Tuesday 18 December 2012

The General whom the British never captured

It was May 1799 and the British forces had just breached the fort of Srirangapatna. They entered the city through the breach and killed Tipu Sultan without knowing his identity.
Soon after they recognized Tipu who had fallen dead near the Water Gate, the British soldiers went on a hunt. Their target this time was Yaar Mohammad, who was described as the right hand man of Tipu.
Though the British scanned every inch of Srirangapatna and its surroundings they did not find any trace of Yaar Mohammad. Apart from Tipu, the British had set a high price on Yaar whom they wanted dead or alive. He was after Tipu the most wanted man in India.
Yaar was the commander-in-chief of the Mysore Army. Along with Tipu he had given the British a hard time during the 1799 war. He was considered to be the right hand man of Tipu.
While the British had managed to kill Tipu, they found no trace of Yaar. Their hatred of this soldier was so great that they launched a country-wide manhunt for him. Yet, no trace of this brave soldier could be found.
There were several rumours of Yaar being spotted in one province or other. Despite their best efforts, Yaar continued to elude them.
Who was Yaar and why did the British want him so desperately.
This is the story of Yaar Mohammad.
Born into a Rajput Muslim family in the 18th century, he was the son of Shah Mohammad, a Sufi Saint. Tipu was among the several people who were deeply influenced by this Sufi saint. When he came of age, he joined the Mysore Army and soon distinguished himself on the field.
Tipu was deeply impressed by the valour and patriotism of Yaar. He then was designated as Commander by Tipu himself. Other noblemen and people of Mysore called Yaar as Ghazi-e Mysore
Tipu was so reliant on Yaar that he used him as the last resort. Once during his campaign in Coorg, Tipu found that he was losing men and material to the Coorg Army.
It was 1787 and Tipu had set his sights on conquering Coorg. However, his Army was worsted in a series of skirmishes and in all of them a major part was played by a Coorgi youth called Muthanna.
When all efforts to capture Muthanna failed. Tipu sent for Yaar and asked him to do the needful. Yaar studied the topography of Coorg and realized that Muthanna was taking shelter of the natural hills and using it to his advantage.
Moreover, Muthanna was moving from one village to another and skillfully marshalling the Coorgi army. The Mysore Army was thus always one step behind him.
Yaar then decided to literally smoke Muthanna out. He set fire to all the villages that the Mysore Army came across, leaving no option to Muthana but to stand his ground and fight.
Finally, after seven weary months, Muthanna was captured and beheaded. Tipu wanted to see the enemy who had given him so much trouble. Yaar sent the head of  Muthanna on a platter. When Tipu saw the handsome face, he immediately ordered Muthanna to be given a decent burial.
As far as Yaar was concerned, he had once again done his job.      
During the 1799 war too, he distinguished himself but when he saw Tipu dead and the British enter Srirangapatnam, he decided to leave Srirangapatna.
He managed to evade capture by the British and left Srirangapatna though it was heavily blanketed by the troops of the British and their allies.  
The British declared him a wanted man but to no avail. They put a reward on his head. They cold bloodedly killed some of his family members. But Yaar Mohammad, his son Illah Baksh and father Noor Mohammad vanished into the vast Indian heartland.
He is believed to have first gone to the Kulu Hills and from there to the Punjab which was ruled by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.   
The three men were constantly on the run. All efforts by the British to capture them failed and Yaar Mohammad died in the early years of the 19th century.
Yaar was among the handful of people that Tipu relied upon in his last days.  One of the few men who manage to survive the British blizzard of 1799 was Dewan Purnaiah. He later joined service in the court of Wodeyars.
It is to Purnaiah’s credit that he managed to safeguard some of the personal effects of Tipu.     
Yaar Mohammad’s descendents still live in Toda in the Punjab province in Pakistan.

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