If Tippu Sultan was the Tiger of Mysore, then Hyder Ali (his father) was its Tyrannosaurus Rex! Hyder Ali was one of the most feared Indian ruler, by the British and the map on the right shows the extent of his expansion when the Mysore empire was at its peak, in 1780.
There is one important difference between Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan. Hyder Ali considered the British dominion as one of the neighboring Kingdoms, and at times sought its support as well. But Tippu Sultan was opposed to the British Empire throughout his reign. That’s why, perhaps, Tippu Sultan is celebrated as a freedom fighter and is more famous in India, than Hyder Ali.
There were other differences between the two. Hyder Ali was no prince. He was a normal military commander who served under the rulers of Arcot and Krishnaraja Vodeyar II (titular Mysore ruler) and worked his way up the ranks due to his courage, intelligence and talent. Tippu Sultan, on the other hand, was born as a Prince, raised as one and inherited his father’s empire.
Neither of them were freedom fighters, as the concept of British domination over the whole of India was not yet established, at least firmly. The Kingdoms of Mysore, Marathas (and many more) were still independent, and in fact, were actively fighting the British who held certain strategic points and areas around Madras, Calcutta, etc. Certain Kingdoms were already under their ‘protection’, but Mysore & Marathas were not, yet.
During the first Anglo-Mysore war, Hyder Ali came as close as 210 KM from the British Outpost at Madras. The British were forced to get into a treaty of mutual protection with Hyder Ali, as a result of this war. During the second Anglo-Mysore war, the Marathas, Nizam of Hyderabad and Hyder Ali were about to launch a combined force against the British, but the British Governor Warren Hastings convinced the other two empires (through sheer diplomacy), not to fight against the British.
In spite of this, Hyder Ali went on the offensive against the British and handed them one of their worst defeats in the Indian soil. In this battle, Hyder came as close as 14 KM from Madras and inflicted heavy losses on the British East India Company. But unfortunately, he died during this campaign, due to a cancerous growth, and this effectively saved the British.
There are two factors to consider here – One, Hyder Ali fought all alone without any support from Marathas or the Nizam. In spite of it, he came so close to vanquishing the strong British outpost at Madras. Second, Tippu Sultan was fighting under his command and their combined strength, was perhaps too good for the British to handle. One year after Hyder Ali’s death, Tippu Sultan forced the British to sign the Treaty of Mangalore which is considered as the last occasion an Indian ruler was able to dictate terms to the British.
Both Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan were no heroes of the Indian people as they caused the 20-year economic turbulence in Tanjore and forcibly converted Hindus into Muslims (among others). But, they were Heroes in their own right for having challenged the British might in India, all by themselves. If only, Marathas and the Kingdom of Mysore had fought their common enemy together…
Well, history can’t be changed. We can only learn from it!
Source/Reference: Wikipedia article on Hyder Ali.
Image: The image used in this article is a copyright free image.