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.

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