Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Ram Govardhan

Tipu Sultan, the Badhsah of Kingdom of Mysore, robed in silky raiment gleaming with jewels, was stomping around in piked shoes in the glittering Darbar-e-Khas of the Daria Daulat Bagh Palace in Srirangapatna, at a measured pace, rendering a metrical cadence. Charged with rage, the tramps pierced sonic spears into the hearts of overawed ministers, commanders clad in richest vestments stiff with precious gems.With each step, the pounding grew heavier and the pregnant ambiance turned quieter. Although their continued silence over the scandal drove him frantic, he didn’t raise his resplendently turbaned head, a gesture boding disastrous consequences. A little later, as his make-up flaked, paused and, throwing a lordly stare at the ministers, he cried with a rasp in his voice, “Where and when did they meet?”

He was referring to the meeting of General Harris, the Governor of Madras and Tirumalai Iyengar, the Pradhan of the Wodeyars, the earstwhile rulers of the Kingdom of Mysore.

As he prowled about, ripples of dread convulsing through their bodies, no one could muster the nerve to answer. Such tight-lipped silence, unheard of in his court, smacked of complicity, rather a much deeper conspiracy.

“This is an indelible blot …that too on my watch, even Allah won’t save you from the gallows,” Tipu Sultan thundered, “When and where did they meet?”

“They, they…they met in Tanjore last month, Your Royal Highness,” Anche Shamaiah, minister of police, post office and chief of investigation, known for his wit and repartee, said with a frightened, tremulous look.

Tipu Sultan looked daggers at him, throwing into question the very point of intelligence corps, “Was our French-trained spy network sleeping? Or massaging stiff limbs of their concubines?”

His imperious, unyielding look was spotlighted by the rare rays of golden sunshine diffused by the gemstone-embellished all-teak floor.

“Tirumalai Iyengar had dodged our checkpoints by proceeding incognito, Your Imperial Majesty,” Shamaiah said, “Draped in a sari in Iyengar style.”

“I know, I know the instigator…of course it must be the old, diabolical witch…the queen dowager Lakshmi Ammani Devi. The leatherhead ought to have known better…she is putting herself in the doghouse. All right, all right…I will enlighten her on the sagacity of foreclosing her hopes of regaining the kingdom,” Tipu Sultan said, in his rather ponderous manner.

“Let’s cut her down to size by several notches, Your Royal Highness,” Krishna Rao, the treasurer, said, “General Harris and Tirumalai Iyengar seem to have signed a pact to reinstate the Wodeyar dynasty…even our arch-enemy, the Nizam of Hyderabad, is said to be in cahoots with them.”

“Knowing the opportunistic snake’s nature, my father had incarcerated most of his kinsmen long ago, yet the merchant of venom is still at his crafty best…but inflamed spirits of our empire will reduce such bootlickers to ashes,” Tipu Sultan said.

“Tirumalai Iyengar and his brother Narayana were promised by her a tenth of the kingdom’s revenue as annual salary in perpetuity, Your Imperial Majesty,” Shamaiah said.

“Purnaiyaaaa…!!!,” Tipu Sultan cried, “Detain every one of the foxy Iyengar’s relatives, patrons and apologists at once, the old and the young, the lame and the dying alike…everyone….”

As a wartime supreme commander, Dewan Purnaiya had also served under Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan’s father. He was now the most important member of the inner council and the only Hindu granted the privilege of breaking bread with the sultan. He had earned such deep trust ever since he had saved Tipu’s bacon by keeping Hyder Ali’s death in Chittoor confidential until Tipu returned from Malabar and throned himself. He was the right-hand man during every one of the crusades; leading the famed Rocket Artillery Unit. Purnaiya’s guile, wit and longevity were sources of annoyance to a great many of Tipu Sulatn’s adversaries.

“Right away, Your Royal Highness, right away,” Purnaiya said, “However, I feel high treason deserves harsher punishment.”

“Absolutely, absolutely…a much deadlier harm is awaiting them on an auspicious day, the horror of which will be genetically passed on to generations of Mandyam buggers for a millennium or more…,” Tipu Sultan said, dripping with disdain, “…such ravage from which the unreliable, idolatrous infidels would never recover.”

He was referring to Mandyam Iyengars of Melkote, a town near Mandya and Srirangapatna. Belonging to Thenkalai sect, the Iyengars of Bharadwaja Gotra had migrated centuries ago from Tirupathi and settled around Mandya, hence the name Mandyam Iyengars, even the dialect they spoke came to be known as Mandyam Tamil. The Iyengars considered it an utter blessing to live in the town as homage to the twelfth-century Srivaishnava Saint Sri Ramanjuacharya who had resided in Melkote for fourteen years.

The secret service had gathered that Tirumalai Iyengar, with the backing of his Mandyam brethren, given their proximity to the British, the Nizams and the Marathas, was scheming to frustrate the strategic logic of Tipu Sultan’s expanding empire.

“Why on an auspicious day? Your Imperial Majesty,” Shamaiah asked, amidst gasps of amazement from both sides of the aisle.

“To catch them utterly unawares…to blot them out of existence and, inshallah, to relegate the sect to a worthless historical footnote…Deepavali falls on which date?” Tipu Sultan asked, unsheathing the glistening sword out of his swagger scabbard edged with gold.

As the revelation cast a pall over the gathering, Tipu Sultan said, thrusting the rapier back, “Purnaiya…an audience with the Iyengar at the earliest…want to talk turkey with the creep.”

“Yes, within a few days, Your Royal Highness, within a few days,” Purnaiya said.

“Faced as we are with deadly foes, the attack on Melkote is classified; trust is essence of allegiance to monarchy,” Tipu Sultan warned, “Those who spill the beans will be inviting rotten deaths upon themselves…”

Out of the blue, a wounded white dove fluttered into the darbar hall and plopped at his feet. As he caressed, it flapped spattering drops of blood onto his royal attire. Handing over the bird to the sentinels, he fixed his gaze on Hyder Ali’s portrait in which he had a dove in his hand. A moment later, he heaved a wooden rolodex out of a window and left the hall in disgust, shaking his head teeming with his father’s memories.

Hyder Ali’s rise was unparalled in the post-classical history. Born in Kolar, even if illiterate, subsequent to a brief military stint with the Nawab of Arcot, Hyder Ali was drafted into the army of the Wodeyars of Mysore. Before long, propelled by ambition, exhibiting uncommon brilliance, valour and chivalry, he outshined everyone maturing into a gallant military commander. Giving succour to the panicked Wodeyars in thwarting the advances of the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas, exploiting the feud between Wodeyar brothers, Krishnaraja and Nanjaraja, Hyder Ali eventually took control of entire kingdom by devious means. He then declared himself Sultan Hyder Ali Khan of Kingdom of Mysore in a dispatch to Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.

At five feet nine inches, Tipu Sultan was taller, stronger than his father. All through his childhood, he was put on Turkish appetite pills to grow as big as possible. He was sturdy, rather on the tubby side, with rounded shoulders and slight, slender arms and legs. With a Roman nose, a pair of moustaches covering the Cupid’s bow, his eyes looked larger under the decurved brows. Fair in complexion, his sharp facial features rivalled the Greek aesthetics of proportion and measure. With a seductive swag to match, contrary to his father’s average looks, Tipu Sultan had a stamp of aristocracy about him.

With all their might and main, throughout their respective reigns, given the large Hindu populace, the military strategies were heavily swayed to counter their perceived existential hostility.

Unlike himself, the education Hyder Ali bestowed on his son was spiritual, pugnacious, tactical and extended. Tipu was taught Urdu, Kannada, Arabic and Persian languages. He was also taught the Quran, Islamic jurisprudence, horse-riding, fencing and shooting. It was from the Napoleans’s war veterans that he had learnt combat strategy, modern ballistics, stealth technology and production of cutting edge weaponry, apart from ways of finding stability both in times of plenty and famine. Tipu Sultan was so obsessed with the Persian language that he made it the administrative language of the kingdom, replacing Kannada.

Given by a French military veteran, nibbling a piece of Belgian chocolate for the first time, Tipu Sultan had remarked, “The nourishment of Gods cannot be the nectar or ambrosia, it must be this reddish-brown confection.”

However, Tipu Sultan’s sensual education was self-taught; explicit about his carnal urges, he was extremely gentle and tender with women, of whom there was no dearth of in his lavish harems that boasted no less than four hundred wives and concubines at any point of time. Old and ailing concubines had to be replaced by teenaged daughters of Brahmins who were systematically kidnapped as toddlers and brought up the Muslim way. Every one of his mistresses had to turn out in scanty Cleopatra outfits while entering his bedroom and whirl naked to arouse him.

As for matters of rule and governance, in his epic quest for expansion of kingdom, he was a different beast altogether: his immoderate bigotry was matched only by his despicable, sadistic cruelty at slightest hints of defiance.

A week later, when Tipu Sultan questioned, Dewan Purnaiya confessed his inability to arrange an audience with Tirumalai Iyengar. Utterly cross at the defiance, Tipu Sultan ordered the annihilation of Melkote—most of the townsfolk were related to the Iyengar—by saying, “Let’s beat the living daylights out of not only the Iyengar but also the British, the Marathas and the Nizam.”

Within a week, a day before Naraka Chaturdashi, Dewan Purnaiya marshalled five thousand sworded cavalrymen in Srirangapatna.

Inspecting the parade, spotting scores of Hindu troopers among them, Tipu Sultan whispered to the Dewan, “Replace all the Hindus with Mussalmans…I want an all-Mussalman troop for the task.”

He seldom forgot anyone, even if he had seen just once. Like his unschooled father’s amazing numerical wizadry, Tipu Sultan’s famed facial recognition skills belonged to the realms of herculean stratosphere.

“Killing the innocent priests on such a scale is sounding trumps of doom for oursleves,” Fatima Fakhr-un-Nisa, Tipu Sultan’s wife, said.

“I can’t offer tea and sympathy to the traitors upsetting my strategic blueprints. Progress is not achieived by preists or guardians of morality, it’s always the handiwork of driven monarchs who are essentially futuristic rebels and dreamers,” Tipu Sulatn said.

On the day of Deepavali, the doyen of genocides, Dewan Purnaiya, with a flourish of a trumpet, gave the marching orders to the commanders. Reckoning that, tipped off by someone, Tirumalai Iyengar might have sought British forces; Tipu Sultan kept the dreaded Rocket Artillery Unit, which swore by the military manual called Fathul Mujahidin, the Bible of Warfare, on standby.

The troops left Srirangapatna a little after dusk. Tipu Sultan, relaxing on an elephant, Dewan Purnaiya in a buggy, led the troops at a leisurely pace, reaching the outskirts of Melkote within couple of hours. The rocky hills of Yadugiri, Yadavagiri, Yadushailadeepa and the thick foliage helped the five thousand men, split in ten groups, in camouflaging themselves and besiege the town from all the sides, one of his assault ploys called ‘360-Degree Tactic’.

Such disproportionate force was irrational to tackle the unarmed, docile Brahmins, nevertheless, such was Tipu Sultan’s animus born out of grave misapprehensions that he wanted to wipe out the Mandyam sect tracelessly from the face of earth.

Melkote was decked out fresh as daisy, festooned with vivid flowers, glowing at her incandescent best, illuminated by myriad lanterns and clay-lamps. Having a gay time were the Iyengar women in their silken madisar sarisand men, sporting sricharanams, clothed in their panchagachams, angavastrams, and kids enjoying their lighter fireworks like sparklers, ground chakras and flowerpots in their flamboyant clothing. And adults were setting off their bombs, rockets and bigger fireworks, while the wide-eyed younger lot looked on.

The quintessential festive spirit painted the houses and the town in all its splendour. More majestically, opulently dolled up were the temples, squares and ponds. Deities in various shrines shined in their crowns and jewels and the hilltop Yoga-Narasimha Temple could be seen from miles away, glittering brilliantly, inviting the devout.

As an iconoclast, frozen in the dungeons of Islamic dogma, Tipu Sultan was so cavalier about Hinduism that he ordered the desecration of the statues of gods and goddesses by saying, “Sculpted stones can only be idols, not Gods.”

Alarmed with the suddenty, horrified at the defilement of the temples, as people panicked, Dewan Purnaiya ordered the commanders to herd them into assorted groups.

The old, lame and the dying were crammed into an abandoned house and put to sword even as they cried, wheezed and spat up. Pregnant women were huddled into a cowshed and the soldiers kept goading until the panicked animals trampled every one to death. As the exhausted cows, calves and yearlings throbbed and laboured to breathe, their heads were chopped off with long, battle swords.

Young mothers were driven into an orchard and hung from the trees as their toddlers noosed from their necks.

Every one of the able-bodied men and women were herded like cattle into a temple precinct and stripped naked. While scores were beheaded, hundreds of them were tethered to the legs of elephants; as the mahouts pierced goads into the wounds, the pachyderms kicked them to death. Far more brutal were the ends of the younger men who fought back: their necks were gashed and large nails were driven into skulls. The bodies of men, women, children and animals were dumped into the Cauvery River that turned red and, a little later, noxious.

But teenaged boys and girls were spared from death, not from their miserable futures. They were flogged and whipped to walk all the way to Srirangapatna.

On the way, girls were raped and the ears, noses and feet were chopped off of those who resisted. Half the girls were presented as concubines, sex slaves to Muslim commanders and Tipu Sultan’s friends and the most gorgeous of them were sent to the sultan’s harems. Few were sent to dance schools to train as nautch girls to entertain the royal court.

Scores of teenaged boys were converted to Islam, given Muslim names, clothes and circumcised. They were then inducted into the Ahmediya Corps. And the boys who resisted, their noses, upper lips and ears were chopped off. And the ones unwilling to convert even after such cruelty were hanged instantly.

In all, the savagery had devoured more than eight hundred Mandyam Iyengars, women and children included, within couple of hours and a huge quantity of gold and precious jewelry was looted from temples and houses, rendering Melkote a ghost town.

Soon after obliterating Melkote, despite the backlash winds, Tipu Sultan issued a decree through a notification sent to Muslim Village Officers of Kingdom of Mysore, “All Hindus should be converted to Islam, and those who do not voluntarily become Muslims should be tortured until they submit. And kill the men who oppose, make their women maids and divide them among the Muslims.”


Ram Govardhan’s short stories have appeared in Asian Cha, Open Road Review, The Bangalore Review, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Indian Ruminations, The Spark, Literaty Yard, Muse India, The Bombay Review and other Asian and African literary journals. His novel, Rough with the Smooth, was longlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize, The Economist-Crossword 2011 Award and published by Leadstart Publishing, Mumbai. He lives in Chennai cursing the humidity all the time. Email:

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