Hyder Ali & Kingdom of Mysore – Our Last Challenge!


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.

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21 thoughts on “Hyder Ali & Kingdom of Mysore – Our Last Challenge!

    1. Yes. I feel that we need to know our history. Only then, we can try and avoid the mistakes made, back then.

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  1. Very interesting class on history… it haven’t been so simple and obvious! His kingdom in south India sounds amazing and being a strong boulder against British impresses. Thanks for the lessons, Rajesh 🙂

    1. I developed a lot of interest in history while in the final year at college. These days, I don’t get much time to indulge in it, though!

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  2. very true if only people had got together and founght the common enemy, but british were good in divide and rule strategy…

    I did not know of forcible conversion of hindus to muslims..

    but I have a lot of admiration for all those who fought against the british , hyder ali, tipu , Ranjit singh.. and others .. if only the yhad fought together , things might have been different.. Punjab was the last kingdom to be annexed that too after the death of Ranjit singh, his son was just a kid..

    It was the same in punjab , no one helped maharaja ranjit singh.. if only the indian rulers were unselfish..

    Good lesson

  3. Our current lot of politicians continue with the divide and rule policy – don’t they? Yes, it is time to learn the good lessons from the past, without of course, following the evil deeds done in the past. It is for us to pick and chose the experiences that history lays down before us.

    1. We should understand what factors led to the advancement/otherwise of human civilization before us, in order to come to grips with the problems we face now. History gives us a good glimpse of what our ancestors were doing, and trying to do.

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  4. I didn’t know much about Hyder Ali until now! Tippu Sultan was the famous one! Did you see the serial ‘Tipu Sultan’ in DD? It was very good. Hyder Ali was there, I don’t remember vaguely.

    Even now religion is important for making politics. Yes, conversion was there. Many Marathas came to Mysore with Shivaji and others and settled down in Mysore and Tanjore. I think you are a good one to give this story too, D.I. Their Marathi is influenced by Kannada and Tamil!

    Enjoyed reading this.

    1. There was one more factor in Tippu Sultan’s fame – The way he died fighting the British, while defending his Kingdom. It was nothing less than heroic. Yes, I saw that serial when I was very young but I don’t remember much now. I’ll try to write about Shivaji, shortly.

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  5. I have heard of Hyder Ali, but had not known so much about him or his war against the British. Tipu of course was a trailblazer in military strategy and possession of modern fighting weapons. Our history books have been rewritten by the secularists and so now we have no mention of jizya by Aurangazeb or forcible conversions by other Muslim rulers. Our children are growing up prejudiced and uninformed. Thanks for this article.

    1. Yes, Both Tippu Sultan and Hyder Ali were pioneers in modern warfare technologies (partly due to the help from French and Danish). Their use of rockets strategically against enemies was very innovative. They even had a small fleet of ships.

      I am familiar with jizya, maybe because I read history outside the text books!

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    1. Oh my, historians can change history. Or at least hide certain things. Writing history to represent events as they were, is an art. In India, unlike the western countries, we do not give much importance to unbiased writing.

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  6. In school history books only Tipu Sultan is mentioned and that too not much.Came to know more about Tipu Sultan from Sanjay Khan Tipu Sultan in DD.Never knew that both Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan did conversions but anyway history is history.Haider Ali did everything because Krishna Raj Vadiyar was busy in other things than about his kingdom.

    You wrote my favourite topic i.e history.Keeping writing about our Indian History…

    1. The image of Tippu Sultan has been romanticised to a great extent because he opposed the British from the beginning. But Hyder Ali considered them to be one of the neighboring kingdoms. I think that’s why Tippu Sultan was always given more importance.

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