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The History of Post in India

The history of India’s postal system goes back several millennia. The Atharvaveda, one of the oldest books in the world written around 1000 BC, has several references to messenger services. In ancient times messenger services were primarily used by Indian rulers to convey and obtain information. This was accomplished through runners, messengers and in some cases even through pigeons.

runnersIssue date 13 January 2012

On the inaugural day of MAHAPEX - 2012, Pune, a special carried cover with Silver Replica of Gandhi Rs.10/- stamp of 1948 was released. The first day cover also featured the Indian Dawk Runner as part of the cachet design. The number of cover were limited and numbered.

The chief of this service was known as the Daakpaal (postmaster). He maintained the lines of communication.

Qutb-ud-din AybakThe Sultan of Delhi, Qutb-ud-din Aybak, created the first elaborate messenger post system in 1208 for the purposes of gathering information and wartime news. Human runners were used to transmit messages. Runners carrying mail and messages ran from one village or relay post to the next. It was a dangerous occupation. These runners worked day and night, vulnerable to attacks by bandits and wild animals, especially tigers.

A major expansion to the runner system was undertaken by Alauddin Khalji in 1296. He is credited with the establishment of a network of dak chowkis (mail rest houses), for the safety of runners and to provide a designated place for runners to hand over the mail to other runners and for them to rest between long runs. Sher Shah Suri (1541–1545) further provided horses for runners and built 1700 serais (rest houses for runners as well as travellers) along the northern Indian high road, today known as the Grand Trunk Road, which he constructed between Bengal and Sindh.


During the early periods of the Moghul empire (1526 to about 1600), the speed and the efficiency of the courier system was greatly improved. This was much needed to allow communication across the Moghul empire, which had expanded over most of the Indian subcontinent during the rule of Emperor Akbar. Many new roads were built and watch towers were constructed along the routes. Plenty of horses were provided to all dak chowkis and the use of camels was introduced to transport mail in addition to the horses and runners.


         Dak Chowki Wazirabad in its crumbled current form.

Although the mail courier system was mainly developed for the rulers of India, it was subsequently used by merchants for trade purposes. Eventually mail runners also came to be in use for the carriage of private mail.

After the East India Company was formed on 13th December 1660, its business grew very rapidly all over India. In order to communicate with factories and trading offices all over the country, the company needed an efficient postal service. To improve the existing systems, in 1688 a post office was opened in Bombay followed by similar ones in Calcutta and Madras.

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By 1774 the postal system had become vital to the operation of the East India Company. A separate department of the post office was established in Calcutta. At the same time the postal services were also made available to the general public. The fee charged was based upon the distance – two annas per 100 miles.

The Post Office Act XVII of 1837 provided the responsibility of postal service within the territories of the East India Company to the Governor-General of India. Based upon the Act, the Indian Post Office was officially established on 1 October 1837.

1852 red Scinde Dawk stamp

Although the Indian Post Office was established in 1837, Asia’s first adhesive stamp, the Scinde Dawk, was introduced in 1852 by Sir Bartle Frere, the British East India Company’s administrator of the province of Sind.

The Imperial Posts co-existed with the several postal systems maintained by various Indian states, some of which produced stamps for use within their respective dominions, while British Indian postage stamps were required for sending mail beyond the boundaries of these states.

British India had hundreds of Princely States, some 652 in all, but most of them did not issue postage stamps. The stamp-issuing States were of two kinds: the Convention States and the Feudatory States. The postage stamps and postal histories of these States provide great challenges and many rewards to the patient philatelist. Many rarities are to be found here. Although handbooks are available, much remains to be discovered.

convention states

The Convention States are those which had postal conventions (or agreements) with the Post Office of India to provide postal services within their territories. The adhesive stamps and postal stationery of British India were overprinted for use within each Convention State. The first Convention State was Patiala, in 1884, followed by others in 1885. The stamps of the Convention States all became invalid on 1 January 1951 when they were replaced with stamps of the Republic of India valid from 1 January 1950.

IndMSThe Feudatory States maintained their own postal services within their territories and issued stamps with their own designs. Many of the stamps were imperforate and without gum, as issued. Many varieties of type, paper, inks and dies are not listed in the standard catalogues. The stamps of each Feudatory State were valid only within that State, so letters sent outside that State needed additional British India postage.


The first three stamps that were issued by Independent India in 1947 featured the Indian Flag, the emblem and an Air India plane. After that, year on year, many other stamps were issued that reflect the true Identity of our nation. These stamps can be broadly classified as below.

Military stamps

Kargil3During the time of war or when peace keeping operations are on, special postage stamps have been issued called as military stamps. Mostly the army itself transports the letters to the desired destinations. These stamps were commonly used during World War II by soldiers who wanted to connect and send their message across to their beloveds. Prior to that and since that, many other military stamps of India have been released for various military operations where Indian Army has made some selfless contributions. These stamps portray different monuments, culture, arts and crafts, personalities and more.

Commemorative stamps

ASEAN-India-Commemorative-Summit-2018-Miniature-SheetA commemorative stamp is often issued on a significant date such as an anniversary, to honour or commemorate a place, event, person, or object. The subject of the commemorative stamp is usually spelled out in print. There are numerous commemorative stamps that were issued by India to honour notable personalities like freedom fighters, politicians etc. Many other stamps to celebrate special events related to sports, space, science and technology, defence, arts and crafts etc showcase the reflections of a vibrant India.

Republic definitive

republicThese stamps are a part of the regular issue and are available for using postage services for an extended period of time. They are designed to serve the everyday postal needs of the country. A definitive issue or series have a range of denominations sufficient to cover ongoing postal rates. Several definitive stamps of India have been issued with different themes and illustrations, depicting art, history, science & technology, nature, vehicles, industries, institutions and more.

Miniature sheet

ms093A miniature sheet is a small group of stamps that are still attached to the sheet on which they are printed. They could be regular issues or commemorative ones as well. They could be individual designs as well with special illustrations on the sheet. Several miniature sheets have been issued by India which portrays different aspects of the nation’s identity like famous personalities, important events, art and culture, history, monuments etc.

Se-tenant stamps

selfSe-tenant stamps are printed on the same plate and adjoin one another. Though they make a set which adjoin each other on the same sheet, their designs, colour, denominations or overprint differ. They may also feature overlapped or extended designs which appear on the entire set of stamps. India has a tradition of releasing some extremely beautiful se-tenant stamps that collectors all over the world love to own.

The first stamp of independent India shows the new Indian Flag. It was meant for foreign correspondence.


The second stamp depicts the Aśokan lions capital, the National Emblem of India, and was for domestic use.

Some interesting facts about India Post

‘Service before Self’ is the motto of the Indian Postal Department In April 1959, The first adhesive postage stamp of Asia was issued in the Sindh province by Bartle Frere in British India in July 1852

India has printed stamps and other postal stationery for many other countries before Independence like Portugal, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ethiopia, and Burma.

The post office located at the highest point in the world is in Hikkim of Himachal Pradesh which is at the height of 15,500 Ft (4,700 m).

The Department of Posts, with its network of 1,54,965 Post Offices, is the largest postal network in the world. . At the time of independence there were 23,344 post offices.

The first Indian Post Office outside Indian Territory is located at Dakshin Gangotri in Antarctica which was set up in the year 1983. 

The Indian Post department has 38 heritage buildings having architectural value.

India still uses Pigeons as a carrier of mail. The Cuttack Police has around 1000 pigeons that are used to deliver messages quickly to desolate areas in the hills. They deliver the mail and return the same day with reply.

Stamps were not issued in 1955 by India Post Department.

The idea of an all-India philatelic society arose at the Philatelic Society of Bengal in 1896 and an open letter was published by Charles Stewart-Wilson in Calcutta calling for expressions of interest. In January 1897, the Philatelic Society of India was formed in Calcutta. The first meeting took place at 6 Middleton Row, Calcutta on 6 March 1897 

Author: kheyati I am an avid philatelist, I focus on global miniatures & souvenir stamps. Happy to help enthusiasts!

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