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Tipu's missile launch pad in shambles

R. Krishna Kumar



WHAT'S LEFT: The area believed to be Tipu Sultan's launch pad for missiles and rockets at the Srirangapatna Fort. — PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM

SRIRANGAPATNA: Two centuries before Sriharikota and Chandipur emerged on the national scene as rocket-launching and missile-testing centres, the riverine island of Srirangapatna had made giant strides in the field of rocket science and missile technology.

And in an era when high-speed travel was limited to the speed of an Arabian stallion, Srirangapatna was making waves with inter-continental treaties and foreign collaborations that was the envy and despair of the British.

Experiments

Described by historians as the scourge of the British and whose bravery earned him the sobriquet "Tiger of Mysore," Tipu Sultan's curiosity in experimenting with new developments led to the mastery of rocket and missile technology which almost had the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, on the retreat in the fourth Mysore war. Some of these rockets were seized by the British army and are currently on display at London's Royal Artillery Museum.

But more than two centuries later, the saga of Srirangapatna's tryst with missiles and rockets has faded from the memory of the local population and the remains of the launch pad is in ruins.

An inconspicuous structure attached to the ramparts of the Srirangapatna Fort and the high walls on three sides measuring nearly 40 ft is reckoned to be the "rocket court" or the launch pad.

V. Satyanarayana, a history scholar who doubles as a professional tourist guide and an avid collector of documents pertaining to Srirangapatna, points out that the yard surrounded by overgrown shrubs was the "rocket court" from where Tipu's men would launch their missiles.

"This has been acknowledged by officials of the Archaeological Survey of India and M.H. Krishna, a former Director, mentions about it in A Guide to Mysore.

However, Tipu's father, Hyder Ali, too experimented with rockets but Tipu trained a battery of his men and used them against the British," Mr. Satyanarayana said.

"However, it is to the credit of Hyder Ali, who introduced iron-cased rockets.

The British received an unpleasant surprise in 1780 when Hyder Ali brought into action the Guntur iron-cased rockets weighing more than 12 pounds each, mounted a 10-ft bamboo pole, that had a range of nearly half a mile," he said.

"The use of rockets and missiles won the Mysore army a temporary reprieve against the British and rekindled an interest in rocket artillery in England," he added.

It was four years ago that granite and metallic balls used for firing the rockets were found while laying the foundation stone for a new house and the discovery was given a quiet burial, Mr. Satyanarayana said.

Incidentally, some of the paintings of the era, notably by Holmes, whose works were based on his observation and are preserved in London, highlight Tipu's men stretching themselves to fire rockets from the ramparts of the fort.

But with the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799, the experiment suffered a setback and it was not until independence that India started exploring rocket and missile technology.

The area from where the rockets and missiles was launched is today an eyesore surrounded by shanty settlements. Cow-dung is plastered all over the ramparts and the launching pad serves as a make-shift badminton court for the local urchins, who have no knowledge about the significance of the place.

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