16 December 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period - A Wrap Up

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 – 1757 AD)
Part 12

A Rundown of Postal Communications during the Mughal period
The process of radical development begun by Sher Shah Suri with 3000 miles of communication network, was further expanded by the Mughals. Feeder routes synchronised with the district or provincial layout served the postal system, the Dak Chawkis dotting the route at fixed intervals.

The structure was developed as a centralised postal machinery with nodal agencies called Dak Chawkis, chaired by the Darogah-i-Dak Chawki who supervised the entire operations. While all Darogahs and postal officials were accountable to him, the Darogah-i-Dak Chawki was answerable only to the royal office.

The Dak Chawki system was divided into separate departments that operated independently, servicing the needs of security, intelligence, supervision and military. Thus, communication needs were categorized according to urgency, secrecy and nature of missive. Modes of conveyance and division of postal work were also fixed accordingly.

Chief modes of communication were the mail runner, horse courier or special speedy horse carriages drawn by fast-paced stallions, used at times of grave importance and emergency.

References to the use of royal pigeons and camels have also been found. Though camels and camel caravans were used primarily in desert areas, camels were also used in non-desert zones, specifically for carrying royal or State mail. The introduction of pigeon post is attributed to Akbar, and not Jahangir, as mentioned in several accounts. Pigeons were trained and housed in the royal palace, in the Kabutar-Khaana, found even today in the relics of Mughal palaces. They were used to carry urgent missives over short distances, exclusively for royal purpose. The practice continued to be favoured by Jahangir who extended its use to special occasions.

The racial profile of mail runners was confined to mewras or sturdy messengers belonging to lower strata of the caste system or tribal origin.

The postal work was assigned and processed by the departments of waqai navis, sawanih navis , khufia navis and dak runner. (See Part 9 for details) All postal staff except the mail runner, was accorded the rank of mansabdar, with army-type gradations. Their ranks, promotions and degradations were conveyed vide dastaks.

Categorization of state correspondence was done to ensure speedy transmission and efficiency in administration – farmans, shuqque, nishan,hasb-ul-hukum, sanad, parwanah and dastak.

This is the first time we find mention of parcels being carried as part of regular mail service. These mostly contained documents or records, and sometimes personal requirements of the ruler.

Postal rules and reforms were created. The procedure of frequent transfer of postal officials started by Babar continued throughout the Mughal regime. Jahangir’s construction of a pillar at every kos with a sign, and a well at every 3 kos, served as milestones along the routes. Aurangazeb’s introduction of the rule that a dak runner cover a fixed travel distance or be penalized is an example of the stringent measures established in the 17th century.

While transparency was introduced with a system of an open register in public offices for record of all information and reports reaching through dak chawkis, there were plenty of undercover operations and recruits involved at the same time.

Security was provided by the Subedars and Kotwals of the districts, who provided escorts and ensured safe passage through their province. To this effect, the dak runners carried a written permit duly endorsed and sealed by the Darogah-i-Dak Chawki on his outward journey. For his return passage, he carried a similar permit sanctioned by the Sawanih Navis. These permits were an obligation upon the provincial faujdar, zamindar and thanedar to render their utmost co-operation and protection to the dak runners. Babar introduced a mathematical dimension to road mapping. The precise measurements adopted by the royal clerks called tamaghachis set the precedence for calculation of mileage thereafter.

The Dak Chawki system was initially restricted to royal and official use. For urgent letters people had to make their own arrangements at personal cost or await the arrival of the regular messengers and prevail upon them to carry the same. In fact, it was this random practice of the postal employees being subject to inducements by the common public, which compelled Babar to introduce the system of transfer. News was conveyed through an efficient channel of confidential reports, supplied daily, bi-weekly and weekly by different agencies acting independently. This system ruled out erroneous information reaching the ruler, not only because of the inbuilt cross-checks but also by giving the emperor different perspectives to a situation.

Besides the news reports, weekly cash statements of the dewan and administrative dispatches by the district governor, were also conveyed vide this dak system.

The Akhbar Navis system organized by Akbar set off the nascent form of the newspaper. The waqai submitted by the wagai navis (official news reporters/ news writers) were in fact, periodical summaries of the regular communiqué. These gradually evolved into periodical newsletters. The era also saw the emergence of the official ante-typographic newspapers, which were indeed the confidential reports and special newsletters devised for instant perusal of the monarch.

From this, there emerged the akhbar, or private news periodicals, perhaps designed by the private postal operators. The contents were meant for public consumption and discussion. This was very much evident during the reign of Aurangazeb.

We also find evidences of the random private post co-existing with the Dak Chawki system. For instance the private messenger system operating from the bazaars of Patna, called Bazar kasids, and the private post at Merta. These were usually operated by the traders or businessmen serving the needs of commerce along pre-determined routes. However, exorbitant rates were charged for conveyance of such private mail.

Separate postal arrangements were made at times of war and military expeditions. Postal staff was appointed as required. A superintendent was allocated the responsibility of Ithminan Dak Chawkiyat Lashkar for management of military postal stations. His terms of appointment and working directives were also as per the situation, different from that of the regular Dak Chawki operations. Farmans, arzi waqaims and all communication between the emperor and army officials were however, delivered personally.

The system of proctectorates, like Bijapur and Golkonda, began with the signing of a Treaty called Inqiyad Nama. This meant that the importance of news transmission assumed grave importance to the Emperor, so news reporters and secret agents operated in such territories too. The simultaneous operation of a regular postal system within the protectorates and that of the median Dak Chawki system is a distinct feature of the Mughal period, post Deccan subjugation.

The parallel dak chawkis operating within these kingdoms subsequently became a part of the imperial network of dak chawkis, adopted by Aurangazeb. This perhaps paved the way to annexation of these kingdoms at a later stage.

Thus, with the extension of the Mughal dominion into the Deccan region of India, the Dak Chawki system stretched beyond Karnataka by the end of the Mughal rule.

Babar mostly continued along the lines of postal system designed by Sher Shah, with some further areas of delegation. It was particularly during the regime of Akbar that a structured postal system developed with a well-planned method. The roles and work of the postal department were well demarcated into the routine provincial reports and State correspondence on one hand, and the tri-furcated news-gathering sections on the other. Jahangir is noted for his extension of postal services and pigeon post to Bengal. While Aurangazeb’s rule ensured stringency in the postal methods and administration.

Thus it was in the early 16th century, that a systemic synergized two-way communication system began operations on a routine basis. In introspection, the Mughal period spanning two centuries, kick-started the process of an organized postal system in India that was later emulated by the Britishers, as mentioned earlier.

The entire series is part of an ongoing research project and can be accessed as a work in progress. Readers are requested to comment, share any resources, materials (maps, covers, books) or information that they feel is pertinent to the research. The same will be duly acknowledged as desired by the reader, collector or dealer.

03 November 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period - An Analytical Overview

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 – 1757 AD)

Part 11

The long period of Mughal rule in India left its indelible mark not only on the arts and culture of the land, but also laid the foundations of an organised postal administration in India.

From a parochialistic system of postal governance, there emerged an expansive system of distinct regional operations controlled by a centralized postal authority. Thus till early medieval period, postal communications was for exclusive sovereign usage spurred on by a military rationale.

The landmark postal reforms initiated by Sher Shah Suri witnessed a gradual changeover to a communication mechanism merged with administrative restructuring over the Mughal regime.

The Mughal Dawk Chawki system bore strong traces of the earlier Barid service imported from Central Asia. At the same time, we find various distinct differences that eventually made the Dawk Chawki system stand out on its own.


The Diwan-i-Barid system of the Caliphate during 7th-11th century returned in a new progressive garb during the Mughal period. It was termed the Mughal Dak Chawki system. However, this was not independent of the political administration as in the Barid service. The Dak Chawki system was a part of the Mughal governance.

The practice of division of work within the postal department started during the period of Barid service and later became the hallmark of the Mughal Dak Chawki system. The Sahib-i-Barid and Sahib-i-Risalat took care of the military and provincial reportage, and correspondence section respectively. This translated into the Mughal-period postal administration ranks of Darogah-i-Dak Chawki, who oversaw the entire postal and news gathering operations, and Munshis or secretaries who headed the various postal operations.

While the Barid service was confined to a horse-relay post, the Dak Chawki system functioned on a three-tier level with mail runners, mounted couriers and horse-drawn carriages. The speed of these foot runners also surpassed that of mounted couriers, probably because of improved roads and security during the Mughal rule.

Whereas the Barid messengers were publicly appointed officers, only the mail runners, Darogah-i-Dak Chawki, and the nazir under the Mughal aegis, were appointed overtly. The others, namely Wagai Navis, Sawani Nigar and Khufia Navis were fixed secretly.

The earlier method of apportioning land to the postal officers was discontinued, and the postal employees including dak runners were paid salaries in the Dak Chawki system.

In the past, the communication routes were traditionally dependant upon the military agenda, but during the Mughal chapter, they developed in synergy with the administrative machinery.However, the former extensive use of waterway routes, along rivers and seas, finds no reference in studies relating to the Mughal period.

The entire series is part of an ongoing research project and can be accessed as a work in progress. Readers are requested to comment, share any resources, materials (maps, covers, books) or information that they feel is pertinent to the research. The same will be duly acknowledged as desired by the reader, collector or dealer.

14 October 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period - Under the reigns of Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 – 1757 AD)
Part 10

Jahangir’s chief contribution to postal history is with respect to his ascendancy over Bengal in eastern India. He appointed the Darogah or superintendent of the Dak Chowki for receipt and dispatch of letters to and from Dhaka, capital of Bengal since 1610, at every provincial headquarters. The pigeon post was also introduced for carrying messages from Bengal to Orissa and Rajmahal to Murshidabad.

A Sadar post office in the district, served to carry mail by hand to the Collector, wherever he was based at that point of time.

The practice of reimbursing the Mansabdars by cash was done away with. Instead, their services were paid vide revenue assignments from the land. The lands assigned were liable to transfer during a Mansabdar's tenure of service and were revocable. The Mansabdar was however allowed advances from the treasury, which were recovered in full upon his death as in a death duty.

Avenues with trees were laid out in the routes of Agra to Attock in the West and Agra to Dhaka in the East. In the former route a pillar at every kos sporting a sign, was constructed, as also a well at every 3 kos. Speed of transmission for the traditional mail runner service, was recorded at 80 kos in a day.

Though governance came under strain with Shah Jahan’s costly and unsuccessful campaigns to subdue the Hindu Maratha Confederacy, the postal system, was greatly improved.

Stricter rules related to postal laws and orders were enforced. Postal runners were bound by structures that dictated a minimum postal mileage of 1 jaribi kuroh in one ghari (hour), failing which a penalty was imposed, equaling a quarter of their salary. Aurangzeb’s growing religious intolerance undermined the stability of the empire. Expansion of his realm into the Deccan and South India sapped the resources of the empire while provoking strong resistance from the Marathas, Sikhs, and Rajputs.

Voyages and Travels III - Alexander Hamilton’s account of East India,
Tuzuk-i-Jahangir (Memoir's of Jahangir) translated by Alexander Rogers
Tarikh-i-Farishta (History of the Rise of Mohammedan Power in India) translated by General John Briggs
Mughal Administration - Jadunath Sarkar

The entire series is part of an ongoing research project and can be accessed as a work in progress. Readers are requested to comment, share any resources, materials (maps, covers, books) or information that they feel is pertinent to the research. The same will be duly acknowledged as desired by the reader, collector or dealer.

04 October 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period - Under the reign of Akbar

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 – 1757 AD)
Part 9

JALALUDDIN MOHAMMED AKBAR: (reign period 1556-1605)

Under the reign of Akbar, Mughal supremacy extended over most of the Indian subcontinent. Shrewd conciliatory policies turned a loose military confederation of Muslim nobles into a multi-racial bureaucratic empire integrating Muslims and Hindus. Akbar annexed all of northern and parts of central India, through continual warfare. At his death in 1605, the empire extended from Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal and southward to Gujarat and the north Deccan.

Akbar reformed and strengthened his central administration along the lines of the ‘Sarkar administration’ devised by Sher Shah Suri that was later adopted by Babur as well. He developed a bureaucracy and a system of autonomy for the imperial provinces. To make it easier for governance, Akbar divided the empire into provinces and subdivided them into districts.

The bureaucracy of ranked officials was called the Mansabdars system. These Mansabdars were responsible for the administrative functions of the empire, in particular tax collection. They were paid in cash rather than the traditional grants of land. This allowed for flexibility in the location and type of assignments given. The system was so successful that the British adopted it in large parts much later. Albeit, the Mansabdar system was originated by his predecessor Babur, it was given shape by Akbar.

Under the aegis of Akbar, the Mansabdars constituted the second tier of military governance, subordinate only to the Omrahs, who commanded the armies in the emperor's name. Though usually aristocrats, Mansabdars did not form a feudal aristocracy. About 70 percent of them towards the end of Akbar's reign were of foreign origin, i.e Central Asia and Persian heritage. The remaining 30 percent were almost equally Muslims and Hindus, Rajputs forming the chunk of the Hindus.

There were 33 grades of Mansabdars, graded primarily according to the military officers under the command of each Mansabdar, ranging from 10 to 5,000 in a complicated system. These Mansabdars received a salary, for maintenance of the men under their command.Mansabdars had a dual role in the Mughal administration, that of essentially military commanders but with the additional responsibility of civil postings.

As Mansabdars formed the framework of administration, Akbar ingeniously worked out effective strategies to ensure their loyalty and subordination, to negate the risk of rebellion or local power hegemonies. These measures included induction of primarily Afghan Pashtuns who had no base in India, frequent transfers, the flexibility of revoking the appointment, cash pay-outs and the diversion of revenue collection directly to the treasury. Such checks ensured that neither they had the time nor the opportunity to harness financial resources for raising private armies, or even build up regional connections that could be used against the monarch.

The Mansabdar system assumes importance in the light of the fact that the Dak Chawkis were chiefly controlled by the provincial governments. Dak Chawkis were thus visible throughout the empire, even as Gujarat and parts of Deccan were annexed. A network of 2,000 miles of post roads linked the far-flung areas of his territory.

The system of Dawk-Chawki was established, to procure and transmit secret news and messages along the different dawk routes.

The Chief Darogah or Postmaster networked and administered the news-gathering and postal communications, serving the dual needs of espionage and administration. A Darogah supervised operations at the Dawk Chawki and a Nazir took charge at every pargana level. The Darogah-i-Dawk Chawki at the headquarters of a province or pargana, exercised complete sway over his domain.

The practice of Sher Shah Suri was adhered to, with 2 horses and a set of footmen stationed at the Dak Chawkis at a distance of every 5 kos. The footmen often traversed up to fifty kos in twenty-four hours. Special messengers operated in a similar relay service using post-horses, while carriages drawn by fast stallions were used in times of emergency. It has been noted by Ferishta, that there were 4000 such mail runners on a permanent pay, some of whom rendered exceptional service by even traveling 700 kos in 10 days to transmit urgent messages using post-horses.

The harkara was the lowest rank in the postal administration. In addition to carrying mails, the harkara also made reports to the governor of the province. Letters were carried within a gilded box, carried on the head.Chiefly routine correspondence and express letters were conveyed, to and from the court. The important types of mail carried were (1) Farmans (Royal orders), (2) Shuqque (a letter written directly to any other person by the emperor), (3) Nishan (a letter from a prince or any other royal person), (4) Hasb-ul-hukum (a letter written by a minister, conveying the orders of the Emperor), (5) Sanad (a letter of appointment), (6) Parwanah (an administrative order to a subordinate official), and (7) Dastak (a short official permit).

The Communication system of Akbar was streamlined along lines of prudence which dictated that every measure necessitated a counter-measure. Thus provisions were made to ensure that every news was counter-checked for precision.The postal system was demarcated as (a) the regular postal service and (b) the much acclaimed ‘news-gathering’/Akhbaar Navis system devised by Akbar. The regular postal service was primarily served by mail runners and horse-couriers for urgent transmissions. The Akhbaar Navis or news-gathering system, on the other hand, consisted of the Wagai Navis (News Writers), Sawani Nigar (News Reporters cum Intelligence agent),and Khufia Navis (Secret Agents and Writers)

The Wagai Navis were like the present-day regional news correspondents serving a news agency, reporting both the local news and the district-level happenings. Herein too, Akbar employed the smart strategy of ensuring that these provincial news reporters were not in cahoots with the locals or district officials, to give a warped picture to the emperor, just as in the Mansabdar bureaucratic system.

The Sawani Nigars, primarily entrusted with the task of supervising the postal arrangements, thus doubled up as the emperor’s closet informants, operating much like the sting operators of today, often being amply rewarded for ‘exclusive news’.Over and beyond the above two, were the Sawani Nigars on a regular pay-check, spread all through the subas, functioning independently of the above two. Their operations were covert and underground, under direct surveillance and instructions of the royal court.

The Wagai Navis had his network of grassroots level stringers, in each district and pargana, who kept him posted with all current news of the region on a daily basis. He even had his men posted at offices of the subedar, diwan, faujdar, court of justice, and the Kotwaal’s chabutraa.

A Wagai Navis made his own summary, as in filing news report, and dispatched the same to the Chief Darogah, and the subedar of that province. This was then forwarded to the Darogah-i-Dak-Chawki. However, the reports of the Sawani Nigar were sent directly to the royal court without knowledge of the district or regional officials. Often, they accompanied the military forces outside the country, for communicating updates to the military commanders on site. All such Akhbaar Navis or news-letters were received un-opened by the Mir Bakshi, who ensured that the same were sorted for priority and read before the emperor each evening at 9 pm in the royal court. The Wagai Navis usually send his reports weekly, and the Sawani Nigar, bi-weekly. In some places, like Gujarat, the treasury cash statement drawn by the Diwan also accompanied the dispatches of the provincial governor / subedar.

Pigeon post was in random use, as also camels in desert areas. The pigeon carriers were housed in the royal palace, where they were trained to carry news over the far-flung territories.Extension of the relay postal system in the Deccan started with the conquest of Imad Shahi kingdom of Berar. This region was suitably organized into three subas (districts, comprising of several villages). The system of news conveyance and Khufia Navis underway at the time of military pursuits, continued even after conquest, to evolve as a well-organised postal service in northern Deccan.

The entire series is part of an ongoing research project and can be accessed as a work in progress. Readers are requested to comment, share any resources, materials (maps, covers, books) or information that they feel is pertinent to the research. The same will be duly acknowledged as desired by the reader, collector or dealer.

02 October 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period - Under the reigns of Babar and Humayun

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 - 1757 A.D.)
Part 8


Babur further developed the speed and efficiency of the horse courier system along the north-western route of Kabul-Agra to serve the postal and army link with his capital at Agra, in 1527. This was used for both military purpose and the traders that abounded on that route.

Babur’s contribution to road management can be established with his construction of Char-dwaris, which served more like watch-towers, ensuring safety along the routes. We also find mention herein, how he appointed officers to measure the road from Agra to Kabul to erect a tower 12 qaris (yards) high with “a Char-dari on top”, at every 9th Kuroh. At distances of 18th Kuroh, a yamb, a Dak Chauki and 6 post-horses were kept fastened, and arrangement was made for payment of post-masters and grooms, as well as for the horse-corn. The order was that “If the place where the horses are fastened up, be near a crown-domain, let those there provide for the matters mentioned, if not, let the cost be charged in the beg in whose pargana the post-house may be”.¹

Babar seemed to have continued with the postal reforms started by Sher Shah, albeit, integrating the Departments of Post and Intelligence, under the aegis of Darogah-i-Dak Chawki. This postal system followed throughout the empire, with a large number of postal officers under the Darogah-i-Dak-Chawki, was called Diwan-i-Insa. The chief Darogah, or postmaster juggled his duties, acting as overseer of postal conduit points, ensuring steady supply of dak runners, couriers and jasus, coordinating the news gathering from far-flung provinces and the functions of the two post-house clerks called tariq-navis.

Intelligence gathering played an important role in the military administration of the Mughals. So it is obvious that news reporters were treated as officers, complying with the same rules as that of military officers. These news couriers too, were each given the military rank of mansab, and assigned a horse, for optimum performance

Though the Mansabdar system may have been started by the founder of Mughal rule, Babur, the same was further developed into an efficient multi-level functional system by Akbar. Herein, the ruler would confer portion of land to a Mansabdar, on condition that he would supply soldiers as required or additional forces of men during war-time, against the revenue earned by him from the said land. Greater the size of the land granted, greater was the number of soldiers committed by the Mansabdar.

Mail of the Mughal ruler and those of the military, administration and commerce, were carried by runners and mounted couriers. During times of emergency, the messages were borne by carriages drawn by fast stallions. These were however used specially for conveying express news of the State. In deserts, camels were used, where they were trained to run at great speeds.

The obsession of the Mughals for speed, is evident from the fact that these couriers, mostly Mewras, depended upon opium to help them complete their journey on time. Reward or remuneration was payable only upon delivery of the letter

A postal runner began his journey with a written permit, (signed and sealed) by the Darogah-I-Dak-Chawki, which made it obligatory for the respective Darogah and Faujdar, to provide safe journey through their areas of supervision. The return journey permit was sanctioned by the Sawanih-navis. All of these men, serving the postal and news-gathering needs of the emperor’s domain, were on the State payroll even though many were stationed at the roadside serais

The letters handled by the Department included the farmans or royal orders, with the Mir Munshi serving as the Secretary for processing the same. It maybe noted that during the period of Sher Shah’s administration, the role of the Mir Munshi, was more of a Head Clerk, whereas herein assumed more powers as of a Chief Secretary

Royal mail was transported to the districts, wherefrom the reports and local news were in return communicated to the centre. At the seat of the postal administration in the capital of the kingdom, the Darogah-i-Dak-Chawki conveyed the royal mail received from various provinces to the Mir Bakshi (secretary) for the knowledge of the emperor. The Mir Bakshi dealt with all mail except for those personally addressed, and summarized them for perusal and comments of the emperor


The same postal system continued in the time of Humayun, with no significant changes.

Kuroh – 1 ½ - 2 MILES
Yamb – Post-House of the ‘Yamb’ messenger system
Jasus / Khufia Navis – spy
Tariq Navis – Clerk, posted at the post-house or saras, who coordinated the receipt and despatch of post and movement of the postal couriers
Faujdar – In the early period, the word was applied to a military officer, but under the Mughals, it meant the head of a district. Later it was used for a police official.
Sawanih Navis – Person entrusted with collation of news
Farman – A Mughal constitutional term meaning an irrevocable royal decree issued by the emperor. Some established processes were always followed while issuing an imperial farman. It was promulgated either in response to an application made by a subject to the emperor or as a royal policy decision.
Mir Munshi – Secretary, issuing the royal decree, upon completion of the formalities
Mir Bakshi – Head of the military department, holding rank of imperial minister.

by Abbas Khan Sherwani,translated in vol.4 of Elliot & Dawson’s History of India as told by its own Historians
Mughal Administration
by JaduNath Sarkar

¹Babar-Nama, translated by A. S. Beveridge, pg 629

The entire series is part of an ongoing research project and can be accessed as a work in progress. Readers are requested to comment, share any resources, materials (maps, covers, books) or information that they feel is pertinent to the research. The same will be duly acknowledged as desired by the reader, collector or dealer.

17 September 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period - Under the reign of Sher Shah Suri

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 - 1757 A.D.)
Part 7

Under Sher Shah Suri (1540-1545)

The Suri dynasty of the Pashtuns from Northern India may have been an aberration of the Mughal period, but proved to be a boon for the postal history of medieval India . In the short span of a 5-year rule (1540-1545), Sher Shah Suri established the foundations of a mounted post or horse courier system, wherein conveyance of letters was also extended to traders. This is the first known record of the postal system of a kingdom being used for non-State purposes, i.e. for trade and business communication. Sher Shah’s administrative reforms were so well integrated with the postal system, that it rightly earned the place of the first officially recorded mounted post in India.

His multi-front crusade began with building 3000 miles of communication network, complete with milestones, connecting the capital, Agra with outlying areas. Sher Shah is also credited with establishing the principal line of communication, the Grand Trunk Road or Sadak-e-Azam, which has been rigorously used down the centuries. It ran from Sonargaon (now Upazila in Bangladesh ) through Agra , Delhi and Lahore to Mulatn in Sind (present Pakistan ).

Feeder routes from Agra to various parts of North India also spruced up communication, and will find mention in further articles. One road ran from Attock to Cacca. A second route from Agra to Mandu was extended to Burhanpur on Tapti river., while a third route from Agra went up to Chittor fort, and a fourth went on to Jodhpur and Ajmer linking up with the seaports of Gujrat. A new road between Multan and Lahore completed the North-Eastern link.

The existing dak runner system was revamped, with two horse couriers stationed at every 2 mile-distance for speedy conveyance of official and trade correspondence. A total of 1700 post houses with 3400 postal messengers have been recorded.

The serais
(inns) and dak chawkis (post-houses) dotting the route were overhauled to serve the needs of Hindus and Muslims alike. Serais were more in the nature of inns, serving traders, travellers and officers of the government. The dak chawkis served as transitory points for changing post-horses. The author believes that often these serais doubled up as dak chaukis. These serais were maintained from the land revenue collected by dak employees from the neigbouring areas, and were self-sustaining.

A porter cum chawkidaar, stationed at each of the post houses, attended to the post-horses and oxen of travellers as well as the needs of post-messengers. A Darogah (Watchman-in-charge) looked after each post-house. Additionally, there were two tariqh navis or post-house clerks, who recorded the arrival and departure of the mail carriers. Mails were carried by mewras and messengers, who were essentially of tribal origin or belonged to the lower castes.

Sher Shah Suri’s reforms devised a practical approach to administration, whence the system of provinces was replaced with Sarkars, Parganas and villages. This was adopted by the subsequent Mughal and British colonial administration. The empire was divided into 47 provinces, called Sarkars (19 in Bengal). Each Sarkar was further divided into smaller districts called Parganas. Each Sarkar was managed by two officers, the Shiqdar-i-Shiqdaram (Military Chief) and the Munsif-i-Munsifan,(Chief of Justice), who oversaw the work of Pargana officers, namely the Shiqdar (administrative officer), Amin (revenue officer), Munsif (judicial officer), Patwari (keeper of land revenue records), Chowdhury (landholder, next to zamindar rank) Muqaddam (village headman), Qarqun (accountant), Mushrif (holder of trust) and Khazaanchi (treasurer). While the Fautedar maintained property records in both, Persian and Hindi, the Qanoongo in each Sarkar supervised the same.

The officers were transferred every two or three years to prevent misuse of office, which was an innovation in that epoch of time. It maybe noted that the postal system was still not open to general public, though one comes across references to malpractices involving covert transmission of messages, besides transactions involving land. This is probably the reason that the practice of transferring officers was adopted.

A genealogical study of present use of these titles indicate the antecedence of the afore-mentioned administrative officers of this period. However, the author is intrigued by the prevalence of Kanungos and Shikdars solely in the Eastern provinces of Bengal and Orissa, while Fotedars being confined to the Kashmiri Pandits with a bureaucratic lineage, the Patwaris to Rajsthan. Whereas the administrative system was uniform throughout the empire from greater Bengal (including present Bangladesh) in the East to the Sind in North-West. Then why is there a regional proclivity in lineage patterns?

Abolishment of taxes that were a barrier to free trade, brought about development of trade. Introduction of the Rupayya or rupee coin in place of “Tanka” and “Jeetal” and the system of custom duties, gave a fillip to trade and commerce. The consequential increase in business correspondence was facilitated by the large network of roads built during the reign of Sher Shah Suri. The revenue and agricultural reforms of this period will also be of interest to the students of fiscal history.

Though military intelligence continued the use of spying as a tool, military matters were however isolated from political and social issues of the empire. The same serais that served as post-houses, also served as centres of local intelligence gathering, However, were the conveyance of mails and military intelligence network operations mutually exhaustive?

As a great postal administrator, Sher Shah established a self-sustaining postal system. The entire postal system was under supervision of the Darogah-I-Dak and the the Darogah-I-Dak Chawki, Superintendent of Postal Department. He served also as Director of Post-Houses, receiving the administrative dispatches for conveyance to the ruler. The department of correspondence was overseen by the Dewan-i-Isha who issued letters and royal firmaans, forwarding the same for transmission to the Darogah-I-Dak Chawki. These imperial firmaans and correspondence were served by Mir Munshis, the Head Clerks.


1. The ‘Mughal Period’ denotes the period (early 16th to mid 19th century A.D.) of supremacy of the Mughal rulers in India, notwithstanding the occasional defeat and dethroning of any ruler.
2. The reign of Sher Shah Suri, who wasn’t a Mughal but an Afghan, corresponds to this period of history, and has been dealt by the author apropos to Mughal period, given that his contributions to the postal system fall within the purview of the Mughal time-period.

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15 September 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 – 1757 AD)
Part 6

An Introduction

With the advent of the Mughals, came a turning point in the history of Indian postal communications. For this was the period, when the foundations of a unified communication system were laid.

Arabic and Persian travelling historians attributed the establishment of a postal system to the Mughal period, in particular the administration of Babar, Akbar and Sher Shah Suri.

Sher Shah Suri, whose reign was parallel to that of Humayun, deserves special mention. His landmark contributions to the evolution of postal system in India, were further boosted by the speedy development of roads and administrative reforms effected by him.

It is evident therefore, that the genesis of the Imperial Post lay in the Central Postal Department established during the Mughal period. Albeit, the Imperial system is widely and erroneously believed to be the precursor of the Indian postal system. I would rather say that the Imperial Post unified the scattered Princely State Postal systems and overhauled the rudimentary posts bringing the entire country under one umbrella postal structure.

I have re-examined this perception, in the following chapter(s), reasoning how the uniform postal reforms and organizational structuring evolved during the Mughal period, became the bedrock of the ensuing postal system. At the same time, the existing parallel postal practices in neighbouring kingdoms and emerging European trade centres, albeit, in an embryonic stage, fused with the Mughal communication and administrative approach to form the basis of a subsequent Imperial system.

A milestone was erected with the uniformity of postal methods and routes evolved during the Mughal period, with the establishment of provinces (sarkars) and districts (parganas) right up to the Deccan in Southern India, and centralized operations with a separate postal administration.

The medieval period in India, was dependant on natural factors and human resources for its communication modes. There does not seem to exist however, a complete picture of the routes during this period. One has to largely depend upon accounts of travelers and normative texts, or autobiographical narratives like the Baburnama and draw onclusions from movements of army, centers of trading activity and location of fords and bridges.

River traffic, was in rampant use primarily for transit of heavy materials. Alebeit, there is no known record of their being used for communication or postal purpose. At the same time, the many rivers and major harbors provided an excellent waterway for trade and commerce. Riverain towns developed as centers of trading activity, like those of Daybal, Thathah, Attock, Ludhiana, Lahore and Delhi. These assume importance in postal history studies, as the routes of communication that developed subsequently, were post roads connecting these trading towns.

The postal system functioned at intervals of few kos. Most roads were turnpike roads, evident from the levies realized from merchants and travelers. Serais were built at convenient points, and were a boon to travelers and postal couriers, as written in the paeans contained in the chronicles of that period.The Mughal rulers ruled over great distances, with the aid of super-efficient runners and courier news agencies. This enabled them to keep a constant watch over wide distances.

The two systems operated separately, although under the command centre of Darogah-i-Dak Chawki and supervision of the Darogah overseeing the operations at grass-root levels. The job description and control area of postal officers also evolved in new avatars during the Mughal period. These shall be dealt separately for each Mughal emperor, highlighting the semantical shift in the terms.

This was also the period, that saw the serious evolution of the language of Urdu or Lashkar Bhasha or Hindusthani, as a means of communication for administrative and trading purpose. An innovation of the Mughals was the Mansabdar system, initiated by Babar in an originally crude form and developed further by Akbar. Perhaps this paved the way towards the concept of land revenue administration and village community during the Mughal period, for this eventually gave shape to the Ta-Aluqdari system in Awadh during the 18th century.

Kos - miles
Darogah - traditionally refers to the police constable looking after a police post or chawki, who doubled up as the postal officer during the medieval period
Darogah-i-Dak Chawki - Chief of Postal Department
Mansabdar system - a system of gradation in Mughal army, in Mansabdars were ranked according to the number of horses under their control (ten to ten thousand).Mansabdars were officers holding the rank of Mansab, based on the number of horsemen recruited or brought into the field
Serais - inns cum post houses
Ta-Aluqdari system - derived from the Arabic ta-al-luq (distrct) and dor (holding), this refers to the system of tax collection from districts by landholders or Ta-Aluqdars, during the Mughal period

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Postal Systems in Pre-Mughal Period - Under Sultan Sikander Lodhi

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 – 1757)
Part 5

Under Sultan Sikander Lodhi (1489-1517)

Dak chawkis
throughout the territory served an efficient communication system. Official letters were conveyed by runners and horse-couriers. Two firmaans were despatched wherever the Sultan sent his army. One firmaan in the early morning bore instructions and the time of halt, and the second firmaan reaching in the afternoon or evening contained deatiled military instructions. The communication system was so speedy and efficient that chroniclers accorded some jin or spirit to be in his employ.

A novel method of news transmission requires mention. After reaching Bayana (Rajasthan), Sikander Lodhi had despatched an army towards Thatha (near Karachi) and ordered the general to send news of victory the same day. Heaps of grass was laid alongside the road. Soon after victory, the grass was lit and the fire travelled fast, conveying the news of victory.

Although we find the continuance of the horse-courier and foot relay postal system through eight dynasties of rule, from 1001 to 1526 when the Lodhi dynasty fell through, only the above-mentioned rulers made contribution to the communciation system. It was under the Turks that a somewhat concrete communication network was laid with the construction of paved roads, bridges, milestones, dak-chawkis and rest-houses called sarais. Also news-couriers were introduced. There also developed a more uniform system of remuneration for the postal couriers.

: “Dak” is a Hindi word meaning post. “Chawki” means intermediary station. “Dak Chawki” refers to a post house or postal station where mail runners or mounted mail couriers and horses are kept ready for use.

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Postal Systems in Pre-Mughal Period - Under Mohammad Bin Tughlaq

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 - 1757 A.D.)

Part 4

Under Mohammad Bin Tughlaq (1325-1351)

An improved courier system was established, much along the lines of the Roman post, but with more closely stationed post-houses. A network of paved roads was laid out connecting the capital with Devnagri (renamed Daulatabad) in the South. For improved efficiency, the postal routes were dotted throughout with rest houses, markets, wells and mosques. Provision of guides along these routes, further facilitated speedy operations.

The postal system has been referred as ‘Barid’ by Ibn Batuta. The two types of postal communications were clearly demarcated as the ‘Barid-i-Khail or horse post that operated the Ulagh service and the ‘Barid-i-Rajalah’ or foot post functioning as the Dhawah. The ulagh or the horse-post was run by royal horses stationed at a distance of every 4 kroh or 8 miles, the horsemen who carried letters being called ‘wulaq’. Villages at each third of a kroh served as postal stations or dhawas.

Couriers ready with girded loins and a 2-cubit long rod with brass bells were found on the village outskirts seated on chabutras (culverts), taking the letter and running at a high speed, jingling the bells till he reached the next station. These couriers operated on a relay system. Often quicker than the horse-post, they were in use for transport of fruits from upper Sind or Afghanistan and water of the Ganga to Daulatabad for palace use. A horse courier took 15 days Delhi-Sind while foot-courier took 5 days! Dak chawkis were constructed at every two furlongs. Each had a mosque and was well-provided, with ten robust speedy runners posted at any given time. Later, Sarais or rest-houses were also built at convenient points between every two villages.

Throughout the territory, the use of drums at every post-house kept the sovereign informed about the happenings. Another noteworthy feature was the involvement of the postal official in the administration. Lands were allotted, and additional money paid towards maintenance of the dak chawkis. In return they were expected to report on the appearance and activities of strangers passing through. Milestones and signposts were erected as in the Roman communication network. The foot-couriers and horse-couriers were given lands, income of which was fixed as salary.

The use of camel post is to be noted. In particular it was in use for conveying news from Jajnagar (Orissa) to Delhi, and also between Sind and Gujarat. This also refutes the age-old supposition that Akbar was the first to employ camel post in India.The entire series is part of an ongoing research project and can be accessed as a work in progress at Stamps of India and read at its monthly newspaper. Please share any resources, materials (maps, covers, books) or information that you feel is pertinent to the research. The same will be duly acknowledged as desired by the collector or dealer.

The entire series is part of an ongoing research project and can be accessed as a work in progress. Readers are requested to comment, share any resources, materials (maps, covers, books) or information that they feel is pertinent to the research. The same will be duly acknowledged as desired by the reader, collector or dealer.

25 July 2009

Postal Systems in Pre-Mughal Period - Under Allauddin Khilji

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030-1757 A.D.)
Part 3

Under Allauddin Khilji (1292 - 1318)

A horse and foot-posts runner service was established in 1296 primarily for latest military news and prices of commodities. The military and civil mail of the soldiers was also served. Horses were stationed at every manzil and dhawahs appointed every half a kos or one-fourth of a kos (2 miles). A new feature was the News writer or Munshi posted at every town. He was to report every day or by every third day to the central administration, for which special horse couriers and runners were kept ready at every kos.

A postal department called ‘Mahakama-i-Barid’ under the supervision of two postal officers ‘Maalik Barid-i-Mamalik’ (Minister of State News Agency) and his deputy ‘Naib Barid-i-Mamalik’ fulfilled the dual needs of barid (post) and espionage. All this was under personal supervision with rigid laws laid down for the network. The fresh concept of a two-way news transmission was adopted, wherein the people were also kept informed about the well being of the ruler. This served as a deterrent for any insurgency.

The role of a Barid took on new dimensions during this regime. He was the confidential agent of the administration, whose work included intelligence gathering, classification and regular despatch, to the departments or direct to the sovereign at his discretion. Stationed at the headquarters of every administrative sub-division, a high level of integrity and prudence was demanded of these Barids, for which they were well paid

Another significant contribution was the first recorded Dak – chawkis and Thanas of this period. The latter were established between Delhi and Warrangal in South to receive daily military updates.

The precedent of despatching news-letters was made with the taking over of Devagiri in the Deccan. Thereafter, a regular postal communication became fully operational throughout the Deccan by 1318.This system of news-letters and news-writers became the hallmark of the communication system of this regime.

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Postal Systems in Pre-Mughal Period - Under Mohammad of Ghor, Qutab ud-din Aibak and Genghis Khan

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030-1757 A.D.)
Part 2

Indian Postal History records and literature have been the dominion of British colonial officers and postal officials, in whose opinion an organised postal system to India was the gift of Britishers.

However, even in the medieval period, the foundations of an organised postal structure was laid, the mention of which we find in annals and chronicles of foreign travellers.

While the framework was laid by the Mughals, we find that the period preceding has a strong influence of the postal systems imported from the Central Asia by the Turks.

Under Mohammad of Ghor (1186 - 1206)

With the stretch of empire from Delhi to Bengal, the Arabic model of postal system was adopted. So the Dhawa (runner), Qasid (messenger) and Ulagh/ Ulaq (horse courier) took precedence, even over the Khola or secret service agent employed by the Pala administration in Bengal. These were more in the nature of news-couriers, the dhawa doubling up as errand boys, and the messengers acting as conduits for forward transmission of messages. The camel riding horse couriers were called ‘Jamaza’.

Under Qutub ud-din Aibak (1206 - 1210)

He consolidated the system established by his predecessor Mohammad of Ghor. A messenger post system was introduced by Qutub ud-din Aibak that was later expanded into the Dak Chowkis by his successor.

Under the Mongol invasion of Genghis Khan (1221 - 1226)

The Mongols under the dominance of Genghis Khan in particular, achieved a speed of communication similar to that of the ancient Persians. Their chief contribution was the development of roads and posts in the areas under their control, which in India merely covered the northern fringes. Genghis Khan established the ‘Horse Post House’ or yamb messenger system, found at a distance of every 25 miles. In between, were intermediary posts, which also served as sleeping quarters of the imperial foot runners, furnished with bells on their girdle. The runners were each assigned a 3-mile stretch, operating on a relay system, thus covering a ten day’s journey in one.

Though the period of Mongol influence was confined to a small time frame and terrain in India, the foundations of the first international postal system was being laid, so two innovations maybe noted. The practice of clerks at every Post House with clearly assigned duties, and the system of express delivery of letters. These riders deployed for urgent delivery, also wore jingling bells at waist like the foot-runners. The express relay system covered 250 miles in day and equally a night

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Land Postal Systems in Pre-Mughal Period - Under the reign of Mahmud of Ghazni

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030-1757 A.D.)
Part 1

India has always evoked a sense of wonder and curiosity since time immemorial. Its rich culture, spices and trade supremacy in the realm of ancient maritime activity, enthused many an invader over the centuries. Each of them left his mark on the administrative and communication machinery.

As India has undergone a long period of variable sovereignties, communication systems have not endured. Even the well-structured postal communication of the Mauryas and Guptas of ancient India became redundant. Thus the overland trading activities along the northern precincts and sea borne trading hegemony with Europe, Africa and Asia become significant to studies of postal history. For they laid the foundations of a rudimentary postal system in medieval India, that was to remain for centuries to come.

Postal systems are cardinal to an empire’s administration. Yet, this has regrettably been unacknowledged by the conventional historian even though reams have been written about lifestyle and art! Though there is mention in the ancient Hindu texts, detailed records are either lost in obscurity or buried in libraries and regional untapped scriptures. Therefore one may treat the chronicles of early travellers as annals of the earlier epoch, until better resources and records come to light.

Herein, the records of travelling historians Marco Palo, Ibn Batuta, Ferishta and Ziauddin Barani have assumed significance as vital reference links for studies on medieval India. Albeit, there is the occasional lack of information on postal systems in Southern extremities of India, that remained outside the ambit of most foreign invasions.

The nomenclature adopted for the postal systems of medieval India adheres to the treatise that each ruler established his own postal system, tailored to meet the needs of the sovereign. This was essentially a royal or State postal system used for effective rule. Thus, the period under review vis-à-vis the postal system, has been divided according to the period of regime or from invasion onwards).

Under Mahmud of Ghazni (1001 -1025)

With dominion over North-Western and Central India, Ghazni established an elaborate network of foot messengers. Those for intelligence gathering were called ‘Sarran’ and horse couriers for urgent missives were called ‘Khail Sarran’, paid bonuses for their special service.

A mounted courier service called ‘Askudars’ conveyed private correspondence of important chieftains and also the official correspondence. Each province had a Postal headquarter, overseen by a Post Master called ‘Sahib-i-Barid’. His importance in the administrative hierarchy is evident from the responsibilities bestowed upon him ~ administrative report of the province, and conduct of the military officers.

The ‘Sahib-I-Risalat’ who was the head of the correspondence department, functioned as the emissary of the conqueror, receiving information through postal agencies and acting upon them.

The entire series is part of an ongoing research project and can be accessed as a work in progress. Readers are requested to comment, share any resources, materials (maps, covers, books) or information that they feel is pertinent to the research. The same will be duly acknowledged as desired by the reader, collector or dealer.