In the late 18th century, the king of Mewar started a private postal system that employed Brahmins to carry mail across the state. The reason? Dacoits. Bands of them plagued the border lands, regularly killing postmen for money, valuables or even the information in the mail.
A Brahmini Dak (combination cover) envelope from Mahatpur to Indore. Courtesy Ajay Kumar Mittal
But Hindu religious norms labelled killing a Brahmin the most heinous of sins, an act that “banished” the soul of the killer to hell. The belief worked like a charm—the Brahmin postmen could walk or ride across the land without any trouble.
The system was so successful that other states, such as Indore and Malwa, signed agreements with Mewar to use the service. Up to 1873, Indore had a contract with “Brahmini Dak”, paying Rs 3,600 a year for the service and permission for the establishment of post offices.
Private letters were carried at 0.5 anna each, irrespective of weight—this was considerably cheaper than the Imperial Post, which charged that much for packages up to 0.75 ‘tolas’, approximately 8g.
In the late 16th century, the Mughals invaded Chittor (now in Rajasthan). The Rajput prince of Chittor, Udai Singh, refused to surrender despite the stiff odds. He ordered his army to the battlefield, while the women in the palace performed ‘jauhar’, offering themselves to the fire to “protect their honour”.
An 1876 cover with the ‘74½’warning (marked with a red arrow). Courtesy Avinash Jagtap
The Mughals won; around 30,000 Rajputs were killed in battle.
After the battle, the Mughals collected the sacred threads—‘yadnyopavit’ or ‘janau’, which is worn across the upper torso—from the bodies of the dead soldiers and weighed them. The collective weight was 74K ‘maunds’ (around 2,700kg).
Merchants in Rajasthan began using the number “74K” before the address on envelopes. This number or mark was a warning to those who might want to violate the contents of a letter not meant for them—warning of a curse. This system usually ensured safe passage in the predominantly Hindu provinces.
Sikkim Rocket Mail
Stephen Hector Taylor-Smith may well have been the first person in the world to launch live chickens across a river.
A Rocket Mail cover used in the first despatch of 1934. Courtesy Superior Galleries
Taylor-Smith, an Anglo-Indian, was the secretary of the Indian Airmail Society in the 1930s, and a pioneer of “rocketgrams”—mails delivered by firing crude, improvised rockets towards their destinations, where they would touch down by releasing an internal parachute.
On 29 June 1935, two chickens—Adam and Eve—were transported via a rocket across the Damodar river near Burnpur in West Bengal. It was the first successful “Rocket Livestock Dispatch”. The following year, he would transport more than a thousand letters through around 20 officially sanctioned “rocketgram” flights in Sikkim. The rockets were more than just experimental curiosities—Taylor-Smith was attempting to gauge their effectiveness in transporting aid and supplies to flood- and earthquake-affected areas. He died in 1951, and was commemorated in a stamp released by India Post in 1992.
Source: Ajay Kumar Mittal, philatelist; Pradip Jain; Superior Galleries and Prem Chand Jaiswal, president, All-India Philatelic Traders’ Association.