16 December 2009

Postal Systems in Mughal Period - A Wrap Up

MEDIEVAL INDIA (1030 – 1757 AD)
Part 12

A Rundown of Postal Communications during the Mughal period
The process of radical development begun by Sher Shah Suri with 3000 miles of communication network, was further expanded by the Mughals. Feeder routes synchronised with the district or provincial layout served the postal system, the Dak Chawkis dotting the route at fixed intervals.

The structure was developed as a centralised postal machinery with nodal agencies called Dak Chawkis, chaired by the Darogah-i-Dak Chawki who supervised the entire operations. While all Darogahs and postal officials were accountable to him, the Darogah-i-Dak Chawki was answerable only to the royal office.

The Dak Chawki system was divided into separate departments that operated independently, servicing the needs of security, intelligence, supervision and military. Thus, communication needs were categorized according to urgency, secrecy and nature of missive. Modes of conveyance and division of postal work were also fixed accordingly.

Chief modes of communication were the mail runner, horse courier or special speedy horse carriages drawn by fast-paced stallions, used at times of grave importance and emergency.

References to the use of royal pigeons and camels have also been found. Though camels and camel caravans were used primarily in desert areas, camels were also used in non-desert zones, specifically for carrying royal or State mail. The introduction of pigeon post is attributed to Akbar, and not Jahangir, as mentioned in several accounts. Pigeons were trained and housed in the royal palace, in the Kabutar-Khaana, found even today in the relics of Mughal palaces. They were used to carry urgent missives over short distances, exclusively for royal purpose. The practice continued to be favoured by Jahangir who extended its use to special occasions.

The racial profile of mail runners was confined to mewras or sturdy messengers belonging to lower strata of the caste system or tribal origin.

The postal work was assigned and processed by the departments of waqai navis, sawanih navis , khufia navis and dak runner. (See Part 9 for details) All postal staff except the mail runner, was accorded the rank of mansabdar, with army-type gradations. Their ranks, promotions and degradations were conveyed vide dastaks.

Categorization of state correspondence was done to ensure speedy transmission and efficiency in administration – farmans, shuqque, nishan,hasb-ul-hukum, sanad, parwanah and dastak.

This is the first time we find mention of parcels being carried as part of regular mail service. These mostly contained documents or records, and sometimes personal requirements of the ruler.

Postal rules and reforms were created. The procedure of frequent transfer of postal officials started by Babar continued throughout the Mughal regime. Jahangir’s construction of a pillar at every kos with a sign, and a well at every 3 kos, served as milestones along the routes. Aurangazeb’s introduction of the rule that a dak runner cover a fixed travel distance or be penalized is an example of the stringent measures established in the 17th century.

While transparency was introduced with a system of an open register in public offices for record of all information and reports reaching through dak chawkis, there were plenty of undercover operations and recruits involved at the same time.

Security was provided by the Subedars and Kotwals of the districts, who provided escorts and ensured safe passage through their province. To this effect, the dak runners carried a written permit duly endorsed and sealed by the Darogah-i-Dak Chawki on his outward journey. For his return passage, he carried a similar permit sanctioned by the Sawanih Navis. These permits were an obligation upon the provincial faujdar, zamindar and thanedar to render their utmost co-operation and protection to the dak runners. Babar introduced a mathematical dimension to road mapping. The precise measurements adopted by the royal clerks called tamaghachis set the precedence for calculation of mileage thereafter.

The Dak Chawki system was initially restricted to royal and official use. For urgent letters people had to make their own arrangements at personal cost or await the arrival of the regular messengers and prevail upon them to carry the same. In fact, it was this random practice of the postal employees being subject to inducements by the common public, which compelled Babar to introduce the system of transfer. News was conveyed through an efficient channel of confidential reports, supplied daily, bi-weekly and weekly by different agencies acting independently. This system ruled out erroneous information reaching the ruler, not only because of the inbuilt cross-checks but also by giving the emperor different perspectives to a situation.

Besides the news reports, weekly cash statements of the dewan and administrative dispatches by the district governor, were also conveyed vide this dak system.

The Akhbar Navis system organized by Akbar set off the nascent form of the newspaper. The waqai submitted by the wagai navis (official news reporters/ news writers) were in fact, periodical summaries of the regular communiqué. These gradually evolved into periodical newsletters. The era also saw the emergence of the official ante-typographic newspapers, which were indeed the confidential reports and special newsletters devised for instant perusal of the monarch.

From this, there emerged the akhbar, or private news periodicals, perhaps designed by the private postal operators. The contents were meant for public consumption and discussion. This was very much evident during the reign of Aurangazeb.

We also find evidences of the random private post co-existing with the Dak Chawki system. For instance the private messenger system operating from the bazaars of Patna, called Bazar kasids, and the private post at Merta. These were usually operated by the traders or businessmen serving the needs of commerce along pre-determined routes. However, exorbitant rates were charged for conveyance of such private mail.

Separate postal arrangements were made at times of war and military expeditions. Postal staff was appointed as required. A superintendent was allocated the responsibility of Ithminan Dak Chawkiyat Lashkar for management of military postal stations. His terms of appointment and working directives were also as per the situation, different from that of the regular Dak Chawki operations. Farmans, arzi waqaims and all communication between the emperor and army officials were however, delivered personally.

The system of proctectorates, like Bijapur and Golkonda, began with the signing of a Treaty called Inqiyad Nama. This meant that the importance of news transmission assumed grave importance to the Emperor, so news reporters and secret agents operated in such territories too. The simultaneous operation of a regular postal system within the protectorates and that of the median Dak Chawki system is a distinct feature of the Mughal period, post Deccan subjugation.

The parallel dak chawkis operating within these kingdoms subsequently became a part of the imperial network of dak chawkis, adopted by Aurangazeb. This perhaps paved the way to annexation of these kingdoms at a later stage.

Thus, with the extension of the Mughal dominion into the Deccan region of India, the Dak Chawki system stretched beyond Karnataka by the end of the Mughal rule.

Babar mostly continued along the lines of postal system designed by Sher Shah, with some further areas of delegation. It was particularly during the regime of Akbar that a structured postal system developed with a well-planned method. The roles and work of the postal department were well demarcated into the routine provincial reports and State correspondence on one hand, and the tri-furcated news-gathering sections on the other. Jahangir is noted for his extension of postal services and pigeon post to Bengal. While Aurangazeb’s rule ensured stringency in the postal methods and administration.

Thus it was in the early 16th century, that a systemic synergized two-way communication system began operations on a routine basis. In introspection, the Mughal period spanning two centuries, kick-started the process of an organized postal system in India that was later emulated by the Britishers, as mentioned earlier.

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.


  1. This is brilliantly researched! very well written, I couldn't access the links in the article for some reason, maybe it is my computer, Thank you for sharing this :)

  2. Thats because the terms are from offline resources, mostly English translations from Urdu travelogues and annals.

  3. Very interesting Sangeeta!! I am a KGVI stamp collector, currently doing some research on Dak runners and the East India Company. Thanks for the added bit of info! I am looking forward to reading more of your interesting blog. You are welcome to visit mine! Gary

  4. I would like to say this is an excellent blog that I have ever come across. Very informative. Please write more so that we can get more details.

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