History’s rocket man Tipu Sultan gets his due


Tipu Sultan, the celebrated Tiger of Mysore, made critical innovations in the Mysorean rockets that his father Hyder Ali first used as weapons of war, and built a 6,000-strong artillery brigade in the 18th century, a technology later borrowed by the British when they went to war.

Over 200 years later, the Ministry of Defence has finally decided to give Tipu and Srirangapatna their due when it announced it would mark the Rocket Court, the laboratory where Tipu tested his mini-missiles at the birthplace of rocket technology.

Tiger of Mysore Tipu Sultan designed, manufactured and fired the world’s first war-use rocket in the late 1790s. After decades of neglect, the birthplace of rocket and missile technology – Rocket Court – in Srirangapatna, has got its due from the Union Defence Ministry.

The historic site where Tipu manufactured rockets will be preserved and converted into a Rocket Museum, thanks to the ongoing 39th Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) meet here, which credited the recent advancements in rocket science to Mysore rocketry under Tipu’s rule.

Dr. W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller (R&D), Life Sciences, Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), will visit the dilapidated Rocket Court in August and submit a detailed report to the Union government on conserving the site.

“The DRDO will take up the issue. It’s pathetic that the place which taught the world basics of modern rocket science is facing the threat of extinction,” he told Deccan Chronicle.

Former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, popularly known as ‘missile man’ for his exploits in missile technology, has written a separate chapter on rockets of Mysore in his book ‘Wings of Fire’, and describes how he saw the picture of the Mysore’s rocket war in NASA.

Today, the site is an eyesore surrounded by huts. The irony is that both the ASI and State Archaeology departments have disowned the property and blaming each other. A top official of the State Archeology department claimed that Rocket Court has to be protected by ASI. But ASI officials blamed the State Archeology for the ruin.

Historians say after the fall of Tipu in 1799, 600 launchers, 700 serviceable rockets and 9,000 empty rockets were found in the Rocket Court. Two of the specimens are still preserved in Royal Artillery Museum in London.

After studying the rocket technology adopted by Tipu, the Royal Woolwich Arsenal began a military rocket R&D programme in 1801 and developed Congreve rockets, which were used by the British during the Napoleonic Wars and their confrontation with the US during 1812-14. These descendants of Mysore rockets find mention in the Star Spangled Banner.

According to space scientist and former ISRO chairman Prof. U.R. Rao, the first iron-cased and metal-cylinder rocket artillery was developed by Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali, in the 1780s. Tipu successfully used these rockets against the larger forces of the British East India Company during the Anglo-Mysore Wars in 1792 and 1799.

During the Tipu Sultan Shaheed Memorial Lecture in Bengaluru on November 30, 1991, Dr. Kalam also credited Tipu Sultan with being the innovator of the world’s first war rocket and envisaged interest in knowing how Tipu developed advanced rockets 200 years ago.

In fact in 2006, when Dr. Kalam was the President, he had sent then DRDO chief controller Dr. Sivathanu Pillai, who is currently the CEO of Brahmos Aero Space, to Srirangapatna to study the legacy behind Tipu’s Rocket Court.

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