Mirror into Character: Tipu Sultan and his Coinage

Tipu Sultan is a fascinating figure in the pages of history. Known just not for his bravery on the battlefield but also for his social reforms, inventions and innovations. A man brimming with energy all the time who even on the eve of war with Marathas  was writing back home instructing as to where the silk worms procured need to be kept. A man who would pay attention to every little detail in his kingdom – so how could coinage escape his attention.

Tipu brought about many innovations in the coinage of Mysore, it would not be incorrect to say that he revolutionized the coinage system of Mysore. Before Tipu and his father coins in the tiny kingdom of Mysore were issued on the pattern of Vijayanagara coins and in a very limited variety of Gold and Copper coins.

Kanthirava Narasaraja I (1638-62) Gold coin

Kanthirava Narasaraja I (1638-62) Gold coin

Hyder, father of Tipu also issued a limited variety of Gold, Silver and Copper coins. The Gold and Copper coins were styled on the pattern of existing Mysore coins whereas the Silver coins were styled on the pattern of Mughal coins. His Silver coins had the name of Shah Alam II the puppet Mughal emperor of the time. However the most distinguishing feature of his coins was the use of the Persian letter ‘Hay’ or ‘He’ which was the initial letter of his name. Hyder was unlettered and he used the ‘Hay’ as his signature.

Another distinguishing feature being introduction of use the elephant legend on Mysore Copper coins which would later become a hallmark of all of Tipu’s Copper coins and which he would greatly improvise like no other ruler.

Haidar Ali's - Siva Parvathi Pagoda (Bahaduri Pagoda)

Haidar Ali’s – Siva Parvathi Pagoda (Bahaduri Pagoda)

Haider Ali's Shah Alam Silver Rupee

Haider Ali’s Shah Alam Silver Rupee

When Tipu came to power he brought about remarkable changes in the coinage system of his kingdom. He not only introduced a great variety and denominations of coins in Gold, Silver and Copper but also changed the dating pattern on them, from the 5th year of his reign the dating on his coins changed from Hijri era to Mauludi era. In addition he gave his coins unique names.

Also, unlike the contemporary rulers of the time and the practice of having the name of the ruling king on the coins Tipu never had his name struck on any of his coins which points to an important characteristic of his personality. Another feature of his coins is that though he never had his name struck on them he continued to have Hyder’s initial ‘He’ on them which shows his immense love towards his father in an age where the young prices were eager for their father to die so that they could become the king. Tipu however discontinued the use of having the name of the Mughal emperor on the his coins clearly asserting his independence.

Tipu Sultan (1782-1799), Quarter Rupee or Baqari with Hyder's initial 'he' on the obverse

Tipu Sultan (1782-1799), Quarter Rupee or Baqari with Hyder’s initial ‘he’ on the obverse

His invention of Mauludi dates were primarily for 2 reasons:

1)To be fair to the farmers in collection of tax from them as the tax was collected based on the lunar cycle whereas the harvest depended on the solar cycle. The solar cycle was as per the Hindu calendar followed by the majority of Tipu’s subjects who would align their sowing and harvest seasons as per that calendar.

2) I strongly believe that Tipu being  very systematic he wanted all his communication and information to be clear however with lunar dates it is difficult to exactly predict future dates because of the inherent dependence on the sighting of the moon and hence the lack of clarity on future dates. Also it must be noted that different regions would have different dates under the lunar calendar.

Getting back to his coins he named his Gold coins after the Prophet and the Sunni Caliphs and his Silver coins after the Shia Imams which again no ruler in the whole of Islamic history from either sect has ever done which points out to his open mindedness and accommodating nature.

It has been pointed out by many that he was a Sunni Muslim with Shia leanings to which I would say that he choose to take the best from both sects as he did with his Mauludi calendar by borrowing from the Hindu Calendar and developing his own Islamic calendar.

Tipu Sultan, Gold Ahmadi

Tipu Sultan, Gold Ahmadi

Tipu also occasionally issued special coinage according to circumstances. Here are two instances when  he issued them:-

1) When the Marathas raided Sringeri and not only plundered the temple wealth and property but also displaced the idol of  Goddess Sharada, the then helpless Jagadguru of Sringeri, Sri Sacchidananda Bharati III wrote to Tipu asking for help. It is then that he wrote back to him presenting various gifts to the temple which also included  special gold coins known as Rahathi having the image of Goddess Sharada  on one side specifically minted to be sent to Sringeri for the consecration of the idol of the Goddess and meet other expenses associated with it. This shows his affection towards his Hindu subjects in the kingdom.

2) When Tipu came to Power he wrote to the court in Delhi and made a ‘Nazrana’ of  Gold Mohars to the Mughal emperor at the same time explaining to him that he does not believe in having the name of ‘rulers of the age’ stuck on coins as he believes that it “contravenes the prescription of our liturgy” so that the Mughal ruler does not become offended in any way in not finding his name on the coins. However it appears that this did not go well with the Mughal Emperor and when Tipu found about this he later sent new Gold Mohars with the name of the Mughal Emperor inserted on them, however this was again a special coinage only for the ‘Nazrana’ purpose. This shows that he was flexible with his thoughts and didn’t believe in imposing it on others.

He names his copper coins after planets and stars which highlight another important characteristic of his personality that being of his interest in astronomy. This is also brought about from the fact that his library had about 20 books on the same subject.

He named the first 3 denomination of his copper coins as Mushtari (Jupiter) for double paisa, Zohra (Venus) for paisa, Bahram (Mars) for half paisa, it must be noted that the denominations are named according to the size of each planet – Mushtari being the highest denomination among copper coins is named after Jupiter the largest planet of the solar system and so on. It may be noted here that initially the Mushtari or double paisa was known as Usmani but Tipu later changed it to Mushtari most probably to bring uniformity in naming.

Tipu Sultan Copper Coin, Zohra

Tipu Sultan Copper Coin, Zohra

He continued the use of Elephant motif introduced by Hyder towards the end of his reign on all his copper coins which shows that he respected the feelings of the local populace as it was the copper coins which were most used and circulated by the majority of the local population in their day to day transactions. The local population were used to see figures on coins either of deities or animals and elephants figures had been used on them since Vijaynagar times. No other Muslim king in India before or after Tipu used animal figures on coinage as profusely as Tipu did.

However what stands out about the elephants depicted on Tipu’s copper coins is that the engraving not only resembles like a real elephant but the elephants are also most beautifully decorated and shown in various poses – stationary, marching forward, taild up and down, carrying his flag and on some coins bordered with his distinctive tiger stripes – ‘the bubri.’ The elephants depicted on the copper coins of Tipu are the best looking ones when compared to all other coins with elephant motif on them before as well as after him.

Tipu Sultan, Copper Coin, Zohra

Tipu Sultan, Copper Coin, Zohra Observe the ‘Bubri’ stripes along the coin edge

Another less noticed and hardly understood feature on his copper coins is the use of Arabic letters on them during the last 4 years of his reign between 1224 and 1227 AE starting with ‘Alif’ in 1224 and ending with ‘Say’ in 1227 with his death.

Tipu Sultan, COpper coin Zohra, Letter 'Alif' on Reverse

Tipu Sultan, COpper coin Zohra, Letter ‘Alif’ on Reverse

Tipu Sultan, Copper coin, Zohra with Letter 'Te'

Tipu Sultan, Copper coin, Zohra with Letter ‘Te’ on Reverse

I believe that his courtier Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani points to this in his Nishan-E-Haidari  where he says:

During the latter part of the Sultan’s reign by the advice of certain infidel or atheistical persons he used or adopted letters from the Koran of the characters of Osman, may God be pleased with him, which are not read, and which letters from the days of the prophet Adam to the days of the seal of the prophet (Muhammad), no one of the Kings of Arabia, or Persia, had ever dared to use, and which no learned historical, or sacred writer had deemed it proper to employ.”

What he exactly meant by this no one knows including the translator of the his work Colonel William Miles and I would leave it to a future date or other researchers to decipher this. However I believe this has also partly to do with the use of the Arabic letters on his coins during the last few years of his reign. But this makes it clear that Tipu was never afraid to challenge the norms, customs and traditions prevailing in the society and experiment with new things.

To conclude I would say that his coinage stood out just like him and points to many of his unique and salient features which we stand to ignore.

References:

  1. Coinage of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan. A Typological Study, Danish Moin.
  2.  2.Select letters of Tippoo Sultan to various public functionaries, Tipu Sultan. Translated from Persian by William Kirkpatrick.
  3. Neshani Hyduri, Mir Hussein Ali Khan Kirmani. Translated from Persian by Colonel W. Miles.
  4. Dawn of a new Era : Tipu Sultan and his Mauludi Calendar, Nidhin George Olikara (https://toshkhana.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/dawn-of-a-new-era-tipu-sultan-and-his-mauludi-calendar/)
  5. The Goddess and a Sultan: Hindu Coinage of Tipu Sultan, Nidhin George Olikara (https://toshkhana.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/the-goddess-and-a-sultan-hindu-coinage-of-tipu-sultan/)
  6. Picture References: Coin India Galleries, Todywalla Auctions, Baldwins Auctions, Columbia Edu and Mohammed Masood Collection

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Mohammed Masood, who penned this article is a young collector of Tipu Sultan’s coinage with an interest in Numismatics and Mysore History. His diligence as well as steadfastness in pursuing his hobby is praiseworthy. As seen here, he may also turn out into a brilliant writer some day.

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About Olikara

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

4 Responses to Mirror into Character: Tipu Sultan and his Coinage

  1. Anonymous says:

    Inshaa Allah

  2. tumkurameen says:

    Good one Masood. Wishing you the very best for more such well researched write-ups.

  3. noamaan says:

    insha allah…..he will be a successful writer one day

  4. Excellent collection with a fascinating narrative. Thanks for the wonderful share.

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