Friday 12 April 2013

Srirangapatna as Buchanan saw it

Though Tipu Sultan died just over two hundred years ago, he has continued to generate interest among both Indians and foreigners. He is one person you can either love or hate. Ignore him you cannot as he has emerged as a controversial figure with people taking diametrical opposite views on him.
While he is generally looked upon as a man who opposed the British, the Mandya Iyengars to this day point out to the massacre of their ancestors by Tipu and the same goes for the people of the Malabar in Kerala and Catholics of Mangalore.
The recent controversy over naming of a university after Tipu has further widened the chasm between those who love and respect Tipu and others who see in him a bigot who persecuted Hindus, was a mercenary and one who tried to put down the legitimate Wodeyars of Mysore.
Many of the news and articles on Tipu today are coloured by extreme views and there are few pieces which can be described as dispassionate and disinterested portrait of the Tiger of Mysore.
One of the few accounts of the life and times of Tipu and his favourite island city of Srirangapatna is by Francis Buchanan.
Dr Francis Buchanan, later known as Francis Hamilton but often referred to as Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (1762-1829) was a Scotish physician who made significant contributions as a geographer, zoologist and botanist while in India.
The standard botanical author abbreviation Buch.-Ham. is applied to plants and animals he described, though today the form Hamilton, 1822 is more usually seen in ichthyology and is the preferred fishbase.
He conducted a survey of  the then Mysore Kingdom in 1899, just an year after Tipu was slain in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore war in Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799.  
Much of the social, religious and anthropological details of Mysore State, including Canara and Malabar, are contained in the Mysore survey that he undertook for several months.
The results of the survey were published in his “A Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar”, where he has devoted an entire chapter-the second-to Srirangapatna and another to Bangalore.
Buchanan says he came down to Srirangapatna from Madras via Vellore and Bangalore. He reached Srirangapatna on May 18, 1800 and the next day he had an interview with Purnaiah, whom he calls Purnea, the Dewan of the Raja of Mysore (Wodeyar) and during the Prince's minority, the chief administrator of his Government.
Buchanan was provided with the services of a Brahmin who had orders to accompany him everywhere.
In his short description of Purnaiah, the writer says he is a from Coimbatore and that his native is Tamil but he speaks Kannada, Marathi, Mussalaman (Urdu) and Persian. He says the Dewan is called Sri Mantra.
However, he says Purnaiah wielded less power than Mir Sadiq, the confidant of Tipu who finally betrayed him.
Buchanan was in Srirangapatna from May 20 to June 5 and he says he took in everything remarkable in Srirangapatna and its neighbourhood.
He begins his description of the island fortress by describing the Cauvery and the stone bridge which elicits his admiration. He then goes on to talk of the need to construct one more bridge and says discussions are on to share the expenses between the British and the new Raja-Mysore Wodeyars.
He says the new bridge would cost 16,000 pagodas.
He then goes on to describe the Ramghanatha temple which he says is of  “much higher antiquity” than the town itself.
Buchanan went around the fort and he describes them as immense, unfinished, unslightly and an injudicious mass of building. Tipu, he says, seems to have a too high opinion of himself and did not consult the French while building the fort.
He then speaks of an inner fort with several traverses which Tipu himself defended. Here, Buchanan pays tribute to the Sultan. He points out that the English could advance slowly and that Tipu retired slowly, defending his ground with obstinacy. He then described how Tipu inadvertently got himself boxed inbetween the two forts but there is not much description on how he was killed.
Then follows several paragraphs of how the Englishmen and others pillaged, plundered and ransacked Srirangapatna.
He says women came out of their homes and stood in groups on the streets to avoid being raped or harassed. The last remnants of Tipu’s army fled to the Jamia masjid and other places and when they staggered back the next day, they were attended to by English doctors.
For Buchanan, the city of  Srirangapatna is poor and its streets narrow. The streets are more confused than anywhere else, he says. Nobody was allowed to own property here and Tipu allotted quarters and withdrew them at his will.
The houses are hot and inconvenient. Many of the chiefs fell at Siddeswara and then at the storming of Srirangapatna. Some were pensioned off by the company while others joined service with the Nawab of Arcot.
He then jumps to Mysore and says how Tipu planned to construct a fort. When the siege commenced, work on the fort stopped and there were sheds or huts for workmen which was where the young Wodeyar was enthroned.
He says the throne to Wodeyar was presented by the East Indian Company and that Col Close was the Resident on whom the young Prince relied a lot.
Buchanan makes a reference to the Dalwais and the role they played to help out the Wodeyars against Tipu. He then claims that Mir Sadiq, on orders from Tipu, had imprisoned the Wodeyars in their palace in Srirangapatna and that Mir Sadiq had stripped the Royals of all their jewels and ornaments.
He claims that when Srirangapatna was stormed, none of the royals had an idea of what had been going on.   
Buchanan then again comes back to Srirangapatna and talks about the palace of Tipu which he describes as a very large building surrounded by lofty walls of mud and stone and which outwardly is of “mean appearance”.
He found that some of the handsome apartments in the palace have been converted into barracks for the troops.
Tipu’s private apartments formed a square, in one side was the rooms which he used. The other three sides were occupied by warehouses in which Tipu deposited a vast quantity of goods for he acted not only as a Prince but also a merchant.
These goods, Buchanan says, were sold at a much higher prices by the Amildars and Tipu thus gained huge profits. “The three sides of the square are now  occupied by the sons of the Sultan -five of them-who are not yet removed to Vellore. They are well looking boys and are permitted to ride and exercise themselves in the square when they are so desirous”.
The apartment most commonly used by Tipu was a large lofty hall upon front and on the other three sides shut up from ventilation, In this, he was wont to sit and write, and plan many schemes.
The principal front of this palace also served as a revenue office and it was also the place from where Tipu showed himself to the populace which gathered below.
The entry to his private quarters was through a strong narrow passage where he had chained four tigers.
Within this was the hall of Tipu Sultan into which very few persons, except Meer saheb, were admitted. Behind this was his bed chamber which communicated with the hall by a door and two windows. The door was strongly secured from the inside and a close iron grating defended the windows.
The sultan, lest any person fire on him, slept on a hammock, which was suspended from the roof by chains. In the hammock were a pair of swords and a pistol. The only other passage from this private quarters was into the Zenana or women's apartments. Buchanan says there were 600 women, when the palace was taken by the British troops.
Outside Srirangapatna are two other palaces which are now occupied by the Resident and Commandant of the British forces. The gardens are laid out at considerable expense. He says the palace at Lalbagh is the handsomest building he has ever seen. Near to it is the mausoleum of Hyder where Tipu is buried.
Buchanan also discounts the native estimate that Srirangapatna had nearly five lakhs people within its fortifications. He counted the number of houses and says the number would not exceed a few thousands.
Buchanan them once again made his way to Bangalore and from Bangalore he travelled to Doddaballapur, Chikaballapur, Nandi Hills and Mangalore.  
In Bangalore, he visited the Lalbagh and he leaves a short description of the gardens. He credits Hyder with the founding of Bangalore.
Buchanan’s accounts are fairly accurate and his description of Srirangapatna and its surroundings are a testimony to the painstaking job that he carried out at the behest of the Governor-General Wellesley.  


  1. I am indeed super excited with the kind of rich treasure you are bringing to us. I belong to Srirangapatna and I know the value of what I read. This world needs more people like you be play of the role of a custodian of culture.......

  2. Thank you. We aim to bring more facts about Srirangapatna, Mysore and surrounding places. Hope you will enjoy them too.