By- Sartaj Haque
Sylhet is surrounded by tea estates, sub-tropical hills, rain forests and river valleys; a major city from North-East Bangladesh, we all know about it, time to know a bit more about this city. The authenticity of this post will definitely amaze everyone and leave the mouth wide open. If you’re reading this, take it as a historical lesson, even Sylhetis are not concerned about some of the historical facts.
- Lets talk about race and ethnicity, primarily “Sylhet” was inhabited by Indo-Aryan and Dravidian tribes. Ethnically, the population would also have traces of Assamese, Arabs, Persians, Chinese and Turks.
- This city has been a place of historical significance, even though the heritage is long-lost. Sylhet is said to be the capital cities of the ancient kingdoms of Harikela, Gaur, Srihatta. Also it has served as the port city of the mighty Kamarupa Kingdom.
- As a city Sylhet was known to the rest of the Sub-continent during the ancient period, as the reference of this city was found in the ancient ‘Nath’ sacred Tantric text, the Shakti Sangama Tantra, as ‘Silhatta’.
- Sylhet has been the place of religious significance and importance for both Hindus and Muslims, the 13th century marked the beginning of Islamic influence in Sylhet, with the arrivals of Sufi disciples to the region. Under the spiritual leadership of Shah Jalal and his 360 companions, many people converted to Islam and began spreading the religion to other parts of the country. The Sufis created a distinct culture for which often Sylhet is referred as the ‘Holy City’ in the mainland Bengal. In the official documents and historical papers, Sylhet was often referred to as “Jalalabad” during the era of the Muslim rule.
- Sylhet continues to have the largest concentration of the Hindu believers with a number of important shrines. It is the ancestral home of 16th century Krishna Chaitanya. Sylhet has two of the seven places in Bangladesh where Sati’s body parts are believed to have fallen on Earth from a total of fifty-one. Sati is another form of Goddess Durga.
- Sylhet passed into the hands of the British in 1765, with the rest of Bengal, of which it formed an integral part until 1874, being included in the ‘Dacca’ division. In that year it was annexed, together with the adjoining district of Cachar(Kasar), to the chief-commissionership of Assam which was amalgamated with East Bengal in 1905.
- People of the Cachar district have a very similar culture and speak the same language, in some part of Assam the Sylhety alphabets also known as ‘Nagri-Lipi’ are still being nurtured. Nagari book titled “Halat-un-Nabi”, written in the mid-19th century by Sadeq Ali of Sylhet. The writing system’s main use was to record religious poetry, described as a rich language and easy to learn, now it is mostly extinct, mainly used by the academics.
- Sylhet also have a long-lost history of armed resistance against the Company Rules. In 1778, the East India Company appointed Robert Lindsay as a Collector of Sylhet, who started trading and governing the region, making fortune. In 1781, a devastating flood struck the region which wiped out crops and killing a third of the population. The locals blamed the British for not preventing the greatness of the event, which led to an uprising, led by Syed Hadi and Syed Mahdi (known as the Pirzada). Lindsay’s army was defiant and defeated the ‘Pirazada’ in battle near Sylhet Shahi Eidgah in an uneven battle of Sword and Guns. A very few of us know about the bravery of ‘Hadi Mia’ and ‘Madi Mia’
- The documented arrival of a Sylhety in Britain was found in the autobiography of Robert Lindsay. In 1809 when the retired collector returned home and leading a luxurious life spotted an Indian man on the street who turned out to be a Sylhety man. As it is in his autobiography, the man, Syed Ullah, said he was looking for a Briton named “Lindsay”. “When I told him who I was, he looked at me with hatred in his eyes. ‘So it was you who killed Pirzada!’ ”
- Later many Sylhetis associated themselves with the British Raj in different government positions, most common of them was, the lascars; a sailor or militiaman from the Indian Subcontinent. Many of them served during the WWII, many fought in the war and some were serving in ships in poor conditions, which led to many escaping and settling in London.
- After the British administrative reorganisation of India, Sylhet was eventually incorporated into Assam. Eastern Bengal and Assam was a single province after the 1905 Partition of Bengal (from 1905 to 1911).
- In 1947, a referendum was held on 6 July, 1947, 239,619 people!! voted to join East Pakistan and 184,041 voted to remain part of India. The referendum was acknowledged by Article 3 of the India Independence Act of 18 July 1947. In 1971, Sylhet became part of the newly formed independent country of Bangladesh.