‘Tippoo’s Tiger’ is a life-size tiger of carved and painted wood, seen in the act of devouring a prostrate man in the costume of the 1790s. Concealed in the bodywork is a mechanical pipe-organ with several parts, all operated simultaneously by a crank-handle emerging from the tiger’s shoulder. Inside the tiger and the man are weighted bellows with pipes attached. Turning the handle pumps the bellows and controls the air-flow to simulate the growls of the tiger and cries of the victim.
Tipu (Tippoo Sahib to his European contemporaries) was Sultan of Mysore in South India from 1782-99. He was the implacable enemy of the East India Company, a commercial enterprise with its own armies and civil administration, which during the late 18th century was engaged in extending British dominion in India. Tigers and tiger symbols adorned most of his possessions, from his magnificent throne to the uniforms of his guards.His armoury included mortars shaped like sitting tigers, cannon with tiger muzzles, and hand weapons decorated with gold tiger heads, or inlaid in gold with tiger masks formed by an arrangement of Arabic letters meaning The Lion of God is the Conqueror.
The tiger is currently in the V & A in London, and if you don’t think it’s scary enough, listen to them play the organ inside it.