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The following glossary includes words in use in India during the C18th (especially in relation to the Kingdom of Mysore and the Maratha Confederacy), English language words and words coined and/or derived from other languages. [Note: military terminology relevant to British and European forces is treated separately].



'Amaldar: under Tipu, revenue officer in charge of a district.

Arek: areca nut (Areca catechu).

Arrack: spirit distilled from coconut palm sap; highly alcoholic (from Arabic araq = juice).

Ayah/Amah: lady's maid or nurse; children's nanny.

Ayda Katti: a broad-bladed chopper-like weapon; the large sword-knife of the Coorgs.


Babri [also Bubri]: the tiger stripe decorative motif used by Tipu Sultan.

Badmash: villain, scoundrel.

Badshaw: king.

Bagh: garden.

Bahadur: brave, gallant.

Bang: extract from Cannabis plant.

Banghy [also Bahangi]: shoulder-yoke for carrying loads, especially boxes, used when travelling.

Bania: Indian Hindu trader or moneylender [see also: Vania].

Banian: fig tree (Ficus indica)

Banyan (also Bania or Vania): Hindu merchants or traders from Gujarat, banker. These men often settled as agents or principals at the chief trading centres in the Persian Gulf or Red Sea.

Batta: special payments and field allowances paid to troops in the field.

Batty: rice in the husk.

Begum: title of a high-ranking married Muslim woman, princess.

Betel: see pan

Bhangi: sweeper.

Bhistee/Bheesty/Beastie: water carrier (also Bihishti).

Bibi (or Beebee): unofficial wife, permanent female companion or mistress; title of the queen of Cannanore (Malabar); also a pejorative term for Indian mistresses of European soldiers and officials, or for a prostitute.

Bindi: forehead decoration.

Blue Light: blue illumination-flare composed of salt-petre, sulphuret of lead and sulphur in proportions 6:1:2.

Bombay Marine: the fighting navy of the East India Company in Asian waters, as opposed to its mercantile marine. In 1830 the Bombay Marine was renamed the Indian Navy.

Bound Hedge: broad strong belt of prickly bushes, shrubs or bamboo planted to form a defensive fence enclosing forts or villages. [see: Mysore Thorn]

Boxwallah: pejorative word for people involved in trade or commerce (originally a pedlar).

Brahmin: highest caste among Hindus and Jains.

Brinjarris [also Binjarrees]: travelling grain and salt-merchants in the Deccan (a separate caste) contracted to supply the British Army in India; commissariat carrier.

Budgerow: a keel-less barge, used on the Ganges.

Bukshie [also Bukshy, Bukshey, Bukhshie, Buxee]: high-ranking officer in Tipu's military administration; also a military paymaster

Bunder: Custom-house.


Cadjan: palm leaves matted or plaited together to form a thatch or roof.

Caffre [also Kafir]: non-Muslim African, originally a tribe's name.

Cantonment: that part of a town occupied by the garrison; permanent military town or station.

Charpoy [also Charpai]: string bed or cot.

Chaukidar: watchman.

Chela: slave; disciple.

Chettyar: member of the Hindu merchant community on the Coromandel Coast.

Chick: short for chickeen or chequeen - a gold coin for a long time current in India, derived from the Venetian ducat or sequin. [See also: zechin].

Choli: a woman's close-fitting bodice with short sleeves, revealing the midriff.

Chouk [also Chauk]: marketplace.

Choultry: hall, shed or covered platform used as a travellers' resting place; also a pillared hall or colonnade of a temple. The term is peculiar to South India.

Chunam: a stucco of burned or crushed seashells used for whitewashing buildings and floors on the Coromandel Coast and the Malabar Coast; quicklime, plaster or mortar.

Churidar: trousers fitted from knee to ankle in close gathers.

Circar: name given to territory in the northern part of the Coromandel coast separating the areas controlled by the Bengal and Madras Presidencies, and ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Conjee: boiled rice water, used as a drink.

Coolie: manual labourer.

Coorg: native of Coorg (Kodagu).

Coss [or Kos]: a measure of distance, approximately two miles (or 3.2 kilometres).

Cossid: foot messenger.

Country Boat: local water transport in South Asia.

Country Powers: indigenous rulers.

Country Trade: term used to signify European commerce with Indian peoples and merchants throughout the East Indies. The normal commerce was in spices, pepper, silk, betel nut, indigo, cotton and saltpetre. This exchange was distinct from the traffic in goods to and from India and Europe carried on board East Indiamen.

Cowle: bond or surety, guarantee of safe passage.

Crore: one hundred lakhs of rupees, ten million.

Cushoon [also Koshoon]: regiment/brigade in Tipu Sultan's army - formed from 4 teeps; also circumcised Muslim soldier.

Cutcherry [also Cutchery or Kutcheree]: military division or large brigade in Tipu Sultan's army, approximately 5,600 men formed from 4 cushoons; also a judicial court


Dacoit: bandit, robber

Dak or dawk: Indian mail-post; a relay system for forwarding mail, messages, information and goods.

Dalavai: Commander-in-Chief

Demi-lune: see ravelin.

Dhoolie, Doolie or Dhooly: covered Indian chair, litter or palanquin, often used to carry a sick person.

Dhobi: washerman.

Dhoti: loin cloth worn by men, passed around the waist, drawn between the legs and tucked in behind.

Droog: hill fort in South India.

Divan [also Diwan]: a ruler's levee or audience hall; also a chief minister.

Diwali [also: Divali]: Hindu festival of lights (September-October), usually marking the end of the rainy season.

Diwan: chief minister.

Dubash: Indian agent of East India Company officials. Derived from 'do bhasha' meaning one who spoke two languages.

Dungaree: coarse cotton cloth.

Durbar: ruler's court or throne room.

Durg [also Durga]: high hill; fort on top of same.

Durrie: a cotton carpet, often striped.


East India Company: see: HEIC.

East Indiamen: East India Company registered ships that had the monopoly of sailing from London to the East Indies and return.

Eurasian: person of mixed Indian and European race.


Factory: European trading establishment.

Fakir: Muslim ascetic or religious mendicant, but loosely applied to Hindu ascetics also.

Fanam: small Indian coin.

Firangi [also Feringee, Feringhi, Faringee]: Indian term for a European or foreigner, derived from an earlier description of Europeans as 'hat-wearing people'.

Firman [also Farman]: royal decree or order.

Free Merchant [also Free Trader]: European (usually British) involved in the Country Trade along the coast of India and in the Indies in general. No commerce was allowed with Europe.


Geesh: armed militia (Mysorean).

Gentoo: Hindu Indian, a native of Hindostan [archaic usage].

Ghat [also Ghaut]: name given to the mountain ranges parallel to the east and west coasts of India [ie. Eastern and Western Ghats]; mountain pass. Also the term used for a landing-place; flight of stone steps leading to a river.

Ghee: oil made from pure butter.

Godown: warehouse.

Gopura: towered gateway in southern Indian temple architecture, developed into monumental high-rising structures adorned with images of the deities.

Griffin: someone newly-arrived in India.

Gumbaz: dome.

Gurry: hill fort.

Guru: teacher, sage.


Hackery: a light carriage drawn by bullocks for personal transport.

Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.

Hammal: porter.

Haveli: courtyard house.

Havildar, [also Howaldar]: serjeant in an Indian infantry battalion; sepoy non-commissioned officer.

HEIC: Honourable East India Company [English], (1600-1858). Officially the United Company of the Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies; a joint stock corporation increasingly, after 1773, under the control of the British Parliament, from 1772, an officeholder in the Mughal Empire.

Hill Station: towns founded by European colonial rulers in Asia as refuges from the summer heat, places for rest and recuperation; in the Indian context most hill stations were above the plains at an altitude of approximately between 1,000 and 2,500 metres (3,500 to 7,500 feet). The most famous hill stations in North India are Darjeeling, Shimla, Shillong, Kullu-Manali, Mussoorie, Nainital, and those in South India are Ootacamund (Ooty), Munnar and Kodaikanal.

Hindoostan (also Hindustan): 'the country of the Hindus', normally applicable to the northern half of India.

Hircarrah [also Harkara]: messenger, courier, spy.

Hooka, [also Huqqa or Chilm]: Hubble-bubble pipe; tobacco and the vessel in which it burns; consisting of a tube which passes through water, used to cool the smoke before it is inhaled.

Howdah: seat on an elephant's back, sometimes canopied.

Hukmnama: written order.


Jaggery: brown sugar made from palm sap.

Jagir: land grant; quit-rent paid for territory. Land tenure system underthe Mughals in which the revenues of a given tract of land were made over to a servant of the state. The assignment was either conditional or unconditional, usually for life, lapsing on the holder's death to the state.

Jain: a member of an Indian religion, originating in or before the sixth century B.C., common among merchants of Gujarat and the north and some agriculturalists in Kanara and Mysore.

Jemadar [also Jemmidar]: junior Indian officer in a troop or company of sepoys, equivalent in rank to a lieutenant.

Jetti: professional Indian strongman employed by Tipu to execute prisoners.

Jihad: striving in the way of God (Islam); holy war against non-believers or base personal instincts.

John Company: nickname for the 'East India Company'.


Kamiz (also kameez): long tunic.

Kedgeree: rice and fish dish.

Khilat: garment of honour presented by a superior to an inferior as a mark of distinction.

Killedar [also Kiledar or Qiledar]: commandant or governor of a fort.

Kuzak: irregular horsemen or 'looties' (Mysorean).


Lakh: Indian measure of 100,000, usually applied to rupees; equivalent to £12,500 in the C18th.

Lascar: labourer employed in dragging artillery or pitching military tents (i.e. 'gun-lascar'); also deck-hand on board ship.

Leadenhall Street: location of India House, London - the headquarters of the English East India Company (HEIC).

Lingam: phallic symbol of energy and fertility associated with the god Shiva.

Looty [also Looties]: irregular Indian horse cavalry employed to harass an enemy and to lay waste to the countryside. [see: Pindaries]

Lungi: ankle-length waist-cloth worn by men.


Mahajan: shop-keeper.

Mahout: driver of an elephant.

Maidan: public open space in or near a town.

Mali: gardener.

Masjid: mosque.

Masnad: throne or seat of authority.

Matross: artillery gunner.

Maya: illusion or materiality.

Meer [also Mir]: chief, noble, or head of a department.

Meer Asif: 'Chief of Revenue' in Tipu's administration.

Meer Kasim [also Khazin]: 'Chief of the Treasury' in Tipu's administration.

Meer Meeran [also Miran]: 'Principal Lord' in Tipu's administration.

Mofussil: the country districts or hinterland; in Bengal referred to the country and provinces outside the environs of Calcutta.

Mogul (also Moghul, or Mughal): the name of the Muslim dynasty of the house of Timur, founded in India by the Emperor Babur in 1526 and surviving until 1857.

Mohur: Indian gold coin.

Mokumdar: rank equivalent to 'Colonel of a cavalry regiment' in Tipu's army.

Mopla [also Moplah or Mappilla]: indigenous Muslims of Kerala along the Malabar coast, and the Lakshadweep (Laccadive) Islands.

Mora: a measure used in the sale of rice in Bombay and Gujarat.

Munshi [also Moonshee]: writer, clerk, secretary, or teacher of languages, especially Arabic, Persian and Urdu.

Musnud (also Masnad): large cushion used by Indian princes in place of a throne.

Mysore thorn: a sharp prickly bush [Caesalpinia sepiaria]. Used frequently as a fence in the Deccan; employed by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan as a defensive structure located around the perimeters of Seringapatam.


Nabob: a provincial governor; derisive name given to wealthy East India Company personnel who returned from India, most of whom purchased estates in Britain and became great landowners.

Naik [also Nayak]: non-commissioned sepoy officer; a title of honour in the Deccan.

Nair [also Nayar]: matrilineal Hindu military caste in Malabar; at one time the dominant caste in Malabar (Kerala).

Nautch: dance entertainment performed by Indian dancing-girls.

Nizam: part of the title of the first Subedar' of the Deccan, Asaf Jah, Nizam ul-Mulk.

Nulla [also Nullah]: watercourse or land feature (i.e. ditch or depression) associated with water. Not all nullahs were water-filled and dry nullahs were often adapted in battle as natural trenches for providing cover and protecting troop movements.



Paddy: name for rice while it is still green or in its dry state before the husks are beaten off.

Padma: lotus flower.

Padshah: king.

Pagoda: a Hindu temple in south India; also a gold coin minted at Madras with the decorative device of a temple on one face.

Palanquin [also: Palankeen]: a wooden litter for travelling; carried by four palanquin-bearers.

Palkee or Palkee-garry: other names for a palanquin.

Pallu: the end of the sari usually draped over the shoulder, commonly marked by distinct and heavier decoration than the rest of the sari.

Pan [or paan]: leaves of the piper-betel plant which are wrapped around areca nuts and lime and then chewed; used as a drug or stimulant.

Pani: water.

Parsee [also Parsi: a member of a monotheistic sect of Zoroastrian origin; descended from the Persians. Merchant people and artisans of Gujarat; prominent traders and intelligentsia of Bombay.

Patamar: messenger or post.

Paytha: turban.

Peon: foot-soldier, orderly or messenger. An antiquated term for sepoy.

Peshwa: putative head (chief minister) of the Maratha confederacy.

Pettah: suburb/town attached or adjacent to a fortress; sometimes separately fortified with a bound hedge or wall.

Piada Askur: regular infantry (Mysorean).

Pindari: irregular light horse troops paid only by plunder; used for reconnaisance, harassment, and screening the movement of infantry - as well as looting.

Poligar [also Polygar]: Hindu warrior chief of South India; feudal chief or ruler. Term coined by the British from Tamil palaiyakkarar - 'men of military encampments.'

Presidency: one of three (3) British administrative areas in India: Bengal, Madras, and Bombay.

Puckauly: water-carrier.

Puja: worship, prayers.

Pugri: turban.

Punkah: portable fan or a swinging fan of cloth stretched on a rectangular frame suspended from the ceiling and pulled by a rope.

Purdah: curtain; hence the system of seclusion of women from men: a separate living area; socially prescribed veiling.


Qal'adar [also Qala-dar]: commander of a fort.

Qila: fort.


Raggy: small coarse grain grown in Mysore and surrounding districts.

Rait: peasant.

Raj: British sovereignty in India.

Ratha: temple chariot.

Resident: Official representative of the British in an Indian princely state.

Rocket: projectile weapon; consisted of an iron tube approximately 12 inches long and 1 inch in diameter fixed to a a bamboo rod of 10-12 feet in length (as a stabilising tail). The tube was filled with combustible material and launched/directed by hand. Designed to create noise and confusion – especially amongst large concentrations of troops and densely packed mounted horsemen. Used extensively by Tipu Sultan against the British forces in Mysore.

Rohilla: Afghan warriors who established kingdoms in north and central India in the C17th and C18th.

Rout: large evening party or reception.

Rupee: Indian currency.

Ryot: peasant.


Sahdu: Hindu ascetic.

Sahib: a master; a respectable European's designation (cf. 'Mr' or 'Sir').

Sanad: royal decree, patent or grant; written authority for holding office or land.

Sardar: leader, ruler or chief; an officer of horse

Sari: garment worn by women in the Indian subcontinent: consists of a long strip of cloth which can be wrapped in various styles. The most common style is wrapped around the waist, then one end is draped over the shoulder (see: pallu). It is usually five to six yards of unstitched cloth worn over a midriff-baring blouse (known as a choli).

Sawar Askur: Stable Horse (Mysorean).

Seer: denomination of weight.

Sepadar [also Sepahdar]: military officer with the equivalent rank of colonel/brigadier-general in Tipu's army.

Sepoy [also Sipahi]: Indian private soldier (of infantry) in the service of the East India Company, commonly used as an adjective (e.g. 'sepoy regiment') or in the plural to describe Indian soldiers in general.

Seraglio: women's quarters.

Serang: boatswain or chief of a lascar crew.

Shakti: female aspect of power.

Shalwar: baggy trousers gathered at the waist with a drawstring and tapered at the ankles.

Shikar: game-hunting.

Shroff: native banker or moneylender. Shroffs also loaned money against jewellery taken as plunder (esp. significant in the widespread looting by soldiers following the capture of Seringapatam in May 1799).

Sicca Rupee: rupee coin minted by the East India Company - as opposed to a native ruler.

Sikh: member of an Indian religion founded in the C15th; beliefs centred on the revelations of a line of Gurus as preserved in the sacred book, the Guru Granth Sahib.

Silladar [also Silahdar]: soldier in a regiment of irregular cavalry who provided his own arms and horse; mercenary Indian horseman [see also: Looty].

Sindoor: vermillion-coloured paste in hair parting; mark of marital status in some parts of India.

Sirdar: leader, commander or officer.

Sirkar: house-steward who is responsible for the accounts of household expenditure and makes purchases.

Station: a town where a British administrative officer was stationed; 'out-stations' were smaller towns as distinct from the headquarters station (see also: hill-station).

Stupa: principal votive monument in a Buddhist religious complex; hemispherical funerary mound, generally of earth faced with stone of brick.

Subadar [also Soubahdar]: senior indigenous South Asian infantry officer with the rank equivalency of captain in a sepoy unit; also viceroy or governor of a province.

Suttee or Sati: Hindu custom of widow-burning.

Syce: horse groom or attendant.


Taluk: the subdivision of a district.

Talukdar: landowner with extensive property holdings; usually in Awadh (Oudh).

Talwar: [see: Tulwar].

Tamil: the major Dravidian language of South India; hence Tamilnadu, meaning 'the land of the Tamils'.

Tank: large reservoir of water for supplying a fort or town, or for cultivation of paddy fields in the countryside.

Teep: battalion in Tipu Sultan's army.

Telinga: the Carnatic region.

Telugu: a major Dravidian language of South India and the Deccan; Telugu-speaking warriors created kingdoms in Tamilnadu after 1400.

Tepoy (or Teapoy): a small three or four-legged table used when drinking tea.

Thug: member of a brotherhood of murderous highway robbers.

Tiffen: midday meal.

Tilak: caste or religious mark on forehead.

Tindal: a leader of lascars in the artillery; also a native petty officer (boatswain) in the Indian Navy.

Toddy: palm wine made from the sap of the palmyra palm.

Tonga: light two-wheeled vehicle, usually drawn by ponies.

Tonjon [also Tonjaun or Tomjohn: a portable chair shaped like a curricle, carried by a single pole and four bearers.

Topass [also Topasi, Topaze]: term first applied to the offspring of Portuguese men and South Asian women. At one time these Euro-Asians formed a sizeable proportion of the population of Goa and other Portuguese colonies. Many assumed their father's religion and profession as soldiers - referred to as 'black Christians', highly valued in infantry and artillery units.

Tope: grove or shady copse of trees.

Tugra [also Tughra]: a monogram with stylised calligraphy where two or more letters are interwoven or combined to create an ornamental name.

Tulwar: long curved Indian sword or sabre.


Urdu: originally a language of the army, combining Persian words with a Hindi base, it became the literary language of Islamised north India after the decline of Persian.


Vakeel or Vakil: ambassador, agent or representative.

Vania [also Bania]: member of Gujerat Hindu or Jain merchant community.


Wadiyar [also Wodeyar]: C17th-C20th dynastic rulers of Mysore.

Wakil: see Vakeel.

Wallah: adjectival suffix denoting the agent or doer of an activity (eg. dhobi-wallah).

Writer: the lowest clerical rank in the East India Company's civil service in the Presidencies of India.



Yeuz: formed from 4 Companies in Tipu Sultan's army.


Zamindar or Zemindar: landholder and tax collector; under Tipu, a petty chief.

Zamorin: title of the ruler of Calicut.

Zechin: gold coin, worth approximately four rupees. Derived from the Venetian coin: zecchino or cecchino. [See Chick]

Zenana: harem, or the women's apartments of a house or palace.

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BEATSON, Alexander. A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun. London: G. & W. Nichol, 1800.

BRITTLEBANK, Kate. Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy: Islam and kingship in a Hindu domain. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997 pp.xiv-xix.

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CAVALIERO, Roderick. Strangers in the Land: the rise and decline of the British Indian Empire. London: Tauris, 2002 pp.263-266.

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McGILVARY, George K. East India Patronage and the British State: the Scottish elite and politics in the eighteenth century. London: Tauris, 2008 pp. 264-265.

MOIENUDDIN, Mohammad. Sunset at Srirangapatam: after the death of Tipu Sultan. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2000.

Muslim Peoples: a world ethnographic survey. (ed.) Richard V. Weekes. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984 [2 vols].

The Travels of Dean Mahomet: an eighteenth-century journey through India. (ed.) Michael H. Fisher. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997 pp.199-203.

YULE, Henry and Burnell, A.C. Hobson-Jobson: a glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1968 (2nd ed.). [Originally publ. 1886]
Online edition available as part of the website at The University of Chicago: Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. See: dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/hobsonjobson/

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