Tracing the real face of Tipu Sultan – literally, not figuratively

The Premise

A friend posted a curious question on a Whatsapp group. Posting the following picture, he asked if this was true:

“Is this true?”

Here’s my attempt in trying to probe deeper to answer the question.

The Evidence

Preliminary search results for the pictures of Tipu would return the standard portraits everyone is used to seeing. But there are some webpages dedicated to the Tipu by his fans or the supporters of his ideology.

“Tipu Sultan – The tiger of Mysore and the first freedom fighter of India, also known as tippu, tippoo, tipoo, sultan” at is a website dedicated to the memory of Tipu. The homepage boldly claims that it is “Commemorating 200 years of Tipu Sultan” and welcomes netizens with “Welcome to the website of one of the most Brave & Noble King ever.”(sic) The picture gallery link hosts about 8 different portraits of Tipu:

The portraits of Tipu (1)

At the outset, counting clockwise from the left top, the second, third, fourth, and fifth pictures clearly have the same perspective of the subject (Tipu). Let us now probe deeper into the shown pictures. Also, excepting the first and the eighth, the other pictures provide little clue on the skintone of Tipu.

The first picture is a photograph of the “Full length portrait of Tipu Sahib” by Johan Zoffany, the German neoclassical painter, depicting Tipu as a young prince. Dated to 1780, this must have been a Zoffany’s portrait of Tipu (1750 – 1799) when Tipu was around 30 years old during one of several visits of Zoffany’s visits to India.

Painting depicting Tipu Sultan as young Prince (sic) (2)

The picture of the portrait provided above, definitely captured at very bad lighting conditions, shows Tipu in bad light, literally. He is seen as a darkly tanned noble.

Srirangapatna / Daria Daulat Bagh /Full length Portrait of Tipu Sahib/Oil painting
Full length Portrait of Tipu Sahib, later Tipu Sultan. 1780. Oil painting by John (sic) Zoffany (1733 – 1810). Tipu Sultan Museum. Copyright Otto Money/Photo by Benoy Behl courtesy of Archaeological Survey of India. (3)

But the original portrait sourced to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) clearly establishes Tipu’s skin tone being light brown and not white or dark brown. Also, viewers of Indian television from the 1990s would recognize the distinct similarity with the actor playing the role of Tipu Sultan in “The Sword of Tipu Sultan” (1990-1991)

DVD cover art of The Sword of Tipu Sultan (4)

The next portrait under consideration is a black and white sketch of Tipu.

A French artist’s version of Tipu Sultan (5)

Let us consider this portrait simply for the sake of realistic depiction. The original source of the portrait is not cited. But a systematic reverse image search revealed some details.

Stock image of Tipu (6)

The stock image of Tipu on gettyimages(TM): 1. Is reversed in direction and 2. Contains possibly the names of its artists. Godefroy delin.t and J. Pass sculpt are quite possibly the artists of the piece. (7)

As the year of the portrait seems untraceable at the moment, we can only guess that if the artists had ever seen Tipu in person or his other portraits in London, this version of Tipu could be considered to be from when he was in his thirties or forties. But with the somewhat Caucasian features and the shapeless mustache make even naïve viewers of art doubt the credibility of this depiction of Tipu. It is quite possible that this portrait may have also influenced the future depictions of Tipu.

“The Sons of Tipu Sultan Leaving their Father” by Henry Singleton (8)

Henry Singleton’s depiction of “The sons of Tipu Sultan leaving their Father” (9) shows Tipu sending two of his sons as hostages to Lord Cornwallis in 1793 after his failure in the Third Anglo-Mysore War. Tipu, here, is seen as a dark skinned lean somewhat-tall man. He doesn’t seem to have any fair skin-tone at the age of 43.

“The Last Effort and Fall of Tippoo Sultaun” by Henry Singleton c 1800. (10)

It is unclear if Singleton had actually visited India and witnessed Tipu in person. In his next portrait titled the “The Last Effort and Fall of Tippoo Sultaun” circa 1800, the central scene is the killing of Tipu by a White soldier of the Company. But Tipu has a slightly different skin tone and facial features.

Again, the portrayal of Tipu’s death by different artists in the years 1800, 1804, 1824, and 1843 as shown in website maintained on the servers of Columbia University (New York) (11) show different skin tones and facial features for Tipu.

Close to the 1790s, a few years prior to Tipu’s death, the very familiar portraits of Tipu emerge. Another webpage maintained on Columbia University’s server (12) show 4 of these.

Potraits of Tipu (12)

Clearly, excepting the first, all three other portraits depict Tipu as having a dark skin tone.

What about the Meme?!

Too many sidetracks later, let me first answer the question posed to me regarding the real picture of Tipu Sultan, (Sayyid walShareef Sultan Fateh Ali Sahab Tipu, the Tiger of Mysore, and the eldest son Sultan Hyder Ali!

A simple reverse image search on Tineye of the following picture returned several results.


Most of the results were linked to topics to Africa on Wikipedia. (13) Two results showed the following names of the jpg files – “TippuTipSlavetrader” and “tippu-tib-also-known-as-hamed-bin-mohammed-was-the-most-successful-picture-id524327796”. Another step into searching online revealed the fact that this is actually the picture of ‘Tippu Tip, or Tib (1832 – June 14, 1905), real name Hamad bin Muhammad bin Juma bin Rajab el Murjebi, … a Swahili-Zanzibari slave trader.’ (14)

This is Tippu Tip in his older days. Quite possibly, Tippu Tip must have been quite popular in his trade with his dashing looks of his younger days.

Tippu Tip (1880s to 1900?) (15)

Clearly, someone must have searched for a picture of young ‘Tippu’ and this misleading picture must have cropped up.


  1. Don’t believe every meme on the internet!
  2. Tipu Sultan was mostly tanned with a dark skin tone. He was from Tropical country afterall!
  3. Tipu of Hindustan has his own list of wrongdoings. But he never was a slave trader like Tippu of Africa!


  1. Picture Gallery. Tipu Sultan – The tiger of Mysore and the first freedom fighter of India, also known as tippu, tippoo, tipoo, sultan. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  2. Picture Gallery. Tipu Sultan – The tiger of Mysore and the first freedom fighter of India, also known as tippu, tippoo, tipoo, sultan. [Online]
  4. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  5. Picture Gallery. Tipu Sultan – The tiger of Mysore and the first freedom fighter of India, also known as tippu, tippoo, tipoo, sultan. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  6. Getty Images. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]×594.
  7. Artist: Godefroy. Grosvenor Prints. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  8. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  9. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  10. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  11. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  12. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]
  13. Tineye. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.](Tineye results are not stored beyond three days)
  14. Tippu Tip. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.](For image comparison of Tippu, please refer to related Media at Wikimedia Commons)
  15. [Online] [Cited: June 15, 2017.]