Posted in Karnataka

Srirangapatinam – ‘The Tiger’s Bane’

The dust and smoke made my eyes burn. The British canons were relentless, but the walls of the fort held. The sultan was standing over the ramparts overseeing the defence. I climbed the stairs to convince him to come down. As his bodyguard, I had to keep him safe from some stray British bullet.

I wish I could have convinced my wife and son to leave the fortress before the siege. I remember their faces as I loaded my musket. We will not lose. We cannot afford to lose.

The war has gone badly for us till now. The Marathas and the Nizam, who helped us defeat the British in two wars have betrayed us and have joined the British. The French Emperor, Napolean Bonaparte promised us help, but he was busy fighting his own war with the British in Egypt. We have lost almost all our territories, but Srirangpatinam still holds. It will hold till the last Mysore soldier takes breath. It will hold till Tipu, my sultan, lives.

Srirangapatinam, our river fortress has never been breached before. Our sultan’s father, Hyder Ali had built in on a river island, surrounded by the river Cauvery. In preparation for the siege, Tipu had destroyed the dam upstream. The river was in spate and the British had to cross the river to lay siege. Their canons were unable to aim clearly and their muskets were falling short. I heard our rockets whizzing overhead. The rockets were causing confusion in the British ranks.

I aimed my musket at an opening in the British ranks on the river bank.

“Don’t waste your bullets. Every bullet should take down a British soldier”, ordered Tipu. I lowered my gun.

A sudden commotion in the back caught my attention. I turned around. A blood-splattered soldier pushed his way through the ranks. His helmet was dented and he was bleeding from a wound on his scalp.

“The fortress is breached! The fortress is breached! The Water Gate has been opened. The British are inside!”, he yelled and collapsed. I rushed towards the solder, but Tipu beat me to him. The sultan lifted his bleeding head in his hands and screamed for water. One of the soldiers gave him his water pack.

“What happened?”, asked Tipu.

“Sultan, the fortress has been breached. We have been betrayed. Mir Sadik and his men opened the Water Gate. The enemy is inside the fortress”. The soldier coughed out blood and fainted. We heard the sound of muskets and screams behind us, from the Water Gate.

Tipu unsheathed his sword and held it in the air.

“Come with me, my tigers. We shall wipe the British out from this land. We will chase them till the island they call home and burn that too to the ground. Come, my men, today we shall become immortal.”

The men cheered for the sultan. I screamed until my voice went hoarse. We were tigers. Tigers of Mysore.

We formed ranks and started marching towards the water gate. The British were ready. Musket balls tore through us. I saw the man marching next to me fall. I had to protect the sultan. I ran up to him stood next to him. I saw a red-coated soldier aiming at Tipu I pointed my pistol towards him and shot. He crumpled on the ground. The dust and gun-powder made it difficult to see the battle. I could hardly make out Tipu. Standing near me and shouting orders. Our ranks were breaking. Our men were dying in hordes. We were running out of ammunition.

I stood next to Tipu and slashed at anyone daring to come near, but we were surrounded. I saw British soldiers in all directions. Their bayonets were pointed towards Tipu. They were screaming for his death.

A Maratha soldier charged towards me. I blocked his sword swing and pushed him to the floor. It turned around. Tipu was surrounded. A British soldier had knocked his turban. His clothes were torn by men around him. I yelled and pushed at the soldiers. I swung my sword and beheaded one.

Tipu looked at me. His eyes were red and full of tears.

“Ali”, he gurgled my name. A British soldier ran him through with his bayonet.

“No!”, I yelled in desperation.

Another soldier took his gun and shot him through the head.

I collapsed on my knees. My sword hand limp.

“My sultan! My sultan!” I cried. A sword tip pierced through me. The blood poured out in torrents. I tried closing the wound with my hands. I looked at the crumpled body of Tipu Sultan lying next to me. The Tiger of Mysore. My sultan.

That was the last thing I saw as my vision faded to black.


The fall of Srirangapatinam under the combined forces of The British, the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad during the Fourth Ango-Mysore War is one of the saddest chapters in Indian history. It was the last battle in history in which a king died in the battlefield.

The fortress town of Srirangapatinam is built with only one goal – defence against a siege. The fortress is built on an island in river Cauvery. The dam upstream is opened during a siege which floods the island till the walls of the fort, making it siege engines redundant.

The British were unable to take the fortress of Srirangapatinam by force. They finally managed to bribe Mir Sadik, a courtier of Tipu to open the Water Gate and let the army inside.

The town of Srirangapatinam is situated 25 km from Mysore and is easily accessed by bus, train or cab from Mysore. Tipu’s original palace, Lal Mahal was razed to the ground by the British after the battle and only the foundations can be seen. Tipu’s summer palace still survives and has beautiful murals and pictures of the Mysore’s rulers. The entire wall is covered with murals of the First and Second Anglo-Mysore war which Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan won. A picture of the traitor, Mir Sadik has been vandalized and defaced. The palace contains coins, weapons and clothes of Tipu Sultan.

Gol Gumbaz is a Taj Mahal-esque tomb of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. It was built by Tipu for his father, and later he was also buried there. The tombs are surrounded by a beautiful garden.

The outer walls of the fortress surrounds the entire island and scattered with places of historical importance. This include the site from where Tipu’s army launched rockets at the British; the Water Gate, through which Tipu was betrayed and the British army let in; and also the site where Tipu Sultan’s body was found.

Tipu’s jail has also survived the purge of history. The subterran jail was used by Tipu to imprison and torture British officers captured during the First and Second Anglo-Mysore Wars.

Posted in Tamil Nadu

Vellore – ‘Fierce and Fain’

The summer sun bore down up on the pains of Vellore. Dust clouds rose to the commands of the fickle breeze. Grass and shrubs shriveled in the heat. The Fortress of Vellore gleamed like a pearl in the barren plain. The sunlight reflected from the moat gave sparkling silver outline. A stray goat wandered about and decided to quench its thirst in the murky waters of the moat. An arrow shot from the rampart put an end to its hydrophilic dreams. Mutton was on the day’s menu.

There was silent but constant buzz around the fort. Whispers were passed about. The soldiers looked at their new uniforms with disgust. Leather tops and round hats. To wear clothes made of cow hide. Inconceivable!

The soldiers thought the new uniforms and laws were made to insult them and their religion. They complained about the uniforms and refused to shave their beards, but their protests fell on deaf ears. Every soldier with a beard and without an uniform was tied to a post and given 90 lashes.

This new law was the final snowflake on the mountain top. It fell on the suppressed anger of the sepoys. Something rumbled and gave way. It was an avalanche of rage. The sepoys decided to sink their teeth in the heels of the East India company.

After Tipu Sultan had died. His sons and daughters were brought from Srirangapatanam and imprisoned in the garrisoned Fortress of Vellore. The wedding of Tipu Sultan’s daughter, in 1806,  gave the soldiers a perfect excuse to get together and plan the mutiny.

On the night of the wedding, under the cover of chaos and celebration, the cry of revolution rose from the ramparts of the fort. A bonfire was lit from the highest tower of the Fort. A signal for the mutineers. It was a bonfire of the new uniforms. The 1500 strong garrison rebelled against their British overlords.

Fire and gunpowder rained upon the British officers, drunk on the festivities of the wedding. The fireworks in the sky were overshadowed by the gunshots on the ground. Blood stained fort walls. More than a hundred British soldiers were killed in mutiny. Col. John Fancourt, the British commander of the Vellore Fort was also killed. In the chaos, Major Coopes one of the British officers, slipped away. He jumped into the moat, swam across and escaped to the British garrison at Arcot.

Unaware of this, the sepoys were celebrating their victory. The Union Jack was lowered and the Tiger-standard of Mysore was hoisted. Sehezada Fateh Hyder, the son of Tipu Sultan was crowned king of Vellore. Wine flowed freely. Cheers and Chants made round. .

Major Coopes in the meantime trekked 25 km overnight and reached Arcot. He informed COl. Gillespie, the commander of the Arcot Garrison of the fall of Vellore. Once informed of the mutiny, the British cavalry at Arcot rode forth swiftly to Vellore. They covered the 25 km distance in two hours. They blew apart the gate of the fort with canons and unleashed Hades on the celebrating sepoys. Within a couple of hours, all the mutineers were either dead or in chains. Canons and firing squads sounded the entire day. Retribution was swift and certain. The Fortress of Vellore was back in the hands of the East India Company.

Thus ended the first ever Indian mutiny against the East India Company.

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The hot and barren town of Vellore is still dominated by the Fort and its serene moat. The wide ramparts and the tall walls provide a daunting obstacle to any attacker. The fort was used by the British to imprison Tipu Sultan’s sons and daughters.

The Sepoy Mutiny at Vellore was a prelude to the greater and more famous Revolt of 1857. The controversial dress codes were revoked after the mutiny.

Some interesting reads:

  1. First hand account of Lady Amelia Fancourt – the wife of Col. John Fancourt, the commander of the Vellore Fort who was killed by the mutineers: An Account Of the Mutiny at Vellore, by the Lady of Sir John Fancourt, the Commandant, who was killed there July 9th, 1806. (upenn.edu)
  2. The poem ‘Gillespie’ by Sir. Henry Norton, depicts the muster of the cavalry of Arcot and the recapture of Vellore: http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/sir-henry-newbolt/gillespie/
Posted in Tamil Nadu

The Battle of Sadras

The French admiral watched the horizon from the deck of his ship, the Héros. Nine. Nine British ships between him and glory. A large wave broke at the hull and spattered his face with spray. He wiped his face with a silk napkin. He sent word to the captains of his fleet to meet him in his war-cabin.

It was 1782. The French supported the Americans in their struggle for Independence, much to the chagrin of the British. The Dutch also allied with the French inspite of British threats. The echoes of the dispute found their way to India where the British forces were capturing French and Dutch outposts along the Coromandel coast. The French dispatched Admiral Balli de Suffren, with his fleet to keep the British forces at bay.

French Admiral – Bailli de Suffren

The Admiral’s fleet had eleven ships of the line, seven transport ships filled with troops, and a corvette to escort the transports They set sail from Brest and had planned to siege the British stronghold at Madras. The Admiral had found the British fleet, under the command of Sir Edward Hughes anchored at Madras and had turned south. He wanted to land his troops at the Dutch colony at Sadras and attack the British troops from the land. The British raised their anchors and set sail after Suffren. Both the navies faced each other at Sadras.

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Suffren put his napkin away and peered at the map. The cannons in the sea fort at Sadras would prevent the British from landing. It seemed like the battle would be easy. The French had the wind on their side and had the numerical advantage. But he knew that the British Navy was force not to be taken lightly. They were the masters at sea-battles.

Suffren realized that he was hampered by the need to protect the transport ships containing the troops. He had to safely get them away from the conflict. He diapatched his corvette to protect the transport ships and decided to draw Hughes away from them. Suffren thought the British would chase his fleet while leaving the transport ships to land the troops safely. The troops would then wreck havoc from land.

The plan was going perfectly. The British fleet had turned their attention towards Suffren and his ships while the transport ships were making way towards the coast.  The wind was against the British and they were unable to engage in a battle with the French. The sun was setting across the Indian coast. The sea shimmered in orange. He made sure that the watch-outs were in their post and went to sleep in his cabin with a smile on his face.

The French Admiral woke up next day to chaos. His crew was running amok on the deck. The British fleet was nowhere to be seen. Under the cover of the night, they had changed direction and were now pursuing the transport ships. Suffren yelled in frustration. He gave the order to set sail and give the chase.

By late afternoon, he caught up with the British ships. The battle lines were drawn and the canons were readied. Suffern lead the charge in his ship, Héros. The tide was high and waves made maneuverability difficult. Héros caught up with a British ship. It rained cannonballs and hell on it. The British ship was no match for the French speed and could not outmaneuver. The sailors jumped off the deck as the burning ship sank to his watery grave.

Satisfied with his attack, Suffren looked around to see how the rest of the battle was going. His eyes widened with horror. He wiped the salt out of his eyes to see if his eyes were deceiving him. They were not.

Only five of his ships had followed him in the battle. The other six had moved back and were watching the battle from the sidelines. He made his messenger to signal the other ships to join the battle. Two out of the six ships reluctantly joined the battle. The other four disobeyed the order and remained at the sidelines. The French Admiral threw his sword down in fury. If he got out alive out of this, he would make them pay. Dearly.

The angry Admiral, turned his attention towards the battle. Sir Hughes ship, the Superb, was making way towards him. He yelled at his crew to charge at the British ship. If he was going down, he would go down all guns blazing.

The Admiral stood tall among the smoke, salt and screams. The two ships passed each other by with their canons tearing wood and flesh apart. Once the smoke cleared, Suffren surveyed the damage. He was surprised to see his ship still standing. The hull and the mast were still intact. A creaking noise caught his attention and he looked back. It was the mast of the British ship crashing. They were not so lucky. The canon-ridden British ship raised the white flag of surrender.

That night Suffren sat silently on the ramparts of the Sadras fort and looked across at the silent sea. There were no more canons and smoke. Only the sound of waves caressing the shore. The broken British fleet had set sail to Triconamalee for repairs. His fleet also had suffered damages and undergoing repairs at the Dutch port.

His thoughts were broken by the sounds of footsteps. He turned around. He saw the captains of the ships who had refused to join in the battle, brought in chains.

“Tie them to the canons and fire”, he said as he stood up and walked to his cabin.

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After the Battle of Sadras, the Frech troops who were escorted by Admiral Suffrens, joined forces with the Dutch and Hyder Ali against the British spawning the Second Anglo-Mysore war.

Sadras, once a busy Dutch sea-fort and a naval colony, is now a tiny fishing hamlet, a stones throw away from Kalpakkam nuclear power-plant. The ruins of the sea fort still stand towering high along the sea shore, though much of its glory lost. It is easy to lose track of time waking along the ramparts watching the tall grass that now covers the fort, bend and twist in the sea breeze.