Once upon a time in Southern India there lived a Sultan of Mysore. His name was Tipu.
Tipu had two passions – he hated the British, quite reasonable since at the time they were trying their best to annexe parts of India for themselves, and he adored Tigers: he kept Tigers as pets, decorated his home with pictures of tigers, made his soldiers wear uniforms adorned with tiger symbols, had his cannons shaped like sitting tigers and his weapons decorated with golden tiger motifs. Sultan Tipu saw himself as the Royal Tiger of Mysore, defending his province against the British.
In the Mysore Wars, there were 4 of them, the East India Company, representing the British, fought against Tipu, at the same time as Mysore was being attacked from the North by armies from Madras. Tipu’s sons were taken as hostages and Tipu was forced to sign a treaty with the East India Company. He didn’t actually get his sons back at this point, they were used as pawns to make sure he kept to his side of the treaty. Tipu was humiliated and angry. He ordered that houses in the capital city Senngapatam, were painted with scenes of tigers mauling Europeans.
In 1793 the news reported that the son of the British General Sir Hector Munro was carried off by an “immense riyal tiger four and a half feet high and nine long” . Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore, celebrated the event with the construction of a life-sized model of carved and painted wood in which a mechanical pipe organ replicated both the growls of the tiger and the moans of the soldier victim. This is Tipu’s Tiger.
Why am I telling you this story?
For a while we owned our own version of Tipu’s Tiger – a simply carved, folk-art style model. We found it at a craft fair on the island, a little battered, quite strange amongst the pastel water colours, cedar pens and sea glass jewellery. At the time we knew nothing of Tipu, but somewhere deep in memory was a fleeting glimpse from childhood visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where the actual Tiger sits now. We never learned the history of our own model, few clues came with it.
But as our Bermuda adventure is coming to an end (more about that later) I have been making tough decisions and some things will not be shipped back to England. This one was on and off the packing list for several days, finally finding for itself a new home on the island with someone who tells me she has a collection of folk art. I found it hard to part with.
The actual Tipu’s Tiger was shipped to London when Sultan Tipu of Mysore died in 1799. He would have hated that.