Tipu’s tiger

Tipu throne tigerOn the 7th of October, 2010, an item went on sale a   Bonhams.  “Lot 370: An important gem set gold Finial (ornament at apex of pinnacles, gables, spires, etc.,) in the form of a Tiger’s Head from the throne of TIPU SULTAN (1750-99) Mysore (Srirangapatnam), made between 1787-93.”  It was soled for 434,400 pounds.  The Finial was one of eight, and was originally part of Tipu Sultan’s throne, looted after his death.  tipu_sultan_seated_on_his_throne_annat
By 1857, all of India was either directly or indirectly under British Rule.  And there were very few Indian rulers who put up a serious resistance to this expansion.  That is why we remember Tipu Sultan, because he put up a tough fight.
The British remember him too — for his harshness, for the defeats he dealt the ‘superior Europeans, for his correspondence with Napoleon, his friendship with France and for his fabulous wealth.  After Tipu was killed, the British plundered Mysuru ——- but even after a day where every British and Indian soldier stole whatever they could, the remaining treasure was still huge.  When General George Harris set up a committee to deal with what was remaining, “a most enormous and astonishing mass of wealth was produced, consisting of gold and silver-plate jewels, rich and valuable stuff an various other articles of great price and rarity.”  And the ‘fabled’ wealth of Srirangapatnam became the “stuff of legend”.


Wilkie Collins was the first to identify the dramatic possibilities of the treasures of Srirangapatnam, which he employed to telling effect in the first detective novel, THE MOONSTONE.  The titular gem is a yellow diamond, taken by a greedy Englishman during the sack of the city.

In NARRATIVE SKETCHES OF THE CONQUEST OF MYSORE, a collection of contemporary writings on the Third Mysore War, published in 1800, one of the most fascinating items recovered from Tipu’s horde was TIPU’S TIGER.  Described as ‘a most curious mechanism as large as life, representing a Royal Tiger in the act of devouring a prostrate European officer.  Within the Gold-tiger-finial-belonging-to-Tipu-Sultan-soldbody of the animal was a row of keys of natural notes, and which produced sounds intended to resemble the cries of a person in distress, intermixed with the horrid of the tiger.”  The Governor General at the time, Lord Mornington, sent the TIGER back to the UK, where it still forms part of the “Imperial Courts of South India” exhibit.  It has been a source of inspiration to poets and artists ever since.
Keats refers to it in his poem THE CAP AND THE BELLS as the “Emperor’s man-tiger toy”.  Auguste Barbier based his 1937 pome LE JOUJOU DE SULTAN (The Sultan’s Plaything) on it.  American Modernist poet Marianne Moore wrote a poem called TIPPOO’S TIGER in 1967.  MF Hussain painted it in 1986.  And so on.
———— Narayan.K@timesgroup.com. 

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