Monday 29 October 2012

The tiger that roars no more

He was called the Tiger of Mysore and true to the adage he was a tiger in real sense of the word. The British feared him and the Nizam of  Hyderabad never felt secure with him. The Marathas too were wary of  him.
Having killed a tiger during his youth, he was known for his bravery and patriotism.  One  of his everlasting ambition was to throw out the British from India. No wonder, he was the most discussed personality of the British Empire in the late 1700s.
Tipu Sultan, as he was called, was perhaps one of the most illustrious rulers of  Mysore. During a hunting expedition when he was young he had singlehandedly fought a tiger. The people had conferred on him the title Tiger.
Tipu and his father Hyder Ali had instinctively sensed that the British and not native rulers of India were the main enemy. Both fought long and hard to throw the British out of India.
Soon after Hyder Ali’s death, the mantel of the Mysore kingdom had fallen on  Tipu Sultan. Tipu had tried to stitch together an alliance against the British but he failed.
His request to the French Emperor, Napoleon, for help to oust the British from India too did not bear any fruit though Napolean had promised him help. When the final war of Mysore took place in 1799, Tipu was alone and he was betrayed by one of his own men and he met a heroic death in his capital Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799.
Tipu had such a deep hatred of the British that he had got a special mechanical contraption made in which a tiger sat on a fallen British soldier and roared. It was made of wood and painted in several colours. There was small keyboard with 18 notes and when pressed, it created the roar of a tiger.  
This contraption and several other personal articles had the motif of a tiger which was Tipu’s favourite symbol.  
When Srirangapatna fell, the British and their allies went on a looting spree. They first ran to the palaces of Tipu and his Treasury and picked up whatever items they could lay their hands on.
The British discovered this contraption in Tipu’s summer palace,
The then Governor General of the East India Company at Madras, Lord Mornington, sent this device to Britain where it was initially to be exhibited at the Tower of London.
When it arrived in Britian, the device was shown to the people who were led to believe that this was the extent of hatred that  one of the Indian Kings had for Britain. In 1808 it came to be exhibited at the Tower of London. Subsequently, it was placed at the office of the East India Company in London where it became a prized exhibit.
In 1880, the exhibit, which by then had been drawing crowds, was shifted to the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It is now placed in the section called Imperial courts of south India.
The device has drawn the curiosity of several authors and painters. The first description of the device is given by an aide of the Governor General. He says. “In a room appropriated for musical instruments was found an article which merits particular notice, as another proof of the deep hate, and extreme loathing of Tippoo Saib towards the English. This piece of mechanism represents a royal Tyger in the act of devouring a prostrate European. There are some barrels in imitation of an Organ, within the body of the Tyger. The sounds produced by the Organ are intended to resemble the cries of a person in distress intermixed with the roar of a Tyger. The machinery is so contrived that while the Organ is playing, the hand of the European is often lifted up, to express his helpless and deplorable condition. The whole of this design was executed by Order of Tippoo Sultaun. It is imagined that this memorial of the arrogance and barbarous cruelty of Tippoo Sultan may be thought deserving of a place in the Tower of London.”
James Salmond was the first person to paint this device in 1800. This painting was for his book “A Review of the Origin, Progress and Result, of the Late Decisive War in Mysore with Notes.”
When the device was kept for public viewing in India House on Leanden Hall Street, London, visitors frequently turned the crank handle of the device so that the arm of the European would rise and the tiger  would roar. Even the French writer Gustave Flaubert saw the exhibit and was impressed.  By them this device came to be called The Tiger and the Thistle>
Sometime after 1843, the crank handle disappeared and the tiger stopped roaring. In 1858, Britain formally took over the East India Company and all its assets. In 1874, the tiger then found its den at the India Museum in South Kensington, London.
The India Museum came to an end in 1879 and several exhibits, including the tiger, was moved to the Victoria and Albert Museum. During World War 2, a German bomb fell on the roof of the museum and the wooden casing of the devoice was shattered.
When the World War ended, the wooden pieces were put back together and the tiger was being to being exhibited. In 1955, it was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The device is believed to have suffered irreparable damage when it was dropped ion the floor by a person incharge of cleaning it. Since then , the tiger has stopped roaring.
Today, the entire device is kept in a glass enclosure in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A replica, albeit a smaller one, is kept in the museum in Bangalore.
It is a sad day for all Indians that a device that symbolised Tipu’s ambition is still lying in the heart of the country he so assiduously sought to expel from his homeland. Is is not time for the Government to get its act together and get back the Tiger.   Meanwhile, the tiger contiunes to be conficned in a glass cage. What an irony.   

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