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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.