HistoriCity | Mysore's logo is a new city's nod at its old, complex history - Hindustan Times
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HistoriCity | Mysore's logo is a new city's nod at its old, complex history

ByValay Singh
Apr 05, 2024 11:35 PM IST

Beyond the tiger claw and the Mysore sandal soap, the city's history is filled with the symbols of good governance, wars and anti-colonial pride

Mysore’s adoption of a logo — the second Indian city to do so — is an attempt by the city to maintain its unique identity. This would certainly hold true for a historical city like Mysore, once the old capital of Karnataka.

Mysore Logo PREMIUM
Mysore Logo

The origins of the Mysore dynasty according to their own records go back to 1399 AD when two brothers (Vijaya and Krishna) claiming descent from Lord Krishna’s lunar dynasty and said to have arrived from distant Dwarka on India’s western coast, took control of 33 villages from a local chief whose identity remains unknown in the annals of the vanquishing dynasty.

Vijaya took the title of Wodeyar and adopted the Lingavanta religion, founded by Basava in the 12th century. He ruled as a vassal of the Vijayanagara empire till 1423 AD.

After the defeat of the Vijayanagara empire in the historic battle of Talikota in 1565, the landlords of Mysore under Raja Wodeyar I wrested control from the governors of Vijayanagar and soon declared themselves kings. In 1610, Raja Wodeyar I took over Srirangapatna, the erstwhile seat of the Vijayanagar governors and adopted Vaishnavism as the religion.

According to the Mysore Gazetteer, Raja Wodeyar I (1578-1617) “extended the possessions of his family over all the south of the present Mysore district, and captured several places towards the north from Jagadeva Raya.”

It is Raja Wodeyar who first started elaborate celebrations during his reign. They were planned on the same lines as the Vijayanagar empire. The first eight days consisted of grand durbars or Oddologa, vassals would bring gifts and various sports would be displayed and music and poetry performances held in the capital which itself was decorated with lamps and torches. The end of each day was marked by the medieval version of a light and sound show. The ten days would end with the king worshipping the armoury and other instruments of war like chariots and elephants.

Four centuries later, the tradition continues in Mysore, and draws domestic and international tourists to the city each year during Dussehra. The 17th century witnessed the Mysore kingdom consolidate its hold over the neighbouring regions of Bengaluru, and Salem among others.

The Sultanate of Mysore

After the death of emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, a number of Mughal successor states sprung up, each with their own peculiar characteristics, among the most important of these were to be found in the peninsula: what historian Andre Wink terms as the “militant” Mysore Sultanate of Haider Ali (1761 - 1782) and his son and successor, Tipu Sultan (1782 - 1799). Both have attained a heroic status in the archives of Indo-Islamic history for their opposition to British territorial conquest and rule.

The rise of Haider Ali from an ordinary soldier in the Mysore army to the sultan of Mysore is a long tale of opportunism, cunning, bravery and political machination. His life was lived virtually in battle-gear and his tireless warring against foes such as the British East India Company later earned him the reputation of a freedom-fighter.

The conditions within Mysore state in the first half of the 18th century were chaotic: the cost of wars, including at Trichinopoly [modern Tiruchirappalli], and the invasions of the Nizams of nearby kingdoms and the Marathas had left the kingdom bankrupt, leading to discontent amongst soldiers who were not being paid.

Haider Ali was able to quell much of this chaos and succeeded in discharging pay to the infantry. This bolstered Ali’s status so much that when the Marathas invaded Mysore in 1758, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army, repelling the invaders, and returning to Mysore a hero.

To reward him, Krishnaraja Wodeyar II granted him the title of Fateh Hyder Bahadur or Nawab Hyder Ali Khan. In the midst of continuous warring, Haider Ali found time to establish the iconic Lalbagh gardens in Bangalore, which was inspired by the Persian style of planting fragrant flowers and fruit-bearing trees in symmetric quadrants.

By 1761, he became the de-facto ruler of Mysore even as the region began to be increasingly drawn into territorial and diplomatic disputes between the Nizam of Hyderabad and the East India Company, which had by then become the dominant European power.

Tiger, tiger burning bright

Two years before Haider Ali’s death from natural causes in 1782, Tipu Sultan declared himself the Sultan of Mysore. He inherited roughly two-thirds of the Indian peninsula from his father: from the Krishna River and Dharwar in the north to beyond Dindigul in the south. He was perhaps more hardline and less diplomatic than his father was, eclipsing the Wodeyars, and engaging in more iconoclastic activity against enemies than Haider Ali. Though he was later described as a "Brahman killer and despoiler of temples" according to historian Susan Bayly, author of Saints, Goddesses and Kings, the fact is he employed Hindus in the high offices of his centralised administration.

The last Anglo-Mysore war ended in the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799 at Srirangapatnam. With this, the British nearly completed their conquest of India.

Tipu’s symbol was the tiger, the stoutly built sultan was virtually obsessed with the fearless beast and adorned his swords, armour, and throne with it, even the bronze grenades used by his army were in the shape of a tiger’s claw. A curious specimen of his love for tigers is present in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This musical instrument is made of a mechanical tiger straddling the body of a British soldier and mauling him. When Tipu was finally killed in 1799 a public holiday was declared in England, and the English obsession with their arch-enemy led to the coinage of the term ‘Tipu mania’.

Colonial symbolism

The over 100-year period between 1799 and 1947, saw considerable administrative and governance improvement in the Mysore state. Administrators like Mark Cubbon and L B Bowring prevailed on the Wodeyar rulers to establish many civic amenities such as hospitals and sanitation in the wake of deadly plagues beginning in 1898 and lasting for more than three years.

Mysore region was and remains rich in sandalwood reserves, in the British period much of this sandalwood was exported. However, due to the First World War, a lot of sandalwood could not be exported. Finding opportunity in this adversity, the M Visveswariah, the Dewan of the then Mysore king Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, decided to use this sudden surplus for the creation of the now ubiquitous Mysore Sandal soap with the help of a S G Shastri, young scientist who later came to be known as ‘Soap Shastry’.

Another less-known achievement of the Mysore princely state was the inclusion of diverse groups in government. It could be argued that it was the syncretic history of the Mysore kingdom that led to the introduction of reservations in 1918 for all communities under the rule of Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar. This was the first time such a reservation was introduced in a government which was till then dominated by Brahmins. Due to this early reform, Karnataka remains the only state which meets its quotas for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes in the country even today.

HistoriCity is a column by author Valay Singh that narrates the story of a city that is in the news, by going back to its documented history, mythology and archaeological digs. The views expressed are personal

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