A Mural Celebrating Tipu Sultan Is Up for Auction. His Legacy Is Contested.

The mural shows Indian Golgotha ​​troops advancing from both sides against a cornered British army, with guns blazing. In a section of the 18th-century battlefield, the victorious commander sits on an elephant holding a red rose.

For a leading British historian of India, the approximately 32-meter masterpiece, which was sold at auction in London on Wednesday, is an artistic triumph and a powerful symbol of India’s resistance to British imperialism.

“It is perhaps the greatest Indian picture of the defeat of colonialism that survives,” said scholar William Dalrymple. told Sotheby’s, the auction house that oversees the sale. “It’s a unique and fantastic piece of art.”

But in modern India, the commander’s legacy is complicated. Politicians from the Indian political party, which under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has increasingly embraced Hindu nationalist rhetoric, have for years downplayed his achievements. The commander, Tipu Sultan, was a Muslim; they say he is responsible for the death of Hindus.

The mural was sold in London on Wednesday afternoon for £500,000, or about $655,000. It was not clear who made the winning bid. Sotheby’s said before bidding began that the mural was most likely worth between £500,000 and £800,000. The news of the auction was previously reported by the BBC.

The mural consists of 10 large sheets mounted on canvas and is believed to have been made in the early 1800s. It depicts the battle of Pollilur in 1780, part of the Anglo-Mysore Wars that took place in South India around that time. It not only celebrates Tipu Sultan, who was about 30 at the time, but also his father, Haidar Ali, then the ruler of the state of Mysore.

Mysore was one of the strongest states to emerge when the Mughal Empire collapsed in the 18th century after dominating the Indian subcontinent for about 200 years.

During the decades that Haidar Ali and later Tipu Sultan ruled the state of Mysore, reports of their attacks on British trading settlements were published in British newspapers, “adorned by distance as they were carried home by sea,” according to a 2016 biography of Tipu Sultan. by the historian Kate Brittlebank.

By the time he died at the hands of British troops in 1799, Mrs Brittlebank wrote in her book, Tipu Sultan was “perhaps the most famous Indian, if not villain, in the United Kingdom.” His nickname was the “Tiger of Mysore.”

mr. Dalrymple said the Battle of Pollilur was the first defeat of a European army in India and that British colonial rule there “nearly ended.”

“Tipu Sultan was probably the most effective adversary the East India Company has ever faced,” said Mr. Dalrymple, the author of a 2019 book about the company, which was founded in 1599 to direct British trade in Asia and eventually developed into a large army with a trading division.

“Tipu showed that the Indians could fight back,” he added. “That they could win. That they could use European tactics against the Europeans and beat them.”

During the 20th-century movement for independence in India, he was celebrated as a prototype of a nationalist “freedom fighter,” according to a 2015 essay on his legacy by Akhilesh Pillalamarri in The Diplomat, a current affairs magazine.

Today, large buildings are associated with Tipu Sultan, including a mosque, mark the landscape in and around Mysore. The Karnataka state government is promoting the buildings as tourist attractions.

At the same time, officials of Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party are trying to downplay Tipu Sultan’s legacy across India. They objected to a 2015 plan to celebrate his birthday and a more recent plan to… erect a statue of him including in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP-led state government in Karnataka has convened a special committee to assess whether other Muslim leaders have been “glorified” in local textbooks. Party officials, and their supporters among India’s Hindu nationalist right wing, tend to characterize past Muslim rulers as invaders who threatened indigenous Hindu culture.

Modi’s nationalist message has often pitted Hindus against Muslims. In recent months, calls for anti-Muslim violence in India have increasingly shifted from the periphery to the mainstream while Mr Modi and top BJP leaders have kept quiet.

In modern India, Tipu Sultan is controversial in large part because he was a Muslim ruler whose subjects were mainly Hindus and Jains, Ms Brittlebank wrote in her book ‘Tiger’. British colonial authorities once drew attention to that same contrast, she added, even though it was common for Muslims to rule non-Muslims in the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal Empire and the years after.

British colonial propaganda portrayed Tipu Sultan as a “one-dimensional fanatic,” but the work of modern scholars has reconstructed a “very different Tipu,” wrote Mr. Dalrymple in an essay for Sotheby’s ahead of the auction.

“What really worried the British was not that Tipu was a Muslim fanatic, something strange and strange, but that he was, in fact, terrifyingly famous: a modernizing technocrat who used the weapons of the West against their own inventors.”

Sameer Yasir and Emily Schmall reported.

SOURCE – www.nytimes.com

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