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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ancient and Modern Postal System in India

Past and present Postal systems in India

COMMUNICATION HAS always been an integral part of human life. Humans have always tried to use different means and ways to send and receive messages. In this process, postal services have played a significant role. However, with the advent of new technology it is losing its relevance day by day. Ninth of October was observed as the World Post Day. India’s postal network is the largest in the world and with the changing requirements, it is changing its services. This invites us to look at how magnificently our postal system has evolved.

The first ever mention of the messaging service dates back to the ancient times. The Atharva Veda contains an elaborate description of the messaging services. Even Ramayana and Mahabharata, the greatest epics, state about the messaging services. During those days, the Kings used to organise Aswamedha Yagnas in their palace. After the completion of the Yagna, the King used to send a horse to different territories that carried the messages of the king’s might and heroism.

With the passage of time, the methods adopted to send and receive massages changed. The Mauryan kings Chandragupta and Ashoka used a bizarre postal service. It was bizarre because the kings used pigeons as their message carriers. They trained the pigeons by making them familiar with different routes. Some kings even made use of the “Dak Harkaras”, the men who travel on their foot from one place to another. Their sole objective was ‘service to king’ before ‘service to self’. The Mughal emperors and the later rulers used the existing services.

Initially, the East India Company used widespread services. Later, when the Company felt the necessity to strengthen their rule over the Indian region, they introduced their own postal service. It came to known as ‘Company Dawk’ (Dawk as British pronounced Dak). This postal service helped them to spread their trade centres and military forces. In the year 1688, Company established its first post office. This marked a flight for the Indian postal service. In 1774, Warren Hastings, governor general to Bengal reorganised the services and established regular post. He also opened the postal services to public that was earlier available only to the Company employees and their relatives. This also marked the introduction of Metal tokens to pay for the postage revenue.
In 1835, British government set up a committee for the purpose of unification of the customs and postal systems of all the presidencies. This committee gave the Indian Post Office Act of 1837, the first act in context with the Indian postal services. The recommendations by the committee included uniform rates, postal routes and designing of postmarks.
The first adhesive postage stamp of India was a result of a commission in 1850. ‘Scinde Dawk’, was the first stamp of India and Asia also. Initially it was used in the Sindh province. These stamps were in three-coloured inks - white, red and blue.
With the passage of time rail mail services and sea mail services were introduced from Great Britain and China. In 1911, India was the first country to send airmail. A French pilot Henri Pequet flew with 6500 pieces of mail in a Sommer biplane from Allahabad to Naini covering a total distance of six miles.
Today, Indian postal network is the largest in the world. It also holds the world’s highest post office. Postal code area 112114 in Sikkim is at 15,500 feet above the ground level. However, the postal service is losing its relevance with the increase in usage of e-mail and short message services (SMS). Letters hold their own significance as they can be kept as a record for years. As of today, some of the oldest letters are worth crores and are a proof of history.

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