Tipu Sultan was a brilliant warrior and expanded his father’s kingdom greatly. But who, in reality, was Tipu? What sort of man came to be known as one of India’s earliest freedom fighters?
Tipu was a devout Muslim ruler, but he was not a fanatic.
Tipu prohibited the sale of liquor and bhang in his kingdom. He frowned upon prostitution but did not go so far as to ban it, probably realising the futiity of doing so. He allowed poorer debtors of the kingdom to pay their pending debts in parts if it was delayed. There is also no evidence to suggest that he was a fanatic, having supported Jain establishments like the Gomateshwara Bahubali statue of Shravanabelagola as well as Hindu temples and Math.
His view of women was coloured by the times he lived in.
Tipu had over 300 women in his harem, which included wives, concubines, servants and other female attendants. His view on the modesty of women was in tandem with his contemporary Muslims. He was affronted by the customs of the matrilineal Nairs, where women wore minimal attire on their upper bodies and openly practiced polyandry – that was not surprising considering his background and the environment he had grown up in. However, he is said to have been benevolent to his female relatives, evident from the fact that he shifted his sister in law to the zenana to save her from his own brother, Abdul Karim, who is said to have been cruel to her as a result of his mental illness.
He was an involved father
Tipu Sultan took a close interest in his sons’ education. He personally oversaw their reading, using his own library collection. He also tried to ensure that they presented themselves with the manner and poise expected of princes, evident from a letter written to Ghulam Ali, wh monitored them during their time as hostages of Lord Cornwallis. They were expected to ‘speak slow and properly.’ It was duly noted by Cornwallis who described astonishment of ‘all present to see the correctness and propriety of their conduct.’
He was a passionate collector