Friday 5 September 2014

The story of the toy tiger

Among the many legendary treasures of Tipu Sultan is the toy tiger mauling a British soldier.
Tipu Sultan (1782-1799), the rules of Mysore, had a visceral hatred of he British. He did everything he could from building an army, seeking French assistance to trying to stitch an anti-British alliance.
Tipu was continuously at war with the British and nothing gave him more happiness than having them at his mercy. His dungeons in his capital of Srirangapatna were filled up with British prisoners of war.
After Tipu was killed in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore war in Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799, many of his treasures and fabulous wealth fell into the hands of the British who lost no time in plundering them. Contemporary accounts of the day after Tipu was killed tell us how mercilessly the British behaved with the residents of Srirangapatna and how they pillaged the city, stripping it of every conceivable article.
Of course, the first structure to bear the brunt of the greedy British army and its hired mercenaries was Lal Mahal, the magnificent palace of Tipu which today is in ruins, his store room, armoury, library and private quarters.
One of the innumerable articles that the British shipped back home from Srirangapatna was Tipu’s Tiger.
The Tipu Tiger is a toy that Tipu specifically had it built. It is a wooden tiger mauling a British soldier. The toy has a miniature mechanical organ and when pressed, it begins to emit the roar of the tiger, punctuated with the  groans of a Britisher being killed.
The road comes from the body of the tiger and a row of keys of natural notes are embedded within the British soldier.  The sounds produced by the organ  resemble the cries of a person in distress which is juxtaposed with the roar of a tiger.  The machinery is so contrived, that while the organ is playing, the head of the European is often lifted up, to express his helpless and deplorable condition. 
There is a story that Tipu Sultan had this toy made after the death of Lieutenant Munro — the son of General Sir Hector Munro, who had defeated Tipu in many battles. The idea of making such a tiger took shape when one of Tipu’s courtiers told how Munro’s son had been killed by a tiger in the Sundarbans (Bengal).
Tipu discussed the idea of a mechanical toy of a Tiger mauling a British soldier with his French engineers working in his munition factory in  Srirangapatna.
The organs which can reproduce the roars of a tiger and shrieks of human beings were made in France. Tipu kept the toy in his Rag Mahal or room for music.
After Tipu dies, the British came across the toy and informed the Board of Directors of East Indian Company who then asked for it to be sent to their head office in London.
The tiger elicited lot of interest and curiosity among the British and the famous romantic British poet John Keats has made a reference to Tippoo’s Tiger in one of his poems.

Initially, the Directors of the East India Company kept the toy  in the company museum in the East India House, but, when the company was wound up and political power transferred to the Government in 1858, it was shifted to the new India office where it remained until 1874. Later, the tiger was stationed at what later came to be known as the Indian section of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The toy is at present a prized exhibit of the museum and lakhs who visit the museum cannot help but admire the spirit and determination of the Tiger of Mysore, as Tipu was known .