• Tipu Sultan Vignettes

    THE TIGER'S
    DREAM

Drummer corps

Drummer corps

Tipu's army, with its fine uniforms and weaponry, was another element of his visual propaganda, and this painting cycle magnifies the glory and splendour of his forces. The drummer riding an elephant is part of the corps, known as the nagara vadaka, which was used by Tipu to send messages from one part of the army to another. Tiger stripes are emblazoned on textiles of all types in the image, whether flags, saddles or elephant covers.

Tipu on horseback

Tipu on horseback

This section of the painting captures Tipu in discussion with his cousin and commander in chief, Qamr al-Din, who is shown as a full-faced older man with a thick beard, unlike his younger and more delicately-featured relative. This is further emphasised by the assistants carrying flywhisks and parasols. Although the rose which Tipu holds may seem incongruous in a battle scene, it is a continuation of a painting tradition common in South India, in which the ruler is always shown with a flower.

Haydar Ali on an elephant

Haydar Ali on an elephant

Here Haydar Ali is seated on an elephant (possibly his favourite, known as Poon Gaj), leading his forces into battle. He is being urged on by his general, Sayyid Ghaffur, whose wide-eyed and prancing horse reflects his own desire to engage the enemy. Haydar sits in an elaborate miniature pavilion, showing his importance, and even his pre-eminence with regard to Tipu, who sits under a comparatively simple chhatri (parasol). This reflects the situation during the events depicted in the painting, when Tipu was ruler-in-waiting, although the image itself may have been made after Haydar's death in 1782 CE.

Mir Sadiq Ali

Mir Sadiq Ali

This detail shows the mounted figure of Mir Sadiq Ali, a high-ranking administrator under Tipu. Here he is addressing Tipu, his hands held out in a sign of respect known as namaskara mudra. In the wall paintings of Tipu's palace, for which the painting cycle in this exhibition was the preparation, Mir Sadiq's face has been scratched out. This is because he is popularly remembered as a traitor who helped the British during the fall of Sriringapatna, although more recent studies have suggested that his motivations were unclear. It appears, however, that he was killed by his own troops during the fighting for the city.

Mysorean soldiers

Mysorean soldiers

This section of the painting depicts the Mysorean infantry, among which are units of Tipu's elite troops, identified here by their bubri (tiger stripe) uniform and pennants.

Monsieur Lally

Monsieur Lally

This part of the narrative shows the French artillery, directed by Monsieur Lally, who stands at the upper right looking through a telescope. This Franco-Irish mercenary played a key role in the Mysorean victory by ordering the guns to fire onto the British artillery stores, causing the explosion which forced their surrender after a long battle.

Colonel Bailie

Colonel Bailie

The figure inside the carriage is Colonel Bailie, a Scotsman in the British East India Company army sent to help the the Sultan of Arcot, a British ally, defend himself against the Mysorean army. However, Bailie's forces were surrounded and eventually forced to surrender to Tipu. Few British officers survived the ensuing carnage, but Bailie and several of his men were captured and sent to the dungeons of Srirangapatna.

Fletcher and Baird

The men shown here on horseback are the British officers, Fletcher and Baird. The latter survived four years of captivity and returned to lead British troops in the capture of Sriringapatna in 1799 CE.

British artillery exploding

After being surrounded by Tipu Sultan's army, the British forces formed themselves into a square formation which allowed them to stop a number of attacks. However, the French mercenary Lally realized that they were vulnerable to artillery. One well-aimed cannonball hit the British gunpowder stores, causing the explosion shown here. The loss of their supplies forced the British to surrender shortly thereafter.