Ashamed it was not brought back, says family as Tipu’s ‘bedchamber sword’ is auctioned for £14 mn in London

Among Tipu Sultan's other possessions, the bedchamber sword was looted by the British troops after assassinating him on 4 May, 1799.

ByAjay Tomar

Published May 25, 2023 | 9:30 AMUpdated May 25, 2023 | 1:03 PM

Ashamed it was not brought back, says family as Tipu’s ‘bedchamber sword’ is auctioned for £14 mn in London

There were two bidders on the phone, while a third was physically present in the auction room where the “bedchamber sword” of Tipu Sultan was being auctioned.

After a keenly contested auction, the sword of the 18th-century Indian ruler was finally sold to a mystery buyer on Tuesday, 23 May for £14 million at the Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in London.

“It was one of his favourite swords… It was a weapon he used while fighting the British. It has a two-sided sharp blade that very few kings used back then. He used more than 14 swords, but this one was special to him and he used to keep it close even while sleeping,” Sahebzada Syed Mansoor, a seventh generation descendant of Tipu Sultan, told South First.

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New auction world record 

With a base price range of £1.5 million to £2 million, the auction of the “bedchamber sword” set a new record for an Indian and Islamic object when the hammer fell at £14 million ($17.4 million).

After the fall of his royal stronghold during the battle with the British at Seringapatam on 4 May, 1799, the bedchamber sword was found in Tipu Sultan’s private quarters.

Tipu Sultan's bedchamber sword.

Tipu Sultan’s bedchamber sword. (Bonhams)

Mansoor recollected that the sword was used by Tipu Sultan’s father and Sultan (king) of Mysore, Hyder Ali as well.

“When he took the oath as the Sultan of the kingdom, it was passed on to him as a ritual by a pundit (Hindu priest) and a maulvi,” Mansoor said.

After the battle, British General Lord Cornwallis ordered Tipu’s family to either surrender or remain prisoners. All the weapons, guns, animals and other possessions were looted by British soldiers.

The bedchamber sword was then presented as a trophy to Major General David Baird “as a token of their high esteem of his courage and conduct in the assault which he commanded and in which Tipu Sultan was slain”, reads an inscription on the sword’s steel blade.

The blade of the “bedchamber sword” is inscribed with the words “The Sword of the Ruler” while the hilt is calligraphed in Arabic. Mansoor quipped that Tipu used to be called Sher-e-Khuda (Tiger of God). He was also known as the Tiger of Mysore.

“It was awarded to him for his bravery as he also fought like a tiger against the British. Like the Prophet’s grandson Ali was known as Lion of God, he was known as the tiger. Nowadays people have distorted history by saying that something about killing Hindus is written on it. That is not true,” Mansoor asserted.

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No efforts to bring sword back

For Mansoor, the “bedchamber sword” and other swords of Tipu Sultan are a way for him to connect with his ancestors, and he is distressed that they are being auctioned.

Calligraphy in Arabic on the hilt of Tipu Sultan's bedchamber sword

Calligraphy in Arabic on the hilt of Tipu Sultan’s bedchamber sword. (Bonhams)

Many of Tipu’s swords, a ring, and a perfume box are reportedly kept in two museums of London — at the South Asia Gallery in the British Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

“People from across the world come to see those possessions for which they are charged. The British has been making money in the name of Tipu Sultan by displaying his weapons, galleries, auctions of swords, books, history and other means. All the money is going into the treasury of the British,” Mansoor said.

Mansoor said he was ashamed that the government never thought of bringing back the souvenirs of a freedom fighter like Tipu Sultan. “They could have been preserved it in an Indian museum; maybe at the Mysore museum or the Sheringpatna museum,” he added.

Other swords of Tipu Sultan in British museums

Other swords of Tipu Sultan in British museums. (Supplied)

Mansoor said that ahead of the auction of the “bedchamber sword”, the Union government or the Karnataka government could have approached their British counterparts.

“India would have got its heritage back if those Tipu’s possessions were returned. But no politicians, businessmen, historians, or any other person showed interest. The governments have failed,” he said.

Mansoor said: “The Indian government is collecting more than ₹200 crore in revenue from Tipu’s Summer Palace in Bangalore and his Palace-cum-Museum in Srirangapatna, much like the British.”

He takes pride in the fact that Tipu Sultan is mentioned in the same breath as Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose and others. “He also fought the same way for Indian independence. He was a pioneer of rocket artillery and cannons.”

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Bonhams hails ‘bedchamber sword’

Group Head of Islamic and Indian Art, Nima Sagharchi, views the “bedchamber sword” as an extraordinary artefact of history that has unrivalled craftsmanship.

“It was no surprise it was so hotly contested between two phone bidders and a bidder in the room. We are delighted with the result,” he said.

Tipu Sultan's bedchamber sword was sold for 14 million pounds

Tipu Sultan’s bedchamber sword was sold for 14 million pounds. (Bonhams)

Bonhams Head of Islamic and Indian Art and auctioneer Oliver White said the spectacular sword was the greatest of all the weapons linked to Tipu Sultan that is still in private hands.

“Its close personal association with the Sultan, its impeccable provenance traceable to the very day it was captured, and the outstanding craftsmanship that went into its manufacture make it unique and highly desirable,” he added.

For Bonham’s CEO, Bruno Vinciguerra, the “bedchamber sword” was among the most astonishing objects Bonhams has had the privilege of bringing to auction.

“It is a stupendous price for a stupendous piece. I am so thrilled for our teams that worked so hard to deliver this result,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bonhams did not reveal any details of the buyer of the “bedchamber sword”.

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