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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Semiotic analysis of Girish Karnad’s “The Dreams of Tipu Sultan”

By Yashaswini Gowda

Semiotics is often employed in the analysis of texts (although it is far more than just a mode of textual analysis). Here it should perhaps be noted that a 'text' can exist in any medium and may be verbal, non-verbal, or both, despite the logocentric bias of this distinction. The term text usually refers to a message which has been recorded in some way (e.g. writing, audio- and video-recording) so that it is physically independent of its sender or receiver. A text is an assemblage of signs (such as words, images, sounds and/or gestures) constructed (and interpreted) with reference to the conventions associated with a genre and in a particular medium of communication.


Intertextuality refers to far more than the 'influences' of writers on each other. For structuralists, language has powers which not only exceed individual control but also determine subjectivity. Structuralists sought to counter what they saw as a deep-rooted bias in literary and aesthetic thought which emphasized the uniqueness of both texts and authors (Sturrock 1986, 87).

The story follows the last days as well as the historic moments in the life of the Ruler of Mysore Tipu Sultan through the eyes of an Indian court historian, Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani and a British Oriental scholar, Colin Mackenzie.

The play is a take on the historical account about Tipu Sultan who fought against the British domination of India. The play is based on the following event in Indian history about the ruler Tipu Sultan and his enemity towards the British.

Historical Account:-

The English fought four Anglo-Mysore wars against Tipu Sultan to defeat him and gain control over the Mysore kingdom as Tipu did not agree to cede with the British demands like the Nizams and Marathas.

The British started their operations against Srirangapatna started early in 1792 A.D. The English army marched against the fort and arrived in the sight of the fortress on the l6th Feb. 1792 A.D. On the same night, the operations started and the English pushed Tipu's force to the fort and captured the island except the fort. Helplessly Tipu proposed the peace treaty and accepted the terms dictated by Lord Cornwallis. They signed the treaty on 23rd Feb. 1792 A.D. As per the treaty, Tipu agreed to surrender half of his territory to the English and pay three crores thirty lakhs of rupees as war indemnity to the English.

Since he could not pay war indemnity in full, he accepted to send his second and third sons namely Abdul Khaliq and Maiz-Uddin aged 10 and 8 respectively as hostages till he would pay the war indemnity. He paid the balance amount after two years and received his sons in 1794 A.D. at Devanahalli.

The efforts towards building allies:-

After the Third Mysore war, Tipu Sultan sent envoys to Persia, France and Afghanistan to seek help from them in fighting against the English. He contacted Napoleon Bonaparte also. Though he accepted to help Tipu against the English because of his failure against the English, he could not keep his word. He planned a holy war against the English along with Afghanistan. This failed because of the timely action of Wellesley.

Considering these strategies of Tipu Sultan, Wellesley wrote a letter to Tipu Sultan on 8th of Nov. 1798 A.D. complaining that Tipu was working against the treaty of Srirangapatna. And he suggested resolving the problems through discussion. Wellesley's suggestions were ignored by Tipu. And so the English declared a war against Tipu Sultan.

On 4th May, 1799 A.D. Srirangapatna was seized by the English after killing Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Mysore War.

Girish Karnad uses this historical account in his play “Dreams of Tipu Sultan” with the incorporation of the dream allegory to portray the downfall of Tipu Sultan and leaves the interpretations to the readers and audience.

Analysis of the dreams in the play:-

A dream vision is a literary genre, literary device or literary convention in which the narrator falls asleep and dreams. In the dream there is usually a guide, who imparts knowledge (often about religion or love) that the dreamer could not have learned otherwise. After waking, the narrator usually resolves to share this knowledge with other people.

The dream-vision convention was widely used in European literature from Latin times until the fifteenth century. If the dream vision includes a guide that is a speaking inanimate object, then it employs the trope of prosopopoeia.

Dream allegory –it is an allegorical tale presented in the narrative framework of a dream.

There are several components to each dream category:

1. Dreams from the physical body

  • Food
  • Health
  • Psychological

2. Dreams from the spiritual realm

  • Precognitive and future
  • New information or knowledge
  • The visit of a deceased or spirit.

Freud describes dreams in his work Interpretation of Dreams ,thus:

“The idea that the dream concerns itself chiefly with the future, whose form it surmises in advance- a relic of the prophetic significance with which dreams were once invested- now becomes the motive for translating into the future the meaning of the dream which has been found by means of symbolic interpretation.”

If one's first thoughts on this subject were consulted, several possible solutions might suggest themselves: for example, that during sleep one is incapable of finding an adequate expression for one's dream-thoughts. The analysis of certain dreams, however, compels us to offer another explanation.

Meanings of Dreams through their Symbols:-

The subconscious mind is a most remarkable mechanism when it comes to creating dreams. Most people find their dreams an unintelligible mix of hidden meanings of dreams and secret symbols because that is the intention on the subconscious mind. It wants no interference from the dreamer's input or meddling with any of its actions.

Girish Karnad in his play “The Dreams of Tipu Sultan” uses the concept of dreams to indicate the downfall of Tipu Sultan through his dreams. The dreams of Tipu can be interpreted as symbols or an indication which focuses on his downfall in the future and the Marathas as ‘women in a men’s garb’ i.e., as those who cannot save themselves from the clutches of the British.


Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics for Beginners, Web. 28 Aug. 2009.


Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics for Beginners, D.I.Y. Semiotic Analysis: Advice to My Own Students. Web. 28 Aug. 2009.


Freud, Sigmund. The interpretation of dreams.Web.28 Aug.2009.



alma wad said...

I find it very important to understand our dreams .I love dream interpretation

Nisha said...

Hi can u plzz gv me some details in the course on semiotics i would like to join mail me details at