Among the many innovations, some brilliant and some quirky, of Tipu Sultan was the creation of a new army batallion called the Zumrah Gumrah batallion. In the Tarikh e Tipu Sultan, Mir Husssain Kirmani writes that the Sultan selected ten thousand men from the soldiers in his army.
Shaikhs and Syeds, inhabitants of Seringapatam, Kilar, Devanahalli, Suba Sira, great Balapur and Tanjore were enrolled and Tipu called them his ‘Zumrai Khas’. The name of their batallion was derived from the Farsi couplet – ‘dur Zumrai Ma Ghumm Nubashud’, that is, ‘in our company sorrow shall find no entrance’. Zumrai in Farsi means Company or Unit and Khas means personal. So, this unit was his personal bodyguard. And what is very interesting here is that each consonant sound of the ‘Ghumm Nubashud’ was said to point to some racial element of the batallion. The letter ghayn (G) being the symbol of men of foreign nations(probably the French), mim(M) to denote mughals and marathas, nun (N) for Navayats (Muslims from the Konkan coast), be (B) for Brahmin, alif (A) for Afghan, shin(Sh) for Shia muslim and dal (D) for the Mehdivis in the army.
The Mehdivis were Shia Muslims who believed that Prophet Mohamed was not the last prophet and another one would follow. They made good soldiers but were later deported out of Mysorean territory on Tipu Sultan’s orders on account of their fanaticism to religion and deviation from the Sunni Muslim mainstream.
However in contemporary parlance of that time, the batallion began to be called ‘Zumra Ghumra’. Kirmani further writes that the men of this division now became the most acceptable in the eyes of the Sultan, and all confidence was implicitly placed upon them. Towards the end of Tipu’s reign, Kirmani observes, this batallion (Kirmani calls it an ‘infidel’ batallion probably on account of it’s large Hindu and Shia muslim elements) gained complete ascendancy over all the departments of the state, and entered boldly into all the measures of government.
Unlike other choice batallions in Tipu’s service like the Asadilahi or the Jaish Risala, this was one with a mix of members professing different faiths as well as racial backgrounds. Tipu would have felt it safer to associate the safety of his inner circle and himself in the company of such men who would not be bound by one single religion or nationality but would be subservient only to their master – Tipu Sultan and the greater cause of Mysore.
However Kirmani also mentions that Mir Nadim, the killedar of Seringapatam who would later be accused of not opening an inner gate inspite of Tipu’s personal orders to do so, and thus in the end bring about Tipu’s martyrdom during the final battle of Seringapatam also belonged to this batallion.