Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Kos Minar (distance markers)

We are on the old Delhi Agra highway. Here's the Kos Minar we photographed.

These were originally laid in the mid-1500's by the Pashtun ruler Sher Shah Suri along the Grand Trunk Road. Subsequently the Mughals also made a practice of erecting them.

Kos Minars served as important milestones to help measure distances in the Empire. Agra was the Mughal capital,  and from there the Kos Minars radiated outward, towards Ajmer, Lahore and Mandu (Madhya Pradesh).

All along these highways, there were forts (qilas), fortified towns (shehrs), resting places for travellers (caravanserais), stepwells (baolis), postal system (dak chowkis), and many shady trees.

The word Kos itself is confusing, because there exist in India different measures of what a Kos actually means. Kos comes from the Sanskrit krosha, and has many references in traditional Sanskrit texts. Alexander Cunningham, a British engineer, who went on to found the Archaeological Survey of India in the mid-1800s wrote about the kos measurement system in his book The Ancient Geography of India. He says that in North India, there were three widely accepted types of kos:
- the short kos, or the Padshahi kos, about 1.25 miles, used in north-west frontier and Punjab
- the kos of the Gangetic provinces, which is about 2.25 miles
- the long kos, which is used south of the Yamuna, in the Bundelkhand region, which is about 4 miles (and also used in Mysore)

Cunningham says the first two are actually part of the same system, that the Gangetic kos is just twice that of the Padshahi. Jahangir built his sarais (inns) every 8 kos, that is about 10 miles. The British, who also understood the importance of the Grand Trunk Road, chose to maintain it just like the empires before them. They  built dak-bungalows, resting houses used by officers and for postal communication, every 10 miles.