03 November 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period - An Analytical Overview

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 – 1757 AD)

Part 11

The long period of Mughal rule in India left its indelible mark not only on the arts and culture of the land, but also laid the foundations of an organised postal administration in India.

From a parochialistic system of postal governance, there emerged an expansive system of distinct regional operations controlled by a centralized postal authority. Thus till early medieval period, postal communications was for exclusive sovereign usage spurred on by a military rationale.

The landmark postal reforms initiated by Sher Shah Suri witnessed a gradual changeover to a communication mechanism merged with administrative restructuring over the Mughal regime.

The Mughal Dawk Chawki system bore strong traces of the earlier Barid service imported from Central Asia. At the same time, we find various distinct differences that eventually made the Dawk Chawki system stand out on its own.


The Diwan-i-Barid system of the Caliphate during 7th-11th century returned in a new progressive garb during the Mughal period. It was termed the Mughal Dak Chawki system. However, this was not independent of the political administration as in the Barid service. The Dak Chawki system was a part of the Mughal governance.

The practice of division of work within the postal department started during the period of Barid service and later became the hallmark of the Mughal Dak Chawki system. The Sahib-i-Barid and Sahib-i-Risalat took care of the military and provincial reportage, and correspondence section respectively. This translated into the Mughal-period postal administration ranks of Darogah-i-Dak Chawki, who oversaw the entire postal and news gathering operations, and Munshis or secretaries who headed the various postal operations.

While the Barid service was confined to a horse-relay post, the Dak Chawki system functioned on a three-tier level with mail runners, mounted couriers and horse-drawn carriages. The speed of these foot runners also surpassed that of mounted couriers, probably because of improved roads and security during the Mughal rule.

Whereas the Barid messengers were publicly appointed officers, only the mail runners, Darogah-i-Dak Chawki, and the nazir under the Mughal aegis, were appointed overtly. The others, namely Wagai Navis, Sawani Nigar and Khufia Navis were fixed secretly.

The earlier method of apportioning land to the postal officers was discontinued, and the postal employees including dak runners were paid salaries in the Dak Chawki system.

In the past, the communication routes were traditionally dependant upon the military agenda, but during the Mughal chapter, they developed in synergy with the administrative machinery.However, the former extensive use of waterway routes, along rivers and seas, finds no reference in studies relating to 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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