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Worlds First Robot: “Tippoo’s Tiger” Tipu Sultan and the Roaring Mechanical Tiger

Throughout history, the wealthiest people of bygone centuries sought unique avenues for entertainment. Tipu Sultan, the egocentric ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in 18th-century India, was no exception. Devoid of car companies or space programs, his insatiable desire for spectacle led him to commission a roaring mechanical tiger, a creation that continues to captivate audiences even today.

The Tiger of Mysore

Tipu Sultan, often hailed as the Tiger of Mysore, ruled with an unwavering sense of pride and adopted the tiger as the symbol of his reign. To the common folk, the tiger became synonymous with his persona, a testament to his formidable rule and untamed spirit.

Tipu Sultan', about 1790-1800. Museum no. IS.266-1952. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Tipu Sultan’, about 1790-1800. Museum no. IS.266-1952. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Roar of the tiger

Legend has it that the mechanical tiger, crafted by French engineers, embodied the ferocity of its real-life counterpart. With a thunderous roar, it lunged towards its prey, an illusionary European man in a near life-size representation. The tale, perhaps embellished for dramatic effect, speaks of Tipu Sultan’s prowess as he brandished his dagger, striking the tiger’s heart with lethal precision, thus earning him the moniker “The Tiger of Mysore.”

A Marvel of Engineering

Encased in a carved and painted wooden casing, the mechanical tiger houses intricate mechanisms that bring the scene to life. When activated, the automaton astounds onlookers as the man’s hand moves, emitting haunting wails from his mouth, and the tiger unleashes grunting sounds. Furthermore, a hidden surprise awaits—a flap on the side of the tiger unfolds to reveal a small pipe organ’s keyboard with 18 notes, a testament to the ingenuity of the era.

A Glimpse into the past

Worlds First Robot: Tipu Sultan and the Roaring Mechanical Tiger

While our modern sensibilities may deem Tipu’s Tiger as lacking in spectacle, we must consider its historical significance. In an age devoid of advanced technologies, this marvel would have been nothing short of extraordinary. It represented cutting-edge innovation, a precursor to the world we now inhabit. Thus, we ought to appreciate the evolutionary strides this mechanical wonder embodies.

Encounter with fate

Legend also weaves a tale of Tipu Sultan’s encounter with a real tiger in the forest, a tale worthy of an epic backstory. As the fates conspired, his gun failed him, and his dagger slipped from his grasp. In a moment of reckoning, the majestic beast lunged at him, poised to strike. Fearlessly reaching out, his royal fingertips brushed against the silver handle of the blade. Locking eyes with the ferocious feline, he embraced his final breath with unwavering resolve.

Conclusion

Tipu Sultan’s roaring mechanical tiger stands as a testament to both his audacious spirit and the artistry of the era. Though it may be viewed as a mere curiosity in our modern age, it serves as a reminder of the inventive minds that pushed the boundaries of technology centuries ago. Visit the Victoria and Albert Museum to witness this extraordinary creation firsthand and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of history it represents.

V&A Museum

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