India – the land with the highest number of post offices and postal workers, is also the country with perhaps the most eclectic, yet effectual modes of mail conveyance ever used. Spanning across centuries, the methods of communication adopted have been varied, befitting the country's diverse topography and compelling history. It is no wonder that today, the world-wide demand for covers carried by unique modes continues to be high. You only have to look at the going prices at EBay to know how valued such covers are for a cognizant collector.
The advent of communications in India was born of need, as prevailed universally. For when man progressed from the Neanderthal levels, he developed want-lists that moved beyond the simple, basic and elemental to a societal dimension. Necessity gave rise to unique ways of communication, that inspired many a poet and litterateur. In particular, India with its ancient culture and the oldest of civilisations, boasts of a wealth of communication methods adopted over time, that have found their way into art and scriptures as well.
The most remarkable and emotive method of communication, was through music and lyrics. The rendering of the flute tenor or the melody and pitch of a song, conveyed very effectively a piece of good, bad or daunting news instantly across the village. Drumbeats and crude bushfires that cut across hills and valleys, were used to convey distress signals. The musical history of India is an integral part of the country's protohistory, where songs were the effective media of communication. Thus annalists and historians have had to take recourse to the wealth of oral history contained within the musical tradition of a given region.
Chanakya’s Arthashastra refers to doots who doubled up as spies, collecting information and revenue data for the King. The practice of using homing pigeons as message carriers also prevailed from the earliest times. Amazingly, they are still officially used by government departments as pigeon posts in remote areas. Orissa State Police is one such department using pigeons as mail carriers till date.
Then, of course, is the legendary mail runner, used by Kings for purposes of invitation, chivalry and war. The mail runner or the dak runner, has stoked the passions of many a poet, writer and artist, who have eulogized him, for his bravery and speed of conveyance. The mail carriers were also used by the merchants for business. The common man it seems either had little use for such a service or preferred to rely upon visiting relatives and travelling villagers.
One of the earliest evidence of a systematic postal service using foot messengers is found during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 B.C.). A courier service between the capital and the outlying provinces of the vast kingdom served the needs of intelligence gathering and collection of revenue data, whence regular messengers, doots and pigeons were used for conveying the royal communiqué. However its efficacy was lost upon his death and the system fell through. Emperor Ashoka also devised a very efficient means of communication that helped him create a vast empire. During his period, camels were also in use to carry mail in some parts of Eastern India, like Jajpur.
Even before the northern parts of India came under Greek and foreign rule, ancient India already had a fairly regular and developed mail service in use by the Kings, albeit cheifly for miltary purposes. This was the golden period of Hindu rule, which owed much of its success and far reach across the Indian sub-continent, to the communication system in use.
Notes : The Indian sub-continent, was the seat of the most ancient of civilsations, the Indus Valley civilisation - a very advanced and scientific civilisation - whose demise was followed by a mushroom growth of Dravidian, Arabic and Persian cultures. The continual invasions from the West and the topographic logistics separating the Deccan India from the northern frontiers, witnessed an evolution of distinct Hindu and Islamic cultures, each of which bore influences of the incursions and changing military regimes. However this remained an undivided sub-continent, powerful even in the ancient period, attracting wealth seekers and power-mongers. The colonial period saw a segragation of the north-western extremities, chiefly Afghanistan. and subsequently, in 1947, the sub-continent was divided into the present nations of INDIA and PAKISTAN.
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