What is the truth about Tipu Sultan ? Was he secular or communal ? Before we consider this question we must know some facts.
The initial Muslim invaders who came into India no doubt broke a lot of Hindu temples, like for instance, Mahmood Ghazni who broke the Somnath temple.
However, their descendants ( e.g.Akbar, who was not an invader, though his grandfather Babur was ) who became local Muslim rulers in India, far from breaking temples used to give grants to temples and celebrated Hindu festivals like Holi and Diwali.
The descendants of those invaders who became local Muslim rulers ruled over populations of which about 80-90% were Hindus. They knew that if they broke temples there would be revolts and turmoils which no ruler wants. So in their own interest almost every one of the local Muslim rulers fostered communal harmony, they gave grants to Hindu temples, they celebrated Hindu festivals, e.g. the Mughal Emperors ( there is a controversy about Aurangzeb, about whom I have written a blog which may be seen on justicekatju.blogspot.in ), the Nawabs of Avadh, Murshidabad, Arcot, etc. For instance, the Nawab of Avadh used to organize Ramleela, and celebrate Holi and Diwali.
Tipu Sultan used to give annual grants to 156 Hindu Temples, his Prime Minister was a Hindu called Punaiya his commander-in-chief, was a Hindu called Krishna Rao. Tipu Sultan sent 30 respectful letters with grants to the Shankaracharya of Shringeri (see online ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ which is a speech given by Prof. B. N. Pandey in the Rajya Sabha in 1977). They were almost all secular rulers.
Now the first part, that the Muslim invaders broke temples, has been mentioned in our history books, but the second part, which is of ten times longer duration, that the descendants of these invaders, who were local rulers used to foster communal harmony, they used to give land grants for building Hindu temples, they celebrated and organized Hindu festivals, etc. has been deliberately suppressed by the British from our history books, the whole game being divide and rule to create communal hatred and make Hindus and Muslims fight each other.
If one goes online and reads the speech ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ by Professor B. N. Pandey, one will read how the British policy was to make Hindus and Muslims inimical to each other. For instance, Dr. Pandey has mentioned that in 1928 when he was a Professor of History in Allahabad University some students came to him with a book written by one Professor Harprasad Shastri, Professor of Sanskrit of Calcutta University in which it was mentioned that Tipu Sultan told 3000 Brahmins to convert to Islam otherwise they will be killed, and those 3000 Brahmins committed suicide rather than becoming Muslims. On reading this Professor B. N. Pandey wrote to Professor Harprasad Shastri asking him the source of his information? Prof. Shastri wrote back that his source of information was the Mysore Gazetteer. Then Prof. Pandey wrote to Prof. Shrikantia, Professor of History in Mysore University asking him whether it is correct that in Mysore Gazetteer it is mentioned that Tipu Sultan told 3000 Brahmins to convert to Islam. Prof. Shrikantia wrote back that this is totally false, he had worked in this field and there is no such mention in the Mysore Gazetteer, rather the correct version was just the reverse, namely, that Tipu Sultan used to give annual grants to 156 Hindu Temples, he used to send grants to the Shankaracharya of Shringeri, etc. Far from being communal, Tipu was thoroughly secular.
In 1791, Parshuram Bhave (Bhau), the Maratha General marched on Tipu’s richest province, Bednur. Here, Maratha horsemen under the command of Raghunathrao Patwardhan plundered the Shringeri Monastery of all of it’s valuables, killed and wounded many people and desecrated and committed sacrilege at the Holy shrine of Sri Sharada Devi.
Shocked by the Maratha vandalism, the then Jagadguru of Shringeri, Sri Sacchidananda Bharati III was forced to leave the place and live at Karkala, another temple town about 50 miles south of Shringeri. Helpless and despondent in the face of this aggression, the first ever recorded sack of the temple town, The Shankaracharya petitioned Tipu Sultan for help.
Tipu Sultan expressed his indignation and grief at the news of the raid and wrote to the Shankaracharya ::
“People who have sinned against such a holy place are sure to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds at no distant date in this Kali age in accordance with the Sanskrit verse: “Hasadbhih kriyate karma rudadbhir-anubhuyate” (People do evil deeds smilingly but suffer the consequences crying).”
Tipu Sultan immediately ordered his army to repulse the Maratha invaders, and sent to the Jagadguru Shankaracharya a letter dated July 6, 1791, which is given below :
.The Honourable Shankaracharya Shringeri Shri Sacchidananda Swamigal, bestowed with Shrimat Param Hansa.
We received your letter and have understood the gravity of the matter. We have noted that the cavalry of the Maratha king attacked Sringeri and beat the Brahmins and the other people, removed the idol of the Goddess Sharda Ammanavaru (Mother) and also looted the valuables belonging to the Shringeri Math. We have also noted that four disciples belonging to the Shringeri Math had to take shelter at Karkala and that the idol of Shringeri Sharda Ammanavaru was consecrated in ancient times, and if this idol has to be consecrated again, the support of the government is needed. The reconsecration of the deity will be performed along with mass feeding by requisite amount provided by the Government.
Those who have committed such atrocities will suffer the consequences as stated in the Sanskrit shloka ‘People do evil smiling but will suffer the penalty in torments of agony – Hasadhvi Kriyathe Karma Raudhrir Anubhuyathe’.
On hearing of the attack, the Sarkar has sent an elephant with it’s Mahavat, Ahammed. The Asaf of the city has been ordered to get a palanquin made for the Math and pay 200 rahathis in cash and 200 rahathis for paddy for the consecration of the idol of Sri Sharada Ammanavauru, and carry out appropriate measures for the consecration of the idol of the Ammanavaru idol. He shall send me a report immediately. .
We are sending a heavy sari (worked in gold) and a blouse piece for the Goddess Sharada Ammanavaru, and a pair of shawls for you. Please write on receiving them. An order is sent to the Asaf of the town to deal with the problems of the Math. Contact him.
Date 26, month Samarisala Babarabadhi, Year San 1219, Mahammad, Virodhikrita Samvat Ashadha Bahula 12. Writer Narasaiah Signed Nabi Malik
This particular incident that transpired during the 3rd Anglo Mysore war is well documented and known to historians and laymen alike. A bunch of about 30 letters written in Kannada, which were exchanged between Tipu Sultan’s court and the Sringeri Shankaracharya were discovered in 1916 by the Director of Archaeology in Mysore
Tipu’s close relationship with Shringeri did not begin with the sack of Shringeri by the Marathas but had begun much earlier in 1785 A.D. when Tipu issued a ‘Nirupa’ – Decree regranting the Shringeri Matha with a new ‘patte’ or ‘document’ which confirmed that Shringeri would continue as time honoured ‘Sarvamanya’ and free from all trouble. ‘Sarvamanya’ meant that the territory under it’s jurisdiction was tax free and it would enjoy all rights with regard to taxation and law within it’s territory.
Just prior to the actual sacking of the town and Math , Tipu had been exchanging letters (April, June 1791) with the Jagadguru assuring him that the Mysorean army was in battle with the enemy who had ‘transgressed the boundaries of his kingdom and assaulted the people’. Tipu firmly believed that the blessings of the Shankaracharya would result in bringing happiness and prosperity in his kingdom. In one of such letters Tipu writes that it is because of saints like the Shankaracharya in his kingdom that there is prosperity, there are good rains and harvests, etc.
There is a huge ancient Vishnu Hindu temple, built around 1000 A.D. known as the Ranganath Swamy Temple near Tipu’s palace at Seringapatam, and I have personally visited it. If Tipu was communal, would he not have demolished it ? Instead he gave many costly gifts to it.
Tipu Sultan’s treasurer was Krishna Rao, Shamaiya Iyengar was his Minister of Post and Police, his brother Ranga Iyengar was also an officer, and Purnaiya held the very important post of “Mir Asaf”. Moolchand and Sujan Rai were his chief agents at the Mughal court, and his chief “Peshkar”, Suba Rao, was also a Hindu.
The Editor of Mysore Gazetteer Prof. Srikantaiah has listed 156 temples to which Tipu regularly paid annual grants. There is such evidence as grant deeds, and correspondence between his court and temples, and his having donated jewellery and deeded land grants to several temples.. Between 1782 and 1799 Tipu Sultan issued 34 “Sanads” (deeds) of endowment to temples in his domain, while also presenting many of them with gifts of silver and gold plate. The Srikanteswara Temple in Nanjangud still possesses a jewelled cup presented by the Sultan. He also gave a greenish linga; to Ranganatha temple at Srirangapatnam and donated seven silver cups and a silver camphor burner. This temple was hardly a stone’s throw from his palace from where he would listen with equal respect to the ringing of temple bells and the muezzin’s call from the mosque; To the Lakshmikanta Temple at Kalale he gifted four cups, a plate and spitoon in silver.
B.A. Saletare has described Tipu Sultan as a defender of the Hindu dharma, who also patronised other temples including one at Melkote, for which he issued a Kannada decree that the Shrivaishnava invocatory verses there should be recited in the traditional form. The temple at Melkote still has gold and silver vessels with inscriptions indicating that they were presented by the Sultan. Tipu Sultan also presented four silver cups to the Lakshmikanta Temple at Kalale
Now one can imagine what mischief has been done. Deliberately our history books have been falsified so that the mind of a child at an impressionable age is poisoned so that a Hindu child should start hating Muslims in India, and a Muslim child in Pakistan should start hating Hindus. The poison put in the mind of an impressionable age is very difficult to remove at a later age. All our history books have been falsified in this manner.
Why was Tipu, a staunch secular king, later demonised and branded as communal? Obviously because he fought against the British to the last. It is British historians and their faithful Indian followers who have done this mischief.
It is time we re-write our history books correctly and show that in fact upto 1857 there was no communal problem at all in India. A composite culture in India had developed by then. Hindus used to participate in Eid and Muharram, and Muslims used to participate in Holi, Diwali etc.
Communalism was injected into our body politic by the British policy of divide and rule, after suppressing the Great Mutiny of 1857 in which Hindus and Muslims jointly fought against the British. Details of how this was done have been given in my article ‘ The Truth about Pakistan ‘ (which can be seen online), and that policy is being continued by certain vested interests even after 1947

This article is written by Justice Katju Former Judge Supreme Court Of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India