A day out with Tipu Sultan; Mentor, Motivator and Leader

The Sultan generally rose at break of day; a massage followed a spell of physical exercise where he would lift weights, then he washed himself, and read the Koran for an hour. An astrologer would be led into his presence who would advise him on what the stars foretold for the day. The name of his favorite astrologer has come down to us as Venkataiah.

He gave audience to his civil and military officers, who had pressing matters at hand. He afterwards spent about half an hour inspecting his ‘Jauharkhana’, which was the place where his treasure comprising mainly of gold and  jewels was kept. However, contemporary accounts also say he not only inspected jewellery, he also spent time inspecting the curiosities that would arrive at his palace from  all over, especially Europe, like pistols, watches, textiles and even play the man-Tiger organ kept in his ‘Rangmahal’ or house of music. The musical instrument was made in the form of  a Tiger pouncing upon a prostrate European soldier who wailed in agony as the organ was played.

On his return, breakfast was served in the presence of his Munshi (secretary) and his three youngest children. Lt. Col. Alexander Beatson who recounts Tipu’s daily routine says that the breakfast consisted chiefly of nuts, almonds, fruit, jelly and milk. What could the jelly be? Kheer, Payasam or probably Upma. Denys Forrest writes of Tipu gulping a spoonful of ‘sparrow brains’ every morning. The partridge is a delicasy in India but not the ubiquitous sparrow.

So, why was the Sultan being served a spoonful of sparrow brain every morning? The answer to this lies in a 15th C manuscript named ‘Ni’matnama’ or ‘Book of Delights’ composed for  Ghiyas al-Din Shah Khilji, Sultan of Malwa who ruled from 1469 – 1500, which included advise on all matters from hunting to applying attar on oneself. A curious instruction herein is to concoct a medieval Indian version of Viagra. Ghiyas swears by sparrow brains fried in milk and ghee (clarified butter) – eat this, he writes, and smear a mixture of balsam oil, cardamom, Tibetan musk and honey on your penis, and the combination will produce “strong lust…desire returns, joy is bestowed on the heart, there are erections and semen flows.” This manuscript passed on from the Malwa Sultanate to the Qutubshahis of the Deccan and as part of a bride’s dowry to Adil Shahi Bijapur. From Bijapur the manuscript was acquired by Tipu Sultan and came as part of his collection to the Library of the East India Company in Leadenhall Street, London between 1806 and 1808.

But on occasions of particular business, the children were not sent for while he was at breakfast but he would be accompanied by his principal advisors, notably Meer Sadiq, Purnaiya, ‘Benky’ Nawab, Gholam Ali and Habibullah whom he was in the habit of consulting. The conversation over breakfast was chiefly his past wars and exploits and his future projects, much like any of our todays ‘power breakfast’ meetings.During this time, he also dictated letters that he wished to be written.

After breakfast, he dressed himself in rich clothes, and proceeded to the durbar or assembly hall, where he despatched the ordinary affairs of the government. Upon other occasions his dress was ordinary and coarse. Beatson says that it was his custom to review, every morning, the new levies and recruits, and to inquire into their caste, country, and the extent of their religious knowledge.These examinations in his opinion often lasted for several hours. This account should however be taken with a pinch of salt because there is no way Tipu could interview every new recruit in his army, which numbered over 50,000 fighting regulars.

In the evening, when the Sultan was at liesure, he commonly went out on horseback to superintendent the discipline of his troops. And such was the discipline of his troops, that they could match the Europeans in military drill step for step. So impressive was the discipline of the Mysorean troopers that the Ottoman Emperor himself is said to have been present incognito when Tipu’s troops sent with his embassy there, drilled in Constantinople. Tipu generally stood upon the outwork, before the Bangalore, or eastern gate of the fort at Seringapatam and watched his troops manoeuvre. On other days he inspected the repairs of fortifications and buildings.

Returning to the palace, he received reports of the work done in the arsenals, his factories spread across India and abroad, etc., the news of the day and communication from his spies placed at courts all over India. At this time, he also delivered his orders, as well as his answers to petitions and letters from different provinces.

He generally passed the evening with his three eldest sons, one or two of his principal officers of each department of state, a Kazi (Muslim religious jurist) and his munshi Habibullah. All of them usually sat down to supper together. Habibullah recounted to Beatson that Tipu’s conversation was remarkably lively, entertaining and instructive. During this meal, he was fond of reciting passages from his most admired historians and poets, sometimes he amused himself with sarcasms on the infidels(he called all his enemies infidels, even the Nizam, whom he regarded as an apostate from Islam for siding with the British) and enemies of the Sarkar (he called his kingdom- Khodadad Sarkar-God given state).

Having dismissed his company which he always did immediately after his supper, he was accustomed to walk about by himself for exercise, and when tired to lie down on his couch, and read a book, either upon the subject of religion or history, until he fell asleep. He even kept a book recording the dreams he saw while he slept. These were his usual occupations, except on days of important business, or religious ceremonies.

Here in his activities over the day, we see a ruler who spent all his time working hard on affairs concerning the state. He would not be consoled with mere reports but would go out and inspect fortifications and factories. He would ‘audit and edit’. He motivated his men by being near them while they were at drill. Even at the dining table he would keep himself occupied with matters of business and involve his family and officials of state with him. He was thus  also indirectly grooming his successors, the young princes, in statecraft. He planned his time well doing several things at the same time, what we today call multitasking, like dictating letters while reviewing his subordinates. He loved to read and would also share what he had learnt with those around him.

Aren’t all these the qualities of a well organised mentor, motivator and leader? No wonder, Mysore was the most powerful and richest Indian state in the latter half of the 18th Century. Yatha Raja, Tatha Praja…As is the ruler, so will be the people!


A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultan, Alexander Beatson, 1800

History of Mysore, C. Hayavadana Rao

Scents & Sensuality, The Economist1843 – Dec/Jan 2017 ,William Dalrymple https://www.1843magazine.com/features/scents-and-sensuality

Nasir Shah’s Book of Delights: Asian and African studies Blog, Ursula Sims-Williams http://blogs.bl.uk/asian-and-african/2016/11/nasir-shahs-book-of-delights.html


About Olikara

An engineer, history buff, collector of South Indian antiques.
This entry was posted in Tipu Sultan & his times. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A day out with Tipu Sultan; Mentor, Motivator and Leader

  1. anish says:

    This is a wonderful post Olikara !

    Would you be kind enough to tell something abt yourself, and about the source from where you gather info?

  2. Shuaib says:

    All I can do is thank you, Nidhin George Olikara. I only discovered your site a few minutes ago, and I have been going through it and I think it is a Toshkhana of Knowledge. How well read you must be to know so much about an era which people have simply forgotten.

    • olikara says:

      Thanks for stopping by. Trust me, it’s the kind words of readers like you which keep me motivated. And yes, Tipu means so much to me that I cannot simply allow him to be forgotten.


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