Was Purnaiya the Brahman, a Traitor?

Many 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 Sultan, surrendered to the British at the suggestion of Purnaiya, '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 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 also 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," notes 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 willingly surrendered to General Harris, the Commander-in-chief of the army that 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 (Richard Marquess Wellesley, also known as Lord Wellesley), may provide evidence of Purnaiya's innocence. Here are a few excerpts from General Harris' letter:

"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.

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 proposed that Fateh Hyder should lead the new government in Mysore and pay tribute to the English as agreed upon. British troops would be stationed in strategic forts to ensure the country's security.

Purnaiya declared that under this arrangement, he would take on the responsibility of settling the country immediately, as the Diwan in charge of revenue administration. He warned that any alternative plan would lead to lawlessness and chaos among the troops, which could only be controlled through force. However, under this plan, the troops would remain disciplined, with the hope of future employment. Purnaiya also emphasized the importance of treating Tipu Sultan's family with respect and establishing English power through a moderate arrangement that would reflect well on the nation.

General Harris insisted that Fateh Hyder should immediately come to Srirangapatna. He asked Purnaiya to propose temporary solutions for the remaining Sultan's army and to restore order in the country. Purnaiya expressed concerns about the difficulty of the task without a guarantee that his proposed plan would be implemented. He also informed General Harris that Mir Qamaruddin's group had joined forces 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 explained that the Muslim influence was deeply ingrained in every aspect of the state, making it challenging to replace it with a Hindu Prince.

"On 12 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.

Colonel Arthur Wellesley shared his thoughts on the situation in a letter dated May 23, 1799, addressed to his brother Lord Mornington. In the letter, Colonel Wellesley mentioned that the people close to General Harris were considering the idea of returning a portion of the country to one of Tipu's sons. The plan would involve keeping garrisons in the forts and strongholds or receiving an annual tribute from the son. This proposal comes from Purnaiya, who clearly has personal interests in the future management of the country's revenues. While Colonel Wellesley do not agree with Purnaiya's claim that the country cannot be settled without restoring part of it to Tipu's son, he believes that it can be settled under any arrangement deemed appropriate by Lord Mornington.

Here are some excerpts from a letter written by Arthur Wellesley to his younger brother, Henry Wellesley, on May 30, 1799:

"When communicating any information to the camp regarding your planned arrangements, it is necessary to caution them against disclosing anything to Purnaiya until all preparations are in place. 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 also result in intrigue and plotting. Furthermore, it is likely that some, if not all, of the princes will try to flee. Until now, the princes have been allowed to move freely and do as they please. Suddenly restricting their movements could raise suspicions about our intentions, potentially causing unrest among the Musalmans.

Therefore, it is crucial to first inform the Sultan's family about the proposed changes for the country and their future. Once they are made aware of their fate, they should be placed under reasonable restraint until they are relocated away from Srirangapatna."

Ultimately, Lord Wellesley selected 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 entrusted with the crucial position of Diwan of the Wodeyar Prince. In short, Purnaiya benefited from Tipu's death.

Kate Brittlebank highlights that Wellesley was initially hesitant to appoint Purnaiya as regent. The Mysore Gazetteer further explains that Purnaiya was eventually chosen as Diwan due to his extensive knowledge of the country's finances and resources, over Tirumala Rao, who was the agent of Maharani Lakshmi Ammani.

Josyer points out that while Purnaiya's faithfulness and talents are worthy of commendation, his decision to support the restoration of Tipu's son to the throne instead of the heir of the Wodeyars reflects poorly on his character. Despite the lack of conflict of loyalty following the deaths of his patrons Hyder and Tipu, Purnaiya, as a Hindu statesman, should have recognized the rightful claim of the Hindu Dynasty. His failure to do so may be attributed to his non-Mysorean background and self-interest in maintaining power by preventing the restoration of the Maharaja. This decision has tarnished an otherwise admirable reputation.

Death of Purnaiya:

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

Rao Saheb Arni, a relative of Rajeev Purnaiya, a direct descendant of Purnaiya, firmly believes that Purnaiya was not a traitor. Arni argues that Purnaiya's support for Tipu's eldest son, Fateh Hyder, as the next ruler of Mysore proves his loyalty. However, the English preferred 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