Tipu's Tiger | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 25, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 25, 2016


Tipu's Tiger

When conflict between Tipu Sultan, the independent ruler of Mysore and British East India Company reached its extreme, some Mysorean designers, in 1795 developed an ingenious instrument to appease their beloved Sultan. It was a carved and painted wood casing representing a tiger attacking a near life-size English man. Both the attacking tiger and victim were made of wooden shells where miniature bellows were inserted. Holes were carved in the bodies of the tiger and the English man in such a way that after pressing the small ivory keyboard the tiger would produce howling noises in a regular interval. In turn, the fallen English man would wail for help. Also a special crank handle mechanism was installed in the left arm of the English man that enables it to rise and fall symbolising his helplessness in front of the tiger. 

The tiger was the royal emblem of Tipu Sultan. In fact, his throne featured a large wooden tiger covered with gold. So, this toy, which is considered one of the first automatic toys in modern history, represents Tipu's triumph over colonial invaders. However, despite Tipu's valiant efforts to keep the British invaders at bay, he was defeated at the fourth Anglo-Mysore war and killed at the battle field due to the treachery of his courtiers. Several specimens of Tipu's tigers were seized by the British army from his summer palace and transported to England for an exhibition at the Tower of London. This ingenious instrument was first exhibited in London in 1806.

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