Wednesday, 3 April 2013

When Deepavali is a day of mourning

There has been an ongoing debate about Tipu Sultan's excesses against the Hindus and his destruction of Hindu temples and religious institutions.
In recent days, this debate has reached a crescendo with one section backing Tipu as a freedom fighter and brave warrior and another pointing out to his harsh treatment of Hindus and the wanton destruction of temples.
A little known fact about Tipu is that he indeed did give generous gifts to Hindu temples and Hindu religious institutions such as the temples in Sringeri, the Cheluvanarayana and Yoga Narasimha temple in Melkote, the Ranganatha temple in Srirangapatna and the Nanjundeshwara temple in Nanjangud.
However, there are also records of the manner in which Tipu massacred people in Kerala. Tipu also massacred nearly 800 Brahmins in Melkote in Mandya district and this happened on Naraka Chaturdashi more than two centuries ago.
All the massacred Brahmins in Melkote belonged to what is popularly known as Mandyam Iyengars and they all belonged to a single gotra-Bharadwaja. All these Iyengars had settled down at Melkote and they had come down to the temple town from Tirupathi.
The Mandyam Iyengers were masters of Sanskrit. They spoke a distinct dialect of Tamil called Mandyam Tamil.
All the Mandyam Iyengars belonged to the Thenkalai sect of Iyengars. It was time of the last Anglo-Mysore war between Tipu on one hand and the British and Nizam of Hyderabad on the other hand.
Tipu has been seething with anger at what he considered humiliating and unfair terms of the treaty that brought an end to the third Anglo-Mysore war. He was particularly harsh on his detractors and critics.    
One day, Tipu received news that one of his Hindu or rather Brahmin ministers, Shamaiah Iyengar had allied himself with the Dowager Queen of the Wodeyars, Lakshmammani, and had joined hands with the British to oust him.
Unlike his father, Hyder Ali, who had respected the Mysore royal family, Tipu had shown scant regard and respect for them. He had a rather strained relationship with the Mysore royals.
Queen Lakshammanni, the Dowager Queen of Mysore, began trying to regain the throne when Hyder Ali usurped power. She started negotiating with the British in the 1760's with the help of Tirumala Row (It is Rao but the British used it as Row) and Narayana Row. She had assured the two brothers of the pradhanship of Mysore and one-tenth of the income of the state as their salary in perpetuity. When Hyder came to know of this agreement, he imprisoned all their relatives.
After Hyder’s death, the Queen intensified her efforts to place a Wodeyar back on the throne of Mysore. Though Tipu maintained a safe distance from the Wodeyars, he kept a wary eye on them.  
When news of the Dowager Queen interacting with the British with help from Shamaiah Iyengar reached Tipu, he decided to take revenge. The agreement signed between the British General Harris of Madras and Tirumaliyengar further infuriated Tipu. Tirumaliyengar was often referred to by the British as Tirumala Row. He was the Pradhan of Mysore.
Tipu ordered his troops to round up all Mandyam Iyengars of Melkote, many of whom were relatives and friends of Tirumaliyengar, and he massacred them in cold blood.
The slaughter was on the day when the Mandyam Iyengars were getting ready to celebrate Naraka Chaturdashi. The celebrations turned into mourning.
The slaughter literally led to the death of Melkote. All people abandoned the temple city and it soon turned into a ghost town. The 29 Kalyanis in Melkote went to dust, water shortage became endemic and the hills browned and of course Sanskrit lost a home.
To this day, the Mandyam Iyengars of  Melkote do not celebrate  Deepavali. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the despicable incident in any history book, but even now local folklore and a few accounts of the horrifying event still exist.
Recent research on the incident by Dr MA Jayashree and MA Narasimhan  have proved that the incident did take place and among those massacred were women. The research was presented at a seminar at Dhvanyaloka, Mysore.
Another lopsided fact of history is that the heroic role Queen  Lakshammanni in protecting her family and her relentless battle for the restoration of the throne during the period of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, is not adequately mentioned. The only acknowledged account is the three-volume History of Mysore by Hayavadana Rao.
The Queen managed to live up to the promise that she had made to her husband Immadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, that the Mysore throne would revert back to them and that their scion would ascend the throne. The Queen was helped in this endeavour by Tirumalaiyengar and Narayana Rao. These Pradhans were loyal to the Wodeyars and they played a vital role in protecting the royal family.
Unfortunately, the Queen and the Pradhans are a forgotten chapter of history. It is only during Deepavali that the sacrifice of the Pradhans come to light and that too only among the Mandyam Iyengars.


  1. Diwali is a new year for Hindus. I'd like to wish you a happy new year dude. BTW, did you check the collection of send diwali quotes posted here

    1. listen , Dude , you have no manners or respect for historical facts...appreciate a good piece of wtiting , if you are ,capable of it

  2. Excellent compilation of facts!

  3. Nice article. Hope we know our history better

  4. I was shocked to read this kind of a massacre. My belief was that Kerala was the only state that would not celebrate Diwali. I now find that a sect in Mysore does not celebrate Diwali. Heart-rending. I should thank you for making known to me our history in better terms.