• Monday, May 27, 2024


Fabled sword of 18th century Indian king Tipu Sultan, killed by British army in 1799, sold for £14m at London auction

ompetition among three bidders witnessed the price hitting £14,080,900 including buyer’s premiums, which set a new auction record for both an Indian and Islamic piece, reported The Times.

A homeless family rest in front of a wall mural of depicting Indian warrior king Tipu Sultan, who ruled the kingdom of Mysore, during a day-long state-imposed lockdown as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus, in Kolkata on September 11, 2020. (Photo by Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP) (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

He has always been a divisive figure in India’s history textbooks but Tipu Sultan’s sword has always been considered unequivocally as a spectacular piece of art. And now, the fabled weapon has fetched a record £14 million at an auction.

Tipu Sultan (1750-99), the king of Mysore (now Mysuru) who owned the bedchamber sword, was known as the “Tiger of Mysore” and was defeated by the British Army led by Major General David Baird from Edinburgh in the fourth Anglo-Mysore War which ended with the death of the Indian king in Srirangapatna (also Seringapatam) in the modern-day southern state of Karnataka on May 4, 1799.

The sword, which was found with Tipu in his private quarters after the battle ended and inscribed “the sword of the King”, was later presented by the army to Baird “as a token of their high esteem of his courage and conduct”, The Times reported, adding that the masterpiece was auctioned at Bonhams’s sale of Islamic and Indian Art in London at an estimated £1.5 to £2 million.

According to the report, competition among three bidders witnessed the price hitting £14,080,900 including buyer’s premiums, which set a new auction record for both an Indian and Islamic piece.

Nima Sagharchi, group head of Islamic and Indian art, told The Times, “The sword has an extraordinary history, an astonishing provenance and unrivalled craftsmanship.

“It was no surprise it was so hotly contested between two phone bidders and a bidder in the room. We are delighted with the result.”

Tipu, the son of Hyder Ali who was also the king of Mysore and had a number of clashes with the British, was the most tenacious enemy that the East India Company found in India. His pioneering work on military rockets and communication with French commander Napoleon Bonaparte were historically significant although both were eventually defeated by the British.

Tipu had once famously declared, “I would rather live one day as a tiger than a lifetime as a sheep”, and used objects of art and instruments of war with tiger stripes and the animal’s images.

He also had a sound-making mechanical toy named ‘Tipu’s Tiger’ that represented a tiger killing a near life-size European soldier.

When the British under Baird finally captured Tipu’s capital city, they were astonished to see the magnificence of the jewels and art objects the king had collected.

Baird, who was a son of a merchant family in Edinburg, had declared Tipu dead from a gunshot received in the head and three bayonet wounds. Of the many weapons that were removed from the slain king’s palace, few have such a close connection to him than the bedchamber sword.

In an account of Tipu Sultan’s palace soon after the siege, Scottish physician Francis Buchanan-Hamilton from Callander in Perthshire said how the king kept a sword near him while sleeping.

Bhuchanan-Hamilton said Tipu was constantly alert against attacks and slept on a hammock suspended from the ceiling of his closed bedchamber. He kept two pistols and a sword by his side during sleep.

According to experts, Tipu’s sword is “arguably the finest and most important of the weapons with a proven personal association with the ruler”, The Times report added.

Described as a sukhela, the blade was made by Mughal swordsmiths following the model of German blades that were introduced to India in the 16th century.

Oliver White, Bonhams head of Islamic and Indian art, told the news outlet before the sword’s sale: “This spectacular sword is the greatest of all the weapons linked to Tipu Sultan still in private hands.

“Its close personal association with the Sultan, its impeccable provenance traceable to the very day it was captured, and the outstanding craftsmanship that went into its manufacture make it unique and highly desirable.”

Bruno Vinciguerra, Bonhams CEO was quoted as saying by The Times, “This is one of the most astonishing objects Bonhams has had the privilege of bringing to auction. It is a stupendous price for a stupendous piece. I am so thrilled for our teams that worked so hard to deliver this result.”

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