Srirangapatna

Photo by Solivagant.

Monuments of Srirangapatna Island Town is part of the Tentative list of India in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The Monuments of Srirangapatna Island Town are examples of defense architecture and mostly located within the walls of the fort. They include two monumental gates, two dungeons, temples and the remains of a palace. They date from the 16th-19th centuries.

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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Solivagant

UK - 06-Jan-23 -

Srirangapatna (T) by Solivagant

Srirangapatna is a medium-sized town (c150k population in 2011) situated around 30 minutes north of Mysore by road and is eminently suitable for an afternoon excursion from that city – which is what we did way back in 2004. It didn’t get added to India’s T List until 2014 and we were certainly NOT betting on even the possibility of a UNESCO future! No, we visited because of its significant role in the history of British imperial expansion in India…….. “The Battle of Seringapatam, 1799

Now that event is not of course the reason for its addition to India’s T List. The UNESCO description finds plenty to say about the history of this 7.2sq km island in the River Cauvery before it even reaches the period of the battle. The Cauvery is another of India’s “Holy Rivers” and, among others along its banks, Sriringapatna  (“SRP”) is a significant Hindu pilgrimage site with its Ranganthaswamy Temple dating back to the 9th C.  The fort, located in a highly defendable location surrounded by the river on 3 sides, was first built in the late 15th C by the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire (they of Hampi!) to consolidate its defenses against the Muslim Deccan Sultanates further North (Whose own “Monuments and Forts” are also on the T List!). The decline of that Empire (including the destruction of Hampi by the Sultanates in 1565) allowed the feudal family of the area to take over in 1610 and they made SRP the capital of their own kingdom. That family (the Wadiyars) remained the titular rulers (in various positions of “power” or lack of it!) of the area as Maharajahs of Mysore until dissolution of Indian royal titles in 1971.

The subsequent couple of centuries saw continual conflict between emerging and competing entities operating as separate “countries”, each with its own "sovereign" rulers as well as its own culture and, in many cases, language, albeit within a common shared regional framework - similar in many respects to the national rivalries in Europe. The death of Augangzeb in 1706 and the subsequent decline of Mughal power was another destabilizing factor from the north. During this period the Wadiyars did quite well at expanding their kingdom but, in the first part of the 18th C, found themselves relegated to being mere titular rulers as their army Commander in Chiefs took de facto control. By 1782, the then Commander, Tipu, a Muslim whose family came from Northern India, declared himself “Sultan” and Persian became the “court language”.

Into this mix the British arrived in the form of the East India Company (EIC), vying with the French (who also operated through a joint stock company which tended to be more directly controlled/influenced by the French government than was the EIC) in trying to gain control of the region from its heartland in Bengal. The EIC were allied with the regional enemies of Mysore and, between 1766 and 1799, fought 4 “Anglo-Mysore” wars. Tipu Sultan, “The Tiger of Mysore” was its leader for the last 3 of these (His father was leader during the first). He allied himself with France and SRP fort was strengthened with French military engineering techniques. Each war reduced Mysore’s power (though not every battle was won by the EIC and Tipu proved a difficult opponent) and the final denouement came in 1799 at the Battle of SRP when the fort was first besieged and then breached. Interestingly, of the 50k troops on the EIC side (v 30k on Tipu’s) only 6k were European (including a regiment of Swiss mercenaries!!). The Nizam of Hyderabad alone provided 16k troops. Among the commanders was Colonel Arthur Wellesley – later, as Duke of Wellington, to become the nemesis of Napoleon. Tipu was killed and the EIC reinstated the Kings of Mysore to rule their "Princely State" (with some loss of territory to other EIC entities!) from Mysore (living in much splendour as demonstrated by their very fine Palace there) under the Company’s watchful eye and “guidance” using (across the majority of the period) the classic “Subsidiary Alliance” adopted by EIC/Britain to “rule” the majority of the subcontinent indirectly. France had supported Tipu Sultan and Napoleon had even promised troops …..but that was also the end of any French hopes for a significant place on the Indian subcontinent.

The battle resulted in significant damage to the fort and, under the "Pax Britannica" subsequently established, it was not to be rebuilt! It does however form a major part of the T List description among the “Monuments” highlighted as providing the OUV. Much space is also given to 2 of the fort’s 6 gates and to 2 “Dungeons” – one (“Colonel Bailey’s (sic) Dungeon) named after a British prisoner who was among several captured during an EIC defeat in the 2nd Mysore war and who subsequently died there. We didn’t see these. We are not great fans of military WHS unless they are particularly spectacular and don’t appreciate the nuances of their technical aspects. Of the gates, I remember mainly one which is not even specifically mentioned - the “Water Gate”. We undoubtedly could have spent more time on the fortifications -  but nothing I have read indicates that they are really that special - India is not exactly lacking forts!

Around 20 other “monuments” in the T List description are given no more than a "title" in a list but they, IMO, contain the main items of interest and certainly way more so than the fort! We didn't see them all but I will comment on the following – 

a. “Spot where Tipu’s body was discovered”. This is near the “Water gate” and has been commemorated by a small monument. 
b. Sri Ranganatha Svami Temple. Our visit to Southern India was a trip of “Temples” including major sites such as Thanjavur (with the “Living Chola Temples”), Madurai and Tiruchirappalli and I suspect we failed fully to appreciate whatever added value this one might have provided to the “non believer”. Unfortunately I can't "remind" myself as interior photography wasn't allowed. There was, however, a nice painted “temple Chariot” sitting outside which I could take! 
c. “Gumbaz containing tomb of Tipu Sultan” (Site photo). A rather fine classical Muslim mausoleum and garden built by Tipu originally for his parents. The victorious EIC allowed Tipu to be buried there and even arranged for renovations in 1858 when it had fallen into neglect. 
d. Daria Daulat Bagh. Tipu’s Summer Palace which, after all those years, I remember as the main tangible highlight of our visit. (His main palace  within the fort was destroyed in the siege)  This was another building with no interior photography and I have had to resort to the Web to remind myself just how fine the murals and decorations were. It shows the court of Tipu Sultan to have been a place of culture and refinement - whatever his actions beyond it. 

So, in summary, the town has a number of interesting sites worth visiting and should certainly be included within any tour of the area. IMO, the fort on which, despite the wider ranging title, India seems to be “majoring” this T List entry, is among the less significant/valuable features and any nomination would benefit from being refocused elsewhere. The totality must surely be "WHS material"? Can one believe that, in some alternative counter-factual history in which Mysore had emerged as a separate state within a multi-country sub-peninsular, rather than being a part of "India" (its somewhat larger modern equivalent, the State of Karnataka, had a population of 61 million in 2011 but only 2 WHS), it would not have been able to gain inscription even for the Daria Daulat Bagh on its own? I think of the Sheki Palace from much the same period in Azerbaijan.

For me the really interesting aspects of the site relate to its Tipu connections and I will conclude this review by mentioning 3 related threads of which I was aware and found worth knowing when we visited and have brought "up to date" here……..

1. The Booty from SRP - One of the “top” attractions at London’s V&A museum is a quirky object known as “Tippoo’s Tiger” (sic). It consists of an almost life sized hollow wooden carved and painted tiger mauling a figure dressed in the red coat of a British soldier. Even more amazingly, the carved figures contain mechanisms to create roaring sounds from the tiger and moans from the soldier who also flaps his arms. It is also an Organ for playing music! Unfortunately it does not now operate for the public. It was taken from SRP after the defeat of Tipu in line with the normal cultural practice in those days of dividing the spoils as victory payment for the soldiers. Its lack of monetary value led to its initial survival and use as an exhibit by the EIC…..see here for more. Although India has made no formal request, there are views that Tippoo’s Tiger (and other articles from SRP) should be returned! Tipu's library was also scattered with the the majority now being in London and Calcutta.   

2. The fate of the protagonists. Surprisingly the Darya Daulat Bagh survived the break up and distribution of Tipu's goods. After his victory Wellesley moved into it (apart from a few more military campaigns) and stayed in India until 1805 – before moving on to “bigger things”; Peninsular War, Waterloo etc, right up to Prime Minister! In the 1850s a later Governor General of India (Lord Dalhousie) authorized restoration work on the building and at least it wasn’t burned down as was the original (also wooden) Palace of Mysore in an accident in 1896! The family and retainers of Tipu Sultan, including 12 sons and totaling over 300 people, were a remaining “problem”. Some were connected with a mutiny in 1806 and all were then shipped up to Calcutta, the EIC "Capital". There, initially with pensions from the EIC, their lives went a variety of ways. Some were successful and streets and mosques in the city are named after them ….. other lines did less well and some today are rickshaw drivers etc, still hoping that India will give them some monetary recognition. See here

3. The Assessment of Tipu. What should India (and indeed “Western” historians also) make of Tipu within its historical narrative? He is in fact a very polarising figure and, IMO, a fine exemplar of the mythologising of history to fit contemporary cultural and political viewpoints. A Google search for “Tipu Sultan - Indian Freedom fighter or Islamic tyrant” will return a wide range of responses, both popular and academic, which will give a flavour of the issues and contending views. This article is typical of the "Tyrant" view.... and this one of the "Freedom Fighter" position! And those views transfer into contemporary Indian politics - one side promises a 100ft statue of Tipu Sultan in SRP (In competition with enormous "Hindu Hero" statues being erected elsewhere in India?) to commemorate a "great warrier who didn't bow down before the British" ......and the other promises to demolish any memorial to "a tyrant who massacred or forcibly converted thousands of Hindus...and destroyed temples".

 

 


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Full Name
Monuments of Srirangapatna Island Town
Country
India
Added
2014
Type
Cultural
Categories
Structure - Military and Fortifications
Link
By ID
2014 Added to Tentative List

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Srirangapatna (T)
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