In recent weeks, I have been examining bindings of the British Library’s manuscripts which formerly belonged to Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r 1782-1799). The British Library collection probably constitutes about 25% of the original Library as it was in 1799 after the fall of Seringapatam. The manuscripts originate ultimately from a number of different, largely unspecified, locations, but fortunately there is a distinct corpus (23 out of 242 so far examined) which can easily be identified as belonging to Tipu Sultan’s court. These are works bound in his own individualistic style of binding or else were copied or composed at Seringapatam.
One of the most lavish is Tipu Sultan’s personal Qur’an (IO Islamic 3562), illustrated above (more on this in a future blog). Decorated heavily in gilt on a cross-hatched background, the binding also includes a number of inscriptions. These were described in general terms by Charles Stewart in A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, (Cambridge, 1809), pv
All the volumes that had been rebound at Seringapatam have the names of God, Mohammed, his daughter Fatimah, and her sons, Hassen and Hussein, stamped in a medallion on the middle of the cover; and the names of the Four first Khalifs, Abu Beker, Omar, Osman, and Aly, on the four corners. At the top is “Sirkari Khodādad,” (the government given by God); and at the bottom, “Allah Kāfy,” (God is sufficient).”
I thought it would be helpful to expand on these inscriptions which are stamped on the outside of the bindings. Typically, but not always, they consist of:
- Front top: Sarkār-i Khudādādī ‘God-given government’
- Front central medallion: Allāh, Muḥammad, ʻAlī, Fāṭimah, Ḥasan, Ḥusayn
- Back central medallion: Qur’an Surah 2:32: Subḥānaka lā ‘ilma lanā illā mā ‘allamtanā innaka anta al-‘alīm al-ḥakīm “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.”
- Four corners: Ḥaz̤rat Abū Bakr Ṣiddīq; Ḥaz̤rat ʻUmar al-Fārūq; Ḥaz̤rat ʻUsmān ibn ʻAffān; Ḥaz̤rat ʻAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib
- Pendants hanging from central medallion: Allāh kāfī “God is sufficient”
- Cartouches: Lā ilāha illā Allāh Muḥammad Rasūl Allāh “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his messenger”
- Spine: Qur’an Surah 56:79: Lā yamassuhu illā al-muṭahharūn “None may touch it except the purified”
Less ambitious Tipu bindings show considerable variation and demonstrate that the inscriptions could be stamped quite carelessly as illustrated in the examples below.
Not all of Tipu Sultan’s bindings included his characteristic inscriptions. Two examples of comparitively simple bindings are illustrated below.
Altogether I estimate that the British Library has about 600 volumes from Tipu Sultan’s collection. These consist of 197 volumes of Arabic and Persian manuscripts deposited in the Library on 16 July 1806, further volumes deposited in 1807 (204 vols) and April 1808 (68 vols) and a proportion of the 308 manuscripts sent to London in 1837 after Fort William College in Calcutta was closed down and its collection disbanded. For more on this see my earlier post Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah. I’m hoping that by examining the collection I may be able to discover more about the provenance of each volume and establish certain regional binding styles, but this is very much work in progress, so watch this space!
This article first appeared on British Library’s Asian and African studies blog.
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