Organized Panel Session
In 1799, learning of the death of Tipu Sultan, ‘Umdat ul-Umara, nawab of Arcot, took time from his ongoing disputes with the British East India Company to commission a short Persian poem. Though Arcot had long been at odds with Tipu’s Mysore, the elegy lamented: “from grief…the planet Mars in heaven would say he lost his Sword.” The verse hints tantalizingly at the dynamic afterlife of Tipu Sultan in South India. Histories of the famous ruler of Mysore have ascribed to him a dizzying set of identities—modernizer, Islamic despot, nationalist icon—but his legacy in colonial India in the decades after his death remains understudied. As ‘Umdat ul-Umrah’s poem suggests, that memory loomed largest in military matters—not just as an erstwhile rival to the Company, but as a living ideal that could be invoked against the structures of the colonial state.
Such critiques emerged at both the elite and subaltern level, in court chronicles such as Arcot’s as well as in popular protests, rumormongering, and even violent mutinies in the Company’s own armies. This paper works to bring these discourses together, reading colonial courts martial alongside elite Persianate literature, to explore how Tipu’s Mysore was mobilized as a vehicle for grievance against the colonial state. Through these assertions—and through colonial administrators’ responses—Tipu Sultan’s memory continued to shape India’s political landscape long after 1799.
 Muhammad Karim Khair ul Din Hasan, Sawanihat-e-Mumtaz. Habeeb Khan Souroash-Omari, ed. (Madras: Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, 1961), 147.