One of the most characteristic features of almost all medieval Muslim invaders and rulers of India is their religion-fueled zeal for destroying Hindu temples. From Muhammad Ghaznavid to Babur to Malik Kafur to Muhammad Bin Tughlaq to Aurangzeb to Nadir Shah, every single Muslim invader and/or ruler made temple destruction his mandatory religious duty. In this, Tipu Sultan stands shoulder-to-shoulder with these temple destroyers extraordinaire.
The record of Tipu Sultan’s temple destruction in South India is perhaps best summed up by B. Lewis Rice, the eminent British epigraphist and director of the Archaeology Department of the British Government:
In the vast empire of Tipu Sultan on the eve of his death, there were only two Hindu temples having daily pujas within the Sreerangapatanam fortress. It is only for the satisfaction of the Brahmin astrologers who used to study his horoscope that Tipu Sultan had spared those two temples. The entire wealth of every Hindu temple was confiscated before 1790 itself mainly to make up for the revenue loss due to total prohibition in the country. [Emphasis added]
Destruction of Hindu temples and idols—apart from the genocide and forcible conversions of Hindus and Christians—formed an inseparable part of Tipu’s sprees of wanton aggression from 1783-89 in Coorg and the Malabar. The Lahore Staff College publication on Tipu recounts his official edict to destroy Hindu temples in his dominions as follows:
He [Tipu] issued an edict for the destruction of all the Hindu temples in his dominions excepting those of Srirangapattana and Melukote…he resolved to destroy every monument of the former Government to which end he caused the ancient fort and city of Mysore to be razed, and removed the stones of the temples and palace to a neighboring hill where he laid the foundation of a new fort which he named Nuzerbad. But in the furiousness of his wrath, he spared not the works of the greatest public utility, in the destruction of the celebrated reservoir of Yadavi Nudi because it recorded the wisdom, riches and power of the ancient Hindu sovereigns. [Emphasis added]
To get a measure of the kind of large scale temple destruction that Tipu carried out, one only needs to peruse William Logan’s Malabar Manual, which gives a near-complete list of all the temples he had destroyed. More on this a little later.
Lewis Rice estimates in his Mysore Gazetteer that Tipu had destroyed about 8000 temples in South India. Colonel R.D. Palsokar also confirms this number in his study on Tipu Sultan when he says that
Tipu relates that he had destroyed 8000 temples, many of them with roofs of gold, silver, copper and all containing treasures buried under the idols. The Raja of Cherakal offered him Rs. 400000 and the plates of gold with which one particular temple was roofed but Tipu said that he would not spare it for all the treasures of the earth and sea.
Indeed, Tipu’s refusal to spare the temple in exchange for money reminds us of that arch-iconoclast, Muhmmad Ghaznavid who responded thus when he was made a similar offer:
I desire that on the day of resurrection I should be summoned with the words ‘Where is that Mahmud who broke the greatest of heathen idols?’ rather than by these: ‘Where is that Mahmud who sold the greatest of the idols to the infidels for gold?’
As numerous works of medieval Indian history show, rulers like Muhammad Ghaznavid, Aurangzeb, Tipu et al regarded their acts of temple destruction as a pious performance in the service of Islam. Even today, we see a mosque in Srirangapattana—not far from the ruins of Tipu’s fort—that was raised after destroying a Hanuman temple. The mosque has no characteristics of a typical mosque except its dome and minaret. The plan and structure of the ramparts and vast compound display unmistakably, the architecture of a Hindu temple. The pillars of this mosque show friezes of Hindu gods carved onto them.
Although the Malabar region bore the brunt of Tipu’s temple destruction, its sorry fate was shared by other places as well. Colonel Fullerton was serving in the British army, which was rendering assistance to the Rajas of the Malabar and petty chieftains in Tamil Nadu. Some of his observations and experiences have been recorded in Colonel Castell’s History of India. Colonel Fullerton’s report to his superiors with respect to his unit’s battle with Tipu is very revealing.
There a very steep fort at a town near Coimbatore. Near it was a Shiva temple made entirely of black stone. Tipu fell upon this temple which contained beautiful Hindu sculptures, destroyed it completely, and looted all the gold, ornaments, and valuables in it.
Tipu’s attack was so savage that the local kings were terrified into not putting up a resistance. It was only after the British arrived there that these kings narrated their woes. Fullerton continues:
This temple was extremely sacred to the Hindus. Tipu had despoiled this temple so badly that it had greatly enraged the Hindus. Until then, nobody had done an iota of harm to the temple.
Tipu’s industrial-scale temple destruction in the Malabar
The Malabar Manual mentions that the Thrichambaram and Thalipparampu temples in Chirackal Taluqa, Thiruvangatu Temple (Brass Pagoda) in Tellicherry, and Ponmeri Temple near Badakara were destroyed by Tipu Sultan. Equally, the Maniyoor mosque was built after razing a Hindu temple to the ground. Vatakkankoor Raja Raja Varma’s History of Sanskrit Literature echoes Logan’s Malabar Manual more vividly:
There was no limit as to the loss the Hindu temples suffered due to the military operations of Tipu Sultan. Burning down the temples, destruction of the idols installed therein and also cutting the heads of cattle over the temple deities were the cruel entertainments of Tipu Sultan and his equally cruel army. It was heartrending even to imagine the destruction caused by Tipu Sultan in the famous ancient temples of Thalipparampu and Thrichambaram. The devastation caused by this new Ravana’s barbarous activities has not yet been fully rectified.
The following is a partial list of the important temples that Tipu destroyed in the Malabar region.
|Thali, Thiruvannur, Varackal, Puthur, Govindapuram, Thalikkunnu||Calicut|
|Keraladheeswaram, Thrikkandiyoor, Thriprangatu||Vettum|
|Kotikkunnu, Thrithala, Panniyoor, Sukapuram||Kannur, Malappuram|
|Guruvayoor (Krishna Temple)||Guruvayoor|
|Parampathali, Panmayanadu, Vengidangu||Guruvayoor|
|Kalpathi, Kachamkurissi||Palghat (Palakkad)|
|Vadukunda Siva Temple||Madai|
|Triprangot, Thrichembaram, Thirunavaya, Thiruvannoor, Calicut Thali, Venkitangu, Terumanam, Shri Veliyanattukava, Varakkal, Puthu, Govindapuram, Maranehei Temple of Aaalvancheiri Tambrakkal, Tikulam, Ramanathakra, Azhinjalam Indiannur, Mannur Narayan Kanniar||Various|
It is also pertinent to mention the fate that certain renowned temples met at the hands of this Marauder of Malabar.
The Thirunavaya Temple, of unknown antiquity—local legends trace it back to about 5000 years but its written history dates to at least 1300 years—is today located 12 Kilometres south of Tirur in the Malappuram district. It was always renowned as one of the great centres of Vedic learning and a principal place of pilgrimage of the Vaishnava sect. Tipu’s brutal army not only plundered the temple but desecrated and destroyed it.
The case of the Thrikkavu temple in Ponnani was no different. After smashing the idols in the temple, Tipu converted the entire temple into an ammunition depot.
Tipu also didn’t spare the Krishna temple at Guruvayoor, which is one of the holiest Hindu temples in India. However, today’s Tipu-worshippers assert that it was Tipu who gave the land grant to Hindus to construct the Guruvayoor temple! An eminence named C.K. Ahmed writes with supreme confidence that “the Guruvayoor temple of today exists on the land that was granted as Inaam [gift or grant] by Tipu” but fails to give a single shred of evidence to back his assertion. However, the real story is that when the people of Guruvayoor heard of Tipu’s approach, they secretly transported its main idol to the Ambalapuzha Krishna temple then in the Travancore State. Here’s what the 2 January 1977 issue of the Illustrated Weekly of India says about the affair:
The truth is that when Tipu raided the Malabar, he looted all the gold and jewelry in the Hindu temples there, pulled down the gold, silver and copper covering that placed on the roofs of these temples, looted their money, and vandalized them. Seeing the nature of his raid, the locals and Brahmins at Guruvayoor feared for the fate of the idol of Krishna in the temple, shifted it to Ambalapuzha and hid it.
It was only after Tipu’s tyrannical regime ended that the original idol of Krishna was transported back to Guruvayoor and reinstated with due ceremony. Equally, if no signs of destruction are visible today, it is because of the intervention of an officer named Hydrose Kutty, a Hindu who had been forcibly converted to Islam by Hyder Ali. He helped repair, renovate, and restore the temple and reinstated the land grants and exemptions that had historically been given to it by various kings.
However, the bigoted handwork of Tipu is clearly visible even today in the temples of Parampathali, Panmayanadu and Vengidangu. One look at the appalling damage done to the sanctum sanctorum of the Parampathali temple is sufficient to estimate the nature of Tipu’s iconoclasm.
This is an extract from the author’s book Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore.
He has translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.