Over the past year or so I have been working on the library of Tipu, Sultan of Mysore from 1782 to 1799. From Tipu’s library, an estimated 600 volumes were deposited in the library of the East India Company between 1806 and 1808 and again in 1837 after the library of its college at Fort William was disbanded. By now I have examined well over half of the British Library manuscripts, and a few in other libraries, but have been surprised at how few of the volumes actually contain the seal of Tipu Sultan. So far I have found only 28, some with more than one impression. With the exception of one, they can be divided into three basic types: a personal seal dated 1186 (1772-’73 CE), and official seals dating from 1215 (1787-’88 CE) and 1223 (1795-’96 CE) of the Muhammadi or Mawludi era.

The opening pages of the highly illuminated and calligraphic Miʼat Kalimah ʻAlīyah ʻālīyah Murtaḍawīyah, or The 100 Sayings of Ali ibn Abi Talib, with an interlinear Persian verse translation. Tipu's personal seal is placed at the top. This manuscript was probably acquired in 1780 CE when the previous owner Nawab ʻAbd al-Vahhab was defeated by Hyder Ali’s forces and was dispatched to Seringapatam with his family as prisoners. Picture courtesy British Library

Tipu’s personal seal

In many ways this is the most interesting of the three seals as it perhaps reflects Tipu’s personal interests. The rectangular seal is inscribed Tīpū Sulṭān 1186, measuring 16 x 11.5 mm. The seal predates Tipu’s accession to the throne at the end of 1782 CE after the death of his father Hyder ʻAli.

It would take too long to go into details here and I hope to write more fully about it later, but to summarise, of the 21 volumes examined so far, 14 are volumes of poetry by Amir Khusraw, Attar, Nasafi, Ahmad-i Jam, Zulali, Kamal Khujandi, Urfi, Ahsan Allah and others (but surprisingly not Firdawsi, Hafiz or Nizami). Other works with Tipu’s seal include four historical works, a dictionary and two works on letter writing. For the most part these volumes are very ordinary, only two could be described as high quality. Since there were many other deluxe volumes in his collection which did not carry his seal, we can perhaps assume that it was the content Tipu especially valued.

It is not known when these manuscripts were acquired though at least five had belonged to Nawab ʻAbd al-Vahhab of Chittoor, brother of Muhammad Ali Nawab of the Carnatic, who was taken prisoner with his family in 1780 CE. Another manuscript had belonged to the Qutb Shahs of Golconda and includes the seals of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (ruled 1580-1612) and his successor Muhammad Qutb Shah (ruled 1612-1626).

The one exception to these otherwise literary manuscripts is a collection of original documents from Seringapatam bound together in one volume. This seal occurs occurs on documents dated 15 Jaʻfari, year Azal 1198 AH (1784 CE), and 1 Ahmadi, year Dalv 1200 AH (1786 CE), that is, dating from before 1787, the date of the earlier of his two official seals described below.

Tipu's personal seal placed on the opening of the poem Masnavī-i khvurshīd va māh by Nasafi. Picture courtesy British Library

Tipu’s official seals

Within a few months of ascending the throne Tipu instigated calendrical changes by renaming the 12 months and the year names of the 60 year cycle, while still also using the traditional hijri era for the year. An example of this can be seen in the documents mentioned above. However in his 5th regnal year, he established a new lunisolar system which he called Muhammadi or Mawludi, that is, dating from the supposed birth of Prophet Muhammad which was taken to be in 572 CE. A further innovation was to record the numbers from right to left instead of the usual way round, from left to right.

The reasons for establishing this new era are not clear but Kirkpatrick, inSelect Letters, mentions a letter dated 29 Izadi of the year Dalv, that is, at the beginning of 1787, written shortly before the change, in which Tipu Sultan requested information from scholars as to the exact dates of the birth, mission and flight of the Prophet.

The new system was reckoned to begin with the month Ahmadi 1215, year Sha, which commenced on March 20, 1787. The new seal was no doubt created to mark the new era and it continued to be used during the following years. It is found at the head or to the right side of documents and official manuals written at his request. It reads Tipū Sulṭān, 5121, that is, 1215 Mawludi era (1787-’88 CE) and measures 19 x 15 mm.

Official seal dated 1215 Mawludi in Muʼayyid al-mujāhidīn, an official collection of 104 sermons in verse to be read at prayers, composed by order of Tipu Sultan by Zayn al-ʻĀbidin Mūsavī Shūshtarī. This manuscript is dated Ramazan 27, 1221 Muhammadi corresponding to May 8, 1793. Picture courtesy British Library

This seal has been found in three volumes so far:

  • Muʼayyid al-mujāhidīn.
  • Fatavā-yi Muḥammadī, legal decisions arranged in 313 short chapters at the request of Tipu Sultan.
  • A collection of orders bound together in one volume. Seal impressions occur on documents dated 1221-’22 Mawludi (1793-’95 CE).

Eight years later a second seal was introduced. A description of this seal is given in Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī, regulations issued 21 Haydari, Hirasat, 1224 corresponding to September 22, 1796 on the correct royal insignia to be used in seals and standards, and on the form of official cyphers to be used in different government departments. Instructions are given there for the special seal to measure one finger by half with the tughra Tipu Sultan in the shape of a tiger’s mouth, and the four corners to carry the letters Maw lū d-i Muḥammad. The tughra was also to contain six tiger stripes.

Instructions for the special seal from Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī. Picture courtesy British Library

The design of this new seal is another example of Tipu’s fondness for the tiger motif and was presumably introduced in 1796 to coincide with the orders. It reads: Tipū Sulṭān 3221 Mawlūd-i Muḥammad (1795-’96 CE). It measures 19 x 15 mm and like the earlier seal is found on documents and government manuals of which several copies exist.

Seal dated 1223 Mawludi heading an official register of names for different kinds of horses and bullocks, dated 1 Ahmadi, Shadab, 1226 (March 1798). Picture courtesy British Library

This seal has been found in five volumes so far:

  • Mufarriḥ al-qulūb, a collection of mixed Persian and Dakhni songs collected for Tipu Sultan by Hasan ʻAli ʻIzzat and completed in 1199 AH (1784-’85). For more on this manuscript see Kirkpatrick, Select Letters. This was one of many copies.
  • Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī, regulations for the correct royal insignia for seals, standards and the form of official cyphers to be used in different government departments, drawn up on 21 Haydari, Hirasat, 1224 corresponding to September 22, 1796.
  • Another copy of Z̤avabiṭ-i Sulṭānī.
  • Heading an official copy of a consultation to the six government departments, dated 15 Ahmadi, Shadab (April 1798).
  • Heading an official register of names for different kinds of horses and bullocks, dated 1 Ahmadi, Shadab, 1226 (March 1798).

Wax impression

Finally a unique example of a European style wax sealing is found on a document attached to a consultation to Tipu’s six government departments, dated 15 Ahmadi, Shadab (April 1798). The left-hand seal is inscribed yā ḥāfiz̤, and is possibly dated 1219 AH (1791-’92), but if so, it is quite a few years earlier than the document it is connected to. Unfortunately I have not been able to decipher the right hand seal. There were no doubt other seals of this type, but by virtue of their ephemeral nature they have not survived.

This article first appeared on British Library’s Asian and African studies blog.