Biography of Haider Ali (Hyder Ali)

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Biography of Haider Ali (Hyder Ali)


Haider Ali (also spelled Hyder Ali) was the de-facto ruler of Mysore Kingdom for the period between 1761 to 1782. He is remembered in history for bravely resisting the expansion of British Empire in India.


Udiyar, a Hindu dynasty, ruled Mysore since the fourteenth century. Mysore was a tributary state of the Mughals. The existing ruler of Mysore, King Chikka Krishnaraja Wadiyar II, was turned into a nominal ruler by his ministers Devaraj and Nanjaraj.

Devaraj was the Dalwai or the commander-in-chief of the state, and Nanjaraj was the Sarbadhikari or the minister of revenue and finance. These two brothers strengthened their control over the state between 1731 and 1734. The situation changed in 1746. As the aged Devaraj could no longer conduct the military campaigns of the state in remote areas, Nanjaraj took over the responsibility. During the latter’s absence, Devaraj temporarily took charge of the finance and revenue departments.

Haider Ali (Hyder Ali)

Haider Ali joined the army of Nanjaraj as a cavalier. As a warrior he proved his mettle in the 1750s against the Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao and the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Haider Ali supported the Nanjaraj’s campaign in Trichinopoly. The satisfied minister and commander appointed him the faujdar of Dindigul, and Haider also enriched himself by seeming a share of booty coming out of the plunder of Trichinopoly. Later, by taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the hostility between Devaraj and Nanjaraj during 1755-57, Haider enhanced his power and authority in the Dindigul region. In the fratricidal struggle, Nanjaraj won and Devaraj had to quit Mysore. Nanjaraj now became the unquestioned leader of Mysore.

Before Nanjaraj could consolidate his position, Mysore was attacked by the Marathas in 1757. Before submitting, Nanjaraj agreed to pay 32 lakh rupees, but at that moment he could clear only 6 lakhs rupees. He, however, agreed to surrender 15 taluks as a mortgage to the Marathas against the unpaid amount. At this stage, Haider Ali provoked Nanjaraj to remove the Marathas from the taluks of the Mysore state which made another Maratha aggression inevitable. The Mysore warlords refused to proceed to another war unless the dues of the army were cleared.

At this juncture Haider Ali came forward to clear the outstanding arrears and also took charge of reorganizing the army of the state. Instead of waging a fresh war with the Marathas, Haider Ali opened negotiations with them. The Marathas agreed to leave Mysore on securing 32 lakhs rupees. Half of the amount was immediately paid and Haider promised to clear the balance soon. As the Marthas vacated, Haider took control over those taluks.

His next object was to oust Nanjaraj from power. He secured the support of Khande Rao, the then Dewan of the state, and Nanjaraj’s loyal Portuguese military officer. Watching the drifting of the sources of power and unable to cope up with the situation, the disillusioned Nanjaraj quit his administrative and military responsibilities of the state. He was given a jagir and left Mysore for Kunur. More than half of the Mysore state came under the direct administrative control of Haider Ali. The status of the king of Mysore, however, did not change. He remained a nominal ruler with effective power passing from Nanjaraj to Haider Ali.

The career of Hyder Ali is encouraging. Immediately after Haider Ali became the ruler of Mysore, his associate Khande Rao entered into a clandestine dealing with the Marathas and hatched a conspiracy to oust him. On 12th August, 1760, a Maratha army attacked an unprepared Haider Ali, who fled from Seringapatam to Bangalore. His career would have ended there had not the Marathas stopped the war after receiving 51 lakh rupees from Haider.

In fact, a war was imminent between the Marathas and the Afghan chief Ahmed Shah Abdali, which forced the former to withdraw from the war proceedings in the south. This gave Haider a reprieve and he utilised the opportunity to strengthen his position. An afraid Khande Rao immediately joined hands with Nanjaraj, but Haider prevailed over them and seized Seringapatam. The king of Mysore surrendered unconditionally and Nanjaraj was banished to Kunur never to return and intervene in the internal affairs of Mysore. Khande Rao was imprisoned and died soon after. By sheer diplomatic skill and outstanding courage Haider was able to suppress his opponents and became the real ruler of Mysore. Chikka Krishnaraj, however, still remained the nominal king of Mysore.

Haider Ali also occupied Doddaballapur. The poligar of Chikkaballapur revolted against Haider. The revolt was suppressed and the poligar imprisoned in Bangalore. The poligar of Rai Durg acknowledged the supremacy of Haidar and was treated in a courteous manner. Haider then decided to annex Bednur, which was then ruled by a foster son of the late king. The widow of the late king was in charge of the state’s administration as the guardian of the minor king. Bednur was easily annexed and the minor king was imprisoned. Haider then conquered Sonda and the ruler fled away and found asylum under the Portuguese.

After the debacle at Panipath in 1761, the Maratha forces were being regrouped by Peshwa Madhav Rao. Mysore faced fresh threats. More than once between 1762 and 1771 the Marathas defeated Haider. Fate was, however, with Haider when Madhav Rao died at the age of 28 in November 1772 and threw the Maratha state in confusion. Haider seized this opportunity and soon brought the lost territories under his control. His kingdom was extended up to the river Tungabhadra and soon beyond that to the river Krishna.

Mysore emerged as one of the most powerful regional states by the second half of the eighteenth century owing to the diplomatic skill and military acumen of Haider Ali. Not only he extended the kingdom of Mysore but also provided the state an efficient administration. He strove hard to protect the integrity and sovereignty of Mysore at a time when the English East India Company was planning aggression against the Indian states. By 1765, the French were defeated, the English had possessed the Dewani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and Awadh and Hyderabad had accepted English supremacy. Haider could prevent the English annexation of Mysore. English generals had praised Haider’s military genius.

It was after the death of Hyder Ali in December 1782 and during the reign of his son Tipu Sultan that Mysore ultimately surrendered to the English Company.

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