Postal system

How our postal system evolved

Saleh Chafik

27 May 2022, 09:00

Last modification: May 27, 2022, 10:56 a.m.

The library on the third floor of Dak Bhaban, the headquarters of the Bangladesh Postal Directorate in Agargaon, Dhaka, houses excellent books and magazines including Postalpedia, Dak Probaho, the writings of Bimal Kar, Satyajit Ray and Abanindranath Tagore. It also has a children’s corner, a Bangabandhu corner, a Sheikh Hasina corner and an Independence corner.

But clearly the most attractive section of all is the small but beautiful gallery titled “The Chronicle of the Postal System in Bangladesh” on the left side of the library entrance. The history of the development of the postal system is presented on stamps and the oldest dates back to 121 BC.

The beautifully decorated library in the 14-story mailbox-like building stays open on Mondays and Wednesdays for just two and a half hours from 2:30 p.m.

The gallery is divided into two parts – the upper part begins with the period of the Maurya Empire in 121 BC. The reign of Chandragupta Maurya, who had a larger empire than Alexander the Great, began in 322 BC and ended in 298 BC. The story of courier services beginning in the Indian subcontinent in his time is probably true. According to the Brahmi script plates found in Mahasthangarh, Chandragupta ordered the local feudal lords to give people the wealth from the treasury. It is believed that the instruction was sent by mail.

Photo: TBS

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Photo: TBS

The lower part of the gallery documents history from 602 to 680 AD when Caliph Muawiyah, the founder of the Umayyad Caliphate, established the Diwan-i-Barid or postal department for official communication. At the time, there were 930 post stations on six mail routes from Kabul to Delhi.

Another Umayyad caliph, Abdul Malik (685-705 AD), extended the postal system throughout the empire and established regular postal service. Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz (717-720 AD), set up inns at various places along the Khorasan route. Horses, camels or donkeys were exchanged at 12-mile intervals to send messages from the Caliph to various officials in different provinces.

Photo: TBS

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    Photo: TBS

Photo: TBS

Bengal Sultanate

The next stamp on the gallery is dated 1186-1206 AD, the time of the Ghurid dynasty when the sending of news by camels began. The empire included Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh and Iran. Qutb al-Din Aibak, one of Sultan Shihauddin Muhammad Ghauri’s generals, started using horses to send mail following the methods of the Arabs. There is a stamp showing the contributions of Aibak, who later became the first Sultan of Delhi.

The following stamp depicts the reign of Sultan Alauddin Khilji, who formed an organization for postal services in 1296 AD. News and military correspondence from the battlefield were regularly carried by horses and couriers. He also set up a postal spy service and hired news editors.

The next talks about Muhammad bin Tughluq (1325-1351 AD), who established two types of postal systems – for horsemen and postmen on foot. At the time, postal officers also performed police duties.

Sher Shah and Mughal period

The following stamp depicts the time of Emperor Sher Shah Suri (1538-1545 AD), who introduced the correspondence relay system for postal services. He rebuilt the 4,800 km Grand Trunk Road from Sonargaon in Narayanganj to the banks of the Indus (via West Bengal to Kabul via Peshawar). He set up outposts every two miles to be used as inns and post offices as well as 1,700 post offices and 3,500 outposts, each headed by an official designated as Daroga-i-Dakchowki.

The following stamp dated 1610 indicates that during the reign of Emperor Jahangir, postal communication was established between Delhi and Dhaka, the capital of Bengal at the time, and a post office superintendent was appointed to send and receive mails. During his time, postal communication using pigeons was established between Bengal and Odisha and between Rajmahal and Murshidabad.

Photo: TBS

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    Photo: TBS

Photo: TBS

Letters were classified in his day as “Firman” – the king’s order; “Shukkuk” – the king’s letter to an individual; “Nishan” – a letter from a member of the royal family except the king; “Hasbul Hokum” – a minister’s letter written on the emperor’s instructions; “Parwana” – administrative instructions.

British period

The following stamp is dated 1766, during the time of Robert Clive when a postmaster was appointed in Kolkata. Connection with Kolkata and six postal centers across India has been established. However, the main connection was with Dhaka and Patna. When Warren Hastings served as Governor General of India in 1774, the General Post Office was established in Kolkata. The people of Bengal could send mail within a radius of 160 km for only two annas (one-eighth of Tk1). In 139 areas, 417 postmen, 139 lighthouse bearers and 139 drummers were appointed.

The following stamp shows the palanquin franking system during the period 1784-1785. Palanquins also carried people, with bundles of letters. In 1785, the sending of parcels through post offices was introduced, considered to be the origin of the modern parcel service.

In 1781 the postage cost from Kolkata to Chattogram was 40 Tk and it took 60 days. From Kolkata to Dhaka was Tk29. In 1799, there were nine branches of Kolkata GPO – Dhaka, Chattogram, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Natore, Kumarkhali, Raghunathpur, Sylhet and Ramu. In 1854 weight-based charges and the first Indian stamp were introduced.

The following stamp is dated 1856 when the first letterbox or mailbox was introduced. In 1866, the post office law was passed. An anna embossed envelope was introduced in 1873, followed by register mail and payable value mail in 1877. In 1878 insured mails were launched. The post office headquarters was established in Dhaka in September of the same year. Penny postcards were introduced in 1879.

Photo: TBS

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    Photo: TBS

Photo: TBS

In 1880, the money order system was introduced in all post offices in India. At this time, however, telegraph communication was added at major post offices. In 1884, rail mail services were linked with shipping done by Assam Steamer Service.

In the early 1930s, postal air transport was introduced. On December 1, 1933, airmail services between Dhaka and Calcutta as well as the Kolkata-Rangoon route via Chattogram were started. At the start of the Second World War in 1939, the postal service was subjected to significant security measures.

In May 1942, East Bengal’s first field post office was established at Jhikargacha in Jashore. Other field offices were set up in Assam, Arakan and Burma to communicate with the warring forces. After partition, Pakistan introduced its own stamp on July 9, 1947.

In 1956, a few years after Bengali was recognized as the state language, stamps and papers were printed in Bengali. Daily flights have been introduced on the Dhaka-Karachi-Dhaka route for postal transportation between East and West Pakistan.

In 1971, with the formation of the wartime government of Bangladesh in Mujibnagar on April 17, the postal system was introduced under the leadership of freedom fighters by opening 50 field post offices in border areas. After the liberation of the country, these were incorporated into the national postal system. In 1972, the total number of post offices in the country was 6,667. In 1973, Bangladesh became a member of the Universal Postal Union.