Elephant object Essay

There has been a good amount of study in the recent past of some of the excellent specimens of Swords from Tipu Sultan’s personal collection as well as his extraordinary Firelocks as well as heavier Cannon, there has not been enough light shone upon the other objects of ordnance manufactured in Mysore and used by junior ranks in Mysore’s army. The purpose of this article is to introduce the reader to two such objects from Mysore manufactured for common consumption but very ‘Mysorean’ in their identification. Keywords: Tipu Sultan, Mysore, Army Manufactory, The Manufacturing industry in Mysore had already reached a high level of scientific proficiency and output by the end of the 18th C. The Iron forges in Tipu’s time were optimized for labor efficiency and the wages earned by the labor force were on par or better than contemporary workmen in neighboring states controlled by the British. Sultan Selim II of Turkey and Louis XVI of France were asked to send cannon founders, gunsmiths and experts who knew how to make glass, mirrors and china, and in return were given the finest guns made in Mysore for their consideration. 1 At Kankanhalli, the iron foundry was under the exclusive preserve of the army manufactory.2 This factory, like today’s ordinance factories in India and Pakistan appears to have been conducted entirely on Government account and for its exclusive benefit. The Revenue regulations of Mysore drafted under Tipu’s supervision himself is a very important source which helps us understand the importance Tipu gave to Mysore’s Iron and Steel Works. This book of regulations was to be compulsorily retained, read and followed by all Government functionaries throughout the extant of Mysore’s possessions from Malabar to Dharwar. Instruction no. 78 in the booklet read thus: - If there are ten iron-foundries in your district, you are by encouragement, to increase them to double their number; and according to the indents and musters sent from the Huzoor; you are to have iron Dubas and steel Kuhuttes made and forwarded. Whenever an order comes to your Kuchery for iron shot and Dubas, you are to forward them without the smallest delay; Ironmongers may make all sorts of implements of iron, but you are to take care that they do not sell shot. You are also to ascertain where there are mines of iron and steel; and obtain from thence the utmost possible quantity of each of those articles, which you are to take the greatest care of.3 It is stated that Tipu asking his Amildars who were, Civil officers-in-charge of each district to encourage and expand the production of Iron and Steel as well as to keep an open eye of sources of ore and acquire them for the Sarkar. There is found a very interesting point made of the output of the forges. Along with iron implements they produced Dubas , Kuhuttes and iron shot. Kuhuttes (from the Kannada Katthi for Knife) were sword blades for the use of the Sarkar, iron shot were round metal balls used in muskets and cannon for ammunition. The term Dubas (From the Hindustani Dubba for box) are Cylindrical Shells used as Rocket casings, something unique throughout the Armament world of the 18th Century to Mysore and Tipu. Tipu Sultan’s contemporary Mir Hussain Kirmani mentions the rapid progress of manufactories in Mysore during this time. He quotes - “ …his workmen cast guns of a very wonderful description, lion mouthed; also, muskets with two or three barrels, scissors, pen-knives, clocks, daggers called safdura, also, a kind of shield woven and formed so as to resist a musket ball. Besides these he also instituted manufactories for the fabrication of the cloths of all countries…”4 While there has been a good amount of study in the recent past of some of the excellent specimens of Swords from Tipu Sultan’s personal collection as well as his extraordinary Firelocks as well as heavier Cannon, but the battle shield5 which I will illustrate the keen eye for detail among Mysore’s craftsmen, is the artifact, demonstrates how Tipu Sultan endeavored to give every item manufactured in Mysore a “Tiger’s touch”!! This shield called ‘Dhaalu’ in South India or the Deccan, made of Elephant hide is of circular and convex form. It has a diameter of 34 Centimeters. The leather shows medium to heavy wear and is decorated with four Lily leaf patterns and an unclear central pattern along the slight depression at the center of the shield. A metal strap holder can still be seen along the outer circumference of the shield. There may have been at least another such strap holder, but it is missing now. There are two handles, on the back of the shield that are made of thick leather cords emanating from the respective rings with padding for the hand. The handles are fastened to the shield by ring bolts, which are riveted to four bosses on the shield's face. The bosses which are in the shape of stylized flowers commonly seen on tulwar pommels are made of iron and compose of two concentric pieces, with the larger painted green and the smaller one red. Each of the pieces has a series of hollow centered figures painted in white along the circumference. The bosses have four sets of rosettes pierced into them. The most striking feature on the bosses of this particular shield is the string of figures, wide at the middle with a hollow center and with re-curving ends6 flowing along the circumference. These figures strike one as the famed ‘bubri’ mark found on several objects associated with Mysore under Tipu Sultan. The ‘bubri’ or the Tiger stripe can be found in profusion on the uniform of his infantry and as a distinctive ornament in the palaces, in a casting of guns, and on all the insignia of royalty founded on his name. The tiger was his overriding obsession. That beast, in its striped magnificence, remained a symbol which he was to look up to and, indeed model himself upon all his life. As a soldier Tipu would respect its strength and fighting ability, and, as a leader it’s supremacy in the animal world. The tiger was also a powerful emblem within Hinduism, where its awesome strength was often linked to the vengeful aspects of the Goddess Kali.7 And many of Tipu Sultan’s weapons drew heavily on the artistic motifs of the Hindus who were his predominant subjects. Again, similar bubris as in the shield can be observed on the tunic of a rocket man in Tipu’s army as depicted on a contemporary watercolor by Robert Home. The ‘bubri’ was adopted in about 1780 and continued in use until Tipu's death in 1799. Lt-Col Alexander Beatson recorded: ‘He has often been heard to say that in this world he would rather live two days like a tiger, than two hundred years like a sheep. He adopted as his emblem of state the figure of the royal tiger, whose head and stripes constituted the chief ornament of his throne and almost every article which belonged to him’. We observe that the bosses on the shield are painted in red and green and the ‘bubri’ on them in white. This color combination, done using mineral paints is again striking because red ornamental work, forming the tiger stripe or ‘bubri’ covered the green walls behind Tipu’s throne in the Seringapatam palace. One of Tipu Sultan’s war banners with green bubri stripes on a red background was brought back to England by Richard, Earl of Mornington after the fall of Seringapatam.9 The Red and Green color combination have always had a symbolism in Islam with Red supposed to represent courage in the heat of battle and Green the traditional holy color of the Prophet and hence of Islam. Another important decoration on the shield is the lily leaf motifs painted in white. Tipu adopted the Sun with radiating rays in his banner which was of purple silk, with a central sun, consisting of stripes of green at the corners and bordered with gold in a circle.10 The face of the rayed Sun was also one among the six dynastic insignias of the Mughals since their arrival in India.11 The most important pointer to this sun in lily leaf motif coming from Seringapatam, can be found in a clue left behind by Tipu himself. Tipu Sultan built a grand mosque called ‘Masjid-e-Ala’ in 1784 after he ascended the throne of Mysore. Located near the Bangalore gate of the fort, the mosque has lofty minarets standing on a high platform and has an open court in the front and a covered veranda. The minarets are double storied and octagonal in shape with pigeonholes surmounted by domes that adds to the grandeur of the entire structure. There is a huge prayer hall, on the western side. Fine calligraphy and intricate ornamentation decorate the walls and ceilings of this mosque. As one walks up the flight of steps to climb up to the prayer hall on the upper floor of the mosque one is struck with the same sun with spiral rays emanating from it in lily leaf motif on the walls to the entrance of the prayer hall. When referring to himself, Tipu Sultan’s central metaphor was not that of the tiger but one of light. His most common epithet, used by both himself and others, was ‘huzur-i-pur-i-nur’ which literally translates as ‘full of light’. Tipu’s regular cavalry wore as it’s uniformed a red turban and a short coat, made of green or red cloth, with breeches of linen, and slippers.13 The mural at Tipu Sultan’s summer palace ‘Dariya Daulat’ at Ganjam in Seringapatam shows Mysorean cavalrymen wearing red-green uniforms with shields strung across their backs. It was shielded like this which were produced by Mysorean Ordinance factories to outfit her fighting men. This shield is a rare survival, as although the shield was the backbone of the Indian arsenal, none with a direct association to Tipu’s armory are known to survive. Staying on Horses and Cavalry, the Mysorean cavalry was of three kinds. The regular cavalry or ‘sowar uskar’ consisted of men whose horses were owned by the state and maintained at its expense.14 It was divided into three ‘kacheris’ or divisions, each consisting of six mouktubs or regiments of 389 horses and 376 men. A mouktub was divided into two stables, generally consisting of 22 horses each. Each division had gunners and guns attached to it. Then there was the irregular horse which consisted of the ‘silladars’ and the predatory horse, called the ‘kuzzuk’. The silladars were divided into two kacheris each commanded by two bakshies and divided into 8 risalas of 250 horses each, besides the usual staff of mutsaddies or accountants, horse doctors, etc. The Duke of Wellington considered Tipu’s irregular horse to be the best of its kind in the world. The predatory horse was used to plunder and burn enemy baggage and harass them at every given opportunity using ‘hit and run’ tactics. They were extremely useful in cutting off the supply of provisions to the enemy camps. The second object from Tipu Sultan’s Mysore that I will now present to the reader is Horsehead Armor that would have been used on some of the horses that the Mysorean Cavalry used so effectively on the battlefield. He describes it as “consisting of a shaped and ridged brass Chaffron with a tear-shaped brass boss or stud towards the top. The side pieces are made of blackened leather, studded with gilt brass pins in floral patterns, with four short and one long rectangular brass plates applied and bordered with cotton tape. “15 The armor being shown here is a relatively cruder piece when compared to the one in the Royal Collection and incomplete too. Made of brass, there is a domed elliptical ring with a flat strut across it. The strut has a tear-shaped boss about 3 inches long on a square base. Two circular holes at the wider ends of the ring are for the purpose of riveting it to the leather piece which would be splayed over the forehead of the horse. The second piece of the armor is the most interesting here which consists of a brass rectangular band with hinges at both ends and a Crescent with a hooked flat plate at the center. There would have been at least two of these bands along the lower sides of the horse’s head. The hinges would have connected to the leather and to at least one other brass piece now missing along with the other band, just below the elliptical ring. Contemporary observers have mentioned Shields used by Tipu’s army s painted black and ornamented with black bosses or crescents.16 The prominent crescent here suggests a similar association. But what connects us directly to Mysore is the line of bubris across the lined rectangle along the edges of the band. These are the typical Tipu bubris and coupled with the provenance of the piece from Mysore, point the item to manufacture at one of Tipu Sultans factories. That this piece of horse armor is very ordinary is plain to all but what strikes us is the attempt by the craftsman to stamp the Mysore mark upon the piece. Tipu Sultan ruled over Mysore between ",1782–1799 A.D. but his reign was sufficient to make the name of Mysore ring through the courts and cities of all of India and Europe even up to North America. This was in no small measure due to the bravery of the tiger troops he commanded along with the steadfast determination of the common citizens of Mysore who lived through incessant wars and yet saw that Mysore remained among India’s most prosperous states of that time. And both these objects convey to us what Tipu Sultan and his Sarkar-e-Khodadad, [God has given Government], held dear – Courage, Tolerance, and Pride.

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