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When Marathas demolished a temple, Tipu Sultan rebuilt it

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New Delhi:  The ruling Congress Party in Karnataka, putting aside dissenting voices from a section of the population, observed Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary with great fervour in the whole state on 10 November. The purpose of the observing of this ceremony may be to please its Muslim vote-bank. On the other hand, the BJP held rallies in the state in opposition to the Muslim ruler, as a ‘black day’. It also aimed at consolidating Hindu votes in its favour.

In the light of the present-day politics, some historical references seem quite unbelievable when we read how Tipu Sultan rebuilt a Hindu temple which was destroyed by the Marathas.

Marathas were Hindus, yet they attacked Shringeri Math. It was towards the end of the 18th century when uncertainty loomed large over the Sub-continent. Mughals were reduced to titular rulers and their rule had slipped out of their hands from most parts of India. After the Third War of Panipat, there was no hope that Marathas would replace Mughals in controlling major parts of India, as the Afghans had badly mauled the Maratha power in that war. It was a clear indication that the Indian rulers were weakening while the British were gaining strength. During this period (around 1789), the Britishers had lured Marathas and Nizam of Hyderabad to their side in order to remove the last thorn (Tipu Sultan of Mysore) from their path to control India. It was Tipu Sultan who had perceived quite early the danger posed to the Indian rulers by the British East India Company.

It was a period when Marathas and Tipu Sultan didn’t see eye to eye. Their enmity grew to such a level that they started fighting earlier than expected. First of all, Hyder Ali (Tipu’s father) snatched the fortress of Devan Hally (near Bangaluru) from the Marathas after a fierce struggle. The Marathas replied in 1791 through their leader, Raghunath Patvardhan, who attacked Bednoor. It was during this attack that the Marathas damaged the Shringeri Math. Marathas were in the habit of attacking and looting temples and Maths during their wars. An example was the Tirupati temple which they attacked in 1759 causing it much damage. The Shringeri temple and Math were no less significant. It was established by the Shankeracharya in the 8th century AD. He had established such Maths and mandirs in every corner of the country. Besides Shringeri, he established Joshi Math in the north, Dwarka in west and Puri in the east. This is the reason why Shringeri was so important. Tipu Sultan had close relations with this mandir/Math. He used to send gifts to the Math and had allotted a big chunk of land to the shrine so much so that he would call the Swamy of the Math as ‘Jagadguru’ (World teacher).

 The fame of the Math signified its wealth and this attracted the Marathas. They looted all its property, killed many Brahmins living in the Math and dismantled the idol of Devi Sharda. The Swamy of the Math escaped from there. After the withdrawal of Marathas, the Swamy described to the Sultan the destruction caused by Marathas to the Math and the temple and asked for help to reestablish the idol. Tipu Sultan was very angry to hear about this attack and promised to punish the attackers. He extended help to the Swamy to reestablish the temple and sent jewellery for its idol.

By 1990, Tipu Sultan’s image had been tarnished so much by the Hindutva enthusiasts that instead of being cherished as a secular ruler and freedom fighter, he started being called as a Muslim dictator. But they can hardly reject the fact that a Muslim ruler had helped rebuild an important Hindu mandir.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 December 2016 on page no. 5

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