A Temple Gate, Saligrama stones and Extraordinary Idols : From the Dream Register of Tipu Sultan

“And it is only after seeing man as his unconscious, revealed by his dreams, presents him to us that we shall understand him fully.”
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams

In the India Office Library, now the British Library collection in London, there is a very valuable and interesting manuscript containing Tipu Sultan’s dreams in his own handwriting discovered in the course of the Sack of Seringapatam on 4th May, 1799 when Tipu Sultan’s bedroom was subjected to a thorough search by Colonel W. Kirkpatrick. Tipu’s secretary, Munshi Habibullah was also said to be present at the time when this manuscript was discovered. According to Kirkpatrick, Habibullah was aware of the manuscript’s existence but Tipu had so successfully concealed it that this confidant of his had never before seen it. Tipu was said to have always been anxious to hide it from the view of any who happened to approach while he was either reading or writing it. Entries in the register have been made in Farsi and in the ‘Shikasta’ script. The first of the recorded dreams is dated 1785, the last 1798, covering a period of 13 years. There are 37 dreams in number, some of which have been interpreted by Tipu himself.

Of the 37 dreams, 13 of them were concerned with Tipu’s wars with the English and their allies, primarily the Hyderabad Nizam and the Marathas. 15 other dreams give tidings of general matters and victory in war. The remaining dreams point to his love and veneration for the Prophet and other notable personalities of Islam. Of the 37 dreams Tipu himself only interpreted 4 dreams while the rest are written down by him without any interpretation. The dominant note throughout these dreams is what was uppermost in Tipu Sultan’s mind-how to free his country from the foreign yoke. For a student of history, it is of great importance to discover how Tipu interpreted these dreams himself and how they influenced his actions.

Through this post I intend to examine the only three dreams of Tipu Sultan that specifically have him interact with Hindu subjects. Only one among these three dreams have been interpreted by Tipu Sultan himself and the remaining two will be interpreted by me, rather than call them interpretations I will call them projections as that is what I project from his dream. And at the end I will attempt to sum up Tipu’s relationship with the Hindu faith and his Hindu citizens on the basis of the three dreams that his subconscious throws out to us.

The Collapse of the Gate
Date: In the month Bahari, of the year Shad, 1223, from the birth of Muhammad, between the 9th and 15th as per the Mauludi calendar. Corresponding to May 1795 as per the Gregorian calendar.

The Dream as narrated by Tipu Sultan
“Around the tower at the gate of the temple, the unbelievers had tied rods of wood at great heights for the purpose of illumination and had fixed lights on them. In a moment the lights went out and the rods fell and the gate collapsed. There was such a crash that all the buildings shook and this servant of God also came out of the building some-what disturbed.

I asked people to come out of their houses quickly and inquired about the people who were residing in the many houses that were situated so close to the temple. People went and brought the news that the gate had collapsed but the people living in the neighborhood were all safe. In the meantime morning dawned and I woke up.”

Projection from the dream:
The first thing that Tipu does after waking up disturbed at the commotion from the collapsing gate is to inquire about the people who lived in the vicinity of the collapsed tower. This very clearly shows his concern for the safety of his Hindu subjects who lived close to the temple.

My notes about the dream:
The ‘tower at the gate of the temple’ is the ‘Gopuram’ a traditional architectural feature at the gate of South Indian temples including the ones at Srirangaptanam itself especially Tipu’s favourite temple, the Shri Ranganathaswami Temple there. Putting up wooden rods and decorating the wooden rods with lines of lit oil lamps has been a traditional form of temple decoration during important temple fairs, which illuminates the whole Gopuram giving it a golden hue through the night. The people residing in the many houses close to the temple were obviously Brahmin priests, temple attendants and their families. Such a group of houses near the temple is commonly known as an ‘Agrahara’ in South India. They were termed ‘unbelievers’ by Tipu as they were not followers of Islam.

Among several temples to which Tipu made liberal donations, the Shri Ranganathswamy temple at Srirangapatnam still retains in it’s inventory a big silver bowl, three silver cups, a silver pancharati and a silver kettle. The temple was only 100 yards west of his palace from where he could listen daily to the ringing of the temple bells and Vedic chants. The vision of illuminated tower that appears in Tipu’s dream could be drawn from several temple functions and festivals that he would sponsor throughout his realm. During Tipu’s campaign in the Carnatic around 1792, he participated in the celebration of a temple chariot festival and also bore the cost of the fireworks on this occasion.

The Extraordinary Idols
Date: On the 8th of the month Zakiri, of Muhammad in the morning. Corresponding to 7 December 1796 in the Gregorian Calendar.

The Dream as narrated by Tipu Sultan
“There seemed to be a big temple, the back of which was slightly damaged. It contained several large idols. I went into the temple with along with a few other men and noticed that the idols were seeing like human beings and their eyes were in motion. I was surprised to see the eyes of the idols moving like those of the living and wondered what could it be due to. Then I approached them.
In the last row were two female idols. One of these two, drawing out her sari from between her two knees, stated that both of them were women while the rest of the idols were images of men and other objects. She added that they had been praying to God for a long time and everyone ought to nourish oneself.
I said to her – ‘ That is fine, do keep yourself occupied with the remembrance of God.’ Having said that I ordered my men to repair the dilapidated building. In the meantime I woke up”

Projection from the dream:
Tipu Sultan enters a damaged temple where he sees ‘several large idols’. Instead of breaking them, as may be expected of a fanatic Muslim ruler, he approaches them curiously and listens to the female idol speak. He asks the idol to continue praying to God. Interestingly Tipu does not use ‘her God’ but only ‘God’ in the unitary sense and after this even asks his men to repair the damaged temple.

My notes about the dream:
We are aware of several instances of Tipu Sultan providing grants to Hindu temples and other religious establishments. For instances where he gave grants to temples or paid for the cost of regular religious rituals in Temples, the examples run not into tens, but into hundreds. During his famed Malabar incursion wherein the Mysoreans spread fire and sword through their march, the Inam Register of Five folio volumes at the Kozhikode archives gives a list of grants by Tipu Sultan to 56 Hindu temples in just 4 talukas of the conquered Zamorin’s realm – Calicut, Ernad, Battathnad and Chowghat. These were Hindu temples in an enemy domain that had just been conquered. Tipu was not the first Muslim ruler to provide grants to Hindu establishments nor would he be the last. In fact even the puritanical Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb is recorded to have made grants to a number of Hindu temples across India.

But this dream is unique in that here Tipu not only converses with a Hindu deity but also insists upon the deity to continue at prayer and he goes on to repair the damaged temple housing the deity. For a religious and observant Muslim like Tipu, the dream would have been very unusual.

But no, this is not the case. The dream corresponds very nearly to an incident during the 2nd Mysore war when Tipu was at the Hindu sacred town of Kanchipuram. Here contemporary Maratha newsletters inform us that he was informed about an incomplete temple whose foundation was laid by Haidar Ali. Another version is that the temple was in existence earlier but had suffered damage during the many wars that rocked the Carnatic in the 1780s between the Mysoreans and the Arcot Nawab aided by the British. He immediately made a grant of 10000 huns towards the construction of the temple.
In the Pullivendla village in Cuddappah district, when Tipu came to know that a Puja at the Anjaneyaswami temple there had been discontinued for a while, he ordered for the immediate restoration of the Puja. Tipu’s help in reconsecrating the sacred image of Goddess Sharda at Sringeri which was plundered by the Marathas is well known. These are just three examples among many more where Tipu Sultan reconstructed Hindu places of worship and restored discontinued Hindu rituals in the temples.

Almonds and Stones
Date: On the 1st of the month Dini, of the year Shadab, 1226, from the birth of Muhammad. Corresponds to November, 1798 A.D. of the Gregorian calendar.

The Dream as narrated by Tipu Sultan
“I seemed to be reciting the names of God on almonds among which I had mixed ‘salgram’ stones, salgram being an object of worship by the unbelievers. On concluding my recitation, I stated that all the idols of the unbelievers had embraced Islam and I ordered the stones to be picked out and replaced by almonds.”

Tipu Sultan’s interpretation of this dream:
“My interpretation is that by the grace of God all unbelievers would embrace Islam and the country would pass into the hands of the Sarkar-i-Khudadad.”

My notes about the dream:
Unlike the previous 2 dreams where Tipu does not provide his own interpretation probably because the dreams are clear and none is necessary, this one has Tipu interpreting it himself. This is one of the only four other dreams interpreted by Tipu Sultan himself.

This dream and it’s interpretation hits us like a blast of hot air on our face. While the previous two dreams symbolize a close relationship as well as affection for the Hindus and their faith this dream shows Tipu’s expectation that all unbelievers, specifically Hindus here should embrace Islam and Mysore become a Muslim state – Tipu called Mysore, Sarkar-i-Khudadad or ‘God given Government’ an apt name for a Kingdom ruled by someone whose father was a mere ‘Naik’ or foot soldier in the Wodeyar court. The Salgram or ‘Saligram’ stones are held in great veneration only by the Hindus and are believed by them to represent the God Vishnu who was turned into this stone on account of a curse. These stones are quite scarce and found only in the beds of the rivers Narmada and the Gandaki.

So, which Tipu do we choose? The Tipu who inquired of the safety of his Hindu subjects after the fire in the ‘Collapse of the Gate’ dream and the Tipu who rebuilt a damaged temple in ‘The extraordinary Idols’ dream or is it the Tipu who wishes for the conversion of all the ‘Saligramas’ to ‘Almonds’ – Hindus to Muslims in his ‘Almonds and Stones’ dream?

While Tipu built and patronized Temples, he also demolished or displaced some of them. When in the course of his Kerala campaign where he was providing grants to temples left, right and center he was also seizing young men, making muslims of them involuntarily and enrolling them into his elite Asad Ilahi and Ahmadi corps. These are only a few examples of contradictions in a long list.

To comprehend this two-faced dimension of Tipu, one has to understand the nature of the Sarkar-i-Khudadad. As Kate Brittlebank so eloquently writes Tipu was only implementing ‘Islam and Kingship in a Hindu domain’. He was a pious Muslim who visualized the Khudadad Sarkar as an Islamic edifice where the benign ideals of Islam would be upheld within a non-Muslim domain. For this it was desirable that the Muslim population should increase in number and various incentives were provided to willing converts for this very purpose.

Even in the revenue code, wise as it was, Muslims were exempted from paying the housetax and taxes on grain and other goods meant for their personal use. Hindus converting to Islam were exempted from specific taxes. Special attention was given to the education of Muslim children. Towards the end of his reign Muslims made up a very large majority of his senior most nobility.

Tipu Sultan regarded conversion to Islam as a form of punishment which he inflicted on many of his non-Muslim subjects who were in his eyes guilty of rebellion. In one of his letters to his French diplomat-friend Cossigny, he confesses that he converted the Kerala Nairs to Islam ‘as a punishment to their rebellion’, and that they deserved this punishment because ‘they rebelled six times and six time I forgave them’. Tipu knew well that orthodox Hinduism was one religion that did not take back it’s own who were coerced to accept another faith. Tipu used this flaw in the Hindu faith of that period to threaten by example. He believed that once the rebellious Coorgis and Malabaris were forced to accept Islam, they would have no choice but to come under the Mysorean umbrella as their coreligionists at home would not have anything to do with them afterwards.

All this being said, for the seventeen years that Tipu ruled over Mysore there was not one riot or rebellion among the Hindus. This was in spite of Mysore being at war against her neighbors for much of that period and even after suffering a humiliating defeat in 1792. This was because the Hindu majority understood well that though Tipu was an orthodox Muslim, he had Hindu interests at heart too.

This can be proved through interpreting another statement made by Tipu himself in a letter to the Ottoman Emperor in Constantinople. This letter was in reply to the emperor’s letter to Tipu received on 23 September 1798. In this letter, Tipu is narrating to the Sultan the incident where the Marathas asked his father Haidar Ali for help against the British during the course of the second Mysore war. Here Tipu while justifying to the most powerful Muslim ruler of that time – the Ottoman Emperor, as to why Haidar Ali and Tipu had to go to the assistance of the Maratha unbelievers against another army of unbelievers, the British says – ‘it was more advisable to afford than refuse his assistance to the infidels belonging to the country, because the supremacy of the English was the source of evil to all God’s creatures.’

This is a very, very important statement from Tipu sultan that I regard as belonging to the core of his beliefs and the very reason why as orthodox and aggressive a Muslim he may have been, he had the support of all of Mysore behind him. In this statement, ‘infidels belonging to the country‘- he clearly believed that though the Maratha Leader Raghunath Rao who requested Mysore’s aid was an infidel, yet he was from the same country as Tipu was; the concept of ‘India’ was already in Tipu’s mind then irrespective of Tipu being a Muslim from Mysore and Raghunath Rao a Maratha and Hindu from up North.

He further goes on to say – ‘Supremacy of the English was the source of evil to all God’s creatures‘. Here Tipu asserts before the Turkish Emperor that the Marathas though infidels were also God’s creatures. The semantics are important here. Tipu says ‘God’s creatures’ not ‘Hindu God’s creatures’ or ‘infidel Gods creatures’. The Muslims have only one God – Allah and Tipu through this statement was telling the Ottomans that he believed that the Hindus were also created by the same God who created him.

In the end looking back at what Tipu dreamt and wrote, we can only be sure that here was a ruler who though of a different religious persuasion from the majority of his subjects made honest attempts even subconsciously to align his ideals with their beliefs.

Mahmud Husain, The Dreams of Tipu Sultan
Mohibbul Hasan, History of Tipu Sultan, 1971
Kate Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan’s search for Legitimacy, 1995
Kareem C.K., Kerala under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, 1973
Gopal M.H., Tipu Sultan’s Mysore – An Economic Study, 1971
Crisp, Mysore revenue regulations under the seal of Tippoo Sultaun, 1793
James Salmond, A review of Origin, Progress, and result of the decisive war with Tipu Sultan, 1800
Mohammad Moienuddin, Sunset at Srirangapatam, 2000

The inspiration for this post was provided by my Guru Dr. Sheik Ali, former Vice Chancellor of Mangalore and Goa Universities who suggested that I delve into the psychology of Tipu Sultan too. Over the nine decades of Dr. Sheik Ali’s life, his contribution to Tipu Sultan studies have been enormous. May Dr. Sheik Ali have a long and productive life ahead and continue to bless us all.

Dr. A.K. Shastry is to be thanked for reminding me of what Voltaire said – ‘All Great men have great Faults’. These faults in them should not hide all the good done by them and neither should all the good done by them be an excuse to hide the faults in them. His research into the Tipu letters among others at the Sringeri Dharmasansthana have opened up several new areas of historical research.

DISCLAIMER: I am neither an interpreter of dreams or a psychiatrist. So, professional and learned interpretations of these dreams are always welcome. My intention is to get people talking about the dreams and what they signal.


About Olikara

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

6 Responses to A Temple Gate, Saligrama stones and Extraordinary Idols : From the Dream Register of Tipu Sultan

  1. Really enjoyed reading about Tipu Sultan’s dreams and your projections about them!

  2. Sami says:

    Very nicely written. regarding God & creatures; I think it is a fact that entire universe is creation of one God.

  3. Sami says:

    Where can I find transcript of all Tipu’s dreams? please help me know.

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