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Accessing the Unseen Realm: The Historical and Textual Contexts of Tipu Sultan's Dream Register1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 May 2011


Placing Tipu Sultan of Mysore's personal dream register in its textual and historical contexts reveals an internal logic to its structure and content that scholars have not previously recognised. An analysis of the manuscript as a whole suggests that it was compiled no earlier than 1795, as part of a range of strategies adopted by Tipu to ameliorate the position in which he found himself in the late 1790s. Isolated by his regional contemporaries and under increasing pressure from the British, he drew on a range of divinatory practices in an attempt to understand, and perhaps even influence, the outcome of events.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 2011

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An early draft of sections of this paper was presented to the annual meeting of the Association of Asian Studies, Philadelphia, 25–28 March 2010. I am grateful to the conference participants for their comments.


2 Schoppa, R. Keith, Song Full of Tears: Nine Centuries of Chinese Life at Xiang Lake (Boulder and London, 2002), p. 64Google Scholar.

3 The Register of Tipu Sultan's Dreams, British Library, London (hereafter BL), IO Islamic 3563. An English translation of the bulk of the contents of the register was published in the late 1950s. Husain, Mahmud, The Dreams of Tipu Sultan (Karachi, nd)Google Scholar. For a facsimile reproduction of the manuscript, see Qureshi, Saleem-ul-din, trans., Khwabnama Tipu Sultan (Lahore, 1999), pp. 153–95Google Scholar. I am deeply indebted to Muzaffar Alam for his help with reading parts of the dream manuscript, which is written in shikasta (‘broken’) script, during a month-long stay at the University of Chicago in early 2010.

4 Ian Mabbett, The Kautiliya Arthasastra and the Concept of Secularism, paper presented to the 20th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, Manchester University, 8–11 July 2008. A revised version of the paper has been published in South Asia, n.s., XXXIII, 1, 2010, pp. 13–32. E-mail:

6 Brittlebank, Kate, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy: Islam and Kingship in a Hindu Domain (Delhi, 1997), pp. 3356Google Scholar.

7 Even though the major part of the register is in Tipu's handwriting, it is clear that at least one other person wrote in the book, as items 42 and 44 are in a different hand. Register, fols 16b, 21b & 22a.

8 Tipu was killed while defending his capital during the final British assault on Srirangapattana.

9 Register, fol. 10b.

10 Husain, Dreams, p. 14.

11 Stewart, Charles, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the Late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore to which are prefixed Memoirs of Hyder Aly Khan and his son Tippoo Sultan (Cambridge, 1809), p. 94Google Scholar. For an early English translation of six of the dreams, see: Beatson, Alexander, A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun Comprising a Narrative of the Operations of the Army under the Command of Lieutenant-General Harris, and of the Siege of Seringapatam (London, 1800), pp. cixcxiiiGoogle Scholar.

12 The dating of the dreams is not straightforward, as in most of them Tipu used his own calendar—known as Mauludi, since it was calculated from the spiritual ‘birth’ (maulūd) of the Prophet, and based on the local Hindu cycle of 60 years—rather than the Hijri calendar. Sometimes both the Mauludi and the Hijri dates are provided, which along with other calendrical information contained in the dreams allows one to establish reasonably precise dates for those dreams lacking a Hijri date. Calculations have also been made based on information provided by Kirkpatrick, William in his Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan to Various Public Functionaries (London, 1811), pp. xxvixxxivGoogle Scholar.

13 For a discussion of such terminology, and the variations in meaning that can occur, see: Hermansen, Marcia K., “Visions as “Good to Think”: A Cognitive Approach to Visionary Experience in Islamic Sufi Thought”, Religion, 27 (1997), p. 28CrossRefGoogle Scholar and note 27.

14 Brittlebank, Kate, “Piety and Power: A Preliminary Analysis of Tipu Sultan's Dreams”, in Brittlebank, Kate, (ed.), Tall Tales and True: India, historiography and British imperial imaginings (Clayton, Vic., 2008), pp. 3341Google Scholar.

15 Husain, Dreams, p. 84.

16 Ibid., pp. 61–62. For reasons of accuracy, I have slightly edited Husain's translation. The dream occurs on fol. 14a of the register.

17 Register, fol. 10b. The first almost certainly refers to the Nawab of the Carnatic, who died in October 1795, and the second to the Peshwa Savai Madhav Rao II, who also died in October 1795. The expression ‘bādshāhī’ is likely here to mean the Mughal Empire, rather than Tipu's realm.

19 Register, fols 21b–22a.

20 Ibid., fols 23a, 24b, 25a–b, 26a, 27b, 28a.

21 Al-Azmeh, Aziz, “Muslim Genealogies of Knowledge”, History of Religions, 31, 4 (1992), pp. 403404CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 Ibid., p. 406.

23 Ibid., p. 411.

24 Rahman, Fazlur, “Dream, Imagination, and ‘Ālam al-mithāl”, in von Grunebaum, G. E. and Caillois, Roger (eds.), The Dream and Human Societies (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966), p. 419Google Scholar; for more on the ‘ālam ul-mithāl, see Henry Corbin, “The Visionary Dream in Islamic Spirituality”, in Grunebaum and Callois, Dream and Human Societies, pp. 406–408.

25 Hermansen, “Visions as ‘Good to Think”’, pp. 35–36.

26 Ibid., p. 34.

27 Rahman, “Dream, Imagination”, p. 418.

28 Hermansen, “Visions as ‘Good to Think”’, pp. 25, 40 note 54.

29 Further discussion of such practices can be found in Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy, pp. 45–56. A broader overview can be found in Massumeh Farhad with Bagci, Serpil et al. ., Falnama: The Book of Omens (London, 2009)Google Scholar. I am grateful to Sanjay Subrahmanyam for alerting me to this publication.

30 Minor alterations and additions occur throughout text, although they do not appear to have been added later but rather as the writer has progressed. See, for example, Register, fols 2a, 3a, 5b, 8a–b.

31 Husain, Dreams, p. 77.

32 Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy, pp. 26–28. Interestingly, the hostage princes were returned to their father in March 1794, which may or may not have a bearing on the significance of this dream.

33 See: Hasan, Mohibbul, History of Tipu Sultan, 2nd edition (Calcutta, 1971), pp. 92108Google Scholar, for a detailed description of this conflict.

34 Cf. Cornell Fleischer, H., ‘Secretaries’ Dreams: Augury and Angst in Ottoman Scribal Service’, in Baldauf, Ingeborg and Farooqhi, Suraiya (eds.), Armağan: Festchrift fur Andreas Tietze, (Prague, 1994), p. 84Google Scholar.

35 On bibliomancy, see Serpil Bagci and Massumeh Farhad, “The Art of Bibliomancy”, in Farhad with Bagci et al, Falnama, pp. 20–25, 309–310.

36 Qur'an of Tipu Sultan, BL, IO Islamic 3562; Holy Qur'an, British Royal Collection, RCIN 1005001. I am grateful to both the British Library and the Royal Library, Windsor, for allowing me to consult these Qur'ans.

37 For details of this Qur'an, see Muhammad Isa Waley, ‘Islamic Manuscripts in the British Royal Collection: A Concise Catalogue’, Manuscripts of the Middle East, 6, 1992, pp. 7–8. There is a note in the Qur'an indicating that it once belonged to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, but Waley believes this is unlikely. Intriguingly, there is a label on the front cover which states that it was a ‘gift of the dargah of Hazrat Bandanawaz’ of Gulbarga. In item 8 in the register, Tipu dreams that he receives a Qur'an as a gift from this Sufi saint.

38 See for example, BL, IO Islamic 3562, fols 45b, 108a, 143b.

39 It has not been possible to spend much time on the Persian annotations, as the Qur'an is too fragile to copy.

40 RCIN 1005001, Fol. 352a.

41 Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy, pp. 47–49.

42 Register, fol. 23a. The Mysore ruler appears to have regarded himself as something of an authority on astrology, as he is believed to have composed a treatise on the subject, comprising forty-five chapters. Unfortunately, the work is undated. For a description, see Hosain, M. Hidayet, ‘The Library of Tipu Sultan (ah1197–1214/ad1782–99)’, Islamic Culture, 14, 2 (1940), p. 152Google Scholar.

43 Stewart, Descriptive Catalogue, p. v. Stewart states that the main sources of plunder were the libraries at Shahnur, Cuddapah (Kadapa) and the Carnatic, especially the Fort of Chittur in 1780, which held the library of Nasir ud-Daula Abdul Wahab Khan, the brother of the Nawab of the Carnatic.

44 Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy, pp. 26–27.

45 For details of the two texts, see Ethé, Hermann, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the India Office Library (London, 1980), p. 1415Google Scholar; Hosain, ‘Library’, pp. 145, 147. Information provided by Ethé suggests a date of 28 April 1794 for the Mu'aiyid ul-Mujāhidīn.

46 Ethé, Catalogue, p. 1471–2; Hosain, ‘Library’, pp. 140–41. The latter two works may well have been used in association with bibliomancy.

47 Hosain, ‘Library’, p. 142.

48 See: Ethé, Catalogue, p. 1357, for the calligraphy treatise, and Hosain, ‘Library’, pp. 140–60, for a range of other works commissioned by Tipu.

49 Jean Lecerf, “The Dream in Popular Culture: Arabic and Islamic” in Grunebaum and Caillois, The Dream and Human Societies, p. 366. Islam is not unique in holding such an attitude towards royal dreams, which also existed in Europe. Rivière, Janine, ‘“Visions of the Night”: The Reform of Popular Dream Beliefs in Early Modern England’, Parergon, 20, 1 (2003), p. 125CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 Kathryn Babayan, “The Cosmological Order of Things in Early Modern Iran”, in Farhad with Bagci et al, Falnama, pp. 252–253; Cornell Fleischer, “Ancient Wisdom and the New Sciences: Prophecies at the Ottoman Court in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries”, in Farhad with Bagci et al, Falnama, p. 243; Green, Nile, “Religious and Cultural Roles of Dreams and Visions in Islam”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 13, 3 (2003), pp. 302, 303–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Digby, Simon, “Dreams and Reminiscences of Dattu Sarvani, A Sixteenth Century Indo-Afghan Soldier”, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 2, 1 (1965), pp. 5354CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Quinn, Sholey A., “The Dreams of Shaykh Safi al-Din and Safavid Historical Writing”, Iranian Studies, 29, 1/2 (1996), pp. 128129CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Babayan, “Cosmological Order”, p. 252.

52 Digby, “Dreams of Dattu Sarvani”, pp. 53–54.

53 Fleischer, “Ancient Wisdom”, p. 236.

54 Alam, Muzaffar and Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, “Envisioning power: The political thought of a late eighteenth-century Mughal prince”, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 43, 2 (2006), pp. 147148CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Bagci and Farhad, ‘Art of Bibliomancy’, p. 24.

55 Hermansen, Marcia, “Dreams and Dreaming in Islam”, in Bulkeley, Kelly (ed.), Dreams: A Reader on the Religious, Cultural, and Psychological Dimensions of Dreaming (New York, 2001), p. 76Google Scholar; Speering, A. C., ‘Introduction’, in Brown, Peter, (ed.), Reading Dreams: The Interpretation of Dreams from Chaucer to Shakespeare (Oxford, 1999), p. 2Google Scholar.

56 Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy, pp. 50–52.

57 William Kirkpatrick to Lord Mornington, 8 August 1799, Kirkpatrick Papers, BL, European Manuscripts, EUR.E.196. This information was provided to Kirkpatrick by Tipu's personal munshī or secretary, Habibullah. On the need for security leading to secrecy in relation to divination at the Ottoman court, see: Fleischer, ‘Ancient Wisdom’, p. 236.

58 Green, Nile, “The Uses of Books in a Late Mughal Takiyya: Persianate Knowledge Between Person and Paper”, Modern Asian Studies, 44, 2 (2010), p. 254CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 Alam and Subrahmanyam, “Envisioning Power”, p. 151.

60 Hermansen, “Visions as ‘Good to Think”’, p. 37.

61 Register, fols 24b, 25b.

62 Husain, Dreams, pp. 63–64; Register, fol. 7a.

63 Register, fol. 24b.

64 Husain, Dreams, pp 67–68; Register, fol. 8. For reasons of accuracy, I have slightly edited Husain's translation.

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