Postal History of Gujarat

Postal History of Gujarat

written by:

Ilyas Ahmed Patel


    Gujarat is one of the proudest States in India that has the longest postal history dating back to Indus Valley Civilization. Lothal, near Ahmadabad, was a flourishing port and was the only port with dry dock facility for ship repairs in the world during those days. This provides sufficient proof that people of Indus Valley Civilization had vast trade relations with other countries and in turn some sort of rudimentary postal (communication) system was exist between them. 

    Perhaps the first recorded history of postal system in Gujarat is available with the extension of Maurya Dynasty (322 BC to 220 BC) by Chandragupta Maurya (322 BC to 298 BC) up to Junagadh in Gujarat from Patliputra in Maghadh (present day Bihar). He established a rudimentary form of postal (communication) system through “Kasid” (present day form of courier) to collect information and transmit commands from his capital Patliputra. Rock edicts at Girnar in Junagadh (Ill. 1) by Maurya King Samrat Ashoka provides ample proof of postal system in Gujarat as Samrat Ashoka was sending his commands and message of Buddha to his son and daughter who were stationed at Junagadh. The subsequent dynasties who ruled over Gujarat used the similar form of rudimentary postal system. 


The most authenticate and reliable postal system in India including Gujarat was established by the Delhi Sultan Alla-ud-din Khilji (1296 – 1316 AD). He established a well organized and responsible postal system throughout his empire and opened a separate department for it. The Mughals extended and refined his postal system with due modifications. The same system was further adopted by first, East India Company and later on by the British Empire. The British Empire made extensive changes in the postal system and gave it a legal structure. Being the recorded history, it is not repeated here. 

    India gained its independence on August 15, 1947. Post independence, one of the finest stories in which we philatelists are interested is the postal history of United State of Saurashtra (USS) about which very little information is recorded. The history of USS begins with the history of independent India. It is the history of merging of postal administration of the Princely States, which were more than 202 in numbers in Saurashtra region alone with Posts and Telegraph Department of Government of India.   There were more than 202 Princely States in Saurashtra region of Gujarat working independently during the British Empire. The story was similar with other Princely States elsewhere in India. On the day of independence, they were given the option of joining Dominion of India or Dominion of Pakistan. Some of the Princely States desired to join Dominion of Pakistan, which resulted in a public outburst and political instability there upon. Amongst these States, one of them was Junagadh (postally known as Soruth), the Nawab of which wished to join Pakistan but the public of the state opted to stay with India.

Ill. 1 – Rock edicts at Girnar in Junagadh

    The public outburst resulted in formation of Arzi Hakumat (provisional government of Junagadh State) by the natives of Junagadh in Bombay on September 25, 1947, to liberal the State. Three days later, it’s headquarter was shifted to Rajkot from Bombay. The army of Arzi Hakumat marched towards Junagadh and occupied few villages in its first attempt. The Nawab of Junagadh fled to Pakistan on October 27, 1947 leaving charge of the State with the Diwan Shahnawaz Bhutto. The Diwan informed the Regional Commissioner, Western India States Agency about his desire to go to Pakistan on November 8, 1947. Consequently, Mr. N.M. Buch, Regional Commissioner took over the administration of the State on November 9, 1947 from Captain Harvey Jones, Senior Member of Junagadh State Council of Administration, and the tri-colour flag of India was hoisted there. An Administrator was appointed as provisional arrangement by the Government of India and later on public referendum was taken on February 21, 1948, which was in favour of India. To run the administration, the Government of India, formed an Executive Council under the Presidency of the Administrator on June 1, 1948.



   In the meanwhile, attempts were made to form an independent State of Kathiawar by merging all the Princely States of Saurashtra. Mr. Krishnakumarshinji, the Maharaja of Bhavnagar (Ill.  ) took the lead and declared his State to be run by public. Consequent to this, Mr. Balvantrai Mehta became the first Chief Minister of Bhavnagar State (Ill.). The Political Council of Kathiawar made an elaborate effort to convenience all the rulers of the Princely States. Consequently, all the rulers agreed upon and shown their willingness to transfer their administration to public representatives. For smooth administration of these States who desired to join the Union of Saurashtra, the United State of Kathiawar was formed on February 15, 1948 with its headquarter at Rajkot. The Maharaja of Nawanagar became the President and the Maharaja of Bhavnagar became the Vice president. Subsequently, all the heads of the States transferred their powers to the United State of Kathiawar. Consequent to this, Mr. U.N. Dhebar was elected as Chief Minister and Mr. Balwantrai Mehta, Mr. Rasiklal Parikh, Mr. Nanabhai Bhatt, Mr. Jagubhai Parikh and Mr. Manubhai Shah joined as ministers. The administration of the United State of Kathiawar came in to effect from April 15, 1948. The name of the state was changed to the United State of Saurashtra (USS) in November 1948. For the smooth administration, the USS was divided into five districts with Collector as head of each district. Since Junagadh was under the direct administration of the Central Government, Collectors for four Districts were appointed. In the meanwhile elected representatives of the Junagadh State decided to join with the USS and accordingly, Junagadh was merged with the USS on January 20, 1949. The USS was later on merged into State of Bombay on November 1, 1956. With the bifurcation of the Bombay State, the USS became an integral part of Gujarat State with effect from May 1, 1960.



    With this political history of the USS, we are now turning to the most curious and interesting history of postal administration of the Saurashtra Postal System. Prior to independence, all the States were running their own postal system exclusively for the dispatch of their “official” mails except the Junagadh (Soruth) State. The Junagadh State had its own postal system well established since 1862 and was dealing with the public mail also very satisfactorily. Within the State, the Saurashtra Postal System was very popular being cheaper than the Imperial Post. Both the postal systems were existing and working independently within the State, The State was running 75 post offices with its head post office at Junagadh and had 52 numbers of postal staff on regular pay-roll. So when India became independent, the taking over and merging of postal system of all the States barring Junagadh State did not pose a serious problem because there was no regular postal staff employed by those States. On the other, the Junagadh State had well-established postal administration, the cadre of which was significantly different from the Indian Postal System. An elaborate communication and merger procedure took place to absorb the postal staff of Saurashtra Postal System and its merger with India Post. These details are not discussed here.



    While the merger process was going - on, it is interesting to note that how Saurashtra Postal System continued functioning till March 31, 1950 i.e. from August 15, 1947 to March 31, 1950 as an independent postal system with its own postage stamps and postal stationary. This poses a great question how the State of Junagadh managed to operate its postal system for nearly 32 months even after the independence. The available records and material reveals that it resulted in variety types of overprints and surcharged issues during this period to run the system. From the available records, we learnt that the State was lucky enough to receive its stamps printed by the Indian Security Printing Press, Nasik just few months before the independence. After the independence, their indent was terminated, as the Nasik Press was fully loaded to print new Indian postage and fiscal stamps and other official stationary.

As the time passes, the State authorities were forced to surcharge the stamps from their available stocks to meet the daily needs. We briefly summaries the surcharges that took place during this period. The surcharge was applied to both; general and official issues.


(A)               General Issues

            (1)         1949 Surcharged ONE ANNA on TWO ANNAS

         The surcharge was in two lines “POSTAGE & REVENUE/ ONE ANNA” applied at the Juangadh State Press in “Black”.

         (2)         May 1949 Surcharge ONE ANNA on HALF ANNA.

Same as (1) above the surcharge was applied at the Junagadh State Press in “Red” using capital letters throughout (Ill. 2).


(3)         Bhavnagar State Court Fee Stamps.

                  To meet the further requirements, the Junagadh authorities sent a request to the authorities of United States of Saurashtra for assistance. They                     were given permission to buy and overprint surplus one Anna Bhavnagar Court Fee Stamps for both postal and revenue use. The Bhavnagar stamps                 were already overprinted “SAURASHTRA” and therefore, they were overprinted with a three line overprint in black as U.S.S./REVENUE & / POSTAGE                     (Ill 3).


       (4)         Surcharged ONE ANNA on THREE PIES.

                  To meet the demands, the State authorities called all the remaining three pies stamps and surcharged them in black similar to half Anna. It was                             surcharged as “POSTAGE & REVENUE/ONE ANNA” (Ill. 4).




                                                                     Ill. 2                                       Ill. 3                              Ill. 4     


 (B)               Official Overprints


(1)         Surcharged ONE ANNA

          For the official use, the official “SARKARI” was overprinted. As the stock of the official stamps started running short towards the end of 1948, the authorities recalled the excess stocks of the 2,3,4 and 8 Annas official stamps and together with the available stock in the treasury, all these stamps were surcharged “ONE ANNA” in capital letters. For 2 Annas stamps it was in blue (Ill. 5) whereas for 3, 4 and 8 Annas stamps it was applied in black ink.


(2)         Hand Surcharged ONE ANNA on One Rupee.

    In November 1948, the excess stock of one rupee official stamps was recalled, and with available stock in the treasury, all the stamps were surcharge “ONE ANNA” in black by hand stamp. The surcharge measures 17 x 4 mm in size (Ill. 6).


    (3)    1949 SARKARI Overprints with Serifs

    By January 1949, the SARKARI overprinted stamps again started running low. The authorities recalled the 3 pies, half Anna and one Anna surcharged on 2 Anna stamps and then overprinted “SARKARI” in red using type with serifs (Ill. 7).


   (4)     Manuscript Official

    As the stock of official stamps again started running low, the Government Offices at Gadha and Una were authorized the manuscript writing on stamps with the words “SERVICE” or “SARKARI” in English, Devnagari or Gujarati. It was applied in red (Ill. 8).





          Ill. 5                                    Ill. 6                         Ill. 7                     Ill. 8


Through these varying types of surcharge and overprints, the state authorities kept their system running till March 31, 1950. However, in spite of the official declaration by the P & T Department of Government of India to take over the Junagadh State Postal System with effect from April 1, 1950, the postal system continued beyond this date and worked for one more month i.e. till April 30, 1950. From the available records, it is learnt that though the system was taken over on April 1, 1950, its accounts were not taken over by the P & T Department due to certain administrative anomalies, and therefore, it continued beyond the stipulated date. Due to this reasons, the system continued and letters posted during this month were not marked “Due” or “Cancelled”. From available material, it is learnt that April 30, 1950 was the last date till which Junagadh postage stamps and postal stationary was officially used by the state people. The complete merger took place on May 1, 1950. This puts an end over a long postal history of Junagadh State which ran for nearly 87 years.


Though the Saurashtra Postal System was taken over by India Post on April 1, 1950, from the available philatelic material it is revealed that the Saurashtra Postal System was functioning beyond this date and no postal articles were marked as “Cancel” or “Postage Due”. The postcards of Saurashtra post were in use during April 1950 (Ill. 9 and 10). It is to clarify here that the postal rate for postcards were increased from half Anna to nine pies with effect from April 1, 1949 by India Post and therefore, both the postcards bears additional stamp of three pies.




          Ill. 9                                                                          Ill. 10



Since the Saurashtra Postal System was taken over by the India Post with effect from April 1, 1950, India Post started defacing the postal articles with its own postal cancellations (Ill. 11 to 13).




          Ill. 11    



          Ill. 12 



          Ill. 13

Based on these illustrations it is revealed that people of Junagadh State officially enjoyed the benefit of Saurashtra postal system till April 30, 1950. On May 1, 1950, there came an end of the 87 years old administration of Saurashtra postal system. In the history of postal system of Gujarat and India as well, Saurashtra Postal System has played an important role. It also played an important role in the formation of United States of Saurashtra (USS) displaying the typical style of Gujarati people who made it bloodless and smooth. Last but not least, in the history of India’s independence particularly the merger of princely states with dominion of India, princely states of Gujarat has an important place without which the history of India’s independence remain incomplete.


Following are the landmark dates in the postal history of USS:


January 15, 1947         -           India achieved independence.

October 27, 1947        -           Nawab of Junagadh fled to Pakistan

November 9, 1947      -            Regional Commissioner took over the administration of the State

February 15, 1948       -           United States of Kathiawar was formed

April 15, 1948             -           Elected representatives took over administration of United States of Kathiawar.

June 1, 1948                -         Junagadh state came under President Rule

November 1948           -          The name of United States of Kathiawar was changed to United States of Saurashtra

January 20, 1949         -          Junagadh State was integrated with United States of Saurashtra

April 30, 1950 (up to)  -          Postal System of Junagadh continued as an independent system.

May 1, 1950                -          Postal system of Junagadh completely merged into P & T Dep’t. Of Government of India.

Nov. 1, 1956                -         The United States of Saurashtra merged with the State of Bombay

May 1, 1960                -          The Bombay State was bifurcated into Gujarat State and Maharashtra State.