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Ursula Sims-Williams (British Library) – Tipu Sultan’s Library: Building a Collection
March 19, 2019 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Tipu Sultan of Mysore is one of the most colourful characters in the history of South Asia. On the one hand he is often castigated as a fanatic Muslim and brutal ruler, but at the same time he is regarded by many as a martyr whose wars against the British foreshadowed the historic uprising of 1857 by around 50 years.
My current research focuses on Tipu Sultan’s Library collection, which was estimated at the fall of Seringapatam in 1799 to consist of about 2000 volumes. Of these the British Library holds some 500 manuscripts while others are in the Asiatic Society, Calcutta and scattered around the world.
Conflicting views as to the origins of the collection vary. Charles Stewart, in his Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore (1809) – up to now the only published study of the collection – described it as largely comprising “plunder brought from Sanoor, Cuddapah, and the Carnatic.” By contrast Maya Jasanoff, Edge of Empire (2006) writes “a study of the owners’ seals and price markings in Tipu’s manuscripts suggests that their provenances were varied, and that Tipu was an active buyer on the book market.”
By examining the collection as it exists today in the British Library and with the discovery of additional sources in the India Office Records and elsewhere, I attempt to give a more measured account of the collection and address the evidence as to whether Tipu Sultan was in fact a bibliophile and collector or not.