25 July 2009

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.

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