Commentary

The Battle of Pollilur painting obeys the dramatic unities of time, place and action: the entrance of Haidar Ali and Tipu onto the battlefield, the explosion of the ammunition cart, perceived by Mons Lally through his telescope and the unfortunate situation of Colonel Baillie and the British in the ensuing massacre are shown simultaneously.

Tipu and Haidar Ali’s army supported by the French mercenaries dominate the battle scene with attacks from both left and right sides. The significant Indian cavalry can be seen building up tempo in the middle of the painting.

Hemmed in between the cavalry assaults is the British infantry square. The soldiers are depicted in neatly arranged rows, facing both ways, armed with flintlocks fitted with bayonets.

In the centre of the Square, seated in a palanquin, is the isolated figure of Colonel Baillie who led this brave resistance, repulsing a total of 13 cavalry attacks before surrendering. His portrayal here for propagandist reasons makes him look cowardly. Near Baillie are the two figures of Captain Baird and Lieutenant Colonel Fletcher on horseback.

A key piece of evidence in this pictorial narrative is the loose gunpowder which exploded, probably because of fire from the French cannons, causing the British to run out of ammunition and rely on grape and their bayonets.

On the left of the painting are the figures of Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, at the time Tipu Sahib, who are shown riding on their elephants , each holding a flower in the Mughal stylistic convention denoting nobility. Haidar Ali [above] sits in a large howdah in the form of a pavilion. Tipu [below] is sheltered by a parasol raised over his head. They are separated by some vertical distance from each other, possibly mirroring their different trajectories to reach Pollilur.

The rulers are accompanied by the usual pageant of musicians including drummers on elephants closing the rear as well as Mysore generals such as Sayyid Gaffur and the minister Mir Sadik who was later accused of being a traitor.

The foot soldiers wear turbans, short jackets tucked under a belt and white breeches and carry a tall spear as well as a small sword. The horsemen are in different coloured tunics over white breeches and are shown holding either swords, lances or bows and arrows. The swords are known as Adya Katti, of variable proportions, often fitted onto Persian pommels and are common in South Indian Armies.

In spite of their generic facial characteristics of prominent eyes and black, curly moustaches, the artist has endeavoured to create a sense of individuality in the vast majority of soldiers.

In the far right corner you can see the distinctive figure of the French General, Mons Lally, in a plumed hat, whose unrealistic telescope is matched by the depiction of the cannon that the French artillery men under his command are firing at the British Square. The French are identifiable from their moustaches while the English have mutton chop whiskers.