It has been known that Hyder Ali’s father, Fateh Muhammad, was in the employ of Dargah Quli Khan, the Mughal ‘faujdar’ (commandant) of Sira (in Tumkur district, Karnataka), in the early years of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah’s reign (1719-48). Hyder Ali lost his father in 1728, when he was still a child. Although Hyder Ali was illiterate yet he knew to speak many languages and had a remarkable memory. The kingdom of Mysore during this time, technically, belonged to the large ‘sarkar’ of Sira (also called Karnatak-i Bijapuri). The Mysore ruler Chikka Deva Wodeyar (1704) had rendered allegiance to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1659-1707) when Mughal armies overran southern India. Part of what happened as Hyder Ali’s career developed can, perhaps, be explained by this subordination of Mysore to Mughal authority.
Hyder Ali’s recruitment to the military ranks of the Mysore state stemmed from its rulers’ general desire to obtain recruits from the Mughal military classes, especially those connected with cavalry. Hyder Ali, though borrowed some techniques from the Mughals, brought some reformations in his administrative sects. As early as 1755-56 he is said to have obtained the services of Frenchmen to organize his artillery, arsenal and workshop. The military basis for Hyder Ali’s rapid ascent hereafter was based not only on his personal diplomatic skills, but mainly on the armed power he acquired. This lay in a brilliant combination of the mobile cavalry organized on the Mughal pattern with his increasingly disciplined musket-using infantry. Hyder Ali’s regime represented a combination of the existing institutions of the Mysore raj with an influx of Mughal elements. The latter were invoked to increase the state’s share in agrar¬ian revenue and to centralize the administration. Before his time, the local hereditary potentates, like ‘deshmukhs’ and ‘palegars’ (‘palaiyak-karars’), and subordinate holders (‘goudas’, ‘patels’, etc.) held varied rights, and the state’s share in the produce taken in revenue was accor¬dingly much narrowed. Hyder Ali took the standard Mughal view that the local potentates were ‘zamindars’ and as such their entitlements were not revered. He aimed to dispense with their intermediation and imposed the land tax directly on the peasants, realizing it through salaried officers. In this system, tax was directly assessed on peasants.
The fiscal resources so heavily augmented needed to be centralized. Hyder Ali did not entirely forego the Mughal insti¬tution of jagir, the temporary or transferable assignment of tax collec¬tion in a territory in lieu of obligation to maintain a certain number of troops.
By directly collecting revenue in the larger part of his dominions, Hyder Ali was thus enabled to concentrate resources on improving and enlarging his army. Hyder Ali tried to introduce as much modernization as he could in his army, while retaining and developing inherited Indian elements in other spheres of administration. However, this effort was carried out within a political and ideological framework which was still set by the institutions of the local raj and Mughal fiscal and administrative methods.
The British could not extend their power to Mysore as Hyder Ali stood strong against them. In 1766, Hyder Ali invaded some small kingdoms on the Malabar Coast. The English wanted to curb his military activities. They supported the Maratha kings of Maharashtra and the Nizam of Hyderabad against Hyder Ali. But everything went in vain, as Hyder Ali smartly won over the Marathas to his side. Later, the Nizam too began to support Hyder Ali.
The First Mysore War was fought between 1767 and 1769 between Hyder Ali and the English. Initially, the English appeared to be victorious in the war. But the Mysore army reached the outskirts of Madras and threatened the British. The British were now so frightened that they agreed to conclude a treaty with Hyder Ali. This treaty was called Treaty of Madras signed in 1769. As per the treaty, both sides agreed to return the prisoners and the territories captured during the war. Both sides also agreed to help each other in case any other kingdom attacked either of them.
When the Marathas attacked Hyder Ali in 1771, the English did not help him. Hence, he began to dislike the English. The English also captured the French port of Mane on the western coast of India. The kingdom of Mysore was using the port of Mahe. Moreover, Hyder Ali was a friend of the French. Hence, when the English refused to vacate Mahe, Hyder Ali declared war on them in 1780. Historians call this war the Second Mysore War. During the initial stages of the war, Hyder Ali was victorious, but in July 1781, the British army under Eyre Coote defeated him at Porto Novo (Parangipettai). After Hyder Ali’s death on 7th December 1782, his son Tipu Sultan continued the war. Hyder was buried at Srirangapatnam near Mysore.
In the short term, though, the success was considerable. The first war against the English, 1767-1769, ended when Hyder Ali ‘appeared under the walls of Madras and dictated a treaty’. The next war (1780-1784), emerging out of a grand anti-English alliance of Mysore, the Marathas, the Nizam and the French, was in progress when Hyder Ali died (7 December 1782). But although Mysore was soon alone in the fight, this war too, like the first, ended in March 1784 with a mutual restitution of conquests by the two antagonists.
Hyder Ali was an able administrator and practiced religious tolerance as well. Inspite of being a devout Muslim, he minted coins featuring Hindu deities such as Lord Shiva, Parvati and Lord Vishnu. His administrative and military policies were formulated keeping in mind both the interests of the kingdom and the subjects. Hence besides being militarily adept Hyder Ali was admired by his followers as well.
The death of Nawab Hyder Ali Khan was an important event in the history of South India. Nearly all contemporary authorities agree that it occurred on 7 December 1782, at Narsingh Rayanapet, near Chittoor. There is, however, some confusion regarding this date as the news of the Nawab’s death was kept secret for military reasons. It was a great opportunity for the British to strike the Mysorean army at a time when its leader was dead and his successor was far away. General Stuart, who alone was in a position to take such a step, was reluctant to believe the news received by him two days after Hyder Ali’s death.
Throughout 1782 Hyder Ali was in indifferent health. He had for a long time been suffering from a cancer in his back. It was Purnaiya who suggested that the news of Hyder Ali’s death should be kept secret till Tipu’s arrival. Kishen Rao, the other minister, agreed, and therefore soon after Hyder Ali’s death the body was embalmed and was secretly sent to Kolar among chests carrying valuable things. Meanwhile courtiers were sent to Tipu asking him to return immediately.
In the political field, the passing away of Hyder Ali was a very important event for India. He was looked upon as a bulwark of strength against the British. Indian princes of that time, though notoriously devoid of patriotism, could count upon him as a sure ally whenever they could combine to form an alliance against the British. In fact such an alliance was being canvassed at the courts of the Peshwa and the Nizam just before Hyder Ali’s death. Nana had not yet signed the Treaty of Salbai and delayed it after he had received intelligence of the death of Hyder Ali.
Relying completely on his own strength, Hyder Ali rose to power in the kingdom of Mysore.