In the Malay Muslim courts of the archipelago, literary traditions now transmitted using Arabic script continued to reflect deep-seated Hindu-Buddhist roots. The Malay version of the Ramayana, Hikayat Seri Rama, is believed to have been committed to writing between the 13th and 15th centuries. One of the oldest Malay manuscripts in this country – and probably the oldest known illuminated Malay manuscript – is a copy of the Hikayat Seri Rama now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which was in the possession of Archbishop Laud in 1635. The Malay version originated not from the classical Ramayana of Valmiki, but from popular oral versions widely spread over southern India.
But perhaps we are the ones preoccupied with it. The importance of Islam to Tipu’s reign continues to be debated, often viciously, in South Asian academia and popular culture. Certain Hindu fundamentalists and conservatives portray him as a Muslim bigot who does not deserve the reputation for anti-colonial nationalism he has been given in an influential strain of nationalist history-writing. Without a doubt, Tipu oppressed some native Christian and Hindu communities, which he suspected of collaborating with his British enemies. But ‘jihad’ is a poor, and politically dangerous, way to characterize his policies. He fought Muslim rulers like the Nizam of Hyderabad, and sought alliances with non-Muslim states such as France. He may have been ruthless, but he was hardly the archetypal Islamist war-monger of neo-con nightmares.
Chaya Babu has a review of Gaiutra Bahadur’s book Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture which is about Bahadur’s great grandmother who left India in 1903 to the Carribean.
This is in the preface, before a story of the women who knowingly or unwittingly became the nexus of a brutal system of indentured servitude, imperialism, and stringent patriarchy. Bahadur provides further context of what migration for such purposes did for Indians – stripping them of caste, community, companionship, and all other structures that formed the base of their lives on the subcontinent. With this, they were given the name “coolie,” defining them primarily by their collective status as menial workers, a marker of identity that evolved to an ethnic slur and stuck with their descendants.
As it is stated in the grantha, the Pangi Achan (nephew of elayachan edam thampuran), Kelu achan of Pulikkel edam and a few of the important regional heads travelled to Coimbatore to meet the Sankara Raja who gave them known emissaries to accompany them to Srirangam (Mysore – Srirangapatanam) to meet the Dalawa there. From there they were redirected to meet Hyder Ali who was the Faujedar or commander in chief of the infantry at Dindigul, nearer to Palghat. Hyder then deputed his brother-in-law Muquadam Ali with his forces to Palghat. This resulted in a severe war with the Zamorin’s forces in Feb 1758 where the Mysore forces were victorious. Muqadam Ali’s forces withdrew after collecting their compensation by way of gold melted out of the ornaments worn by the Emoor bhagavathi (the tutelary deity of the Palghat Achans), as rakshabhogam (equivalent of 12,000 old Viraraya fanams). The Zamorin it is said (not in this grantha though, but in British records) apparently sued for peace by promising to pay 12,00,000 fanams as reparation.
The next carnival will be up on June 15th. Please send your nominations by e-mail to varnam.blog @gmail. Thanks Fëanor for his nominations.
Calicut Heritage writes about Tipu’s antics in Calicut from the diaries of Francois Fidele Ripaud de Montaudevert who was part of Tipu’s army that went into Kerala. A lot of historians have explained that most of the anti-Tipu narratives come from his enemies, the British, and cannot be trusted. So it is interesting to read what one of his allies had to write.
Another entry of Ripaud relating to Calicut, reads: “To show his ardent devotion and steadfast faith in the Mohammedan religion, Tipu Sultan found Kozhikode to be the most suitable place. Kozhikode was then a centre of Brahmins and had over 7,000 Brahmin families living there. Over 2,000 Brahmin families perished as a result of Tipu Sultan’s Islamic cruelties. He did not spare even women and children.”
On one side this led to the British conjuring up an international Jacobin plot, touching the distant tip of South India while on the other side Tipu was now determined to obtain the required support from France through the isle of France and prepares a new Secret embassy of two or three persons to sail to Mauritius with Ripaud. This is of course downplayed by various writers taking the ‘Tipu is a martyr’ line – Some leave out this entire Ripuad chapter from their accounts of the glorious Tipu, in fact one even goes on to say that Tipu actually sent his emissary to obtain artisans from Mauritius! Well that was a tall tale, in my opinion, taller than that narrated by Ripaud when he landed in Mangalore!
Andronicus died in 1958. His book Eighteen Years in India was published in the Russian language in Argentina the next year. A review appeared in the Bulletin of the Russian Student Christian Movement, praising his selflessness, elevating him as an outstanding evangelist, talked about the lonely heroism of his mission, and celebrated his memoir a special example in the literature of exile. Others familiar with his work in India pointed out that his mission was essentially a failure, as he had been unable to convert the heathens to the faith, and did not establish his own church community either. The reason, of course, was that the Orthodox church of South India, while not in communion with the Russian Orthodox, was close enough to the latter in faith and spirit. And so after much deliberation, Andronicus concluded he should help the Syrian Orthodox church and not establish a separate congregation.
Mirza Ghalib, though he was born in Agra, lived most of his life in Delhi—invariably in rented accommodation around the area of Ballimaran. The house where he spent his last days is in Gali Qasim Jaan (named after an 18th century nobleman, originally from Central Asia; Ghalib’s wife was a descendant of Qasim Jaan’s). Today, after having been neglected for many years, a portion of Ghalib’s haveli has been converted into a Ghalib museum, with information about his life, excerpts from his poetry, and artefacts recreating Ghalib’s days.
That’s it for April. The next carnival will be up on May 15th. If you have any links for the next carnival, please e-mail me (varnam dot blog at gmail)
In A Survey of Kerala History, Sreedhara Menon summarizes the impact of Tipu Sultan’s brutal raids on Kerala and concludes that it introduced modern and progressive ideas to Kerala. These progressive ideas include collecting taxes directly from the peasants and building roads which connected various remote parts of Kerala. Menon also credits Tipu Sultan for creating a social revolution in Kerala by attacking Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Nairs. By declaring Nairs as the lowest caste and by forcefully converting them into Islam gave the lower castes a sense of prestige and position. As to the drawbacks to Tipu’s wars in Kerala, Menon writes that the wars halted black pepper cultivation and thus destroyed the economy. The ports became empty and unused and the foreign currency that came from trade relations which spanned a millennia came to a halt pushing people into poverty.
Fortunately Menon does not call him a freedom fighter, but many many historians and politicians and literary types like Girish Karnad and Bhagwan Gidwani consider him so. They also consider him to be a great warrior, a humanist, the son of Kannada and a tolerant ruler. Sandeep, by going through copious amounts of primary sources on Tipu finds that a fictional narrative has been constructed regarding every aspect of Tipu’s life and the tale which was spread by bards who relied on bakshish, now is spread by modern bards for various nefarious reasons.
The part that Sreedhara Menon whitewashed s expanded by Sandeep and that is not for the faint of heart. Tipu hunted down the Nairs who rebelled against him and forced them to surrender. Here is the what happened next:
Another account of Tipu’s march through Calicut records that both men, women and children were hanged; churches and temples were desecrated; women were forced to marry Muslim men. Proud of his accomplishments in Calicut, he wrote a letter gloating about this massive conversion. He also congratulated his commanding officer for circumcising the captives and converting the others. As he marched to Travancore, burning towns and villages, he was halted by the Nairs and extreme cruelty by Tipu caused an exodus of people from Malabar. This is the level of progressiveness that is attributed to Tipu by a writer who had a good idea of what really happened as he was the former editor of the Gazetteer of Kerala. The trend seems to be to not let facts get in the way of a progressive interpretation.
Another myth that prevails is that Tipu was a freedom fighter because he fought against the British. Less mentioned is the fact that he working on replacing one colonial power for the other for his own personal gain. In various letters written to the French,he conveyed the notion that he was friends with the local Muslim rulers and with the combined French army, they could rout the British. To entice the French, he promised half the territory that would be taken away from the British and he had correspondence with Napoleon himself. Napoleon was not the only foreigner with whom he bargained. He wrote letters to the Caliph, to Zaman Shah of Afghanistan, and to other foreign Muslim rulers, inviting them to wage the battle against the infidels.
Besides revealing such less mentioned facts, the book begins with the crux of the problem which is the problem with historiography in India. These narratives are not written with a focus on revealing the truth, but for subverting certain truths. There is a revealing conversation between S L Bhyrappa and G. Parthasarathy, a Nehru-Gandhi family acolyte, who lead a committee to foster national integration through education. Parthasarathy tells Bhyrappa, who at that time was a philosophy lecturer, that teaching about the iconoclasm of Aurangzeb and Mahmud of Ghazni would poison the minds of the students, offend the minorities and “cleave the society”. Hence it was important to use “maturity and discrimination” in selecting the narrative.
In 2009, I wrote a piece for Pragati about these biases and one of the solutions was for us not to leave the history to historians.
Lawsuits, protests, activism—these can be an effective tools, but there is also a need to popularise the discourse. Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough are masters of the popular history genre in the West. Barring a few honourable exceptions, in the Indian context this genre consists of writing more biographies of Nehru and Gandhi. There is a need to add more voices to this discourse—to explain how the invasion theory evolved to migration theory to Aryan trickle down theory—because this Aryan-Dravidian race theory still has serious social and political implications in India.[Op-Ed in Pragati: Getting Objective about it]
Sandeep’s book is a good step in that direction.
Tipu Sultan – Tyrant of Mysore, Rare Publications; 1st Edition 2013 edition (November 30, 2013), 186 pages [Kindle Edition | Flipkart| Amazon India]