The Tiger Throne of Mysore is a stunning architectural masterpiece commissioned by Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu (r: 1782-1799), the ruler of Mysore.
Tipu Sultan was the most powerful enemy of the British East India Company, and his love for art and architecture is well-known. Among his many works, the Tiger Throne stands out as one of his most distinguished creations.
In 1783-84, Tipu Sultan dispatched envoys to the Caliph in Rum, Constantinople, seeking letters patent that would grant him the title of Padshah, following the pattern of the Mughals. The embassy returned in 1787, 'having fully obtained the objects of their mission, with a sword and shield, ornamented with jewels, and friendly and congratulatory letters from the viziers of the foot of the Musalman Throne'
According to Kirmani's records, the Sultan, heeding the recommendations of the viziers of Rum, and consulting his loyal amirs, gathered the state's wealth and adopted the regal grandeur of a monarch. Subsequently, he ordered the formation of a magnificent golden throne, ornamented with precious jewels in the shape of a tiger, a figure that was highly favored by the Sultan.
In 1793, Kirmani made a note of this grand achievement, stating that the throne of the kingdom had been completed at a most fortunate time, just as the Sultan had desired.
Description of the Throne:
The throne of Tipu Sultan was a magnificent sight to behold, resembling a howdah set upon a tiger. Made entirely of wood, this masterpiece was estimated to be worth 60,000 pagodas. The throne was octagon-shaped and adorned with plates of the purest gold, embellished with tiger stripes and Arabic verses from the Koran. The roughly eight-foot by five-foot pavilion, rested upon the back of a standing royal tiger figure also covered with gold plating. The tiger's eyes and teeth were made of rock crystal, and its open mouth appeared as if it were roaring.
The octagonal pavilion was raised 1.2 meters (4 feet) from the ground on eight tiger-legged supports, surrounded by a railing with small jeweled tiger heads atop each support. Ascending to the throne was by small silver steps, secured with silver nails, on either side. According to a record, the entire height of the pavilion, including the canopy measures approximately eight to nine feet.
The throne was adorned with a stunning umbrella-like canopy, made from light-coloured wood and embellished with a delicate sheet of gold. The exquisite fringe of fine pearls, strung on threads of gold, added a touch of elegance to the already magnificent piece. The canopy was supported by a gilded iron pillar, standing at a height of seven feet. This pillar rose from the center of the back part, opposite the large tiger head.
A stunning Huma or Bird of Paradise made of gold, embellished with dazzling gems like emeralds, diamonds, and rubies was perched atop the canopy. Its beak was a large emerald, with a smaller one hanging from it, while bright carbuncles served as its eyes. Its breast was encrusted with diamonds, and its wings, spread out in a hovering position, were lined with diamonds as well. Its back was decorated with many large jewels arranged in a fanciful way, and the tail, similar to a peacock's, featured pearls and more precious stones.
Tipu had made a vow not to sit on it, until he had recovered the provinces that were ceded to the British by the treaty of Srirangapatna. "Among the captured property in our hands was the superb throne overlaid with sheets of pure gold, which the Sultan had yet never mounted; and which was now destined to seal the triumph of his hated adversaries", reported Major David Price, the Prize Agent.
This masterpiece was dismantled by the British followed by the fall of Srirangapatna. According to records, 'this superb throne was too cumbersome to transport without damage, and too valuable to sell as a whole, was broken up within the palace.'
The life-size golden tiger-head and paws that once adorned the base of the throne, along with the exquisite jeweled Huma bird, now rest in the grand halls of Windsor Castle.
Huma or the Bird of Paradise:
The Huma bird is considered a symbol of good fortune and happiness in Asia. The Marquess Wellesley, in his Memoirs and Correspondence, wrote an intriguing note about this bird, also known as the Indian Eagle, back in 1840.
The Bird of Prosperous Empire - The ancient Persians as well as the Romans, presaged by the flight of birds. Of these some were of good omen, while others foreboded evil. Among the former, the most auspicious was the Huma. It belonged to kings; and its appearance and flights, under various circumstances, were the augury for the settlement of the crown, or the affairs of royalty. It is a carnivorous bird and its high soaring habit is the origin of the belief that it never rests upon the ground.
Pictorial Representations of Tipu's Throne:
Front view of the Throne of the late Tippo Sultaun drawn from memory only by Captain Thomas Marriott, aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief of Madras
Front View of the Throne of the Late Tippoo Sultaun in the Laul Mahaul Palace of Seringapatan - Unknown artist after Thomas Marriott - Yale Center for British Art
Front view of the the late Tippoo Sultan in the Laul Mahal (Palace) of Seringapatam - G. kearsley Fleet-Street
Throne of the late Tipu Sultan - The history of Hyder Shah, alias Hyder Ali Khan Bahadur, and of his son, Tippoo Sultaun. By M.M.D.L.T, General in the Army of the Mogul Empire, Revised and Corrected by His Highness Prince Gholam Mohammed [Son of Tipu Sultan]
Tipu Sahib Sultan Enthroned by Anna Tonelli (1800) at Powis Castle and Garden, Powys, Wales
Anna Tonelli accompanied Lady Clive on her Indian journey from 1798 to 1801 as governess to her two daughters. By that time Tipu's throne had already been broken up. Anna Tonelli painted this using information provided by Tipu's Munshi (Treasurer) and from the sketch made by Capt. Marriot.
Five-clawed tiger foot from the Throne of Tipu Sultan - Gold sheet overlay is now missing
Major Price's Description of the Throne: The throne itself was a clumsy wooden platform, of 6 or 8 sides, entirely overlaid with gold, of the thickness, I should conceive, of a sheet of lead; sculptured all over with the tiger-streak device. It was to be supported on 4 tigers of wood, also covered with gold; and on an iron stay, curving over from the hinder part of the platform, was to be fixed, the Huma; also covered with gold, and set with jewels.
The History of the Reign of Tip Sultan, Being a Continuation of the Neshani Hyduri By Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani trans by William Miles
Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers
The Asiatic Annual Register Or a View of the History of Hindustan and of the Politics, Commerce and Literature of Asia - 1800
Images are from: Bonhams, Sotheby's, Windsor Castle & Powis Castle