The library on the third floor of Dak Bhaban, the headquarters of Bangladesh Postal Directorate in Agargaon, Dhaka, is home to excellent books and magazines, including Postalpedia, Dak Probaho, writings of Bimal Kar, Satyajit Ray and Abanindranath Tagore. It also has a kids' corner, Bangabandhu corner, 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 showcased on stamps and the oldest one dates back to 121 BC.
The beautifully decorated library in the 14-storey post-box-shaped building remains open on Mondays and Wednesdays for only two and a half hours from 2:30pm.
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 an empire larger than Alexander the Great's, began in 322 BC and ended in 298 BC. The story of courier services beginning in the Indian subcontinent during his time is probably true. According to the Brahmi script plaques found at Mahasthangarh, Chandragupta instructed local feudal lords to give people wealth from the treasury. It is believed that the instruction was sent through a courier.
The lower part of the gallery documents history from 602 to 680 AD when Caliph Muawiyah, the founder of Umayyad caliphate, established the Diwan-i-Barid or postal department for official communication. At the time, there were 930 postal stations on six mail routes from Kabul to Delhi.
Another Umayyad caliph, Abdul Malik (685-705 AD), expanded the postal system throughout the empire and established a regular postal department. Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz (717-720 AD), set up inns at various places along the Khorasan Highway. Horses, camels or donkeys were exchanged at 12-mile intervals to send messages from the caliph to various officials in different provinces.
The next stamp on the gallery is dated 1186-1206 AD, the time of the Ghurid Dynasty when sending news through camels began. The empire included Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh and Iran. Qutb al-Din Aibak, one of the generals of Sultan Shihauddin Muhammad Ghauri, started using horses to send mail by following the methods of the Arabs. There is a stamp stating the contributions of Aibak, who later became the first sultan of Delhi.
The next stamp describes the reign of Sultan Alauddin Khilji, who formed an organisation for postal services in 1296 AD. News and military correspondence from the battlefield were carried regularly by horses and postal runners. He also set up a spy postal service and hired news writers.
The next one 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 next stamp depicts the time of Emperor Sher Shah Suri (1538-1545 AD), who introduced the relay correspondence system for postal services. He rebuilt the 4,800km 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 next stamp dated 1610 states that during the reign of Emperor Jahangir, postal communication was established between Delhi and Dhaka, the capital of the then Bengal, and a post office superintendent was appointed to send-receive mails. During his time, postal communication using pigeons was established between Bengal and Odisha and between Rajmahal and Murshidabad.
Letters were categorised during his time such as "Firman" – the king's order; "Shukkuk" – the king's letter to an individual; "Nishan" – a letter from a royal family member except the king; "Hasbul Hokum" –the letter of a minister written on the instructions of the emperor; "Parwana" – administrative instructions.
The next stamp is dated 1766, during Robert Clive's time when a postmaster was appointed in Kolkata. Connection with Kolkata and six postal centres across India was established. However, the main connection was with Dhaka and Patna. When Warren Hastings served as the Governor General of India in 1774 the General Post Office was established at Kolkata. People of Bengal could send mail within a 160km range for only two annas (one-eighth of Tk1). Across 139 areas, 417 postmen, 139 light bearers and 139 drummers were appointed.
The next stamp shows the palanquin postage system during the period 1784-1785. Palanquins carried people as well, with bundles of letters. In 1785, sending parcels through post offices was introduced, which is considered as the origin of modern parcel service.
In 1781, the postal cost from Kolkata to Chattogram was Tk40 and it took 60 days. From Kolkata to Dhaka it 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 all-India stamp were introduced.
The next stamp is dated 1856 when the first mailbox or post box was introduced. In 1866 The Post Office Act was passed. One anna embossed envelopes were introduced in 1873, followed by the register post and value payable post in 1877. In 1878, insured posts were launched. The post office headquarters was established in Dhaka in September of the same year. Postcards worth one penny were introduced in 1879.
In 1880, the money order system was introduced in all post offices of India. By this time, however, telegraph communication was added at major post offices. In 1884 railway mail services were linked with shipping carried on by Assam Steamer Service.
In the early 1930s postal transport by air was introduced. On 1 December 1933, air postal services between Dhaka and Calcutta as well as the Kolkata-Rangoon route via Chattogram were launched. When the Second World War began in 1939, the postal department came under extensive security measures.
In May 1942, the first field post office of East Bengal 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 9 July 1947.
In 1956, a few years into the recognition of Bangla as a state language, stamps and papers were printed in Bangla. Daily flights were introduced on the Dhaka-Karachi-Dhaka route for postal transport between East and West Pakistan.
In 1971, with the formation of the wartime Bangladesh government in Mujibnagar on 17 April, the postal system was introduced under the management of the freedom fighters by opening 50 field post offices in the border areas. After the liberation of the country, these were integrated with 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.
In 1989, Bangladesh set up its own security printing press to print stamps, envelopes and postcards.
The next stamp in the gallery shows the launch of an electronic mail service in 2000. In 2010, the Postal Department launched the Electronic Money Transfer Service through which money could be sent to different regions at low cost by using mobile phones.
The last stamp shows the launch of the digital financial service Nagad in 2018 – an upgrade of the previous electronic money transfer system.
Postal system in digital age
The postal department has recently introduced postal cash cards that can be used at 1,400 ATM booths of 26 banks. Another service, Speed Post, was launched in 2018 to deliver parcels faster. EMS services came along to send mail and parcels to 43 countries.
The Postal Department has converted 1,863 post offices into IT-based rural post offices and under the automation project, daily transactions of Savings Banks are being conducted digitally in 71 major post offices. Postal life insurance premiums can now be deposited online and e-commerce service has been launched in 400 post offices.
Currently, there are about 9,000 post offices across the country.