The murals of Daria Daulat Bagh in Srirangapatna are an excellent paradigm that underwent more than one coat of repainting. It is also interesting to note under what circumstances the repainting was warranted and why a study of the paintings is essential. The paintings are represented in three different schemes delineated on the eastern and the western walls of the palace. On the western wall is the picture of a battle scene and its proceedings depicted in four frames, narrating the battle of Polillur in action.
Haidar Ali and his son Tipu fought four wars against the English, known as Anglo-Mysore wars. Haidar and Tipu won the first two battles with the help of the French. The battle of Polillur is a part of the war which culminated in the defeat of the English and the seize of Arcot by Haidar. In the Polillur scene, the English army under the command of Colonel Baillie was completely routed out and a number of English soldiers including Colonel Baillie himself were taken as prisoners. The paintings of the Daria Daulat Bagh are apparently the earliest visual record of this battle scene.
The paintings of Srirangapatna began to undergo many changes following the rule of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan. The outer walls of the fort of Srirangapatna, it is believed, contained demoralizing pictures of the British which were painted after the order of Tipu sultan. During the last siege of Srirangapatna, a lot of these paintings were obliterated. And before that in 1792 on the approach of Lord Cornwallis’s army, a positive command to whitewash all the walls was given by Tipu himself. An order for the defacement of the Daria Daulat paintings was also issued at the same time. This was only partially done; happily enough remained for the restoration, which Colonel Wellesley promptly prescribed when he was in command of the fort and in residence at the palace. (Appendix-1)
The paintings frequently faded and were repeatedly repainted, and at each repainting some details were omitted or altered. The eastern wall, where there are two huge panels containing portraits distinctly show signs of modifications.
The reasons as to why Tipu chose a historical scene instead of others have already been explained. Nonetheless, there are a number of themes, which could have been chosen by Tipu such as enjoying a dance performance, or a hunting expedition. We cannot put aside the matter stating that Tipu never had any dance performances in his court nor went on any hunting expedition. History tells us that he did (Fig:11). But these were too trivial matters through which he could call for universal acceptance. He lived in a period of disagreement and disharmony. His father had usurped from a Hindu family a dominant Hindu kingdom, which was still a matter of cloak-and-dagger among the people and Tipu went a step further by installing himself on the throne and becoming the Sultan. At this time he needed was to be accepted by his people. He wanted everyone to acknowledge him as the world ruler. He thrived on praise and flattery and wanted people of his own religion to be around him for the fact that that a common religion would make him easily acceptable. His personal letters and accounts of his dreams and incidents quoted by his close aides through books tell us that it was also absolutely necessary to convince his people that he was strong and powerful and could not be easily defeated by anyone leave alone the British.
Tipu had fought four wars with the British. The last two, after the paintings were executed, so we will not take them into account. Of the first, Tipu did not have a prominent role to play, as he was young. The second Mysore war naturally became important to him because he had a significant role to play in it and he was highly applauded by one and all including his father for his quick thinking and timely action. Also the British army whom he hated was in a sad state of affairs in this war.Nothing gave Tipu more pleasure than showing his people that the British were a measly crowd in front of his own power. As a form of propaganda, nothing could have been better suited or more convincing than the depiction of Col. Baillie’s perturbed state and the killing of several British officers making one unmistakably see the weakness of the British. Whereas, Tipu and Haidar Ali, riding magnificent elephants, smelling roses, naturally propagated a cool headed attitude and potency. Above all, there appears to be a clear aim to inculcate a hatred for the British among the local inhabitants. It is believed that the entire walls of Srirangapatna were covered with demeaning pictures of the British, but later effaced with the arrival of Lord Cornwallis’ army. It can be imagined what the state of mind of an individual would have been when he constantly looked at pictures that spoke of the demoralising behaviour of the British. It was nothing but gossamer hypnotism that Tipu adopted to change the minds of his people against the British so that they would all unite with him in fighting the enemy.
©Veena Shekar 2010