The Marathas Part 18 The March to Destruction: 50 Years of Chaos Section III Dealing with Tipu: Turmoil and Wars

Canberra, 5 July 2022

[Note: The narrative in this chapter only deals with Tipu’s interaction with the Maratha Empire and to some extent with the repercussions of some of his actions elsewhere on the Maratha polity. A detailed analysis of the father-son team of Haidar Ali–Tipu on their takeover of the Kingdom of Mysore and their activities that finally led to the Anglo-Mysore Wars and the obliteration of Tipu’s kingdom will be provided in the next volume in this series of books.]

Haidar Ali died on 7th December 1782, before the Treaty of Salbai was formally exchanged and accepted. His son and successor, Tipu, inherited only some of Haidar Ali’s talents but all of his savage qualities in greater measure than possessed by his father. Tipu’s first act as the new ruler was to try and nullify the Treaty of Salbai, which bound the Marathas to make Haidar Ali return captured territories to the English and the Nawab of Arcot. Tipu laid siege to Mangalore, which was ably defended by the English commander Campbell from 20th May 1783 to 30th January 1784, who then agreed to have the garrison relocated to Tellichery, culminating in the Treaty of Mangalore. Through this treaty, signed on 11th March 1784, Tipu now assuming the title of Sultan, made the English in Madras restore to him all the conquests that had been made earlier. The Maratha leadership was not happy with this deal between the English and Tipu.

For the Marathas, another reason to be antagonistic to Tipu, and which would subsequently lead to war, came up at the same time. The Marathas had earlier handed over territories between the Rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra to Haidar Ali with the proviso that the Maratha chiefs who held fiefdoms in the region would be permitted to continue their control over their territories and was only required to pay the same tribute as they had paid before to the Peshwa, but now to Haidar. Among these chiefs who had submitted nominally to Haidar Ali was a Chitpavan Brahmin called Bhave, who was the Desai of Nargund and allied by marriage to some nobles in Pune. Tipu was a religious fanatic and wanted to dispossess Bhave of his holdings—he raised the tribute to be levied beyond the capacity of the Desai of Nargund to pay. Bhave appealed for help to Nana Phadnavis, who in turn sent a reasonable request to Tipu to adhere to the agreement that had been made with his father and to rescind the arbitrary increase in tribute.

Tipu, inherently arrogant and lacking in moderation, sent a discourteous reply and in March 1785 despatched an army to capture Nargund. Nana Phadnavis immediately sent a relief force, which was intercepted by the Mysore army that had lifted the siege of Nargund to give battle to the Marathas. The ensuing battle was indecisive but on 5th May 1785 the Mysore forces captured Ramdurg, which was a fort critical to holding Nargund. Seeing the deteriorating situation, Tukoji Holkar was despatched with reinforcements to assist Nargund. Tipu, rather than give battle to a superior force resorted to artifice, expressing his desire and ‘anxiety’ to obtain peace. He promised to revert to the arrangements that had been in place during Haidar Ali’s time. Nana Phadnavis was fooled for the first time by obtuse diplomatic manoeuvrings and accepted Tipu’s peace overture for an added promise of two years’ tribute.

As soon as the retreating Maratha army crossed the River Krishna to the north, Tipu reneged on his promises and renewed his threat to Nargund. Bhave resisted the might of the Mysore army as much as he could but finally capitulated with Tipu providing a personal guarantee for the safety of the Desai and his family. As soon as Bhave surrendered with his family, Tipu reneged on this promise as well. He captured the entire family, took one of Bhave’s daughters into his harem and imprisoned the rest of the family at the fort at Kabaldurg, where they all perished. He acted in a similar fashion with the royal family of Kittur, a small town and principality 26 miles south-east of Belgaum.

Tipu then defaulted on his promise to pay tribute to the Peshwa and started a concerted drive to forcibly convert the local Hindu population resident between the two rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra to Islam. He circumcised large numbers of Hindus and reliable reports indicate that more than 2000 Hindus committed suicide to avoid the forced conversions. Nana Phadnavis was offended by these activities, especially since the Maratha polity had never discriminated on the basis of religion. At the same time, he was also aware of the excellent discipline and fighting spirit of Tipu’s large army, often officered by French mercenaries. Therefore, he sought an alliance with the English and the Nizam. Although the English refused the overture, the Nizam formed an alliance with the Marathas to contain Tipu.


In April 1786, the Maratha Confederate army, now reinforced with the armies of Scindia and Holkar, converged on Badami, which was captured on 20th May. Tipu meanwhile laid siege to the fort at Adoni but the garrison was relieved by Maratha reinforcements and evacuated. In retaliation, Tipu razed the fort to the ground. Hari Phadke, in command of the Peshwa’s forces, captured Gajendragad in Dharwar and then took Bahadur Benda. Tipu was an immensely talented general and initiated countermeasures. He crossed the River Tungabhadra and threatened the Maratha lines of communications. Hari Phadke was forced to retreat, and Tipu retook Bahadur Benda. At the same time, the Maratha forces were afflicted with cholera and were also running out of supplies.

In a strange move, Tipu offered peace terms in April 1787. The reason for this about-face although he was on the offensive and held the advantage has been debated. It could be that Tipu was also facing a supply chain breakdown and did not want to be militarily stretched in one campaign while other fronts were likely to open. The peace terms were rather magnanimous—he agreed to cede Badami. Kittur and Nargund, the initial catalyst for the conflict. He restored Adoni to the Nizam and paid the Peshwa 30 lakh rupees, while promising 15 more. On hindsight, an analysis of Tipu’s subsequent behaviour indicates that the real reason for offering cessation of hostilities in very favourable terms for the Marathas while he had the advantage can be pinned on his visceral hatred and fear of the English. No doubt he disliked the Marathas intensely and considered them his natural rivals, but he did not fear them as such, and he discounted the Nizam as of little consequence. However, Tipu intuitively knew that the English were different and that they were an existential threat to his fledgling kingdom. Even as he was consolidating his hold over Mysore he had been engaged in diplomatic schemes to undermine the English and bring about their downfall.

Tipu’s Diplomatic Initiatives

In 1784, he had tricked the rather indecisive Madras government into accepting the Treaty of Mangalore. However, he was astute enough to realise that it was only a short-term reprieve from English actions against him. In 1785, he sent an embassy to Constantinople, attempting to woe the Sultan of Turkey into joining him and the French against the English. The Sultan, who had not even heard of a kingdom called Mysore, dismissed the embassy rather curtly. They returned as an aggrieved body.

Tipu was, however, not discouraged. He sent another embassy to the Versailles court of Louis XVI, who was beset with his own troubles at that time. King Louis gave a few banquets in honour of the embassy and made some vague but gracious promises of assistance. The Mysore envoys, dazzled by the outward splendour of Versailles returned and reported that troops and supplies would be forthcoming from France—a false assumption that Tipu believed wholeheartedly, because it was what he wanted to hear. He began to scout for a suitable coastal region for the French forces to land. This was the beginning of a series of misfortunes that afflicted Tipu and finally brought him down.

Travancore Repulses Tipu

Tipu identified the extreme south-western tip of the sub-continent as the ideal place to land the French forces. Unfortunately, the territories that he coveted belonged to the Raja of Travancore who was under the protection of the Madras government through a treaty of mutual friendship and assistance. Tipu devised a plan to subdue Travancore by militarily overrunning the country, while cajoling the Madras government—who he knew from previous experience to be timid and indecisive—into submission. He did not cater either for a spirited defence that would be put up by the Travancore forces or for the reaction of the Governor–General in Calcutta.

On 28th December 1789, Tipu launched an invasion of Travancore with 14,000 troops. Travancore had a defensive line of fortifications running 30 miles across the border, which had been built as a barrier against the Zamorin of Malabar. However, Tipu at his arrogant best, was confident of overrunning the entire kingdom of Travancore before the English could intervene in any meaningful manner. Contrary to these calculations, at their fortifications extending eastwards from the island of Vipeen, the Travancore forces repulsed the Mysore army, inflicting heavy losses on them—2000 Mysore soldiers died in the encounter. In Calcutta, the Governor–General declared this unprovoked attack on one of his allies as an act of war. The English prepared to retaliate.

Nana Phadnavis renewed his proposal of an alliance with the English, to create a defensive and offensive alliance against Tipu, while also undertaking to bring the Nizam as a partner into the alliance. The agreement was signed by the three parties on 1st June 1790. Meanwhile, Tipu smarting under the defeat by Travancore forces renewed his assault on the kingdom, bringing in siege guns to batter the fortifications. The artillery batteries were erected in March 1790 and in the continuing assault on Travancore defensive lines, he breeched their fortifications. The Mysore forces poured through the breeches and carried fire and sword through northern Travancore, till they were halted at Alwaye. The Mysore advance was skilfully checked by the Diwan Kesava Pillai and the King’s Bodyguards. Then the monsoon rains broke over Travancore with greater severity than normal.

[The atrocities that the Mysore, mainly Muslim, army inflicted on the Travancore population in the areas that were overrun is not being covered in this analysis, since it does not have a direct connection or significance to the narrative of Maratha history. Tipu’s invasion of Travancore and his religiously bigoted behaviour will be covered in the next volume in this series. It is necessary to recount the atrocities that were committed in order to put them in perspective to ensure that many fallacies that have been carefully cultivated within the narrative of Indian history over a period of years, regarding Tipu’s role as a ‘nationalist’, can be dispelled. Historical facts do not support the claim to his having been a ‘nationalist’ fighting for the freedom of ‘India’—this concept is a figment of the fertile imagination of biased analysts and historians who have attempted to make Tipu a national hero. He clearly was not a hero of any type, but a pure and simple tyrant of the worst kind. Tipu was always a religious fanatic and bigot, solely interested in increasing his personal power and status, mainly at the cost of non-Muslim (kafir) kingdoms.]

Tipu had hoped to overrun Travancore before the onset of the monsoon rains, a calculation that went badly off schedule. He also knew that a combined English–Maratha army was assembling to the north of Mysore and therefore started a withdrawal towards his capital. The retreat from north Travancore in the thick of the monsoon rains was unruly and the Mysore forces suffered heavy punishment from the guerrilla activities of the versatile Travancore army.

Maratha Offensive

In creating an alliance with the English, Nana Phadnavis’s primary aim was to recapture former Maratha possessions between the Rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra that had been ceded to Haidar Ali earlier. The first aim was to capture Dharwar, a prominent town in the region. On 11th August 1790, a Maratha army under the command of Parashrambhau Patwardhan crossed the River Krishna to be joined by the English forces of two battalions of native infantry and a company of European artillery. When all elements of the joint force were assembled, the army numbered 20,000 of which almost half was cavalry.

On 18th September Patwardhan reached Dharwar. The fort was strongly defended by a garrison of 10,000 troops and had two concentric moats encircling it. It was also defended by a minor fort, Peta, that provided additional defence like a detached outpost. A lengthy siege began. On 30th October, Captain Little commanding the artillery company, stormed the smaller fort at Peta, which was almost immediately retaken by the Mysore garrison. On 15th December the Maratha forces captured and held Peta while making inroads into the main fort. Even so, the Dharwar garrison held out till 4th April 1791 before finally capitulating. The brave and resourceful commander of the fort, Badar-ul-Zaman was permitted to march out with full military honours but was later arrested and made a prisoner for breach of the terms of surrender.

After the fall of Dharwar fort, the Maratha army overran the entire province and on 22nd April 1791, crossed River Tungabhadra into Mysore territory. On 1st January, another 30,000-strong Maratha army had marched out of Pune under Hari Ballal Phadke, taken the fort of Sira and entered Tipu’s territory from the south-west, while the army under Patwardhan was invading from the south-east. The two prongs of the Maratha invasion came together on 24th May 1791 and the combined army marched to Mailghat.

English Offensive–In Brief

[Note: The Anglo – Mysore wars will be covered in detail in the next volume in this series. This narrative is focused on the impact they had on Maratha politics.]

By this time the English were heavily engaged with Tipu. In December 1790, General Meadows had captured Coimbatore. However, Tipu exercising superior military acumen had managed to hold him in abeyance, stopping any further advance. At the same time, the English under Colonel Hartley and General Abercromby had cleared Tipu’s forces under Hussein Ali from the entire Malabar coast. In January 1791, Lord Cornwallis, the new Governor–General, had relieved General Meadows of his command and taken over the English army personally. He captured Kolar and Hoskot and then advanced towards Bangalore.

Bangalore was originally a mud fortress built by Kempe Gauda and later expanded on the orders of Haidar Ali and rebuilt in stone. Although the garrison resisted fiercely, Bangalore fell to Cornwallis on the night of 20th March 1791. He then marched to Seringapatam, Tipu’s capital. Thereafter, misfortune attended Cornwallis’ every move. Lack of fodder killed off a large number of his gun-hauling bullocks and successful interdiction of his lines of communication by Mysore irregular cavalry started to create scarcity of provisions for the English army. Cornwallis decided to lift the siege of Seringapatam and to retreat to Bangalore. As the retreat started on 26th May 1791, the monsoon rains broke. The retreating English forces were continually harassed by Mysore light cavalry and the local population of the region they were passing through, till they finally made contact and joined with the large Maratha forces at Mailghat. The effectiveness of Tipu’s interdiction of communications was such that Cornwallis was unaware of the presence of the Maratha army in such close proximity to him. The English army was actually saved in the nick of time from suffering further casualties by the Maratha army, although they had lost their siege train and artillery guns and ammunition at the start of the retreat itself.

Combined Offensive

After the English rested and recouped for ten days, the two armies moved out in their separate directions. The Marathas initially failed to capture Chitaldurg and Madgiri, but in December overran Simoga. The English joined with the Nizam who was in the process of besieging Garramkonda and captured the towns between this fort and Bangalore. In early February 1792, the three armies converged and concentrated in front of Seringapatam. On 6th February, the outer defences of the capital were breached, and the combined armies prepared to bombard the town. To avoid the destruction that would follow a concerted bombardment, Tipu made overtures to arrive at a negotiated settlement.

Immediately, conflicts of interest within the three parties in the alliance emerged and came to the fore. Such a situation is inevitable within hastily put together alliances when they believe that success is within reach. The English wanted to destroy Tipu’s power fully since he had become a menace to their Madras government. Nana Phadnavis also wanted to reduce Tipu’s power and to cut him down to size. However, he wanted to maintain Tipu at Seringapatam with minimal capabilities as a counter-balance to the Nizam and further English adventurism. Hari Phadke wanted to end the war and complete the negotiations before Madhav Rao Scindia arrived on the scene with his army to join the Confederate forces. Scindia, an old and wily warrior, invariably confused the negotiating process by introducing his personal interests into the proceedings, thereby creating opportunities for the adversary to drive a wedge in the unity of the alliance.

Cornwallis finally agreed to Tipu’s terms for peace—Tipu ceded half his territories; agreed to pay an indemnity of three crores and 30,000 rupees; and to release all prisoners. The ceded territories included Coorg. The alliance divided the spoils—the Marathas took possession of the western towns, Bellari south of the River Tungabhadra and the provinces between the two rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra; the Nizam was granted Gooty and Kadappa as well as some minor towns towards the east of the region between the rivers; and the English took charge of Coorg, Malabar, Dindigul and the north-east of Salem province. By March 1792, the ‘victorious’ allied armies struck camp and departed their separate ways. Hari Ballal Phadke and his army reached Pune to congratulatory celebrations on 25th May 1792.  


© [Sanu Kainikara] [2022]
All Rights Reserved
No part of this website/Blog or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. You may quote extracts from the website or forward the link to the website with attribution to For any other mode of sharing, please contact the author @ (


About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: