An en­cap­su­lat­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing rulers of In­dia, Tipu Sul­tan, cap­tures his life and times. Qatar To­day's con­ver­sa­tion with the ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor Wil­liam Green­wood and his team throws up some in­ter­est­ing facts.

“I would pre­fer to live the life of a tiger for a day than that of a jackal for 100 years.”


After the storm­ing of the In­dian fort of Sri­ran­ga­p­atna, in May 1799, which led to the an­ni­hi­la­tion of the most feared foe of the Bri­tish, Tipu Sul­tan, the vic­tors found a cu­ri­ous toy in his cham­bers. ‘The Mu­si­cal Tiger,' as it was called, was made up of a tiger prey­ing on an English sol­dier. It was so con­structed that, by the turn­ing of a han­dle, the an­i­mal's growls min­gled with the shrieks of its dy­ing vic­tim. It is be­lieved that Tipu's favourite toy re­flected his ha­tred for the Bri­tish.

There is no doubt that Tipu Sul­tan was one of In­dia's most fas­ci­nat­ing rulers. The Sword of Tipu Sul­tan, a drama­tised tele­vi­sion show, en­thralled and in­trigued In­dian au­di­ences when it was first aired in 1990. To view the orig­i­nal sword owned by a body­guard of the leg­endary ruler, so many years later, is almost surreal.

The Tiger’s dream

Tipu Sul­tan is an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum of Is­lamic Art in Qatar that tries to en­cap­su­late the life of this leg­endary South In­dian ruler. In what he de­scribes as ‘an in­ti­mate set­ting,' the cu­ra­tor Wil­liam Green­wood and his team have tried to re­cap­ture the grand life and times of the for­mer king. Tipu Sul­tan ruled the Mal­abar area for 36 years in the 1700's. It is fas­ci­nat­ing that one of his per­sonal or­nate dag­gers on dis­play in Qatar seems almost new so many years later. “The pieces on dis­play in this ex­hi­bi­tion are beau­ti­ful and can be used to un­der­stand how Tipu Sul­tan con­tin­ues to be rel­e­vant even two cen­turies after his death,” says the cu­ra­tor.

It is the first time an ex­hi­bi­tion on the ‘war­rior king,' as he was known, is be­ing held in the re­gion. The pre­vi­ous ex­hi­bi­tion on Tipu Sul­tan was held in Scot­land in 1999. “Tipu Sul­tan was not only a war­rior and ruler, but a man who, through his ac­com­plish­ments, be­came a legend dur­ing his lifetime,” says Green­wood. Ad­mit­ting his own fascination with the ruler, Green­wood adds: “After grow­ing up in London and see­ing Tipu Sul­tan's life doc­u­mented in the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum, his story just grows on you. The cu­ra­tor has worked in the In­dian and Is­lamic Depart­ment at Bon­ham's auc­tion house in London. In a pre­vi­ous ex­hi­bi­tion in Qatar, he show­cased his­toric swords from the MIA col­lec­tion.

The In­dian ruler was al­ways fas­ci­nated with tigers, owing to which he was called the ‘tiger of Mysore.' Tipu was so fond of the tiger that he had reared six tigers which he kept as pets and had them chained to the pil­lars of his dur­bar (court­room) when­ever he was present in the palace for any of­fi­cial court hear­ing.

Tigers are con­sid­ered fear­less and coura­geous an­i­mals and the ruler tried to iden­tify his character with th­ese noble and brave crea­tures. Which ex­plains why Tipu Sul­tan de­signed his weapons with the sym­bol of a tiger. His cloth­ing also of­ten car­ried this sym­bol.

On en­ter­ing the MIA ex­hi­bi­tion one is sur­rounded by the power of the his­toric ruler. In the cen­tre sits a large can­non, whose mouth is shaped like a tiger's head. There is also a brass sculp­ture which is be­lieved to have been used to carry royal women in palan­quins. The sculp­ture uses a prom­i­nent tiger mo­tif here as well. Can­non balls used at the time also bear the tiger's head.

The cen­tre­piece of this ex­hi­bi­tion is a se­ries of paint­ings de­pict­ing the Bat­tle of Pollilur in 1780. Show­ing Tipu Sul­tan's vic­tory over the Bri­tish army, the paint­ings ap­pear to be a prepara­tory work for a pala­tial mu­ral. In their orig­i­nal state, they formed one con­tin­u­ous roll of rice pa­per, ap­prox­i­mately two me­tres high and nine me­tres wide. It has since been cut into 24 sep­a­rate pieces. The orig­i­nal wall paint­ing housed in the Darya Daulat Bagh, the Sul­tan's palace on the out­skirts of Mysore, sur­vives to this day. The images at MIA have been re­con­sti­tuted us­ing dig­i­tal imag­ing.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is cur­rently on at MIA's Spe­cial Exhibitions Gallery and will con­tinue till Jan­uary 24. A se­ries of ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing art work­shops and spe­cial lec­tures is planned to coin­cide with the ex­hi­bi­tion

Palan­quin han­dle.

Can­non, Sul­tanate of Mysore, In­dia (Sri­ran­ga­p­atna).

Head of the can­non shaped like a tiger.

Axle bosses and can­non­balls.

En­trance to the ex­hi­bi­tion, Tiger's Dream: Tipu Sul­tan

Guard's sword

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