UP CLOSE WITH THE TIGER OF MYSORE
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
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