Srirangapatna or Seringapatam, as the British called it, is a small town, about 20 km from Mysore which was ruled by Tipu Sultan from 1782 till his death in 1799. It contains an island fortress surrounded by two branches of the Cauvery (Kaveri) River which originates in the Western Ghats and flows west to east through Karnatika and Tamil Nadu to the Bay of Bengal.
Srirangapatna has played a crucial role in the region since its origins in the 10th century. The huge fort covering about 5 square kilometres is still visible today although much of it has been destroyed. It has three man-made moats and as many walls in the southern and eastern directions, whereas in the North and West, it has only two. The river Cauvery functions as the third moat in the North and West. The fort has 6 gateways, the 2 most important of which are the Elephant Gate and the Ganjam Gate.
The town was first fortified during the Vijayanagar period in the latter half of the 15th century. In 1610 it became the seat of the Wodeyars, Maharajas of Mysore, who made it their capital. The fort was strengthened by Kanthirava Narasa Raja, an early Wodeyar ruler. In the second half of the 18th century it became the capital of Haidar Ali and later his son, Tipu Sultan. The British attacked the citadel in 1799 and Tipu Sultan was killed in the fierce battle which ensued, marking the end of the Anglo Mysore wars.
Every year thousands of people from all over the world come to visit Srirangapatna but the majority are tourists from different parts of India itself, belonging to different races and religions, speaking different languages and dialects. Their principal aim is to pay homage to Tipu Sultan, one of the gallant sons of an independent India which is free from caste, creed and religious barriers.
The Battle of Srirangapatna brought to a close the 4th Anglo-Mysore War. During April and May 1799 there were a series of encounters around the city between the very large combined forces of the British, under Major General David Baird, allied with the forces of the Nizam of Hyderabad and the smaller Mysore Army under Tipu Sultan. The successful assault by the British was made on 4th May 1799.
One of the battalions was commanded by Arthur Wellesley for whom the 4th Anglo Mysore War against Tipu Sultan was the most important event in his early career. His elder brother, the Governor General, Richard Wellesley (Lord Mornington), had given Arthur, though only a young Colonel at the time, command of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s forces to strengthen his own regiment, the 33rd Foot, in order to invade Mysore.
Just before the assault on Srirangapatna, Wellesley made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the thicket close to the ramparts of the citadel and was shot in the knee by a musket ball. He later successfully drove Tipu Sultan’s men out of the wood and captured one of the fort’s defensive works in preparation for the siege.
Major General Baird who had been held captive in Srirangapatna for three and a half years from 1780 after the Battle of Pollilur thought that he should have been given the command of the Nizam’s troops. Though Baird led the final assault which achieved the capture of the citadel and deserved the credit, he was superseded as Commandant by Arthur who, backed by his brother, considered that only he had the necessary organisational skills to restore order after the victory.
Baird stormed out of the Daria Daulat, Tipu’s summer palace, on learning this the morning after the capture of the town and Colonel Wellesley took up residence there as Commandant, later becoming Governor of Mysore. Wellesley retained and kept up Tipu’s hunting establishment of cheetahs and attendants. He also ordered restoration work on the Dariah Dawlat paintings in his first year as resident in the palace.
In a letter dated 8 May 1799 to his brother, 4 days after the fall of Srirangapatna, he states that ‘Scarcely a house in the town was left unplundered, and I understand that in the camp jewels of the greatest value, bars of gold etc etc have been offered for sale in the bazaars of the army by our soldiers, sepoys and followers’.
Wellesley claims in his letter than he manages to get the situation under control by hanging and flogging. The suggestion for the distribution of the spoils among the officers and soldiers was projected as a first step towards stopping the ‘inflammable’ state of the army. A Prize Committee was set up to distribute the spoils with shares apportioned according to rank.
During his term as Governor of Mysore he tried to act fairly, conscious of his role in upholding the reputation of the East India Company and punished unruly English officers.
Arthur Wellesley later made several successful campaigns against the Marathas and played a significant part in the East India Company’s bid to control Western India, gaining invaluable experience during his eight years in India before his return to England in 1805 as a Major General, later to become the Duke of Wellington, famous for his victory over Napolean at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
At the heart of the town is a majestic temple dedicated to Sri Ranganathaswamy after whom Srirangapatna is named. It is one of the most ancient temples in India, the foundation stones being laid in 894 AD.
In the centre of town is the Jama Masjid, a mosque built by Tipu Sultan, which is still in use and operates as a boy’s school in the morning. The bottom is made of stone and incorporates part of an old Hindu temple. It has beautiful minarets with very small openings, a perfect hideaway for a number of birds, including wild pigeons, kites and parrots. An inscription records the date of construction as 1787.
The most outstanding buildings which remain from Tipu’s era are the Daria Daulat Bagh and the Gumbaz.
The Gumbaz, a splendid example of Indo-Islamic architecture, on the outskirts of Srirangapatna, was built by Tipu in memory of his father Haidar Ali. It is where Tipu Sultan himself is also buried.
It was constructed between 1782 and 1784. The structure consists of a square room in the centre with a courtyard around. Above the central room, there is a beautiful dome with a kalasa (a metal pot, seen as auspicious by Hindus) and on all the four corners, there are minarets. The courtyard pillars and elegantly carved windows and the portals of the central square structure are made of black basalt.
Today, a modern tiger-striped cloth covers Tipu’s tomb, which is changed every Friday morning. The original wall decoration of painted bubris (tiger-stripes) survives. Richer furnishings used to be seen earlier: a gold-fringed shamiana (cloth awning) above the tomb, bunches of peacock feathers signifying royalty and rose petals strewn on the floor.
Tipu Sultan’s epitaph is in Roman characters:
‘Typu Sultan Chukurd azmi jihad, Huk-bdu munsebi shehadat dad sali tarikhi O, shehir biguft. Namydin, shahi Zemaneh biruft. Gooltu e Syed Abdul Cadi’r A.H.1213. Shehir Ta-khallus.’
(‘As Tipu Sultan vowed to wage a holy war, the Almighty conferred the rank of martyrdom on him; the date of which Shehir declares thus – The Defender of the Faith and the Sovereign of the world hath departed. Anno Hegirae 1213. Composed by Syed Abdul Cadi’r.’ )
The Daria Daulat Bagh - Garden Palace of the Splendour of the Sea - was built by Tipu Sultan in 1784 as his summer palace. The name may indicate the source of funds for the building or Tipu’s ambition for overseas trade. It was later used by Arthur Wellesley as his headquarters while serving as Commandant of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna), following the city’s capture by the British.
The palace is a low colonnaded building set on a square platform, modelled along the lines of the great Mughal residences of Northern India and constructed mostly of teak. It is surrounded by spacious gardens laid out in the Persian style. The site it occupies was once the Mahanavami Mandap a pavilion where the Mysore rajas had performed ceremonies during the auspicious Ninth Day (Mahanavami) of Dasara.
The frescoes, ornamental arches and gilded paintings on the walls and ceilings are full of interesting details. The upper storey forms an inner floor with two canopied audience halls.
Tipu Sultan met visitors including dignitaries and foreign envoys and transacted business here but always returned to his own palace, the Lal Mahal, inside the Fort, which was later demolished. It is supposed that for security reasons Tipu did not meet visitors inside the fort.
Inside the palace on the ground floor there is currently a museum which has many pictures and objects from Tipu’s time on display.
The Daria Dawlat gardens were laid out by Tipu himself. There are four radiating water channels containing fountains. For the original planting, Tipu expressly asked for exotic seeds and plants to be brought back from Delhi and Lahore as well as from Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan. The gardens today retain much of the original plan with their open lawns, cypress avenues, mango trees and roses.
The Daria Dawlat palace is painted throughout with geometric, floral and vegetable motifs on the ceilings and other parts of the wooden structure but it is the frescoed walls of the verandah that are most noteworthy and of historical significance.
These outer walls are painted over lime plaster in the secco or dry method style with scenes representing military, durbar and everyday life.
Tipu’s main intention in building the palace was to use the power of visual art to glorify his deceased father as well as himself, the new Sultan, and the enduring power of Mysore.
The choice of external wall paintings, visible to visitors on approach, clearly reflects Tipu’s desire for political propaganda. He commissioned them in 1784 and was continuing the tradition of the Wodeyars when Srirangapatna was a cultural centre and source of paintings.
The idea may well have been inspired both by Mughal pictures of battles and miniatures from the Shahnama of Firdowsi (of which Tipu had a copy in his library) and by the historical frescoes in the palaces of Isphahan depicting both court life and victories in battles.
The garden was constructed in the classic Persian tradition. Both Haidar and Tipu were keen to make alliances with Iran and had sent ambassadors to Isphahan and Shiraz who must have seen the Chehel Sotoun Palace on these visits.
It is very likely that multiple artists would have worked on different aspects of the painting, for example, landscape, floral design, buildings and monuments while the individual figures were probably outlined by master artists and filled in and coloured by others. All this would have been under supervision of someone appointed by Tipu. Dr. Veena Shekar has speculated in her book that this is Subba Rao– a deputy prime minister of Tipu’s who hailed from Malur in Karnataka and was also a gifted artist.
After the fall of Mysore in 1799 the paintings inevitably started to deteriorate through time. The green shutters which reduced the exposure to sunlight were erected by the British in the mid 19th century.
On the West Wall are the historic murals that depict Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan winning the Battle of Pollilur against the British in 1780.
The murals at 50 by 18 foot are some of the largest in India and the largest mural cycle representing an historical event.
They are noted for their bright colours and the lively naivety of the battle scenes with their caricature of the English. The artists are not technically aware of perspective but they adopt certain conventions and formulas for depicting the landscape and people of different ranks by altering size and scale.
There are four separate long, slim panels. In the Picture Gallery, you can see sections and close ups from the military panels as well as digitally joined panoramics of the panels. View all the West Wall battle scenes in the Picture Gallery.
Three of the panels emphasise the pomp and circumstance of war, featuring royal processions. There are 2 processions of Haidar and Tipu (upper left panel and lower left panel respectively)on their way to the Battle of Pollilur, accompanied by their entourage including musicians and heralds side by side with large numbers of infantry and cavalry which fill the space.
The upper right panel is the odd one out as it features the Nizam of Hyderabad, who ironically did not participate in the battle. In addition to the attention paid to the aloof portrayal of the Nizam there is interesting use of a miniature topographical landscape which demonstrates how the artists were not necessarily limited by the lack of a realistic approach.
The lower right panel is rightly the best known and actually depicts the drama and action of the Battle of Pollilur itself. The British infantry square is a rare, artistic depiction of a military strategy that was employed in a war.
Nothwithstanding the challenges of photographing murals in the open, long term exposure to sunlight has faded the colours of the mural and other ravages are visible including the occasional act of vandalism such as the botched face of Mir Sadik, considered by many to be the facilitator of Tipu Sultan’s final downfall.
Fortunately there is a spectacular, unblemished full scale painting of the Battle of Pollilur on paper exhibited at the National Galleries of Scotland in 1999 in the Tiger and The Thistle Exhibition. It has the vividness of the original colours and is the only painting in existence which shows the entire scene.
The painting is clearly a finished work of art but could also have been a cartoon The purpose of a cartoon is a thorough study and final rendition of the composition, light, shadow, details of the future fresco, it is a preparatory drawing taken to the next level. Correctly done cartoon is a "stand alone" artwork http://frescoschool.org for the mural painting, either as speculated by Dr Veena Shekar when it was originally commissioned or prior to a restoration of the mural painting when it could have performed a similar function.
Intriguingly there is also a set of 24 small paintings which were cut out from another imputed full scale cartoon of the mural. They cover about three quarters of the Battle of Pollilur panel and include other scenes from Tipu’s procession. These have inscriptions in English underneath the main figures identifying them.
From a stylistic point of the view the complete painting and the chopped up paintings of the Battle of Pollilur have more in common with eachother than they do the current mural and are therefore likely to be closer in age (the view of the V&A Indian Department under Robert Skelton who had access to both paintings in the 1980’s was within 20 years, respectively 1820 and 1840). Part of the basis of dating them after the original mural was the lack of precedent for full scale cartoons preceding an Indian mural, a hypothesis that is clearly not seen as valid by Dr Veena Shekar among others. Notwithstanding such academic controversy it is not farfetched to say that both the complete painting and fragments predate the mural painting in its current state when one considers the original mural itself has been repainted a number of times. Tipu Sultan reportedly gave an instruction to whitewash the paintings following his defeat in the 3rd Anglo Mysore War in 1792, 6 years before the final short lived Anglo Mysore which saw Arthur Wellesley instated there as Commandant in 1799, after which the latter is known to have ordered a restoration of the paintings. There was a further repainting in 1855 when the mural probably started to resemble its current appearance. It has also been speculated that that the cartoon associated with the fragments was the original preparatory for the murals and that Wellesley himself made the inscriptions but no evidence has as yet been published for this. The mood and tempo of the paintings clearly differ. Whereas the fragments are painted on heavily varnished rice paper and the outlines are drawn in a more deliberate way giving them a slightly leaden, sombre appearance, the complete painting (painted in gouache on 5 continuous sheets of paper) has a bright, fresh, fluid quality. Whatever the exact relationship between the painting, the cut out cartoon and the murals we can say with some certainty that the first two are not only closer to the original mural but have a better prospect of preserving for posterity the memory of this unique historical event.
On the East Wall are painted more than a hundred figurative scenes, which are equally fascinating. There are portraits of nawabs and rulers and scenes from durbar and everyday life. It has been suggested that the purpose of the paintings was similar to having a photo album.
White buildings, typical in Arab countries, dominate the East Wall frescos. Inspite of the frequency of similar scenes, each scene features a building which is clearly unique and not based on a template.
It is the portrayal of people in these individual scenes, their interactions with the setting and each other that makes the portraits interesting.
Many of the portraits appear to be the rulers of feudatories of Tipu, inherited from Haidar. However as has been pointed out by Dr. Veena Shekar, it is doubtful that they all visited Srirangapatna, especially given Tipu’s relations with some contemporary rulers, or that they are all true contemporaries.
It is unlikely these were actual poses but instead based on pictures which could have been drawn by British or Company artists. There were many historical persons associated with Tipu who could theoretically be depicted here but little convincing research has been undertaken to uncover the secret of the portraits’ identities.
Among the few rulers that have been identified, are Tipu Sultan, the Hindu Rani of Chittoor; the Raja of Tanjore; Mohammad Ali Walajah of Arcot ; Fakhr-ur-nissa (Haidar's consort), Madakeri Nayak of Chitradurga; the Raja of Coorg.
It is a fair assumption given the large number of portraits that most of the nawabs are not as distinguished as the above list. There are also many people of different ranks in public scenes and a considerable number of household attendants waiting on their masters.
The paintings provide vignettes of Muslim life in Tipu’s time, depicting such routine activities as going to the mosque, attending a public audience, petitioning, receiving food, relaxing on long couches, cushions or chairs while being fanned or smoking hookahs, enjoying musical entertainment, reading or posing with a flower.
There is much that can be learned about the domestic culture from the depiction of everyday objects and clothing. Of note is the evident European influence in the type of furniture depicted, in particular chairs and couches. Many of the nawabs are portrayed on chairs – for the more important rulers the chairs perform the function of a throne. However the furniture sits side by side with the traditional Indian durbar setting of large cushions and carpets.
The 19th century photographer, Edmund Lyon compared the paintings to the frescoes in the Arena chapel at Padua which he thought showed exactly ‘the same mode of dividing and depicting the subjects’.
It is speculated that the artists working on the eastern wall were trained under the British who introduced depth and shading techniques and that these scenes were probably painted later than the West Wall battle scenes.
There were several well-known visiting artists who came to Srirangapatna such as Thomas Hickey, Johan Zoffany and G F Cherry who accompanied Lord Cornwallis in 1792. The Daria Dawlat museum houses many European portraits including Zoffany’s full length painting of Tipu Sultan and the Thomas Hickey’s mesmerising chalk and charcoal sketches of Tipu’s sons and his court in 1799.
The British may have also had the panels repainted in later years. For example it is known that the scene showing Krishnaraja Wodeyar III replaced Dewan Purnayaia.
There are smaller portrait images running along two friezes at the top of the wall which depict more private interiors with one or two figures only. They are arranged as double scenes (one set of 9 and another set of 8 on each frieze) alternating with two frames containing floral designs – see example below.
Interestingly similar small figurative scenes can be seen on the top panel of the West Wall. It is suggested that that the top panels were painted first because they would have given the artists an opportunity for trial composition.
Although there has been more scholarly interest in the Srirangapatna murals in the last 10 years and since these photos were taken (2006), evident in the books referenced below originating in India, further study and forensic research is much needed.
Pande, Anupa.and Kumari, Savita., The Heritage of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan: Art and Architecture. National Museum Institute and Arya Books International, New Delhi, 2012
Shekar, Veena., Historical Paintings of Srirangapatna: A Stylistic Study. Harman Publishing House, New Delhi, 2010
Anne Buddle, Tigers round the Throne: The Court of Tipu Sultan. Zamana Gallery ltd, London, 1990