Did Maratha army really destroyed and looted Sringeri Math of Srirangapatnam in 1791

Posted on 2018-03-11 20:31:33 in Modern History of India


Many left leaning historians have written that the Marathas attacked the Sringeri temple which was later restored byTipu Sultan. Howeever according to eminent historian Dr Uday S Kulkarni , author of seminal books “Solstice at Panipat”, “Bakhar of Panipat” and “The Era of Bajirao”, The attack on Sringeri was a job of pindaris, and an altogether stray incident in the Maratha scheme of things. The Maratha State was deeply anguished at this act, took prompt measures to arrest and punish the culprits and also issued apologies.

About Anglo-Mysore Wars

The Anglo–Mysore Wars were a series of wars fought in over the last three decades of the 18th century between the Kingdom of Mysore on the one hand and British, Nizam of Hyderabad and Marathas on the other hand. There were four Anglo-Mysore wars : First Anglo-Mysore War (1767–69), The Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780–84),  Third Anglo-Mysore War (1790–92), The Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1799).

The attack of Sringeri Math of Srirangapatnam happened during 3rd Anglo-Mysore War (1790–92).

Reason of 3rd Anglo-Mysore war : The Britishers wished to end the influence of Mysore while Tipu wanted to buy Dutch forts of Kannaur and Icot in Kochin to defend Malabar. The king of Travancore who was ally of British bought these forts and angered Tipu. In April 1790, Tipu attacked Travancore. 

British Invasion of Mysore : After Tipu's attack of Travancore, British along with the Nizam of Hyderabad and Marathas attacked Tipu's Mysore. Lord Cornwallis reached Chennai to attack Mysore while the Marathas left Pune with an army under Hari pant Phadke, followed by another led by the Patwardhan brothers; Parshuram bhau and Raghunath rao ‘Dada’.

Brief on Maratha army :  Maratha army had also employed Pindaris. Pindaris were mainly Mughal soldiers captured during war. They came into existence during the 18th century when the Mughal Empire was breaking up. They were not paid and made a living out of loot collected. 

Attack on Sringeri Math : In 1791, when the three allies (British, Nizam of Hyderbad and Marathas) marched towards Srirangapatnam. Before the Maratha army crossed the river Tunga,  Pindaris had reached Shimogga. They went and looted the Swami’s math at Sringeri. They raided the temple and matha of the Sharada Peetham, killing and wounding many people, plundering the monastery of all its valuable possessions, and desecrating the temple by displacing the image of goddess Sharada.

Here are some of the letters to verify above claims.

Letter from Neelkanth Appa (father of Raghunath rao Dada) to Balasaheb at Miraj

lamaan and pindaris from Dadasaheb’s army went and looted lakhs worth from the Sringeri math, including an elephant. I have written to Dada to confiscate the goods’. This was followed by another letter in mid April; ‘the looters have been apprehended and a jambura and elephant belonging to the math taken over. The principal ten or twenty culprits were arrested. Just then Dadasaheb wrote that he will take action against them as they are his men. The men and the elephant were then sent to him’. On 14 May, Trimbak rao, Raghunath rao’s son, wrote to his uncle at Miraj, ‘Before the army crossed the river Tunga, lamaan and Pindaris had reached Shimogga. They went and looted the Swami’s math at Sringeri. The danda (staff) and kamandalu (vessel) of the swami was also taken. Nothing was left. Women were assaulted (and raped). Many women committed suicide. The Swami’s idol, linga etc was looted. The elephant stable was emptied and brought by the lamaanis. The Swami performed austerities and fasted for five days, giving up his life…

The last about the Swami giving up his life was not correct. The letter goes on to state, ‘When father learnt of this loot, he sent the cavalry to arrest the lamaan. The elephant was taken over. Remaining stolen items have not been found’.

A letter to Raghunath rao from his clerk

…lamaans and looters looted the Sringeri math; this news reached the court. All details must be sought. You wrote ‘the looters came from all four directions. You have taken action and others must similarly act against the culprits’. Nana has sent this reply, ‘The Swami’s math was looted and the Swami is therefore fasting. This does not auger well for the kingdom; the Swami’s displeasure is not good….. Taking stern action the Swami must be compensated and his pleasure solicited….

 In a letter of 24 April 1792 written on behalf of Lord Cornwallis

he paid no attention to from considerations of the irregular and depredatory system in which the Bayde Horse of Tippoo’s state and the pindary horse of the Mahratta armies were employed without any check or control, that from the nature of those horse the march of armies thro’ a country was always attended with circumstances of this description, that he was confident… that these matters will be considered as temporary inconveniences….

After the demolition of Sringeri math the then Shankaracharya petitioned Tipu Sultan for help. A bunch of about 30 letters written in Kannada language, which were exchanged between Tipu and the Shankaracharya were discovered in 1916 by the Director of Archaeology in Mysore. Tipu Sultan expressed his indignation and grief at the news of the raid:

"People who have sinned against such a holy place are sure to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds at no distant date in this Kali age in accordance with the verse: "Hasadbhih kriyate karma rudadbhir-anubhuyate" (People do [evil] deeds smilingly but suffer the consequences crying)."

He immediately ordered the Asaf of Bednur to supply the Shankaracharya with 200 rahatis (fanams) in cash and other gifts and articles. Tipu Sultan's interest in the Sringeri temple continued for many years.

Although the regular troops did not attack the math, the pindari who did not act with ‘any check or control’ did. The Maratha polity was anguished over the act and efforts were on to compensate and appease the Swami for nearly a year after. 

Conclusion : The Sringeri episode was neither a policy nor a battle plan for the Marathas. It was carried out by those predatory troops and lamaans (a caste dealing with grain) who do not take part in an actual battle.

Sources : Wikipedia What Exactly Happened At Sringeri Math In April 1791?



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