Guarding the corners of the throne: Tiger Head Finials

A watercolour dating to 1800 by Anna Tonelli, an Italian artist who accompanied Lady Clive on her tour in South India as governess to the Clive children, shows an octagonal throne with eight finials and a large central tiger support and a small canopy; another drawing by Captain Thomas Marriott, aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief of Madras, dated 16th August 1799, shows an octagonal throne with a larger canopy, and the huma bird finial. Both depictions show eight small tiger head finials. 

Tipu’s gold throne was broken up at the order of the Prize Committee to the regret of the Governor-General, who wrote from Fort St George that if it could be reassembled, it ought to be acquired by the Company to present to the King. In a letter to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in January 1800, Arthur Wellesley wrote: “It would have given me great pleasure to send the whole throne entire to England, but the indiscreet zeal of the Prize Agents of the army had broken that proud moment of the Sultan’s arrogance into fragments before I had been apprised even of the existence of such a trophy”.

Consequent to the breaking up of the throne, the tiger heads were wrested from the rails of the throne to be divided among the victorious British as spoils of war. Being quite small, they would easily have escaped attention and might as well be resting unknown to the current owners in some dingy attic in England or Scotland today. Where are these finials today?

The tiger head finial from the throne of Tipu Sultan has the main gold surface of the head worked decorated with fine dotted pointille punching; symmetrically set on either side of the centre line with foiled table-cut diamonds, foiled cabochon rubies and foiled cabochon emeralds of varying sizes, with larger rubies set on the eyes and the tongue, the teeth set with foiled table-cut diamonds. The ears projecting above the head decorated with chased lines and further pointille punching.

The square base of gold sheet is seen forming a collar. The inside of the base has a circular hole revealing the resin interior with two drilled holes, probably from originally mounting technique. The base chased with an arabesque-shaped mark. It is 8.4 cm. high and has a base width of 4.7 cm. The net weight of the tiger head is 346 gm. and is constructed in the South Indian fashion of the late 18th Century.

The probable order of work was that the head was hammered into shape from gold sheet and then filled with lac to enable the details of the decoration to be filled without the head collapsing. The settings of the stones can be compared to South Indian temple jewelry and jeweled objects.

Bowser Finial

Bowser Finial

Lady Clive’s notebook in Powis Castle which mentions a list of various miscellaneous items to be given away or bequeathed also contains the following entry: ‘An moulu basket, containing a head in pure gold set with precious stones and one of the 8 heads which were on Tippoo Sultan’s throne at Seringapatam given me by Lord Wellsly. On the base of the stand is a gilt metal plate with an engraved inscription “Tigers head which formed part of Tippoo’s throne“. So, now we know where the 1st of the tiger head finials rests. It may be seen in the Clive collection at Powis castle in Scotland.

A 2nd, acquired after the battle by Surgeon-Major Pultney Mein, the same Doctor who acquired the massive Gold Tiger’s head that supported Tipu’s throne, either by allocation or in the agents’ auction, was sold at Sotheby’s (19 March 1973, lot 180) and then offered by a London antique dealer in 1974 (advertised in Oriental Art and the referred to by Dennys Forrest as being in the collection of Alexander Bowlby of Hampstead, London) and has since disappeared from view, its current whereabouts unknown.

The 3rd known finial is called the Hope-Wallace finial and was sold by the Bonhams Auction house in 2009. It belonged to the collection of Thomas Wallace (1763-1844), Baron Wallace of Knarsdale. Lord Wallace was a prominent English politician in the late 18th and early 19th Century. In 1800 he was created Commissioner for the Affairs of India and in 1801 was appointed a Privy Councillor; he served as President of the Board of Control between 1807 and 1816, in which position he oversaw the East India Company.

In addition to these three, Forrest refers  another 4th finial in a private collection in Cornwall, but no further information or explanation is offered and there is no corroboration to be found in other sources. Thus, the whereabouts of this finial too is unknown today.

And finally we have the Bowser finial, the 5th one, that was sold in Bonhams again in October 2010.  It came into possession of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Bowser, K.C.B., H.E.I.C.S (1749-1833) and after him by descent to the current owners who decided to auction the piece.

Wallace of Knarsdale Tiger Head Finial

Wallace of Knarsdale Tiger Head Finial

Wallace Finial - Side Profile

Wallace Finial – Side Profile

As you can see, we have no clue about where the 2 finials whose whereabouts were known once are today. As for the other 3 one may only hope that they turn up someplace someday.

Perhaps the greatest of all the arts of the court of Tipu are the metalwork and jewellery. Tipu clearly loved beautiful objects, which filled his carefully amassed treasury and, as one observer described, he “passed the greatest part of his leisure hours in reviewing this various and splendid assemblage of his riches”. I am sure that he would have been proud of the 8 Tigers around his throne.


Beatson, A., A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun; comprising a narrative of the operations of the army under command of Lieutenant-General George Harris, and of the siege of Seringapatam, London, 1800

Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Art, 2nd April 2009.

Forrest, Denys, Tiger of Mysore.

The Life and Death of Tipu Sultan, London 1970;Oriental Art (Periodical), Vol. XX, no. 4, 1974, p. 357: Advertisement placed by Douglas Wright Ltd of Curzon Street, showing the Pultney-Mein/ Bowlby finial;

Price, David, Memoirs of the Early Life and Service of a Field Officer on the Retired List of the Indian Army, Woodbridge, 1839;
Robert Skelton et al., Treasures from India. The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, National Trust 1987; 7 Oct 2010 auction

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A Principal ornament of the Mysore throne: The Tiger head

The magnificent throne of Tipu Sultan was in the form of a life size tiger, clothed in shimmering gold metal sheets and studded with dazzling precious stones.

The Asiatic Annual Register (1799: 223) while providing the reasons and justifications for breaking up the throne during the sack of Seringapatam describes the features of the magnificent piece of art: ‘ The Sultan’s throne being too unwieldy to be carried, had been broken up: it was a howdah upon a tyger, covered with sheet gold; the ascent to it was by silver steps, gilt, having silver nails and all other fastenings of the same metal. The canopy was alike superb, and decorated with a costly fringe of fine pearls all around it. The eyes and teeth of tyger were of glass. It was valued at 60,000 pagodas. It was said that a dividend to the , value of about a million sterling would soon be made; part of it to the amount of 17 lacks of pagodas in cash; the rest in jewels…

Lt. Col. Alexander Beatson, a witness to the sack of Tipu’s palace at Seringapatam, where the throne was found and subsequently broken up gives an ecstatic description of it: ‘The throne was of considerable beauty and magnificence. The support was a wooden tiger as large as life, covered with gold, in the attitude of standing, which was placed across his back…‘ Unfortunately, the victorious troops unmindful of the historic and aesthetic value of the throne,dismantled it, retaining it as separate pieces – the main gold tiger head, two small ones of the same metal and the huma bird.

On 20 January 1800, Richard Wellesley, later Lord Mornington dispatched the huge tiger head, the huma bird and a carpet through his aide-de-camp Maj Davis overland to reach England on 24 May 1800, with his recommendation that it should be presented by the Court of Directors to His Majesty the King.

There were seven Memoranda compiled by Mornington, listing the details of the articles captured at Seringapatam, with his recommendations of who the articles should be given to. The text of the third memorandum relating to the tiger head is given below. 

Memorandum 3

Memorandum respecting to the Tyger’s Head

This head formed part of the throne  of Tippoo Sultan. It is made of wood and is covered with plates of  the purest gold about  1/10 of an inch in thickness. The teeth are of rock crystal and the eyes of the same material.

The throne was of an octagonal form and entirely covered with similar plates of gold marked with the Tyger stripes, over the throne was a raised a canopy of gold supported by eight light but strong pillars. There was a fringe of pearls, by a Huma made entirely of precious stones, and sent to England in August 1799 by the Cornwallis. This head with four legs, representing the legs of a Tyger was placed under the throne, which was supposed to be supported by the Royal Tyger, the distinguishing mark and armorial bearing of Tippoo’s family. The seat of the throne was about 4 or 5 feet from the ground and the whole height to the top of the canopy from 8 to 9 feet……….The head is accompanied by a small, but rich and beautiful carpet, used by Tippoo Sultan upon his musnad on days of state and public ceremony.

                                                                                                                  Bay Syndenham

                                                                                             Aide-de-camp to the Governor General

The Tiger head was for a while kept on display at the East India Company  Museum. The proceedings of the Board of the Court of Directors on the subject make interesting reading. The resolution of the court in the document dated 2 November 1831 given below says with pride that the capture of the trophies are commemorative of an event which materially established British power in India:

At the of Directors of  the United Company of Merchants of England Trading in the East Indies held on Wednesday the 2nd November 1831. 

The chairman intimating the court that he had reason to believe from a communication which he had with a Noble Lord attached to the Royal House, hold that it would be an agreeable mark of respect towards the king, were the Court to present for His Majesty’s acceptance the Golden Tiger head carpet2 now in museum in this House which formed part of the Throne of Tippoo Sultan and were captured at the fall of Srirangapatam in 1799.

Resolved unanimously, that the Court gladly seize the opportunity  which was afforded to them to testify their duty and attachment towards their present Most Gracious Sovereign and that the Chairman and Deputy Chairman be accordingly requested to take necessary measures for proffering  to his Majesty’s acceptance, in the name of the Court, tiger’s  head and carpet which formed tended to establish the British Power in India.

Under the authority conferred on Lord Steward by this resolution of the Court of directors, it was presented by him on 2 November 1831 to King William IV.

Tiger Head mounted on it's wooden base

Tiger Head mounted on it’s wooden base

Top View of the Tiger Head. Observe the Tiger Stripes 'Bubris' and Tipu's Tiger Seal Calligraphy on the forehead of the Tiger.

Top View of the Tiger Head. Observe the Tiger Stripes ‘Bubris’ and Tipu’s Tiger Seal Calligraphy on the forehead of the Tiger.

'Bismillah Muhammad' Caliigraphy in the Tiger Head Pattern

‘Bismillah Muhammad’ Caliigraphy in the Tiger Head Pattern

As can be seen for the pictures above, the tiger’s head  is made of beaten gold sheet on a wooden core, engraved overall with large stripes – bubris, the distinguishing mark of Tipu and his court; the nose, mouth and chased naturalistic-ally. The eyes and teeth are of carved rock crystal with the hinged tongue of plain gold. The tiger’s neck has a gold collar attached with ridged rope and scroll moldings.

The tiger head is mounted on a square wooden base, covered in velvet with gilt bronze. A tablet with the following inscription is at the front and forms part of the base. Four gilt bronze drip-handles are on the sides. Excluding the stand, it measures 46*57*48 cm. The silver-gilt inscribed base was made by the London silversmith, Paul Storr, silversmith (1771 – 1844) and  Mr. Seabrook, Goldsmith. The paws of gilded copper were added in 1875.

Inscribed (cast): This trophy was taken/at the storming of Seringapatam/in May MDC CXCIX/Richard Earl of Mornington then Governor of India/General Harris commanding the British forces.

However, unknown to many is the fact that this magnificent piece was first owned by a surgeon in the British Army, Major Putney Mein, who also participated in the siege of Seringapatam. In 1842,  in response to a report on the siege in a journal, he observed the features of the throne and the details of it’s destruction. He writes:


In your paper of February 9th, you give an account  of the celebrated tiger’s head so frequently employed to ornament the Royal sideboard. As you seem to have been misinformed on the particulars of it’s history, I take the liberty of sending you a true account of it. In the first place, it was not taken by Earl Cornwallis but by Lord Harris; it formed no part of a footstool but was the head of a large tiger which supported the platform and the throne above. This tiger was made of wood covered with gold and was in a standing posture. The head was sold by auction on the behoof(sic) of the army and was purchased by me for something less than 500 pounds. It was afterwards purchased by the Marquis Wellesly to be sent to the Court of Directors…..I may add that this gorgeous throne was barbarously knocked to pieces with a sledge hammer….’

We are indeed fortunate that this select piece that is an apt illustration of the skill of Mysorean craftsmen and the ambitions of a Mysorean Sultan can still be seen at The Queens’s Gallery, Palace of Hollyroodhouse, Scotland and will be on display to the general public from 27 March – 26 July, 2015.


Sunset at Seringapatam; Mohammad Moienuddin, 2000

Pictures Courtesy: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014


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A bird at Windsor : Tipu Sultan and his ‘Huma’

On 5 March, 1800 Queen Charlotte of England received a curious gift at her home in Windsor castle. It was a box with an accompanying note and a key for the box. The note was from Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville – President of the Board of Control, Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland and Secretary of State for War, Great Britain.

It read: ‘Mr. Dundas takes the liberty of sending to the Queen’s House agreeable to your Majesty’s direction the bird lately arrived from India, which formed part of the ornaments of Tippo (sic) Sultan’s throne. The key of the box and the description of the throne accompanies this’

Now, what bird was this? let us first get a small lesson in ancient Iranian mythology. The ‘Huma’ , is a legendary bird dating back to the Zoroastrian period and also imbibed into Islam as a Sufi fable. It’s special characteristic was that once every 500 years, approximately, it burnt itself and rose once again in youthful freshness from it’s own ashes, symbolizing immortality or resurrection. The bird is a paragon of excellence and beauty.

It is said that this bird neither rests nor touches the Earth but is in perpetual flight. Whomsoever it’s shadow falls on will be king. Accordingly, the feathers decorating the turbans of kings were said to be plumage of the Huma bird. In Sufi tradition, catching a glimpse of it or even a shadow of it is sure to make one happy for the rest of his life.

In classical and modern Persian literature the Huma is frequently equated with another mystical bird called the Simorgh. This is actually a metaphor for God in Sufi mysticism. In the 12th century fable ‘Conference of the Birds’, Iranian Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar wrote of a band of pilgrim birds in search of the Simorgh. In the poem, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh/Huma, a mythical Persian bird roughly equivalent to the western phoenix. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. When the group of thirty birds finally reach the dwelling place of the Huma, all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection.

The Huma has over the centuries been depicted in fables as well as in paintings. A mystical bird, it with it’s Sufi overtones symbolized a pinnacle of spiritual realization that it would bestow on the one over whom it flew.

I have already written about Tipu’s interest in Sufi mysticism. He was well aware of the Simorgh bird and it’s symbolism. One of the books found in his library was the ‘Kisseh Soliman va Simurgh’ written in Farsi by an unknown author. It is a thin folio, written in Nastaliq and with pictures. It is a story of Solomon (Son of David), a Princess and the Simorgh with romance as well as adventure thrown in.

The Flight of the Simurgh. ca. 1590 A.D. - Painted at the Mughal Court of Akbar by the artist Basawan

The Flight of the Simorgh. ca. 1590 A.D. – Painted at the Mughal Court of Akbar by the artist Basawan

So now, since we have learnt what a Huma bird is and what it signifies, we may go back to Tipu Sultan’s throne. The magnificent throne of Tipu Sultan was in the form of a life size Tiger, clothed in shimmering gold metal sheets and studded with dazzling precious stones. Lt. Col Alexander Beatson, spell bound by the beauty of the throne , gives an ecstatic description of it: ‘ The throne was of considerable beauty and magnificence. The support was a wooden tiger as large as life, covered with gold, in the attitude of standing, which was placed across his back. It was composed of an octagonal frame, eight feet by five, surrounded by a low railing, on which were ten small tiger heads, made of gold and beautifully inlaid with precious stones; the ascent to the throne was a small silver step on each side. From the center of the black part opposite the large tiger’s head, a gilded iron pillar rose, seven feet high, surmounted by a canopy superbly decorated with a fringe of pearls. The whole was made of wood and covered with a thin sheet of the purest gold richly illuminated with tiger stripes and Arabic verses. The Huma was placed upon the top of the canopy, and fluttered over the Sultan’s head.

The construction of this throne is supposed to have begun by Tipu in 1788 AD, just after he launched his expedition against Travancore. By about 1792 AD, work on the throne was completed. But on that fateful day on May 4, 1799 when the palace of Tipu Sultan was sacked by the victorious British, the throne became a victim of vandals – the victorious British troops, who unmindful of the aesthetic and historic value of the throne, dismantled it, retaining it as separate pieces – the main gold tiger head, two small ones of the same metal and the Huma bird.

The 'Huma' bird on the canopy of Tipu Sultan's throne

The ‘Huma’ bird on the canopy of Tipu Sultan’s throne

This Huma bird on Tipu’s canopy, is a beautiful specimen of oriental jewellery. It appears in a fluttering posture and occupies the central part of the gold canopy of Tipu’s throne.This fabulous bird, made of solid gold, nearly the size of a pigeon and covered with precious stones, is six inches high and has a brilliant wingspan nearly eight inches wide. The neck is of emeralds and body of diamonds with three bands of rubies. The beak is a large emerald, tipped with gold and has another emerald suspended from it. The pendant hanging from it has a ruby and two pearls, and the crusting on the head are of emerald and pearl. It’s back is one large and beautiful carbuncle, the long tail resembles that of a peacock, and is studded with jewels. The body and the tail are copiously studded with rare gems so closely that the gold is hardly visible. It’s eyes are two brilliant carbuncles. The pearl ornamented breast is covered with diamonds. It’s wings, spread as though it is hovering , are lined with diamonds and other stones.

When the throne was broken up and it’s parts sold by public auction on the orders of the prize agents, the bird was sold to Colonel Gent of the Madras Engineers for 5000 Sultani Pagodas, Tipu’s standard Gold coinage. This was a princely sum even for a British General, though infinitesimally less than the actual value of the item. In all probability, the Sultani Pagodas would have been obtained by the General from his share of the proceeds of the loot of the Seringapatam treasury.

In fact, after the end of the war, Governor General Wellesley instructed his younger brother Colonel Wellesley to preserve the throne in all it’s splendor, so that he could buy it for the King of England, William IV. Fate decided otherwise. When the Governor General heard of the break up and auction of the throne, he wrote back from Fort St. George regretting the sacrilege and asking that if it could be put together again, it ought to be purchased by the East India Company for the King.

Consequently, the Huma had to bought back from Colonel Gent for 1,760 Pounds. We do not know what the Colonel’s reaction to being divested of his prize was, but it will not be difficult to deduce the obvious. Lord Wellesley then sent the bird onward to England as a present to the Queen, the King had already received the pick of the parts of the looted throne, the Golden Tiger Head and Tipu’s royal Carpet that adorned Tipu’s Musnad (seat). And it was then that the East India Company Board of Directors commended to Henry Dundas as President of the Board of Control, the task of presenting Queen Charlotte with Mysore’s Bird of Paradise.

But then, what happened to the legend of the Huma? Why did Tipu and Mysore fall inspite of the Huma hovering over the Royal Throne? The answer to this lies partly in fate and partly in Tipu’s obstinacy or steadfastness as one may call it. We know that the throne was ready by about 1792. But from 1792 onwards, Tipu was engaged in a series of wars against the British and their Indian allies. Tipu was worsted in battle during the Third Mysore war and had to surrender over half his kingdom, pay a large amount of war indemnity to the British and face the ignominy of handing over his sons as hostages to the British. He is then believed to have taken an oath that he would not sit on the throne until he vanquished the British and ended their threat to Mysore. The rest is history or tragedy, as one sees it.

The inventory record of Windsor Castle states that: ‘Lord Wellesley presented (the) Huma to Queen Charlotte. She bequeathed it to her four daughters, Princess Augusta, Elizabeth, Maria and Sophia. They transferred it, in turn to their brother King George IV, on condition that it should never be separated from the Crown of Great Britain and Ireland having been taken by the British Arms.’

The bequest shows that the British Royal family recognized the symbolic value of the Huma bird and wished that the bird stay in the family forever. The Royal Bird of Paradise had flown from Seringapatam onto Windsor. Tipu and his material power are long gone. Queen Charlotte’s descendants still rule from Windsor.


Sunset at Srirangapatam, Mohammad Moienuddin, Orient Longman India, 2000

Tiger of Mysore, Denys Forresst,  Chatto & Windus London, 1970

Photograph of the ‘Tipu’ Huma Bird Courtesy – Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

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The Tiger’s Dream – Meet Tipu Sultan at the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar; 29 September 2014 – 24 January 2015

This exhibition delves into the life and times of Tipu Sultan, the South Indian ruler, statesman, and patron.

Drawn entirely from the MIA collection, and featuring many objects which have never been displayed in Qatar, the centerpiece is a group of 24 paintings showing Tipu’s victory at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780.

A part of the preparation artwork of  Pollilur Mural made on Gouache paper with cotton backing

A part of the preparation artwork of Pollilur Mural made on Gouache paper with cotton backing

Tipu’s victory was recreated as a wall painting in Tipu’s palace, the Darya Daulat Bagh. It survives to this day, although it has been heavily restored.

The Battle of Pollilur, fought in September 1780 between the British East India Company and the forces of Tipu Sultan and his father Haidar Ali, was described as ‘the severest blow that the British ever sustained in India’, and resonated for years in both Britain and Mysore.

The cycle of paintings on display in The Tiger’s Dream appears to be a preparatory attempt at the mural, and thus preserves details which have been lost. In their original state, the paintings on display were one continuous roll of rice paper, approximately 2 meters high and 9 meters wide, but they have since been cut into 24 separate pieces. On display in the exhibition and above, the painting has been digitally re-stitched, allowing it to be seen again as a single artwork.

This is only the second time that these paintings have been shown as a cycle in the last 30 years, and the first time since they were divided that they will be reconstituted as one piece, using digital imaging.

Alongside this unique group is a selection of objects which reflect Tipu’s image as the ‘Tiger of Mysore’.

Mysore cannon from the time of Tipu Sultan

Mysore cannon from the time of Tipu Sultan

Cannon from the Sultanate of Mysore, 1219 Mauludi/1204 AH/1790-91 CE
Cast at Sriringapatna
Copper alloy, gilding
Length: 254cm, weight: 481kg
Signed ‘Ahmad Pali’

Like many other objects in this exhibition, this cannon is laden with tigers and inscriptions. The tiger motif is most forcefully expressed by the snarling tiger heads at the muzzle (front), trunnions (on the sides) and cascabel (back) of the gun barrel. Within a pair of tiger stripes on the barrel, an inscription calls on the ‘triumphant lion of God’, a phrase found regularly in calligraphic designs of this period. This inscription also provides the place and date of manufacture, while the presence of the heart-shaped ‘Haydar’ talisman shows that the cannon was cast at the sultan’s foundry.

A number of talks, tours and workshops around Tipu Sultan and his times have also been scheduled during the course of this exhibition.

Tipu has been a controversial character for over two hundred years; this exhibition will explore the man through the material culture and imagery which he patronised.


Text taken almost in verbatim with images, courtesy of MIA, Qatar. Kindly visit for more details

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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.

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Dawn of a new Era : Tipu Sultan and his Mauludi Calendar

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

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Instant Justice – The Haidar Ali way

Haidar Ali’s rise to power as Mysore’s ‘Sarvadhikari’ from his humble beginnings as a common soldier was primarily on account of his courage, political sagacity and the gift of being the master of every situation he would encounter. The people of Mysore long accustomed to indecisive ‘Dalawais’ or regents who would rule in the name of different Wodeyar kings finally got in Haidar Ali, someone who was also impartial, easy to approach, decisive and firm.

An example of his quick thinking and decisive action can be seen from an incident that transpired in Coimbatore in the year 1767. He along with his retinue was out on a round of the town about 5 in the evening when a woman prostrated herself, and cried out – ‘Justice!’. Nawab Haidar Ali immediately stopped his carriage and made a sign to her to come forward, and demanded her request.

She answered ‘My Lord, I have but one daughter, and Agha Mohammad has ravished her from me’. Agha Mohammad was then about 60 years old and had been chief usher (Chobdar) to Haidar Ali for 25 years. A Chobdar (one who held the ceremonial staff – ‘Chob’ in Farsi) was a powerful position as it was he who was closest to Haidar and had his ears all the time. He would escort Haidar Ali into public functions, wearing a large gold collar as a mark of his dignity and loudly announcing the royal presence and also schedule his appointments with the rest of the public, even the nobility. So Agha Mohammad after his retirement was given a Jagir (landed property as a gift) as a reward for his services.

Haidar replied – ‘Agha Mohammad has been gone from here for more than a month; how does it happen that you have waited till this time without complaining?’. She replied – ‘My Lord, I have given many requests into the hands of Haidar Shah and have received no answer’. Haidar Shah was the incumbent chief usher to the Nawab. Haidar Shah upon hearing this advanced, and said-‘This woman, as well as her daughter are of infamous repute, and live in a disgraceful manner’.

The Nawab immediately gave orders to return to the palace and commanded the woman to follow him. The Chobdar Haidar Shah was in dread now as was the entire court for the Nawab’s temper was uncontrollable when aroused. The French commandant of the European guard under Haidar Ali tried to intercede on behalf of Haidar Shah to procure his pardon. Haidar Ali refused his request with much severity saying – ‘I cannot grant your request. There is no greater crime than that of interrupting the communication between a sovereign and his subjects. It is the duty of the powerful to see that the weak have justice. The sovereign is the only protector God has given them; and the Prince who suffers oppression to pass unpunished among his subjects, is deservedly deprived of their affection and confidence, and at last compels them to revolt against him.’ After this he gave orders to punish Haidar Shah, the Chobdar with 200 lashes on his back on the parade in front of Haidar Ali and the rest of the court.

At the same time, the Nawab commanded an officer of his Abyssinian horse-guard to depart immediately with the complainant to the country-seat where Agha Mohammad was supposed to be at. The orders were to the effect that if he found the girl there, she was to be delivered to her mother, and the Abyssinian officer return to Haidar Ali with the severed head of Agha Mohammad. However if the girl was not found there, he was still charged to conduct Agha Mohammad to Haidar Ali’s presence in Coimbatore.

As it turned out, the girl was eventually found with Agha Mohammad, whose head was promptly severed and brought to the Nawab’s presence. The girl was handed over to her mother.

It was well known to all in the town, that Agha Mohammad was enamoured of the girl and had carried her away by force, after the complainant, the girl’s mother refused to sell him her daughter as she subsisted by prostituting her out. Her daughter’s profession was the only means of the family’s livelihood.

This incident showed Haidar Ali’s adherence to justice at any cost. The complainant and her daughter’s ‘infamous repute’ was of no consequence to Haidar Ali. No citizen however small was to be prevented from meeting the ruler in person; such a denial was enough to get the errant Chobdar a whipping of 200 lashes. The mere fact that a girl in his kingdom, had been carried away, against her will, by one of his trusted noblemen was a justification for Haidar to dispense his justice on the spot.

Tipu Sultan also inherited from his father, Nawab Haidar Ali, the realisation that only a Just ruler could command the love and loyalty of his subjects. All through the rule of the father and son, the British were surprised that Mysore experienced no revolt among it’s citizens or any disturbance at all even though no year passed without war and turbulence between Mysore and it’s foes – the British, Marathas and Nizam.

The above incident gives us a clue to the answer.

The History of Hyder Shah Alias Hyder Ali Khan Bhadur; M.M.D.L.T., 1855

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