Tipu's Tiger

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A detail view.

Tipu's Tiger (a.k.a. Tippoo's Tiger) is an 18th century moving model, musical instrument and an art object. It was made for Tipu, the ruler of Mysore in India. It shows a tiger killing a European soldier. It is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.[1]

Description[change | change source]

It was made for Tipu Sultan of Mysore in about 1795. Tipu Sultan used the tiger as his emblem,[2] The tiger was a symbol of power but it was also a symbol of royalty in India. Tipu was quoted as saying he would rather live two days as a tiger than 100 years as a sheep.[3]

The turning of a handle powers mechanisms inside the model. Air is sent through a pipe that makes sound, like the cries of the victim. The pitch of the 'wail pipe' changes as the man's arm moves. Inside the tiger's head air is pushed through two pipes to make a tiger's roar. The ivory keyboard which operates an organ is hidden.

Tipu's Tiger in the V&A Museum, London with the keyboard visible.

The type of brass shows it was made in India, but it may have been made by one of the Frenchman in Tipu's court. Some historians to suggest there was French input into the mechanism of this automaton.[4][5]

The design is inspired by the death of Hugh Munro, son of General Sir Hector Munro, who had defeated Tipu in battle. Munro was killed by a tiger in 1792 on Saugor Island.< Tipu saw this as a sign because he was called the "Tiger".[6]

The model was obtained when the British captured Tipu's capital and killed him in 1799. Richard Wellesley wrote:

“In a room appropriated for musical instruments was found an article which merits particular notice, as another proof of the deep hate, and extreme loathing of Tippoo Saib towards the English. This piece of mechanism represents a royal Tyger in the act of devouring a prostrate European. There are some barrels in imitation of an Organ, within the body of the Tyger. The sounds produced by the Organ are intended to resemble the cries of a person in distress intermixed with the roar of a Tyger. The machinery is so contrived that while the Organ is playing, the hand of the European is often lifted up, to express his helpless and deplorable condition. The whole of this design was executed by Order of Tippoo Sultaun. It is imagined that this memorial of the arrogance and barbarous cruelty of Tippoo Sultan may be thought deserving of a place in the Tower of London.”

The East India Company decided not to give the Tiger to the Queen, but to keep it. It was displayed in the East India Company Museum in Leadenhall Street, London in 1808. The poet John Keats saw it there and included it in his satirical verse, “The Cap and Bells”. In the poem, a Soothsayer visits the court of the Emperor Elfinan. He hears a strange noise and thinks the Emperor is snoring.

Replied the page: “that little buzzing noise….
Comes from a play-thing of the Emperor’s choice,
From a Man-Tiger-Organ, prettiest of his toys''

Today[change | change source]

It is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Visitors can no longer operate the mechanism. A small model of this tiger is in Tipu Sultan's wooden palace in Bengaluru.[4]

References[change | change source]

  1. Tipu's Tiger. Victoria & Albert Museum, 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  2. Brittlebank, K. (1995). "Sakti and Barakat: The Power of Tipu's Tiger. An Examination of the Tiger Emblem of Tipu Sultan of Mysore". Modern Asian Studies 29 (2): 257–269.
  3. Lives of Indian Images p.149,Richard H. Davis, 1999, 350pp. Retrieved July 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Tipu Sultan's Fort and Palace
  5. Tippoo's Tiger by Mildred Archer, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1959
  6. Sound and Movement animation, Victoria & Albert Museum. Retrieved 16 July 2011.

Other websites[change | change source]

Further reading[change | change source]