Iyengar, Prof. K.A. Neelakanta Shastry, Dr. M H Krishna, Dr. M. Seshadri were responsible for the preparation and publication of the MAR.
Harihar is an ancient town, situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra river, at the Mysore and Dharwar frontier. Like all frontier towns, it was also fiercely contested among different ruling powers throughout the last 500 years. However it was with the coming on the scene of the 3 great powers – Mysore, Maratha and British that saw Harihar emerging as an important military outpost.
Verifying the source document
I decided to verify for myself Tipu Sultan’s ‘apparent plunder’ of the Hariharesvara temple and it’s conversion into a mosque first hand. The ICHR library at Bangalore possessed a copy of the MAR for the year 1912. This particular volume had been published under the supervision of Sri R. Narasimhachar who succeeded Mr. B Lewis Rice as Director of Archaeology, Mysore and who collected and published 4000 inscriptions across the state. As Kate mentioned, the reference to Tipu Sultan’s ravaging the Hariharesvara temple was found on Page 22 of the volume. I am reproducing it here in verbatim: ‘The Shanbog of Harihar, Srinivasa Sitarama Kulkarni, showed me some old records relating to the temple, one of which says that Tippu broke the images(a large number of them named) of the temple, carried away it’s belongings, and converted a portion of it into a mosque’
Inference after verifying the source document
This statement meant that Narasimhachar was shown several documents by the Shanbog (Village Accountant) one among which said that Tipu had committed this sacrilege. Narasimhachar only mentioned the existence of this document and did not vouch for it’s accuracy. He examined it as a third party and brought out the record of it’s existence in the MAR for that year 1912. The same journal in the notings at the end mentions by name and content several of the Harihar documents shown by the Shanbog that were deposited in the Mysore Archives but curiously this particular Tipu document is absent from that list. Narasimhachar in all probability did not consider it important enough to insist or request that it be deposited in the Archives.
Onsite verification at the Hariharesvara Temple
I decided to take the bull by the horns! A visit to the Hariharesvar temple followed my visit to the ICHR library. I was informed about a booklet promoted by the Hariharesvara temple trust. The booklet is called ‘Harihara Kshetra Mahathme’ and is authored by Shri Kalamdani Guurayaru and published by Sujatha Shreekant Kulkarni of Harihar.
I wanted to meet the author but was informed that he is no more now. So I had to content myself with reading the history of Hariharesvara temple from the booklet promoted by the temple authorities themselves. This is the translation of what the author has to say about the temple and it’s contact with the Adil Shahis, Marathas and Mysore.
‘The Harihareshwara Temple at Harihar was built and extended during the period of Hoysalas. After the end of the Hoysala rule the temple received patronage from the Vijayanagar rulers. After the talikota battle the temple the surrounding areas came under the rule of Ikkeri Nayaks for a short period. The Chitradurga paleygars took over the temple and the surrounding area from the Ikkeri Nayaks and ruled it for a considerable period of time.
The army of Adil Shahis of Bijapur attacked this place, disfigured the main idol by the cutting off the legs. The idol was later buried deep in the sands near the river bed. The army however did not destroy the main temple complex but instead converted the same into a mosque. However in 1761 a large army of the Peshwa took over the temple the surrounding area. The temple was purified a new idol was installed after converting the mosque back to temple….
..Hyder Ali and his son Tippo while expanding the boundaries of the Mysore Kingdom invaded this area took it over along with the surrounding area. After this Hyder, his army crossed the river continued their campaign but came face to face with a huge strong army of the Peshwa. A major battle took place very soon Hyder Ali realized that it was difficult to defeat the Peshwa hence was forced to compromise. As per the compromise the area in around Harihara was restored back to the Maharattas….
..Post 1799 this area was brought under the Mysore rule thereafter under the Chitradurga Division.’
So, the official booklet from the temple mentions nothing about Tipu Sultan vandalising the temple. While it clearly recounted the Adil Shahi vandalism of 350 years vintage, it made no mention of the ‘alleged’ Tipu Sultan vandalism that may have occurred only 200 odd years ago. How interesting?
But again, this was what I learnt about the temple from it’s own booklet. Now, I looked forward to someone who could provide me an oral history of the temple. I have always believed that folklore is a very important part of the study of the past and local folklore and legend may have something in it that local historians missed.
On my next visit several months later, I met the temple priest there, Shri Guru Bhatta and requested him to tell me about the history of the temple. He explained to me the religious significance of Harihar and how the deity, a composite image of both the primary Hindu deities Shiva and Vishnu took form.
He is well educated and his family has been serving the temple for 5 generations now. He showed me the Lakshmi temple at the side of the primary temple and said that it was where the Muslim invaders had built their mosque after vandalising the temple. The vandalism on the Lakshmi temple is apparent because the temple has elements of both Hosysala and later architecture. The temple ‘Shikhara’ is very apparently of later construction. This was the portion of the temple rebuilt by the Peshwa after he seized Harihar. When the Marathas were rebuilding the temple they did not find the image of Lakshmi as it was missing after being disfigured by the invaders. So, the Marathas installed a Durga image within the renovated temple. The image is still worshipped but the temple is curiously still called by the same old name, Lakshmi Devasthana (Laskshmi Temple).
Guru Bhatta informed me that temple suffered vandalism at the hands of both the Adil Shahis as well as the Navabs of Savanur. While I informed him that I hold an interest in Mysore history, I deliberately kept from him the information that my primary area of interest is Mysore under Tipu Sultan so as not to color his answers in any way. I asked him specifically if the temple had at any time in it’s history suffered damage at the hands of Tipu Sultan. He vehemently affirmed that Tipu Sultan had nothing to do with the vandalism that the temple was subject to.
Guru Bhatta told me that the Peshwa had also presented the deity with several ornaments including bejewelled necklaces that were deposited in the temple treasury and are taken out to adorn the deity once a year during the annual temple festival.
Inference post onsite verification at the Hariharesvara Temple
The visit to the temple, verification of it’s written history and discussion of oral tradition with the priest led me to conclude that no record oral or written is presented by the temple of it having suffered any damage at the hands of Tipu Sultan. This breaks down the ‘Temple demolition’ allegation.
Further, the fact that the temple still retains the ornaments presented to it by the Peshwas also makes it clear that the temple was not plundered by Tipu Sultan. From the grant of these jewels to the temple in 1761, Harihar had passed into Tipu’s hands several times and was with him undisturbed throughout the period between the 3rd and 4th Anglo Mysore wars. This breaks down the ‘Temple Plunder’ allegation too.
Let us now go ahead and examine other sources, contemporary and later, amateur and academic of information pertaining to this temple.
Harihar and the Hariharesvara temple as per B.L. Rice in Gazetteer of Mysore. 1876 A.D.
B.L. Rice writes ‘In the time of the Chalukya kings, Harihar appears to have been an ancient Agrahara, possessed by 104 Brahmins, and included in the province of Nonambavadi, administered by governors bearing the name of Pandya. The present highly ornate temple of Hariharesvara, was erected in 1223 by Polalva, a general and minister of the Hoysala king, Narasimha II, and some additions were made in 1268 under Soma, a general under a king of the same name and dynasty, and the founder of Somnathpur with it’s splendid temple.Many benefactions were bestowed down to the 16th Century by the Vijaynagar kings, , one of the founders of which line, Hakka, also assumed the name Harihara Raja.
After the fall of Vijaynagar, the place was seized by the Tarikere chiefs who erected the fort. From them it was taken by the Nawabs of Savanur, who granted it as a title to Shir Khan. While in possession of the Muhammaddans the temple was left intact, but the roof was used for a mosque, a small saracenic doorway being made into the tower for a pulpit. Harihar was subsequently sold to the chiefs of Bednur, for it is said, a lakh of rupees. The Mahrattas next held possession, until it was subdued by Haidar Ali in 1763. Since that time it has been thrice taken by the Mahrattas.’
Inference from the work of B.L. Rice in the Gazetteer of Mysore
B. Lewis Rice (Benjamin Lewis Rice) (1837-1927) was the director of the Department of Archaeology of Mysore state in India and an epigraphist. He is known for his work Epigraphia Carnatica which contains his study on about 9000 inscriptions he found in the Old Mysore area.
In 1879, he brought out the first volume on Mysore Inscriptions, which contained translations of these inscriptions. Several more volumes on inscriptions followed, including books on the inscriptions of Shravanabelagola, and his magnum opus, Epigraphia Carnatica – twelve hefty tomes on inscriptions in various parts of Karnataka. Overall, Rice translated almost 9,000 inscriptions from all over Karnataka.
The government, impressed with his thorough and methodical manner of gathering information, also gave him the task of preparing Gazetteers for the State and for every district. Hence came about Rice’s other magnum opus, the Mysore Gazetteer, the first of which was published in 1876, the second in 1897. Like Epigraphia Carnatica, Lewis Rice’s Gazetteers are still the go-to books for general and historical information about most cities, towns and districts in Coorg and erstwhile Mysore.
The comprehensive information in Rice’s books was based in part on detailed questionnaires that Rice sent to Deputy Commissioners and taluk officials, and partly on his archaeological research tours around the state.
B.L. Rice clearly states in his his gazette information about the Hariharesvara temple that it was Shir Khan, a vassal of the Savanur Navabs who altered the roof of the temple for a mosque. He being an expert in deciphering inscriptions and having already deciphered over 9000 of them speaks nothing about Tipu’s ravaging the temple in any way. He also did not get to read any such document that his protégé, student and successor in the Mysore Archaeology departments, R. Narasimhachar later read.
Obviously just 76 odd years after Tipu’s fall the events around the Mysore wars were still a living memory and Rice would surely mention any information related to Tipu and the temple if it was there. The Deputy commissioners and taluka officials would without any hesitation inform Rice of the records of any such event if it had occurred at all.
The Gazetteer, being then as even now, the official account of the government, of the history of a town, thus is silent about any desecration of the temple by Tipu Sultan.
Reference to Harihar in ‘A narrative of the operations of Captain Little’s detachment and of the Mahratta army commanded by Purseram Bhow during the late Confederacy in India against the Nawab Tippoo Sultan Bahadur’, Edward Moor, 1794 A.D.
‘Hurryhul is advantageously situated for being of religious importance, on account of it’s vicinity to a noble river, having a great circulation of cash, and being already honoured with a handsome pagoda, consecrated by a deity of eminence. This pagoda is in the fort near the rampart of the western wall…..The God to whom this temple is dedicated, and of whom they have as usual a monstrous(sic) figure, is not in the pagoda, but in a small building near it.
In answer to our enquiries to the cause of this, we were informed that many years ago the pagoda was seized by Musselmans, and converted into a mosque, on which the monster(sic) quitted it in disgust and could never be persuaded again to return to it. They are now building an apartment to him over his old habitation, into which they have reason to believe he will remove himself, indeed said the Brahmins, that he has partly promised so to do so; this they believed with an air of faith..’
The Area in Purple denotes the territory that remained with Tipu even after his defeat in the 3rd Anglo Mysore War of 1792. Harihar (Hurryhoor in the map) at the Northern Frontier can be seen here well within Tipu Sultan’s control.
Inference from reading the account of Captain Little’s detachment in Harihar
Captain John Little’s detachment was the English detachment sent to accompany and support the Maratha army led by Parashuram Bhow during it’s foray into Mysore territory. Captain Little’s detachment would play a significant role in the reduction of several of Tipu’s fortresses during it’s march across the Northern and Southern extremities of Mysore.
In 1791 Harihar had just fallen into Maratha hands after Haidar had annexed it from the Maratha Chieftan of Sandur , Murari Rao Ghorpade’s hands in 1776. Over this span of 15 years, there had been several engagements between Tipu and the Marathas over possession of this important town.
Yet, we hear no mention of any damage to the temple at Harihar caused by Tipu Sultan in the account given by the Brahmins at the Hariharesvara temple to the author of the Journal. The Musselmans that the Brahmins refer to as having seized the Pagoda ‘many years ago’ would be the invaders from Savanur and the Adil Shahis who had a free run after the disaster at Talikota. The following inference can again be made from data that we have collated till now:
1. Tipu Sultan knew very well that a part of the temple structure had been a mosque in between before being repaired by his adversary, the Peshwa; yet he did not harm it and change it into a mosque again. So much for Tipu converting the temple into a mosque!
2. The Brahmins also make no mention of Tipu plundering the temple. At the time of writing the account (1791), mention is made of ‘great circulation of cash’ still going on in Harihar on account of the temple, so much for the ‘plundering’ allegation.
A detailed reference to Harihar and the temple from ‘A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar’ by Francis Buchanan, 1807 A.D.
8th April – I went a very long stage, called four cosses, to Harihara, and by the way crossed a large empty water course, and afterwards a wide channel containing a considerable stream, which come from the Solicaray, and is therefore called the Solicaray Holay….A great proportion of it has, however , been long waste, for far beyond the reach of human memory the country has been a scene of warfare….The bank of the Yungabhadra opposite to Harihara forms a part of the Marattah dominion, and at present belongs to Appa Saheb, the son of Purseram-Bow……
..I remained three days at Harihara, which was formerly an Agraharam belonging to the Brahmans of it’s celebrated temple of the same name. After the death of Ram Raja,and the destruction of Vijaynagara, it became subject to the Adil Shahi dynasty, and was given in Jahir to a Sheer Khan. After the death of Ram Raja, and the destruction of Vijaynagara, it became subject to the Adil Shah dynasty, and was given in Jaghire to a Sher Khan, who built the fort. On the conquest of the Decan, it was taken by the Savanuru Nabob, Delil Khan, who was an officer of the court of Delhi. From the house of Yimour it was taken by the Ikkeri Rajas, who were expelled by the Marattahs; and these again, after fifteen years possession, were driven out by Hyder. Since that time these free booters have taken it thrice; the last time was by Parseram Bow. He did not kill any of the people, nor did he burn the town; but he swept away every necessary of life so completely, that many of the inhabitants perished from hunger. They have since enjoyed quiet.
The fort contains the temple, and a hundred homes occupied by the Brahmans; the suburbs contain three hundred houses of the low casts…..The idol resembles that of Sankara Narayana at Gaukarna, having part of the attributes or symbols of Siva, and part of those of Vishnu…. Even the Brahmans here are stupid, which is certainly a defect not common in that sacred order of men. Out of the hundred houses, I could not get one man who could copy the inscriptions at their temple with tolerable accuracy.’
Inference from the reference to Harihar and the temple from A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar by Francis Buchanan, 1807 A.D.
Francis Buchanan, a Scottish Physician, botanist, zoologist and geographer was immediately after Tipu’s fall, entrusted with the task of traversing the length of Mysore in 1800 A.D. and former dominions of Tipu by Richard Wellesley, Governor-General of India and prime mover of the final Anglo-Mysore war to survey the extent of agriculture and other economic activity for the British.
His narration of Harihar tells us the following:
1. His account of the several conquests of the frontier town corroborates with that of the Mysore Gazetteer.
2. The invasion of Parshuram Bhau in 1791-1792, the account of which corroborates with the narrative of Captain Little’s detachment already mentioned left a trail of hardship for the people which was ameliorated once Tipu got back the town after peace was established in 1792. He specifically mentions – ‘They have since enjoyed quiet’ for the period after Parshuram Bhau’s invasion to till date which was when Tipu ruled over Harihar again.
3. He sees the Hariharesvara temple and very importantly, also the deity of Harihara there. So this means the deity suffered no molestation in Tipu’s period as Buchanan writes all this in April, 1800 A.D. just half a year after Tipu falls at Seringapatam.
3. He hears or mentions no adverse comment of Tipu with respect to the Hariharesvara temple here.
4. He criticises the scholarship of the Brahamanas around the temple here. This is important as the source of the document shown to R. Narasimhachar by the Shanbog Srinivas Kulkarni would in all probability have been created by some of these individuals. This is an important clue to the document here.
Mark Wilks, the British writer of Mysorean history and Ramachanndra Punganuri, the Marathi recordkeeper of Tipu’s time also note the disturbances around Harihar but make no mention of any harm to the temple there. Both these writers though having left a treasure house of information on that period, have been antagonistic to Tipu Sultan for obvious reasons all through their work.
With this I complete my reasoning that the record shown to R. Narasimhachar at Harihara by the Shanbog in the year 1912 was a fabricated one and must be immediately discarded as a historical record. Tipu Sultan as a ruler and a human being like anyone of us was certainly guilty of several faults but the demolition of the Hariharesvara temple was not one among them.
Tipu Sultan’s Search for Legitimacy – Kate Brittlebank, Oxford University Press, 1997
Mysore Archaeological Report, 1912
History of Mysore, C. Hayavadana Rao, 1946
Harihara Kshetra Mahatme, Shri Kalamdani Gururayaru, 2012
Gazetteer of Mysore, B.L. Rice, Mysore Archaeological Department, 1876
‘My love for Mysore is unending’, Meera Iyer, December 13, DHNS
A narrative of the operations of Captain Little’s detachment and of the Mahratta army commanded by Purseram Bhow during the late Confederacy in India against the Nawab Tippoo Sultan Bahadur, Edward Moor, Sold by J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Pauls Churchyard. 1794
A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar by Francis Buchanan, W. Bulmer and Co. Cleveland Row, St. James. 1807
Historical Sketches of South India in an attempt to trace the history of Mysoor, Colonel Mark Wilks. Longman, Hurst et al, 1817
Memoirs of Hyder and Tippoo, Rulers of Seringapatam, written in the Mahratta Language, Ramchandra Rao ‘Punganuri’, Simkins & Co., Madras. 1849