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Thursday, May 15, 2014

should Govt do something - Ring worn by Tipu Sultan to be auctioned !!!

Do you know or have heard of ‘Edward Green Balfour’ – a Scottish surgeon and his Indian – more specifically, Chennai & Bangalore connection.  We  know very little of history, do lesser to preserve heritage but would expect the Govt. to do everything in the same vein. 

This morning read a report of a noted historian appealing to the Centre and the Karnataka Govt to take immediate steps to stop the auction of a ring belonging to 18 century warrior king Tipu Sultan by a London firm on May 22. He has urged the authorities  to make use of all available avenues, legal and diplomatic, to recover the ring. If it is  not possible to prevent the auction , the government should purchase the ring or persuade Indian philanthropists in London to buy it on behalf of the nation, he said. The Tipu Sultan United Front has also urged the Karnataka government to bring the ring back to the State

The gem-studded ring, (photo credit The Hindu) adds more significance as it bears the name ‘Ram’ in Nagari letters.  The ring is part of the private collection of Fitzroy John Somerset. Tipu Sultan (1750 – 1799) ruled from Mysore.  Son of  Hyder Ali of Mysore and Fatima Fakhr-un-Nisa, he is hailed for his resistance against military advances of the British. This post is not against the historian or his plea but to highlight my perception of our instantaneous reaction and the way we tend to forget things sooner…………  another unrelated news that further cements my perception is that of a  British auction house putting  on sale three explosive letters revealing Mahatma Gandhi's Mahatma Gandhi's deep concerns over the behaviour of his eldest son Harilal, accused of rape by his own daughter. What would a buyer of these letters do ~ and why should these create any sensation now, why malign whom World holds in high esteem ???  The  letters are purportedly in Gujarati and in good condition, reportedly  have come from a branch of Gandhi's family to the present vendor- but what is that is sought to be portrayed !!!

It is a historical fact that Tipu Sultan fought valiantly against the East India Company ~ finally was defeated and killed by a stronger force at Srirangapattinam in  1799.  The victors obviously carried many things as trophies and among them reportedly wree the ring and sword of the defeated chieftain.  The British museum has an entry on the ring and sword as trophies of the Battle of Seringapatam.

 the sword and the ring 
image credit : 

A web search on ‘Tipu’s sword’ gives you conflicting news. Before we read something on that there was the play ‘the Sword of Tipu Sultan’  broadcast on the DD National in 1990, which was based on a novel by Bhagwan Gidwani. The drama hit many obstacles that included a major fire accident that happened on the sets in 1990; the fire, which took place in Mysore, burnt down a major portion of the Premier Studios where the drama was being shot and claimed 62 lives.

In 2004 BBC reported that the sword of 18th century ruler Tipu was bought at auction last autumn by Indian drinks magnate Vijya Mallya. It was auctioned by the family of Scottish General David Baird, given it for his bravery in toppling the sultan. Mr Mallya bought the sword at a London auction, but the identity of the buyer had been kept a secret. The announcement coming as it did was claimed that it had nothing to do with the parliamentary elections.

In 2011, there was this report in TOI that even a decade after the CBI closed the case, nobody knows the whereabouts of Tipu Sultan's historic golden sword he used to attack Capt. Woodhall who reportedly choked all his escape routes. In 1985, CBI officials led by former state DGP Sreekumar in the guise of an Arab businessmen interested in buying the sword lured people who possessed this sword and seized it along with other antiques which included gold palm leaves manuscripts and other artefacts belongings to Tipu Sultan.  The case was reportedly  closed in 2000. Of the five accused, three died during the trial, one was acquitted and fifth was absconding ~ the sword was handed over to the archaeology department then. However, officials of both ASI and state archaeology department have no knowledge of the sword and other antiques.

This reportedly was different one and had nothing to do with the one bought by Vijay Mallya. Tipu used many swords but researchers have authenticated only three and this is one of those, it was stated.   It was stated  Arthur Wellesly recovered this sword from Tipu's hands after his death and passed it to Charles IV, Duke of Richmond who presented it to Mysore maharajas. It went missing from the palace in 1920s

Recently in Oct 2013, Sotheby’s inaugural auction of Art of Imperial India  attracted bidding from around the globe to hit a whopping sales figure of Rs 182,598,304. Over 90 exquisite lots reflecting the broad artistic traditions of Imperial India  were part of the auction.  A group of 11 works relating to Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan were also among the prized collections – of which Tipu’s sword, fitted with an English blade, was bought for Rs 97,85,999 by a mystery bidder on the phone.- reported Deccan Chronicle. 

The point is did any of these make any impact on us and where is the need for Govt burning precious tax payer’s money to buy a ring purportedly worn by Tipu.  How many of us who would react in online social forums on this have ever visited Egmore museum, established in 1851 rich in archaeological and numismatic collections. It has the largest collection of Roman antiquities outside Europe. Many of the buildings within the Museum campus are over 100 years old. One needs to see for self, the state at which the museum stands now. 

Concluding, Edward Green Balfour [1813 – 1889] was a Scottish surgeon, orientalist and pioneering environmentalist in India. He founded museums at Madras and Bangalore, a zoological garden in Madras and was instrumental in raising awareness on forest conservation and public health in India. He published a Cyclopaedia of India, several editions of which were published after 1857, translated works on health into Indian languages and wrote on a variety of subjects.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

15th May 2014.

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