Tipu Sultan Communal Harmony and Secularism

By Prof. Sheik Ali
(Former Vice Chancellor of Goa & Mangalore Universities)


Perfect harmony…a very popular ruler

Tipu Sultan was a secular ruler, in whose State there was perfect communal harmony. The very fact that during his entire regime, despite the numerous wars, there was not a single uprising of the people, shows the popularity of his rule. Such assessment of his character that he was intolerant was more a requirement as a necessary framework for colonial rule. The Indian people had never known any religious war, and Tipu would not think of any distinction of his subjects on the basis of caste, creed or class. He was quite conscious of the fact that when the overwhelming majority of his subjects were Hindus, he could hardly afford to be anything other than secular, humane and liberal. He would well remember the statement of his father, Haider Ali, Who had snubbed a Muslim saint for complaining that some Hindus had committed excess on his followers, and that as the head of a Muslim Government, he should redress his grievances, by saying “Who told you that this was a Mussalman Government? Tipu knew well that he could not administer the state on principles unacceptable to his subjects.
Instances are not wanting to depict the secular character of his rule. Once a   faujdar reported to him that a Hindus had married a Muslim lady causing tension in the locality, and wanted to know what action to be taken. Tipu wrote back immediately admonishing the faujdar that it was none of his business to interfere in the personal affairs of the people, and that his duty was merely to safeguard the life and property of the people, and ensure peace.

Funds to Sharda Temple

Tipu furnished Sree Shankaracharya of Sringeri with funds for reinstalling the displaced image in the Sharda temple.There are about thirty letters in Kannada of Tipu to the Swamiji, which throw a flood of light on his religious policy. Normally, all his letters begin with his own name at the top, but these letters mention the name of Swamiji at the Top with all his titles, and Tipu’s name is at the bottom without any title. In 1791 during the third Mysore war the invading Marathas army under Persuram Bhau caused a lot of damage to Sringeri, plundered the temple property and even displaced the image of the goddess Sharada. The Swamiji of the temple left the place, and informed Tipu about the Maratha raid, seeking his help for consecrating the image of the goddess. Tipu responded immediately to the request, and wrote to the Swamiji expressing such sentiments of respect for Hinduism as to disprove any charge of intolerance against him. He furnished the Swamiji with funds to reinstall the image. After the Idol was installed, Tipu received the Prasada and shawls, and in return he sent cloth and a bodice for the goddess and a pair of shawls for the Swamiji, besides two palanquins, one for the goddess and the other for Swamiji. At another time Tipu addressed the Swamiji as Jagadguru, and asked him to pray for the well-being of all his subjects.

Sringeri was not the only holy place which enjoyed the patronage of Tipu. To the Lakshmikantha temple at Kalale in Nanjungud taluk, he gave four silver cups, a silver plate and a silver spittoon. To the Narayanswamy temple at Melkote, he presented gold and silver vessels, besides an elephant and a few jewels. The Srikanteswara temple at Nanjungud was presented with a jewelled cup and some precious stones. To another temple, Nanjundeswara,   in the same town of Nanjungud, he gave a greenish linga to Ranganatha temple at Srirangapatana he gifted seven silver cups and a silver camphor burner. This temple was hardly a stone’s throw from his palace from where he would listen with equal respect the ringing of temple bells, and the Muezzin’s call from the mosque.
Ranganathaswamy temple



An embodiment of Hindu-Muslim unity

There were two other temples, the Narasimha and the Gangadhareshwara, near the palace where daily pujas were offered, and they were never interfered with. The pagoda at Rayakottai received an allowance with Tipu, who completed the Gopur temple is Conjeevaram, whose foundation Haidar had laid in 1780. Tipu participated in the Celebration of its chariot festival. When his help was sought in solving a dispute of two sects of Melkote temple, he readily obliged, and his decision was accepted by both. In a compaign while attacking the fort of Dindigal, he ordered not to fire from the rare of the fort, as the Raja’s temple was located there. when some complaints were loged against his minister, Purnaiya, with an insinuation that the Brahmin Community was not trustworthy, he suddenly burst out on the allegation and quoted a Quranic verse saying for the fault of some one, do not accuse the whole community. His appointment of numerous Hindus to high offices falsify the wrong accusation that he was intolerant. Gandhiji wrote in Young India that he was an embodiment of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Impartial to all communities

It is also true that for political reason he was harsh on the Nairs of Malabar, the Christians of Mangalore and the Raja of Coorg, for they were allied with the British. If he was harsh on them he did not spare the Muslim mopillas and Mahdevis in the interest of law and order, peace and security. He was more friendly with the Marathas than with the Nizam. Srinivas Rao and Appaji Ram were entrusted with the important task of negotiating peace with other powers. Purnaiya held the Revenue and Finance portfolios. Krishna Rao was the Treasurer. Narsing Rao held a key post at Srirangapatna. Nagappaya a Brahmin, was the faujdar of Coorg. Hari Singh commanded a wing of Cavalry. Therefore, his policy was strictly secular.



Jacobin Club membership – “Citizen Tipu”

Another aspect which brings out his secular policy was his interest in French revolutionary ideas. A Jacobin Club of extreme revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity was formed at Srirangapatna. There were 59 members of this club, one of whom was Tipu Its purpose was to introduce constitutional principles of democratic   nature as enunciated in the Republic of France. He planted the tree of liberty in front of his palace, and called himself “Citizen Tipu”.

Humane treatment for prisoners

A clause in the proposed treaty of alliance with the French stated, ” I demanded that male and female prisoners as well English and Portuguese, who shall be taken by the republican troops or by mine, shall be treated with humanity, and with regard to their persons that they shall be transported at our joint expense out of India to some place for distant from the territories of the allies.”
In short Tipu was an enlightened ruler, the sheet-anchor of whose state-policy was the well-being of all his subjects irrespective of caste, creed or class. He took his stand on the bedrock of humanity, regarding all his subjects as equal citizen to live in peace, harmony and concord.