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Tipu’s Tiger

Tipu's Tiger

Tipu’s Tiger

Tipu’s Tiger is an automaton created for Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India in 1793. The carved and painted wood represents a tiger savaging a near life-size Englishman.

The mechanism inside the man’s body makes one hand of the man move up and down while emitting the wailing sound of a dying man from his mouth.

Meanwhile, the tiger emits grunting sounds. The tiger also has a flap on the side that folds down to reveal the keyboard of a small pipe organ.

The operation of a crank handle powers several different mechanisms inside Tipu’s Tiger. A set of bellows expels air through a pipe inside the man’s throat, with its opening at his mouth.

A mechanical link causes the man’s left arm to rise and fall with a pitch that changes with the ‘wail pipe.’ Another mechanism inside the tiger’s head expels air through a single pipe with two tones. This produces a grunting sound, simulating the roar of the tiger.

Concealed behind a flap in the tiger’s body is the small ivory keyboard of a pipe organ, allowing tunes to be played.

Analysis of the materials and mechanisms indicate that the tiger was locally manufactured. The presence of French army engineers in Tipu’s court may have aided the automaton mechanisms.

Tipu’s emblem was the tiger, and the device was an expression of his enmity for the British of the East India Company.

After initially trying to ally with the British, they became his firm enemy, as they represented the most effective obstacle to his kingdom, and Tipu grew up with violently anti-British feelings.

Tipu Sultan used the tiger as his emblem, employing tiger motifs on his weapons, on the uniforms of his soldiers, and the decoration of his palaces.

Tipu's Tiger

The tiger formed part of various caricature images in Mysore showing British figures being attacked by tigers or elephants or being executed and humiliated in other ways.

Tipu’s throne rested upon a life-size wooden tiger, covered in gold. However, like other valuable treasures, it was broken up to fund the British army.

The tiger was discovered in his summer palace after the East India Company troops stormed Tipu’s capital in 1799. The tiger was sent to Britain and was exhibited at the offices of the East India Company in London,

Tipu’s Tiger was eventually transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1880, where it forms part of the “Imperial courts of South India Exhibits.”

Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan (1750 – 1799), also known as the Tiger of Mysore, was the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. He introduced many critical administrative innovations during his rule and established Mysore as a significant economic power.

He also pioneered and deployed rockets against the British forces during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. Tipu Sultan used his alliance with France in his struggle with the British.

Tipu won significant victories against the British and remained an implacable enemy of the British East India Company. He also sent emissaries to the Ottoman Empire, Afghanistan, and France, in an attempt to rally opposition to the British.

In the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, the British East India Company, together with their other Indian allies, defeated Tipu, and he was killed in 1799 while defending his fort of Seringapatam.

As the invading army stormed through the fort, Tipu and many of his soldiers, generals, and the citizens of the town were killed.

The troops then rampaged through the city, looting the palace and private houses, until Colonel Wellesley, who later became the Duke of Wellington, restored order.

The contents of the royal treasury were divided between the British army according to the practice of the period. 

In post-colonial India, he is applauded as a ruler who fought against British colonialism but criticized for his repression of Hindus and Christians.

Kingdom of Mysore

The Kingdom of Mysore was a realm in southern India, founded in 1399 in the vicinity of the modern city of Mysore. 

Mysore experienced sustained growth and technological innovation, at the height of its power in the latter half of the 18th century under the ruler Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan.

During this time, Mysore came into conflict with the Marathas, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Kingdom of Travancore and the British, which culminated in the four Anglo-Mysore Wars.

Following Tipu’s death in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore Wars war in 1799, large parts of his kingdom were annexed by the British.

The British diminished Mysore into a princely state until Indian independence in 1947 when Mysore acceded to the Union of India.

Between 1799 and 1947, Mysore emerged as one of the important centers of art and culture in India. The Mysore kings were significant patrons for rocket science, music, and art.

Tipu’s Tiger

  • Title:                  Tipu’s Tiger
  • Also:                  Tippu’s Tiger
  • Date:                 1793
  • Object:              Mechanical organ
  • Origin:               Mysore, India
  • Materials:          Painted wood with metal fixtures
  • Museum:           Victoria and Albert Museum

Tipu’s Tiger

Tipu’s Tiger

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“Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru


Photo Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum / CC BY-SA (

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