Was Purnaiya the Brahman, a Traitor?

Numerous historical accounts attribute the downfall of Tipu Sultan, the most formidable adversary the British ever faced in India, to the treachery of some of his key advisors. Among these traitors were Mir Sadiq, who served as the Prime Minister, Syed Sahib and Qamaruddin, two prominent military commanders, Mir Nadim, the commandant of the Srirangapatna fort, and Mir Miran Purnaiya.

According to Kirmani, Fateh Hyder, the eldest son of Tipu, surrendered himself to the British 'at the suggestion of Purnaiya, the Brahmin (who in promoting the ruin and destruction of the Khudadad state had employed his utmost endeavours) and the advice also of other traitors of the Sultan's court'.


Purnaiya (1732-1812), a distinguished Madhva Brahman who was fluent in Kannada, Marathi, and Persian, was the Finance Minister of Tipu Sultan. He held the second-highest position in the government, just below the Prime Minister, Mir Sadiq.

Purnaiya held the same position under Hyder Ali, Tipu's father. It was Purnaiya's clever plan to keep the news of Hyder Ali's death from the army until Tipu's arrival.

In the opinion of Mohibbul Hasan, the author of 'History of Tipu Sultan', Purnaiya, Mir Sadiq and Badr-ul Zaman Khan remained loyal to the Sultan until the peace treaty of Srirangapatna in 1792. However, after that, they were allegedly bribed by the British and turned against the Sultan.

On the other hand, G. R. Josyer, the author of 'History of Mysore and the Yadava Dynasty', speaks highly of Purnaiya's faithfulness:

"During the campaign of Lord Cornwallis in the Third Mysore war, the British army made a night attack on the island of Srirangapatna. Purnaiya had been wounded by a musket ball, but managed, without the notice of the English troops, to take back from the north bank of the river a number of camels laden with coins meant for the pay of the troops. With the first alarm the bags of coins were ordered to be loaded, and Purnaiya with the camels crossed over into the island without losing a single rupee!", says Josyer.

"According to the reports of the Company's secret agents in Mysore, in 1797, the correspondence of Mir Sadiq, Purnaiya, Qamaruddin and that of some other officers with the British, the Nizam and the Marathas was intercepted. The Brahmans involved in the plot were executed, while Mir Sadiq and Purnaiya were imprisoned. However, they were eventually released and reinstated in their posts after retracting their actions and pledging loyalty to the Sultan. During the fourth Anglo-Mysore war, Tipu left Purnaiya and Syed Sahib to prevent Harris's advance, but, as they had entered into an understanding with the British, they remained inactive and allowed the enemy to march without any hindrance", records Hasan.

Purnaiya submitted himself to General Harris [Commander-in-chief of the army which stormed Srirangapatna] shortly after the fall of Srirangapatna. A letter penned by General Harris on May 13, 1799, addressed to the Governor General Lord Mornington (also known as Lord Wellesley), could potentially exonerate Purnaiya. This letter is a crucial piece of evidence that may prove Purnaiya's innocence.

Below are some excerpts from the above-mentioned letter of General Harris:

"This morning Purnaiya, who has so long been at the head of the principal departments of the Mysore government, and enjoyed the confidence of the late Sultan, paid me a visit, having arrived last night from the army, which remained under his command.....After the customary ceremonies of an Eastern visit, Purnaiya stated, in reply to my questions concerning Fateh Hyder, and the reason of his absence, that prudence required the presence of a person of rank with the troops; but the Prince was ready to attend my summons."

Purnaiya recommended that Fateh Hyder assume the role of head of the government of Mysore. As part of this arrangement, it was suggested that the English receive a tribute amount that both parties could agree upon. Furthermore, British troops would be stationed in strategically selected forts to ensure the safety and security of the country.

Purnaiya declared that under this arrangement, he would take on the responsibility of settling the country immediately. He expected as Diwan, to be entrusted with the administration of the revenues under the new government. If any other plan were implemented, the troops would turn into a lawless banditry, causing chaos and destruction throughout the country. The only way to control them would be through the use of force. However, under this plan, the troops would remain calm and composed, with the hope of future employment in the service. The family of Tipu Sultan would be preserved in a respectable rank, and the power of the English established by an arrangement, the moderation of which, would do honour to the national character.

I insisted that Fateh Hyder should immediately repair to Srirangapatna; and waving the consideration of permanent settlement, requested him to suggest measures for the temporary arrangements of the remains of the Sultan's army, and the re-establishment of order in the country. This, he said, was difficult, unless a prospect of the adoption of such a plan, as he had suggested was held out...Mir Qamaruddin's party, he informed me, had joined that now with Fateh Hyder.

During the discussion, the idea of reinstating the ancient Hindu government of Mysore was suggested, but Purnaiya tactfully avoided delving into it. He stated that Mohammedan interest is so intimately blended with every department of the state in this country, that no plan by which it is set aside in favour of a Hindu Prince, could produce the very desirable effect of restoring tranquility, and reconciling the troops, and most powerful class of the inhabitants to the change of government.

"On 12th May, Purnaiya paid a visit to General Harris.....He urged the propriety and dignity of making a liberal provision for the sons of Tipu Sultan; one of whom, he trusted, would be placed on the throne; we at the same time keeping a body of troops in the country. Under such an arrangement, he said he might be employed but under any other, he hoped to be allowed to go to Rameswaram. Purnaiya appears to deserve the character he bears for shrewdness and ability", confirms Major Allan.

Here's Colonel Arthur Wellesley's comments on the same, in a letter written on 23rd May, 1799 to Lord Mornington, his elder brother:

"I think that the persons about the General are now leaning towards the idea of restoring a portion of the country to one of Tipu's sons. The plan would involve keeping garrisons in the forts and strongholds or collecting an annual tribute from the son. This proposal comes from Purnaiya, who has a vested interest in the future management of the country's revenues. While I do not agree with Purnaiya's assertion that the country cannot be settled without restoring part of it to Tipu's son, I am certain that it can be settled under any arrangement that you think proper, it is not quite clear that the most politic and most proper measure, and certainly the most generous one, would not be to place one of them in the government of part of it. This is a question of policy, which however has no relation whatever with the settlement of this country, and one upon which you might decide with as much propriety in Calcutta as you could in Srirangapatna".

Following are some excepts from Arthur Wellesley's letter to Henry Wellesley, his younger brother, written on 30th May, 1799:

"If you write anything to camp respecting your proposed arrangements, it will be necessary to caution them particularly to say nothing upon the subject to Purnaiya until the whole is ready for execution. This is because if one black man hears of your plan, it will spread like wildfire and become public knowledge. This will not only cause panic among the Musalmans, but it will also lead to intrigue and plotting. Furthermore, it is likely that some, if not all, of the Princes will attempt to escape. Until now, the Princes have been allowed to move freely and do as they please. If they are suddenly put under restraint, it will arouse suspicion among the Musalmans and have a negative impact. Therefore, the first step should be to inform the Sultan's family of the proposed changes and their future fate. Once they are aware of their fate, they should be kept under reasonable restraint until they are relocated away from Srirangapatna".

In the end, Lord Wellesley, choose the five-year old Hindu prince Krishnaraja Wodeyar, over Fateh Hyder, and appointed Purnaiya as his regent.

Richard Colley Wellesley, Marquess Wellesley, by Charles Turner, after Sir Thomas Lawrence - National Portrait Gallery

According to Hasan, if Purnaiya had truly been a faithful servant of Tipu, he would not have been appointed as the Diwan of the Wodeyar Prince, which was the most crucial position in the State. In short, Purnaiya benefited from Tipu's death. Kate Brittlebank notes that Wellesley, on the other hand, was not immediately enthusiastic about appointing Purnaiya as regent. The Mysore Gazetteer adds that 'It was resolved upon to appoint Purnaiya, to the post of Diwan in view of the knowledge he possessed of the finance and resources of the country, in preference to Tirumala Rao, the agent of Maharani Lakshmi Ammani'.

Josyer observes: Following Tipu's downfall, Purnaiya controversially advocated for the reinstatement of Tipu's son to the throne, over the rightful heir of the Hindu royal family. This decision tarnished Purnaiya's reputation. Following the passing of Purnaiya's patrons, Hyder and Tipu, there was no conflict of loyalty. As a Hindu statesman, he should have easily recognised the claim of the Hindu Dynasty which had never been dethroned or destroyed. That he did not do so should only be explained by the fact of his not being a Mysorean, and the motive of self-interest. He feared that his own power would be jeopardized if the Maharaja were to be reinstated. This decision has cast a shadow on his otherwise admirable reputation.

Death of Purnaiya:

Diwan Purnaiya passed away at Srirangapatna in March 27, 1812.

Also Read: 'We are history’s wronged children'

Rao Saheb Arni, a relative of Rajeev Purnaiya, a direct descendant of Purnaiya, firmly believes that Purnaiya was not a traitor. Arni argues that if Purnaiya had been a traitor, he would not have supported Tipu's eldest son, Fateh Hyder, as the next ruler of Mysore. However, the English had a different preference, favoring a member of the Wodeyar clan as the next ruler. In fact, Tipu had entrusted his son to Purnaiya's care long before the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War began.


The despatches, minutes, and correspondence, of the Marquess Wellesley, K. G., during his administration in India. Ed. by Mr. Montgomery Martin.

Supplementary Despatches and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur, Duke of Wellington, K. G