Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Makaana which is forgotten

This is the Makaana or a clump of wilderness amid sugarcane fields and agricultural lands. It is only a few miles north-east of Mysore and on the Srirangapatna-Mysore Highway.
A canal carrying the Cauvrey water flows nearby and the Varuna canal overhead casts a long shadow. A few decades ago, a cluster of Muslim graves were part of the Makaana. But the graves have been uprooted and only the remnants of a wall and a few pieces of brick and mortar indicate the presence of civilisation.
The wilderness did play and important role in Indian history but as is our wont, we have forgotten it and there are only a handful of people who are aware of its importance. It was at this very spot, and more than two centuries ago, that Arthur Wellesley was defeated in a battle by Dewan Purnaiah in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War in 1799.
More importantly, this battle which occurred a few days before the death of Tipu Sultan, gave the shivers to Wellesley. The rockets that the Mysore army of Tipu fired upon the British at this place sent the British scurrying back to safety. Wellesley was wounded and barely escaped capture and death.
Had Wellesley been taken prisoner on that day or had the Mysore forces pressed their advantage and gone after the demoralized British, perhaps the war would not have ended in the defeat and death of Tipu Sultan.
The rocket attack had such a psychological impact in Wellesley that even years after the death of Tipu and even decades after e defeated Napolean Bonaparte, Wellesley confessed to still have nightmares about this place.
Today, a clump of  trees is all that is the remnant of  this epoch event, which has been totally ignored by Indians and downplayed to the extent of being trivalised by the British and other Western authors and sources.
This is the village of Sultanpet, which once was a satellite town on the Srirangapatna-Mysore Highway. The land between Srirangapatna and Sultanpet was full of farms and parts of it was heavily forested.
Tipu  Sultan had stationed a contingent of  rocketmen under Purnaiah at Sultanpet. Since the contingent was well hidden from the prying eyes of the British and their advance party, Wellesley had no knowledge about it.
The British, by then, were advancing towards Srirangapatna from all sides. It was pitch dark of April 5, 1799, when an enthusiastic 30-year old Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Wellesley led the King’s 33rd Regiment of  Foot into a tope or mangrove which also had coconut and betel trees near Sultanpet.
The town of Sultanpet looked deserted and seeing no resistance, Wellesley advanced towards the fields and the clump of forest. That was when the Mysore Army opened rocket fire. The British troops scattered and ran back to their camp, a defeated and dispirited unit. Wellesley lost himself in the forest and the dark night was all the more aggravating for him as he had been shot in his limb-he had been hit by a spent musket-ball in the knee and he went back hobbling with pain and humiliated at his only defeat.
Wellesley had inadvertently led his men into a trap. Some of the rocketeers had worked their way around to the rear of the British encampment and they fired rockets simultaneously to signal the beginning of an assault by 6,000 Indian infantry and a corps of Frenchmen, all directed by Mir Gulam Hussain and Muhammed Hulleen and Mir Mirans.
The rockets had a range of about 1,000 yards. While some burst in the air like shells, others-ground rockets- on striking the ground, rose again and bound along in a serpentine motion until their force was spent.
It was by pure luck and nothing else that Wellesley managed to evade the Mysore Army. He came back to the camp and brooded the whole night over his defeat and also the capture of twelve soldiers who were subsequently by Tipu in Sriurangapatna. The next day, he determined to avenge his humiliation and he marched, all prepared to give a fitting reply. But much of the Army had already withdrawn from the tope of Sultanpet and only a small unit was left behind.
Wellesley had his way and he defeated the unit and marched onwards to Srirangapatna where he joined the other British forces. When Srirangapatna was captured and pillaged on May 4, 1799, Sultanpet too met a similar fate. Almost all the buildings in the village were razed to the ground and only a small wall, part of a mosque and graves were left. Even these buildings were razed to the ground a few years ago.
Neither the graves nor the Cenotaphs that once proclaimed the names of the people who were buried here can be seen today. The meandering canal makes a fairly large circular detour and the wilderness seems like an island surrounded by lush green paddy fields.
The village of Sultanpet exists but its history is gone and the monuments ravaged by the British and then by insensitive Indians. British historians like Beatson and Frances Buchanan and even Macaulay who has written an account of Srirangapatna, Bangalore and Mysore have studiously ignored the Battle of Sultanpet or glossed over it.
The villagers still point to the place they earlier called Makaana. The only relic of the past appears to be the portion of a wall of a large building.
Today, there is no trace of the battlefield though parts of the tope can still be seen. There is not even a caption or sign board by the ASI or any other body identifying the place. Sultanpet today exists only in history books and it has long been forgotten by the lakhs who traverse the busy Bangalore Mysore road everyday.
Tourists and visitors to Srirangapatna and Mysore are given a talking to on the bravery and exploits of Hyder Ali, Tipu and the rather remarkable achievements of the Wodeyars. None of them, however, even have an inkling of the military importance that Sultanpet once had and the deep impact it left permanently on the future Duke of Wellington who later went on defeat Napolean in the European theatre of war.   
As far as the Government and the authorities go, they have given short shrift to a place that the British would never like to remember. Certainly not Wellesley, who woke up at night, having a nightmare of Sultanpet. The nightmare continued till Wellesley died or so says his biographer Forrest. Another biographer, Wellington: The Iron Duke [ILLUSTRATED] (Paperback)
by Richard Holmes, also alludes to the nightmare and the defeat at Sultanpet. 

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