RobinAge: Knowledge - Stamps of India

Stamps of India


by Radhika Patil


Though by definition a postal stamp is an adhesive paper evidence of a fee paid for postal services, in actuality a stamp frames national identity and carries an important message to both the outside world and the home population. Stamps are thus referred to as bearers of nationalist thoughts, beliefs and principles.

The postal system in India has existed for a few thousand years. With every invading ruler that came into India, including the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Mughal and British, the postal system changed, but no system could disintegrate the postal system that existed in the independent states.

The British East India Company gradually displaced other powers and brought into existence a British administrative system all over India with a need to establish and maintain official mail systems.

The Indian Post Office, which was established in 1837, introduced the first Asian adhesive stamp, the Scinde Dawk, in 1852. The Indian postal system developed into an extensive, dependable and robust network providing connectivity to almost all parts of India, Burma, the Straits Settlements and other areas controlled by the British East India Company. Based on the model postal system introduced in England by the reformer Rowland Hill, postal services were provided at a low cost and enabled the smooth functioning of the administrative machinery of the British Raj. At this time too, the Imperial Posts coexisted with the postal systems maintained by various Indian states.



- The first stamps of the new Indian republic communicated the vitality and energy of a nation coming into being. These stamps defined, and continue to define, Indian nationalism in many ways. The first set of commemorative stamps in 1947 announced the symbols of the new nation. The three sets of definitive stamps issued in 1949, 1955 and 1957 outlined an official view of India as a cultural, economic and territorial nation. Finally, a large number of occasional commemorative stamps celebrated the heroes of the nationalist freedom struggle. Reproduced here are some stamps. These are the first official postal representations of the new nation.

- The first stamp of independent India depicted the Indian Flag with the patriots slogan, 'Jai Hind' (Long Live India) on the top right-hand corner. It was valued at 3.5 annas (1 anna is equivalent to 5.25 paisa). The first set of three stamps issued, known as the 'Independence Series', publicised the symbols of the Indian state. The first stamp carried the Indian flag, which, with its vivid colours, stands in contrast to the colonial stamps that preceded it. The second stamp carried the new emblem of India, the Ashoka Lion Capital, which deposed the crown emblem of the British Raj. The third stamp portrayed a plane soaring into the skies and reflected a mood of optimism on the part of an Indian Post Office, which was ready to serve the new nation.

- A memorial to Mahatma Gandhi was issued on August 15, 1948 on the first anniversary of independence. Exactly one year later a definitive series appeared, depicting India�s broad cultural heritage, mostly Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh and Jain temples, sculptures, monuments and fortresses. A subsequent issue commemorated the inauguration of the Republic of India on January 26, 1950.

- The first set of definitive stamps issued by the new Government of India was released on August 15, 1949. Known as, 'The Archaeological Series' it featured 16 engraved images of Indian monuments that ranged from large edifices, including the Taj Mahal, to smaller statues such as Nataraja.In a celebration of the greatness of Indian civilisation this set of stamps reproduced images of monuments linked to a number of Indian religions and important Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Jain and Sikh landmarks. The implicit message was that India's great civilisation includes within it the influence of a number of religious traditions.

- The next lot of stamps spoke about India's achievements in areas where it had been held back. The 8-anna stamp shows an engine being built at the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works. Shortly after the Tilaiya dam featured on a 1-anna stamp.

- The territorial basis of nationalism is proclaimed on the third set of Indian definitive stamps. 'The Map of India Series' carries the same image of the map of India in various shades with an attractive arabesque pattern down the left-hand-side. The map highlights the main river systems and mountain ranges and does not include internal boundaries.

- Definitives included a technology and development theme in 1955, a series showing the map of India in 1957 and a series with a broad variety of images in 1965.

- Today the Indian Postal Service serves the public from 1,55,000 post offices. India is believed to have the most widely distributed system in the world. The Indian postal system also boasts of postal code area 172114 in Sikkim, which, at an altitude of 15,500 feet, is the highest post office in the world.

- The Indian Postal Service launched its first aircraft on August 29, 2007. The aircraft, with a 15 ton load capacity, carries Speed Post, mail, parcels and logistics ensuring guaranteed delivery.

- The old inscription of 'INDIA POSTAGE' was replaced in 1962 with 'INDIA', though three stamps issued between December 1962 and January 1963 carried the earlier inscription.

- India has printed stamps and postal stationery for other countries, mostly neighbours. Countries which have had stamps printed in India include Burma (before independence), Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Portugal and Ethiopia.


Gandhi is the most international of all Indian faces in the world of stamps. Besides India, 80 countries, from Antigua to Zambia have issued some 250 stamps on the Mahatma.

Outside India, it was the United States that became the first country to issue Gandhi stamps. On January 26, 1961 a set of two stamps was released as part of the 'Champions of Liberty Series'. Congo followed in 1967. The most coveted stamp featuring Gandhiji is the official envelope sent registered by air mail to India from the Second Indian Round Table Conference in London in 1931. That was the only Round Table Conference, of the three held, that the Mahatma had attended. Incidentally, a temporary post office had been set up exclusively for the conference and it used a special postmark. 

Other Indian elements that have appeared on international stamps include: