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The swords of Tipu Sultan

B.S. Ramesh


BANGALORE: Even 200 years after he was killed in a battle, the sword of Tipu Sultan continues to evoke interest and excitement not only among historians and archaeologists but also among the members of the scientific and academic community so much so that a university in London has tied up with a premier scientific and research institution in Bangalore for a study of Tipu's swords.

Tipu, as was befitting a king, had several swords and many of them were believed to have been taken back to England by the British forces which pillaged Srirangapatna of its wealth and almost all of Tipu's prized possession, including his favourite swords, throne, tiger motif and other artefacts.

It is the possession of one of Tipu's swords in the British Museum, London , that kindled the interest of the British scientific and academic community so much so that they have now joined hands with Bangalore-based National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) for studying the history and metallurgy behind these swords.

All of Tipu's swords are known for their toughness and high carbon content and the project aims to unravel the metallurgical process which led to the manufacture of such high-quality swords made from Wootz steel.

Wootz steel (Wootz is an anglicised word for Kannada word ukku), made from high grade ore, is believed to have originated in present day Telangana, Andhra Pradesh. The team has already collected data on traditional blacksmiths and the descendants of the smelters from Telangana apart from tying up with the Department of Materials Engineering, Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bangalore, for further research.

Swords of the Sultan

While this team is undertaking research quietly, attention is now focussed on two swords of Tipu — the sword that Mr. Mallya purchased in an auction and another that was for years in the possession of the Bangalore wing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Ganga Nagar.

There is a little bit of history in the sword that Mr. Mallya now owns. Tipu in 1790s lost a battle with the Nairs of Travancore at Aluve, Kerala. The then Maharaja of Travancore, Dharma Raja, gifted the sword to the Nawab of Arcot from where it found its way to London . The sword was on display at the Wallace Collection in London before Mr. Mallya purchased it at an auction in 2004.

However, another sword, which the CBI seized from a math in Mysore in 1985 is now generating interest as nobody knows where it is. The CBI says it has handed over the sword to the ASI after the case regarding he sword was closed in 2000. Director of the State Archaeology Department R. Gopal says the sword is with the ASI and not with them. Although this sword dos not have the tiger motif associated with Tipu's personal possessions, a hand-written label says: “From Gordon Castle. A sword of Tippoo Saib given by Sir Arthur Wellesley Esq to Charles 4th Duke of Richmond with also the Sword Belt”.

Historians say that almost all of Tipu's swords were crafted at Haidernagar (Bednur) and tigers from the hilt of swords are now displayed at Powis Castle near Welshpool, British Museum in London and Museo Stibbert Museum in Florence, Italy.

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