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

‘Arcot’ – The Reason We Speak English

The soldiers looked at their young captain with awe. They had not expected the twenty-six year old Clive to capture the fortress of Arcot, but he had defied all odds and managed it. He was now standing on top of the ramparts, surveying the fort’s defenses.

Robert Clive was a scribe, a writing clerk who kept records. He had been kicked out of the house for being ‘naughty’ as a child. He joined the East India Company and was sent to the Fort St. George at Madras to copy texts and tally accounts. But then, destiny had other plans for him.

Muhammad Ali, the Nawab of Arcot and a British ally, was hiding in Trichy. Arcot, was captured by Chand Sahib, a French ally. The French army marched out of Pondicherry, to lay siege to the Rock Fortress at Trichy and dispose off the Nawab for good. The Nawab begged the British governor at Madras for help. Trichy was far away. Pondicherry was closer. Help would not reach there in time to counter the French army.

Clive, the governor’s scribe, suggested that they attack Arcot and distract the French, instead of sending the British army to Trichy. The governor appointed the young scribe as a captain and sent him to Arcot with a mere 100 soldiers, 120 sepoys and 3 guns.

The small numbers and the lack of heavy artillery meant that Clive’s company could move quickly. He made his troops do forced marches. The garrison at Arcot scattered when the Clive made a surprise attack at night. Clive captured Arcot without losing a single man.

The Arcot fortress was weak. The walls were low, the towers crumbling and the moat dry at places. The mile long wall was too large to be defended by the feeble British force. The governor of Madras promised two artillery guns, but they would take time to arrive. Clive sent most of his force to escort the artillery guns.

Chand Sahib and his army turned back from their march to Trichy to recapture Arcot. Chand Sahib’s 2000 men attacked the fortress to claim it back. With a mere 70 men and darkness for cover, Clive managed to repulse the attack and hold on to the fort. Chand Sahib’s army fled the next day when the artillery guns and Clives’s remaining men finally arrived from Madras.

Clive’s ploy worked in distracting the French from Trichy. The French army turned towards Arcot. Chand Sahib’s scattered men joined the advancing army. Chand Sahib’s son, Raza Sahib lead the army. Clive and his 300 men set to task, strengthening the Fort.

A 4000 men strong Indo-French army lay siege to the Fort. At night, Clive made a daring move. He attacked the siege and tried to steal the French canons. The plan almost backfired. Clive barely escaped with his life and lost 15 men in the misadventure.

Clive made no mistakes thereafter. The small British company successfully repulsed the siege for 50 days. A Maratha captain, Morari Rao, was impressed with the British bravery and promised to send them help in return for payment. The payment got delayed in the English bureaucracy. When Raza Sahib heard about the Maratha captain’s offer, he offered Clive terms and promised him a gift if he surrendered. Clive declined. The attackers fell upon the fortress with renewed frenzy, but the British held strong. Raza Sahib’s men fell by tens and dozens at the hands of the British. Chand Sahib’s elephants ran amok in the gunfire, trampling down his own men. The attackers gave up and retreated. They had lost hundreds of men while Clive lost only four. Cheer rang though the British contingent.

The French defeat at Arcot signaled the decline of the French presence on India and the rise of the British. The British reinstated Muhammad Ali as the Nawab of Carnatic. The Treaty of Paris signed at the end of the Battle of Arcot gave the British right to most of the Indian territories.

The siege of Arcot made Clive famous throughout England. A British scribe with a handful of men had repulsed an attack by the French army. Clive was presented a sword by the British Prime Minister. His military career took off from that point.

Ten years later, Clive returned back to India and lead the British to victory in the battle of Plassey. That established the military supremacy of the East India company in India. And hence, we speak English.

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Arcot is now a small town on the Chennai-Banglore highway. Quiet and rustic, scattered with mosques and minarets. People stop over here on the highway for its famous Arcot biryani. The Fortress of Arcot has all but disappeared except for it gates, a mosque, a bathing pond and a lonely canon.

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Known as Delhi gate, the broad gate stands at the outskirts of the town. The dry bed of the river Palar lies across it. A forgotten stone plate mentions that it was once a part of Clive’s fortifications.The ground around it is scattered with fallen structures, paying tribute to the fact, that they were the reason we speak English today, and not French.

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A few hundred meters from the Delhi gate are the remnants of a bathing pond. Fondly called Raja-Rani pond by the locals. Nearby a forgotten mosque and a canon stand testimony to time.

 

 

– Audrin Lenin