Tipu Sultan was an innovator. He was different from all the other contemporary Indian rulers of his time only because he risked changing the existing order. From renaming towns to pulling down old forts, bringing Silk to Mysore and fetching French Armorers to Srirangapattana, minting coins with milled edges to breeding the Seringapatam Ox, he was different. And his innovative lead was one major factor for Mysore’s industry, agriculture and diplomacy staying abreast of the European adversaries of those times. He cared little about what others thought about him and pursued his innovations with a one track mind. His primary objective was the prosperity of the Mysore state.
In AD 638 , Abu Musa Ashaari, one of the officials of the Caliph Umar in Basra, complained about the absence of any years on the correspondence he received from the Caliph, making it difficult for him to determine which instructions were most recent. This report convinced Umar of the need to introduce an era for Muslims. In pre-Islamic Arabia, it was customary to identify a year after a major event which took place in it. After debating the issue with his counselors, he decided that the first year should include the date of Muhammad’s arrival at Medina. The years of the Islamic calendar began with the Islamic month of Muharram in the year of Muhammad’s arrival at the city of Medina. Because of the Hijra (Arabic for emigration), the calendar was named the Hijra calendar.
Soon the Hijra/Hijri Era(A.H.) was accepted among the Muslim Arabs as the Islamic calendar. The first day of the first month of the Islamic calendar (1 Muharram 1 AH) was set to the first new moon after the day the Prophet moved from Mecca to Medina i.e. Friday, 19th of July 622 A.D. in the Gregorian calendar.
With the spread of Islam throughout the world, the Hijri was adopted as the calendar of the state for religious as well as secular dates. However, a hitch arose where the state was Muslim and using the Lunar Hijri calendar among a population which was in many cases Non-Muslim and using the Solar calendar. Almost all Muslim rulers chose to disregard this anomaly and tuned the activity of the state to the Hijri Era.
But, a question springs to our mind now. How does a difference between lunar and solar calendars affect the governing of a state? The Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar. It contains of 12 months that are based on the motion of the moon, and because 12 lunar months is 12 x 29.53 = 354.36 days, the Islamic calendar is consistently shorter (11 Days) than a solar year, and therefore it shifts with respect to the Solar calendar. Note that although only 2014 – 622 = 1392 years have passed in the Christian calendar, 1435 years have passed in the Islamic calendar, because its year is consistently shorter (by about 11 days) than the solar year used by the Christian/Gregorian calendar. The use of the Hijrah Era was unfair to the peasantry, because 31 lunar years were equal to 30 solar years and the revenue was collected on the basis of lunar years whereas the harvest depended on the solar ones. So a farmer would often have to pay tax 31 times on each harvest when the actual number of harvests was only 30.
Tipu had a unique answer to this problem. He instituted a new calendar sometime between January and June 1784. The new era which he introduced consisted of twelve Luni-Solar years of twelve lunar months. In both the eras, the year consisted of 354 days. But while in the traditional Islamic year, the shortage of eleven days as compared with the solar year was not regularised, Tipu adopted the principle of intercalary months in order to make his calendar agree with the solar year. Significantly, this method was borrowed from the Hindu calendar. The following were the names of the months of Tipu’s calendar:
The first, fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth and eleventh months consisted of 29 days each, the rest were of 30 days each. The first name was called after one of the names of the Prophet; Haidari was called after Ali or after Haidar, Tipu’s father; Bahari referred to the season of Spring (Bahar); while Hashimi was derived from the name of Hashim, the ancestor of the Prophet Mohammad. The other names had no significance, except that the initial letter of each month denoted it’s place in the calendar according to the ‘Abjad’ system of Islamic numerology, which assigned a certain numerical power to every letter in the alphabet. But since there was no letter to express either 11 or 12, the first two letters of Aizdi and Bayazi were added together to denote that they were the 11th and 12th months respectively.
The number of cycles of Tipu’s calendar was also now different from the traditional Hijra calendar. The South Indian Hindu calendar or ‘Brahspatyam Masam’, so called because it corresponded roughly to the period of five revolutions of the Planet Jupiter, and consisting of sixty solar years, to each of which was assigned a separate name. According to South Indian reckoning, the not inconsiderable difference between one twelfth part of a single revolution of Jupiter and one year is disregarded, so that the ‘Masam’ and solar years are held to be exactly the same, and thus the sixty names of the ‘Masam’ years become simply the appellations of as many solar years. The names given to the years of the cycle were also formed on the ‘Abjad’ system of notation, with the exception of the first two years which were named Ahad and Ahmed after God and the Prophet. The rest of the names merely signified the order of each year in the cycle, which was obtained by adding together the numerical powers of the different letters composing the name.
I have now written about how Tipu conformed his calendar to the Kannada calendar’s cycles as well as how he named the months of the year. But what about the years themselves? How were they numbered and named?
For the first 4 years of Tipu’s reign we have the following correlations:
Regnal Year 1: A.D. 1782-1783: A.H. 1197-1198: Cyclic Year 37
Regnal Year 2: A.D. 1783-1784: A.H. 1198-1199: Cyclic Year 38
Regnal Year 3: A.D. 1784-1785: A.H. 1199-1200: Cyclic Year 39
Regnal Year 4: A.D. 1785-1786: A.H. 1200-1201: Cyclic Year 40
Here the Hijri years are kept sacrosanct but the year cycles have been adjusted to conform to the Hindu calendar by adding intercalary months as I have mentioned earlier. But Tipu’s ever active mind did not stop here and he again reformed the calendar in 1787, his 5th Regnal year. But this change did not go beyond the substitution of new names to the months and years. The names now were not assigned in accordance with the ‘Abjad’ system, but on the basis of the ‘Abtath’ notation, and like the old indicated the order of the year and the month by virtue of the numerical power. The names of the new months were now:
Similarly, the years got new names too according to the new ‘Abtath’ system of reckoning. Thus the 41st cyclical year was called Sha (Shah) ‘a king’, since 41 = 40 + 1 = ‘Sheen” + ‘Alif’. Thus, the last 13 years of Tipu’s reign were given the following names:
(40+1)41 = Sha ‘a King’
(30+1+10+1)42 = Sara ‘fragrance’
(30+10+1+2)43 = Sarab ‘a mirage’
44 = Shita ‘winter’
45 = Zabarjad ‘topaz’
46 = Sahar ‘dawn’
47 = S’a’har ‘Magician’
48 = Rasikh ‘firm’
49 = Shad ‘joyful’
50 = Hirasat ‘Guard’
51 = Saz ‘Harmony’
52 = Shadab ‘moist’
53 = Barish ‘rain’
The 5th regnal year also saw Tipu’s most radical change in the traditional Islamic calendar. He attempted to do what in the 1000 odd years of Islamic rule in India, only another ruler had dared to attempt. And that is to change the the actual numbering of the years itself!
Akbar The Great was the only other Monarch who introduced such a radically new system of calendar. The new calendar was initially known as Tarikh-e-Elahi and it was introduced on the 10th or 11th March of 1584 AD (963 AH). Tarikh-e-Elahi, although introduced in 1584 AD, dates from the day of Akbar’s ascension to the throne of Delhi and commemorates his coronation as the Emperor of India in 1556 AD. In introducing the Farman of Akbar of 992 AH (1584 AD), Abul Fazl makes the following remarks in his Akbar Namah : “The pillar of the founders of the Sacred Era was the learned of the age, the Plato of cycles (Alwani) Amir Fath Ullah Shirazi whose title was Azad-ud Daula. He it was who in a happy hour laid the foundation of this heavenward soaring edifice. Although the foundation (i.e. the Farman) took place in 992 AH (1584 AD) yet the position of events dates from the beginning of the sacred accession of Akbar.” This calendar was also a Solar calendar to facilitate efficient revenue collection and to make it conform to the local Hindu calendar.
While Akbar’s calendar was based solely on the starting year of his reign; Tipu took the starting year of his calendar a controversial step further. This new era Tipu dated from the year not of Muhammad’s Flight but of his Birth, which was held to have taken place in A.D. 571. Tipu believed that starting an era with the date of birth of the Prophet was a signal of strength rather than starting an era with the date of his flight. Such was Tipu’s spirit! This newly invented era of Tipu was named by him as the ‘Mauludi’ era. The word Mauludi was derived from ‘Maulud-i-Muhammad’ which is Arabic translates as ‘Birth of Muhammad’.
However for reasons that are still unexplained Tipu assumed that Muhammad was born in 572 A.D. and the first Mauludi date on his coinage was seen in the year 1787 A.D. So here, the Mauludi date would be 1787 – 572 = 1215 A.M. (Anno Mauludi). The 4th regnal year 1200 A.H. terminated on 23rd October, 1786 A.D. However, the 5th regnal year 1215 A.M. commenced only on 20th March 1787 A.D. This gap of nearly 5 months between the end of the Hijri and beginning of the Mauludi eras was on account of Tipu wanting it to start in sync with the Indian Luni-Solar year. In 1921, J.R. Henderson who documented Tipu Sultan’s coinage across his realm was confronted with the problem of identifying the exact Mauludi dates on the coins and relating them to the Hijri and Christian Eras so as to ascertain periods of existence of the royal mints vis-a-vis Tipu’s possession of the territories that these mints were in. He requested the Hon’ble Diwan Bahadur L.D. Swamikannu Pillai, M.A., L.L.B., author of Indian Chronology (Madras, 1911) and a well known authority on the subject to examine these dates.
Mr. Pillai found that the months of Tipu’s new system were Indian Lunar months, that the days of the month were simply ‘tithis’ continuously numbered from 1 to 30, the fortnights being ommitted, and further that Tipu’s extra months were without a single exception the Indian ‘adhika’ months. He also found that the Mauludi year began regularly at the same time as the Indian luni-solar year, i.e. on Chaitra ‘Sukla Pratipada, or the 1st tithi of the bright fortnight of Chaitra and the the serial numbers of Tipu’s cyclical years, recorded on many of his gold and silver coins, are exactly the same as those of the South Indian cyclic years.
We now, have the Mauludi years correlated as:
Regnal Year 5: A.D. 1786-1787: A.M. 1215-1216: Cyclic Year 41
Regnal Year 6: A.D. 1787-1788: A.M. 1216-1217: Cyclic Year 42
Regnal Year 7: A.D. 1788-1789: A.M. 1217-1218: Cyclic Year 43
Regnal Year 8: A.D. 1789-1790: A.M. 1218-1219: Cyclic Year 44
Regnal Year 9: A.D. 1790-1791: A.M. 1219-1220: Cyclic Year 45
Regnal Year 10: A.D. 1791-1792: A.M. 1220-1221: Cyclic Year 46
Regnal Year 11: A.D. 1792-1793: A.M. 1221-1222: Cyclic Year 47
Regnal Year 12: A.D. 1793-1794: A.M. 1222-1223: Cyclic Year 48
Regnal Year 13: A.D. 1794-1795: A.M. 1223-1224: Cyclic Year 49
Regnal Year 14: A.D. 1795-1796: A.M. 1224-1225: Cyclic Year 50
Regnal Year 15: A.D. 1796-1797: A.M. 1225-1226: Cyclic Year 51
Regnal Year 16: A.D. 1797-1798: A.M. 1226-1227: Cyclic Year 52
Regnal Year 17: A.D. 1798-1799: A.M. 1227-1228: Cyclic Year 53
The figures indicating a Hijri year on Tipu’s coinage, correspondence and other records are written in the usual way from left to right. However in the course of the Mauludi year 1215 this order was reversed and from that time onward till the end of Tipu’s reign the digits of any numerals mentioned read from right to left. This was obviously done to prevent Mauludi years from being mistaken as Hijri.
Akbar the Great, himself faced quite a lot of flak from the Muslim Ulema for the introduction of the Ilahi Era. Mullah Abdul Qadir Badayuni wrote his ‘Muntakhabut Tawarikh’ as a response to Akbar’s innovations among which was the Ilahi Era. The Mughal calendar was reverted back to the Hijri notation when Akbar’s great-grandson and Islamic puritan, Aurangazeb ascended the throne. The Muslim clergy in both Akbar’s as well as Tipu’s time were not willing to accept a calendar other than the Hijri. But both Akbar and Tipu being strong willed as well as inclusive Kings were able to push their ideas through the Court and Mosque as well.
Acceptance of Tipu’s calendar would have been even more painful to the Ulema on acccount of it being based upon the Prophet Muhammad’s birth and not his emigration to Medina, thus giving primacy to Muhammad as an individual and not as a messenger of God. What would have rankled the Muslim clergy even more was the fact that Tipu’s calendar was a facsimile copy of the Hindu calendar with just nomenclatures in Farsi.
A hint of this feeling can be seen in Tipu’s contemporary historian Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani’s statement about the Mauludi calendar in the ‘Tarikh -e- Tipu Sultan’ – ‘He was fond of introducing novelty and invention in all matters,as for instance, the year called Muhammadi, an account of which has before been given, also the names of the solar months. For although these months are in usage among the Hindus, still as they became necessary in the computation of the revenue accounts, he gave them names from the Persian’. From this contemporary account we hear that another name in use for this era in Mysore was ‘Muhammadi’. However the use of this calendar proved very beneficial to Tipu’s treasury as the flow of tax was seamless now on account of the farmer and trader across communities paying tax as per the local calendar and not a foreign one.
On the flip side, though Mysore used the Mauludi Era in it’s coinage, correspondence and all other documents for the large majority period of Tipu’s reign the local populace carried on with the Islamic Hijri and Hindu calendar and nomenclature for their own use. It is obvious that most of the population would be unable to make calculations according to the Abjad or Abtath system to name the months and cyclical years or even remember them. They went on consulting the local almanac, the ‘Panchanga’ for their regular needs. Even Tipu was practical here using the Mauludi date primarily for communications within Mysore and always providing the Mauludi and Hijri dates or only the Hijri dates for correspondence outside Mysore, say with the British or the Nizam.
From my perspective, this new era of Tipu was not just another one of his numerous ‘innovations’ but a determined effort by him to bring the core Islamic edifice of his administration closer to the faith of the majority of his people, who were South Indian and Hindu.
History of Tipu Sultan, Mohibbul Hasan, 1971
The coins of Tipu Sultan, Geo P. Taylor, 1914
The coins of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, J.R. Henderson, 1921
Select letters of Tipu Sultaun, Kirkpatrick W., 1811
History of Tipu Sultan, M.H. Ali Khan Kirmani, 1864