New light on Tipu Sultan

A Persian manuscript in the British Library in London and other documents help correct an error in Tipu Sultan’s birthdate. The ensuing research also offers a fresh insight into the mind of the Mysore ruler.

Published : Aug 28, 2021 06:00 IST

Painting  of Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), ruler of Mysore from 1782 to 1799, courtesy of India Office Library and Records, the British Library, London.

Painting of Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), ruler of Mysore from 1782 to 1799, courtesy of India Office Library and Records, the British Library, London.

THE year 2015 saw the Congress government in Karnataka under Chief Minister Siddaramaiah promulgate an order to celebrate November 10 as Tipu Sultan Jayanthi in honour of the 18th century ruler of Mysore who remained, until his death on the battlefield, the last holdout among India’s numerous rulers to resist the growing clout of the British East India Company. This date, based on the Hijri calendar, was provided by a contemporary biographer, Meer Hussein Ali Khan Kirmani, who mentioned the birthdate of his former employer and ruler of Mysore in his book Nishan i Haidar: Maroof ba Tarikh i Tipu Sultan.

The book was written a few years after the death of Tipu Sultan and translated into English by Col. W. Miles for the Royal Asiatic Society in 1842. November 10, 1750, was supposed to be the Julian calendar equivalent and November 20, 1750, the Gregorian calendar equivalent of the Islamic Hijri date, 20 Zi-hijjah, 1163, mentioned by Kirmani.

In the din of the political outcry that followed the marking of Tipu Sultan’s birthdate, even unto the cancellation of the commemoration by Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2019, Kirmani’s words at the end of his preface to his work were forgotten: “ What he [Kirmani] hopes from the truly learned, the generous concealer of errors, is, that, if they at any time should peruse this book, they will not dwell on the want of arrangement, or of elegance, in the language and sentences, but, by the favour of correction, lay an obligation on him, which he is ever ready to acknowledge.”

Orders 31 cannon fires on his birthday

It was this ‘error’ that could be corrected by way of a discovery at the British Library in London. This is the story of that discovery and the ensuing research that not only helped correct an error but offered fresh insight into the mind of Tipu Sultan. The fact that scholars and politicians of all shades had been fighting over a birthday commemoration without verifying the accuracy of that date and allowing a two-century-old error to continue reflects the damage the study of history suffers when it is caught in contemporary politics.

Also read: Tipu—fact & fiction

The British Library has in its collection a Persian manuscript, titled Fateh-al Mujahideen, with the seal and signature of Tipu Sultan. It is a military manual that Tipu Sultan prescribed to his army commanders. The fourth chapter in this manuscript contains a list of important dates on which the army was commanded to fire gun salutes. One such special day was the birthday of Tipu Sultan. This part of the document was translated into English by the Persian and Islamic scholar Adnan Rashid from London as:

“Happy celebration for the birth-date of God’s blessing, may he live long, fourteen of month Zakiri year 1165 Hijri every year on the mentioned date after ten hours upon day-rise thirty-one canon-fires commence. The celebration/ceremony should be performed by all the people of the city….”

The Mauludi calendar

The mention of the Hijri year 1165 in the context of Tipu Sultan’s birthdate attracted attention because it was commonly held that Tipu Sultan was born in the Hijri year 1163. The next challenge was to relate the month Zakiri with the English calendar. There is no such month in the Islamic Hijri calendar. This month figures in the calendar Tipu Sultan created for use in Mysore. He named it the Mauludi calendar. Maulud in Arabic means ‘birth’. Tipu Sultan marked the birth of the Prophet in 572 CE as the first year of his calendar. The Mauludi calendar was not based on the lunar Islamic Hijri calendar but on the luni-solar Hindu panchanga calendar followed by his subjects across Mysore. This matching of calendars proved to be helpful for administration as now harvesting seasons, festival periods and tax collection deadlines matched.

The use of this calendar came to an abrupt halt with the death of Tipu Sultan on May 4, 1799, as its use was entirely driven by his authority, and its relatively short presence was not enough to place the system for public use. The memory of the method and the use of the Mauludi calendar remained only until the early years of the 19th century as there were still people around then who had used this calendar in Tipu Sultan’s time. But as time passed, the use of this calendar was forgotten. This is apparent from the mistakes seen in the dates in Colonel William Kirkpatrick’s translation of a large body of Tipu Sultan’s letters to his officials, which were published as early as 1811. Here, Kirkpatrick, a scholar of Persian, in the preface complains about the difficulty in relating the Mauludi calendar to the Gregorian one.

The Mauludi calendar began on the first day of the Chaitra month each year, which was the auspicious day of Ugadi, and its months were aligned with the start and end of each panchanga (Hindu calendar) month. Like the panchanga , the Mauludi calendar also followed a 60-year cycle. The only difference was that Tipu Sultan’s calendar did not follow the kshaya and vridhhi of tithi s that the panchanga followed. In the Hindu calendar system, tithi s, or lunar days, are determined by sunrise each day. If there are three tithi s between one sunrise and another, then one of the three tithi s becomes kshayi, or decreases. Similarly, if one tithi continues across two sunrises, then that tithi is called ‘ vridhi ’, or increasing. The Mauludi month Zakiri (also called Tooluyi by Tipu Sultan until the year 1786) corresponded with the panchanga month of Margasheersha.

Documentary evidence

On delving further into the Tipu Sultan manuscripts in the British Library, a note mentioning the date of Tipu Sultan’s birthday was located and its mention was made by Kirkpatrick that he found it in 1800 in Tipu Sultan’s library, and it contained the same birthdate. Another document, titled Tippoo’s Regulations, which was seized from Tipu Sultan’s camp in the course of the Third Anglo-Mysore war and translated by the English, also has the same date. So, we have the same birthdate mentioned in three different important documents all produced in Mysore in Tipu Sultan’s lifetime.

The Mauludi date mentioned therein was verified using panchanga software developed by Vishvas Vasuki from Bengaluru, Professor Karthik Raman of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and a converter site developed by Manjunath Gaonkar of NeoTech, Bengaluru. The date conversion tool itself was verified by comparing the Mauludi and Gregorian dates in early British translations of Tipu Sultan’s letters as well as from a comparison of Mauludi and panchanga dates mentioned in letters sent by Tipu Sultan to the Sringeri Math.

The research concluded that the 14th day of Zakiri for the Hijri year 1165 corresponded with December 1, 1751, in the Gregorian calendar that we follow today. Dr B. Sheik Ali, the senior and erudite Mysore historian and former Vice Chancellor of Mangalore and Goa universities, reviewing the result of the research, pointed out: “We have to accept this date, as it is based on irrefutable evidence.”

Akbar’s calendar

The Mughal emperor Akbar was the only other Indian Muslim monarch who introduced such a radically new system of calendar. Akbar’s calendar was known as the Tarikh-e-Elahi and dates from the day of his ascension to the throne of Delhi and commemorates his coronation as the Emperor of India in 1556 C.E. While Akbar’s calendar was a solar calendar and based solely on the starting year of his reign, Tipu Sultan took the starting year of his calendar a step further by dating it from the year of Prophet Muhammad’s birth and not his flight to Medina. Tipu Sultan believed that starting an era with the year of birth of the Prophet was a signal of strength rather than starting it with the date of his flight.

Also read: Tipu in Malabar

The arrangement of the Mauludi months in accordance with the months in the Hindu calendar would also have been a bold decision on his part as all documents emanating from his court now only carried the Mauludi era and not the Hijri dates that were ancient and sacred to Islamic civilisation.

The fact that certain scholars of Islamic jurisprudence hold any calendar that exceeds 12 months and with intercalary months out of line with the injunctions set in the Quran (Surah At-Tawbah, 9:36-37) was also something Tipu Sultan would have had to contend with and overcome. Wherever the Hindu panchanga had more than 12 months in a year on account of the intercalary adhikamasa months to align the lunar and solar calendars, the Mauludi calendar also followed with equivalent zaid months which began and ended on the same dates as the adhikamasa months. Dr A.K. Shastry, during his work on the letters in Sringeri Math with which Tipu Sultan had a cordial relationship, translated a Kannada letter from Tipu Sultan to the Shankaracharya Sri Sacchidananda Bharati requesting him to examine a newly prepared panchanga for the next year and to mention the auspicious days therein.

Just like Mysore’s famed flintlock guns, rockets and silk, which combined the best of Mysorean ingenuity with the latest in the available technology from Europe, the Mauludi calendar is also an example of Tipu Sultan taking the best from what was made available to further Mysore’s ends. His biographer Denys Forrest sums up: “Tipu Sultan was always recognisably himself. That is why the English feared him, even beyond reason.”

Nidhin G. Olikara is an indepen dent researcher based in Shivamogga. Hi s primary area of academic interest is the ‘History of Mysore under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan’.

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