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.