In India, 1,000 Tipu Sultan-era ancient rockets to be showcased in museum

Aftab Husain Kola

Published: Updated:

More than 1,000 unused rockets of India’s freedom fighter Tipu Sultan’s era found toward the end of July this year, will now be showcased at a newly created rocket gallery at the museum at Shivappa Nayaka Palace in Shivamogga city in the state of Karnataka.

The gallery, named as Bidanur Rocket Gallery after the famous Bidanur Fort at Nagar in Hosanagar taluk of Shivamogga district, will open to receive visitors in October.

Visitors will be able to feast on the rockets used by Tipu Sultan, the illustrious son of Karnataka, who was known as “Tiger of Mysore” for his daring acts against the British who ruled India then.

Bidanur served as an important administrative centre of Mysore State (renamed as Karnataka) and Tipu Sultan had even established a mint and an armory here.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, R. Shejeshwara, Assistant Director of the Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage, said that the findings were discovered during a field excavation at a farmer’s well in Nagara village in Hosnagar Taluk, Shivamogga district, conducted by Department of Archeology, Museums and Heritage.

He said, “the shape of a cylinder and having a fuse at one end reveal that these rockets were used during the eighteenth century AD during Tipu’s time. Each unused rocket is of 7 to 10 inches in length and 1 to 3 meter in diameter and are rusted because of continuous exposure to soil moisture”.

Shejeshwara further said that like the earlier rockets found in 2002, those recovered recently also are iron-cased with black powder, a mixture of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate filled inside. The 15-member crew of archaeologists, excavators and laborers took three days to unearth the armory and the ammunition.

Shejeshwara said that after the fourth Anglo-Mysore War, it is likely that Tipu’s army, stationed in Nagara, could have dumped the rockets in the well to prevent them from getting into the hands of the East India Company.

The media spotlight on the recent findings speaks volumes about how this powerful 18th century ruler of Mysore is remembered. Mysore under Tipu stood as a bulwark against the British.

Tipu conceptualized, designed and manufactured cylindrical iron tubes that ensured for great compression of the filled gunpowder and consequently, greater range (nearly 2 km). The brave freedom fighter then fastened them to swords or bamboo poles to provide stability, that would, in turn, lead to better accuracy.

Fitted with sharpnels that traveled a considerable distance, these air-borne weapons would target the enemy with edges of the sharpnels facing them.

These were the first iron-cased rockets used in the military thus paving the way for rockets use around the world.

The first rocket, which was fired by Tipu Sultan in 1792 against the British forces, is displayed at the British Museum. Though the British lost the war, they have exhibited the rocket.

After being the victims of these innovative locally-crafted rockets, the British eventually adopted the technology. Tipu Sultan wrote a military manual called Fathul Mujahideen in which he explains that 200 rocket men were assigned to each Mysorean cushoon (brigade).

Little wonder then the credit for developing the first-ever iron-clad rockets goes to Tipu Sultan and they were successfully deployed for military use.

In the Battle of Pollilur (the Second Anglo-Mysore War in 1780), Tipu’s rockets set afire the East India Company’s ammunition dumps. It was the British Army’s one of the worst ever defeats in India.

It may be recalled that a set of 24 rare and rediscovered preparatory paintings depicting the Battle of Pollilur was sold to a bidder for £769,250 at the Sotheby’s biannual Arts of the Islamic World Sale in 2010. The Britishers described these rockets filled with gunpowder on swords as “flying plagues”.

Tipu took advantage of them and established four taramandalpets (star-cluster bazaars, a name that refers to the pattern of mid-air explosions of these rockets that then pounded shrapnel on the enemy) at Srirangapatna, Bidanur, Chitradurga, and Bangalore to conduct research on Mysore rocket technology.

The armory in Kalasipalyam in Bangalore was among the four that were constructed by Tipu Sultan to store ammunition. The 18th century armory that housed the famed rockets of Tipu Sultan is hardly known.

After the death of Tipu in 1799, the British Army discovered as many as 600 launchers, 700 serviceable rockets and 9,000 empty rockets at Tipu’s fort.

One of the major beneficiary was the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich in the UK. The powerful ruler was killed in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799 after a slew of victories in battle against the British.