by Mohamed Moizuddin, Government of India Press Information Bureau, New Delhi
Set up in 1979 at the G.P.O. complex in Calcutta on the 125th year of
Indian Post Office, the Postal Museum, unique among the museums, unravels the
mysteries of the postal system in our country, from its dawn to the present.
The evolution of the postal services in India can be
traced as far back as the Vedic age when the priests entrusted messages to human
agents and the king of kings performed "Asvamedha" yagna by sending
the horse to different territories spreading messages of their might. Later, in
the Maurya period Emperor Chandragupta and Emperor Ashoka used pigeons to keep
contacts with the provincial Governors. In the Medieval period, the Sultans and
the Mughal emperors developed a postal service based on courier system either on
horse back or on foot. This system was also followed by the British East India
Company during early stages, with modifications.
Regular Postal System
The regular postal system was established in January 1774.
In 1837, Government assumed the exclusive right to convey letters. In those days
there used to be a dual system of post - "Imperial Post" (Official)
and "District Post" (Public).
The postal museum gives us an insight into the hoary past
- various accessories, maps, charts, records used by the Postal Department in
those days. For want of a regular postal system and proper preservation, these
articles remained uncared for, some lost and some stolen. Never before, an
attempt was made to trace them out.
In the early years, "Runner" (Dak Harkara) was the embodiment of "Service Before Self". He had to face all sorts of risks, hazards and hardships in carrying mails through jungles, terrains and deserts. In the process, he encountered wild animals, dacoits and risked his life.
There were cases when the Runners on duty were carried away by tigers, drowned in flooded rivers, bitten by venomous snakes, buried in avalanche or murdered by robbers. In 1921-23, there were 57 cases in which mails were plundered by highway robbers resulting in the loss of seven lives. In the face of all these dangers, the Runners seldom shrunk from their responsibilities.
The Runner used to put on colourful attire with badges and was armed with spears and jingling bells for self defence. For hilly regions, he was provided with a bugle to proclaim his presence. The jingling of bells will revive reminiscences of the days when the Department was always on the move day in and day out.
A model of the Mail Runner on duty, carefully preserved in a glass showcase, is one of the biggest attractions of the museum. Also on display is the model of a postman in Rajasthan, attired in the traditional postal uniform, in vogue almost a century back.
With the gradual mechanisation of the mail lines, Runners
are disappearing from the country. Some of the equipment used by these Runners
in the good old days are show pieces in the museum.
To our modern society the letter box means nothing but a box for posting letters. In the earlier days, the letter boxes signified the authority of the British regime. They used to be manufactured at a considerable cost with attractive designs. The museum has a few of them with the British Imperial Crown at the top. There is also a rare collection of a letter box used by Travancore State with an elephant trunk.
When horse courier was in vogue there used to be stages at Dak Bungalows. A man called 'Dakooa' was in charge of the Dak Bungalow who used to receive and exchange mails and also attend to the horses and couriers. The museum has procured a badge with the year 1864 inscribed on it used by a 'Dakooa'. Interestingly, Dak Bungalows are still there, but the Dakooas have vanished.
Costly metal sign boards with British emblem inscribed on them were in existence in important post offices. Some of these collections have found a place in the postal museum. Semaphore signalling equipment which were used at Diamond Harbour also finds a place in the museum. Valuable maps and charts will show the various postal jurisdictions under Bengal circle. An interesting collection is a map dating back to 1912 showing the post offices in Calcutta and even the location of the street letter boxes. There is also a collection of century-old manuscripts of "visit-remarks" of various inspecting officers. These provide valuable materials for postal history.
Sir C.V. Raman - the great scientist and the Nobel Prize winner was initially a Postal Officer. Dinabandhu Mitra author of "Nildarpan" was also a Postal Officer. The specimen of writings of these eminent personages has been kept with great care in the exhibition gallery. Similarly, the specimen signature of the great poet, Rabindra Nath Tagore which he tendered while opening a Savings Bank Account in his name at Santiniketan Post Office, has been fondly preserved.
A marble tablet depicting the year 1884 when the Post Office building in Calcutta was constructed is still in the original place on the wall just above the entrance of the museum. In the early years the senior officers of the Department not only carried authority but were, as a mark of dignity, required to use colourful attires with ceremonial swords while on duty. A gallery containing rare portraits in oil of these senior officers on the canvas finds place in the museum.
The museum has also a Telephone Corner, with giant-size model of a telephone, manufactured by the Burrabazar Workshop of Calcutta District, for use in automatic exchanges. There are twelve other telephone instruments, of various types and sizes, in vogue from 1900 onwards. These odd and unwieldy instruments look bizarre when compared to the sleek finger-touch telephones used in the present day electronic era.
Along with the postal museum, a small Philatelic Library has also been added. The library has the specimen of the first post card designed and printed in 1879 for internal use. A lithograph of the first postage stamps issued in denominations of 1/2 a., 1 a., 2 as. and 4 as., for general use in India, has also been kept in the library. There is also the stamp (embossed) issued in 1852 under the authority of Sir Bartle Frere, the then Commissioner of Scinde, in the province of Sind. A framed board containing different postal stamps and other exhibits displayed in an exhibition at Egypt during 1883-84 by Indian Postal authorities, has also been put up in the library.
Numerous accessories like clocks, seals, signal lights and flag hoisting machine, badges and belts, bugles etc. are also on display.
Although mankind has taken a quantum leaps in the field of telecommunications technology where the postal system has not lagged behind, the romance of the postman delivering a letter by hand remains unmatched. Yet the image of the 'dakooas' braving their way through forest, mountain and valley remains deeply impressed in the mind in this age of sending messages through fax or super fast computers at the blink of an eye.
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