Saturday 9 November 2013

The library that the British completely looted

Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) had a wonderful library. We are fortunate in having an account of the books that he maintained in his library near his Lal Mahal palace in Srirangapatna, near Mysore.
The library was fortunately not burnt when the British defeated Tipu in the fourth and final Anglo-British war if 1799 and overran Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799.
What the British forces did was that they emptied the library of almost all of its books, journals, chronicles, maps, drawings and other items. They then took away these items either back home to England or to their libraries and houses in Madras, Calcutta and even Bombay.
A few of Tipu’s books formed part of  the collection of the library of the Governor-General of India in Calcutta and then the Viceroy’s library first in Calcutta and in Delhi after the capital of India was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in 1917.
What was Tipu’s library like? How was it different from other libraries.
Unlike Hyder Ali, Tipu was educated. Though Hyder was unlettered, he encouraged his people-family, friends and relatives Tipu included, to learn and write.
Tipu, as was his personality, was diverse in his reading habits. He liked books on the Koran as he did on military strategy. His library also had books on gardening and horticulture.
When the British managed to raid his library on May 4 and May 5, 1799, they indexed 44 different volumes on the holy Koran or Quaran, 41 commentaries on Koran and each of them by different authors, 35 books on prayers, 46 on tradition, 115 books on Sufism, 24 books on ethics, 95 texts on law and jurisprudence, 19 on arts and sciences, 118 on history, 53 letters, 190 works on poetry, seven on mathematics, 20 on astronomy, 29 on lexicography, 45 on philosophy, 23 on Hindi and Dekhani poetry, 62 on physics, four on Delhani prose, two on Turkish prose and 18 fables and stories.       
Many of the manuscripts were earlier in the possession of the Adil Shah Kingdom of Bijapur, the Qutb Shah dynasty of Golconda, the Nawab of Savanur and the royal libraries of Chitoor and Kadapa.   
Tipu was fluent in several languages such as Kannada, Hindustani, Persian, Arabic, French and English and he had books on each of these languages in his library.
Tipu was highly possessive of his books. He often read them and some he read over and over again. He made it a practice to put his signature and stamp on every book he read. When the British looted his library, they found that most of the books in the library bore his signature and stamp.
The signatures were artistic and put in an intricate and unique style. Many books bore the signature Nabi Malik, another name of the Sultan.
When the British decided to make an inventory of the library, they appointed Kirk Patrick, as its supervisor. He went over almost every book in the library and also made a mote of the books on which Tipu had signed. He found Tipu’s wittings to be much  superior to others. Some of the comments and writings that Tipu had jotted down were exceptionally lucid and compact.
Kirk Patrick indexed at least 2000 books in the library. This loot was divided between the Cambridge and Oxford Universities in England and the College of Fort William in Calcutta and the Royal Asiatic Society, Calcutta.
Some books came into the possession of Robert Orme, the historiographer of the East India Company who had collected a large number of manuscripts, books and letters during his career and requested the East India Company to create ‘a repository for Oriental Writings.
That Tipu loved Sufism is without doubt. He had great respect for them and he often read about Sufism. He also encouraged Sufis to reside in his kingdom. His respect for the Sufis grew manifold when two Sufis fought alongside him in the battle of Bangalore against the British.  
Charles Stewart in his book, “A descriptive catalogue of the oriental library of the late Tippoo Sultan”,  lists 115 books on Sufism in Tipu Sultan’s library. He also says that the library had  190 books on poetry,  118 on history and 90 on the Koran and Hadith.
He also records in the book that after the fall of Srirangapatna, Marquis Wellesley, the Governor-General of India, ordered that the Mysore manuscripts in the library be transferred to the library of the college on Fort William in Madras.
One of the most valuable books in the library of Tipu was the illuminated Koran. As can be guessed and expected, the British took it away to England. It was presented to the University of Cambridge by the Court of Directors of the East India Company in 1806. The volume is beautifully bound in gold and it has two decorated medallions and two magnificent headpieces containing the Fātia. The text of the Koran here is followed by some prayers, and a Fal nama. The manuscript is not dated but it is believed to have been written sometime in 1655.
Another Koran is in the possession of Oxford University. This beautifully decorated copy was in the personal library of Tipu.
This is among the books that the East India Company gave the Bodleian, Cambridge University Library and the Royal Asiatic Society.
This manuscript is open at the highly adorned carpet pages. Written in the centre of the decoration is the first chapter of the Koran. Above are two sarlawhs, is the literature saying: “This is the opening chapter of the Book which was revealed at both Mecca and Medina. It consists of seven verses”.
Other books in the library included Su' al-o- Jawab-i-Dara Shikoh Wa Baba Lal, a treatise detailing the conversation between Prince Dara Shikoh, the Mughal prince and brother of Aurangzeb and Baba Lal Das of Kaithal on the life and doctrines of Hindu Faqirs or Hindu mendicants.
Another book was Kashf al-Mahjub, the oldest systematic work on the theoretical and practical doctrines of Sufism by Abul Hasan Ali bin Uthman bin Ali al-Hujwiri.
The history section of Tipu’s library had books such as Tawarikh-i-Firuz Shahi by Shams-i-Siraj Afif, Akbarnama and Ain-I Akbari by Abul Fazal, Majmu’a-i-Khuwrrami and Shah Jahan Nama by Bahadur Singh, the Alamgir Nam-the tale of Aurangzeb’s first ten years as the Mughal Emperor and even a book on Bahadur Shah, the son of Aurangzeb.
Tipu also had in his library accounts of the countries of Iran, Afghanistan and European countries and he had books such as Tarikh–i-Alam Ara–Ara-i-Abbasi, a history of the life and region of Abbas of Safawi dynasty of Iran by Iskandar and the Ketab Timouryeh and Tarikh Shah Rookh which deal with Timur Lang: Rozet al Jenat on the history of the City of Heart: Abdallah Naheh which deals with the history of the Usberg Tartars.
The Tabkat Akberry is a manuscript that deals with the history of India: Tarelh Bahmani a history of the Bahmani kings of Gulbarga in north Karnataka.
The Tarikh Rozet al Suffra, a work in Persian, dealt on the Prophet and the first four Khalifs. 
Thus, we see that Tipu has a fairly vast and diverse collection of books covering a range of subjects. Tipu owed his knowledge of the arts and his education entirely to his father, Hyder Ali.
Though he was unlettered, Hyder made special arrangements to ensure that Tipu received good education.
An expert calligraphist, he wrote more than 45 books himself or he got it written under his supervision. Tipu was a bibliophile and he get good religious books read out to him at lunch or dinner time.
He went to bed in his hammock with a book in hand. He also built up a rare and comprehensive personal library in the palace, which contained an exquisite collection of rare books on different subjects. The books were looked after by a librarian.
He established a separate department  for binding books. After binding the books, the name of Allah, Muhammad, members of the Holy Prophet’s family and the rightly guided caliphs were printed on the title page. Then, on the top and bottom of the book were inscribed the words, Sultanat-e-Khudadad.
 In 1785, he received a book in French from Europe about the science of medicine. He ordered that the book be translated. The same year, he set up a university in Srirangapatnam called Jamia-i-Umoor where both religious and modern education were imparted simultaneously. A rare Persian translation of Mahabharata prepared on the order of Emperor Akbar under the supervision of Abul Fazal, was also part of Tipu’s library.
Apart from the University, Tipu asked the Qazis and the Imams of mosques to set up a madarsa in each mosque, where education was imparted to children and the details of the children and their books were to be made available to the Sultan. If a child bunked school,  the Taluqdar of the area was supposed to ensure that the child was present in the madarsa.
Today, the British Museum in London has 94 priceless manuscripts of Tipu’s library. It also has 438 manuscripts belonging to the Adil Shah royal library of Bijapur, 141 manuscripts purchased from Richard Johnson in 1807 and 72 manuscripts bought from Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India, in 1809. 

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