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Tipu Sultan who ruled Mysore till his death at the hands of the British in 1799 was a man of complex character. He was, for one an innovator. His desire to change with the times was symbolized in the introduction of a new calendar, a new system of coinage and new scales of weights and measures. His personal library contained books on such diverse subjects as religion history, military, science, medicine, and mathematics. He showed a keen interest in the French Revolution. He planted a ‘Tree of Liberty at Srirangapatnam and he became a member of Jacobin Club (most famous political group of the French Revolution). His organizational capacity is borne out by the fact that in those days of general indiscipline among Indian armies his troops remained disciplined and loyal to him to the last.
His infantry was armed with muskets and bayonets in the European fashion which were however manufactured in Mysore. He also made an effort to build a modern Navy after 1796. For this purpose, he established two dockyards, the models of the ships being supplied by the Sultan himself.
In personal life Tipu Sultan was free from vices and kept himself free from luxury. He was recklessly brave and as a commander, brilliant. He was fond of saying that it was better to live a day as a tiger than a lifetime as a sheep. He died fighting at the gates of Srirangapatnam in pursuance of this belief. He was however hasty in action and unstable in nature.
As a statesman he more than any other 18th century Indian ruler recognized to the full extent the threat that the English posed to South India as well as to the other Indian powers. He stood forth as the steadfast foe of the rising English power. The English in turn looked upon him as their most dangerous enemy in India.
When the British occupied Mysore after defeating and killing Tipu in 1799, they were surprised to find that the Mysore peasant was much more prosperous than the peasant in British occupied Madras. Sir John Shore, Governor General from 1793 to 1798, wrote later that “peasantry of his dominions are protected and their labor encouraged and rewarded”. Another British observer wrote Tipu’s Mysore as well cultivated, populous with industrious inhabitants, cities newly founded and commerce extending.
Tipu also seems to have grasped the importance of modern trade and industry. In fact, alone among the Indian rulers he understood the importance of economic strength as the foundation of military strength. He made some attempts to introduce modern industries in India by importing foreign workmen as experts and by extending state support to many industries. He sent emissaries to France Turkey Iran and Pegu Myanmar to develop foreign trade. He also traded with China and even tried to set up a trading company on the pattern of European companies and thus sought to imitate their commercial practices. He tried to promote trade with Russia and Arabia by setting up state trading institutions in the port towns.
Some British historians have described Tipu as a religious fanatic. But this is not borne out by facts. Though he was orthodox in his religious views he was in fact tolerant and enlightened in his approach toward other religions. He gave money for the construction of the image of goddess Sarda in the Shringeri Temple after the later was looted by Maratha horsemen in 1791. He regularly gave gifts to his temple as well as several other temples. The famous temple of Sri Ranganath was situated nearly 100 yards from his palace. But while he treated the vast majority of the Hindu and Christian subjects with the consideration and tolerance he was harsh on those Hindus and Christians who might directly or indirectly aid the British against Mysore. [Source: NCERT]