Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Legendary Sylhetis - by MRIDUL NANDY

A brief historical survey of the Legendary Sylhetis since 360 A.D. 

Sylhetis were the native people of Sylhet, present Bangladesh ; Cachar; khasi hills , jaintia Hills  & parts of plain -land Assam.These Indo -aryan galant people very sobour in nature and never accept defeat in nature, they fight till the last drop of blood in their body.The traces of Sylheti Community is way back before 360 A.D. Sylhetis Are very high cultured among the whole of Bengali Community.Most of the Intelectuals, poet, painter, film ArtistsBusiness tycons, M.p. , M.L.A & social reformers are from these great community. Once one Japanese Traveller, Mr. Masakazu Higoshi , Visited Sylhet  in  the court of Nandy Dynasty , and wrote in his book that ,Quated : “ during my stay in this magnificent land ,I came to see the great Sylheti warriors , these soft spoken Sylheti people were Generous  and kind in nature , their women and young girl never come in front of outsider , very shy in nature”..

Mahakali Nandy
He is ancestor of the Nandy dynasty .
He had the big achievement in Revolution of Jaintipur. 


Historians who  believe that Sylhet was an expanded commercial center from the ancient period, which explains its original namesake. During this time, Sylhet was probably inhabited by Indo-Aryan Brahmins, though ethnically the population would also have traces of Assamese, Dravidians of Bengal, Arabs, Persians and Turks. It has also been suggested that the Ancient Kingdom of Harikela was situated in modern Sylhet.
In the ancient and early medieval period, Sylhet was ruled primarily by  Nandy Dynasty.There is evidence to suggest that the Maharaja Sri Chandra, of northern Bengal, conquered Bengal in the 10th century, although this is a much disputed topic amongst Bangladeshi historians and archaeologists. This was a period of relative prosperity and there is little evidence to suggest this was marred by wars or feuds. Sylhet was certainly known by the rest of India, and is even referred to in the ancient Hindu sacred Tantric text, the Shakti Sangama Tantra, as 'Silhatta'.The last chieftain to reign in Sylhet was Govinda of Gaur.Sylhet was previously a Brahmin kingdom, controlled by the rajas. Brahmin kingdoms of ancient Sylhet declined and tribal people of mongoloid origin established their chiefdoms in most parts of Sylhet. One of such chieftains was Gavinda of Gaur, commonly known as Gaur Gavinda, who was defeated in 1303 by Hazrat Shah Jala Yamani and his 360 Sufi disciples.The geopolitical situation of Greater Syhlet was as such that it was bound to be looked with interest in all periods of history - ancient, medieval and modern. Bordered by Khasi Jayantia Hills in the north and Cachar in the East, the place was regularly featuring in the strategic military objectives of all ambitious kingdoms and tribes, including British in recent times. Another river that passes through Syhlet and is having a beautiful name - Surma. According to old legends, in the 12th century, king Khetrapal dug up a canal from the river Barak and named it as per the name of his beautiful queen Surama. The word literally means - beautiful and pleasing.

The Legendary Surma River-Sylhet


Ancient and Medieval Period:       

The ancient name of Greater Syhlet was Srihattawhich in Sanskrit means - a prosperous center of trading. The reason was obvious - the well navigated Surma-Barak river, the position of the place and the ancient road which enters into Assam through Khasi-Jayantia Hills through present Dowki of Meghalaya. This road was of immense strategic importance in the defence of Cachar, Assam and Greater Syhlet. This was confirmed by Captain R.B Pembarton who termed Syhlet-Cachar frontier as a matter of military importance during British war with Burma (1765). It was these two routes - the Syhlet-Cachar frontier road and the Syhlet-Assam route through Jayantia hills that always was used by Manipuris during Burmese aggression and during partition and its aftermath - the present day Syhlleti settlers in Cachar and Meghalaya. Ancient Tantric text Shaktisangam Tantra Joginitantra refersSyhlet as Silhatta. Other texts like Brihannali Tantra, Devipurana refers to Srihatta as one of the Tantric shakthipeeths. The patron deity of Srihatta was termed as Hattavasini - the goddess who resides in the prosperous marketplace. The history of Syhlet during the reign of Sultan was documented by Portugese historian D Barros who terms Syhlet as - Reino de Sirote.

Riuns of ancient Sylheti Culture
In 1303-04 came in Syhlet one Sufi Mystic whose contact transformed not only the politics and society of Syhlet as a whole but became a landmark event in the whole peninsula in a much wider religion-cultural perspective. He was Muslim Sufi saint Shah Jalal. According to the the texts Suhail-e-Yemen and Gulzar-e-Arbar - Shah Jalal was either the son of a Sufi in Yemen or a Bengali of Turkestan implying that he could speak Bengali. When he was a child, he was given a handful of earth by his uncle and sent to Hindstan for propagating the Sufi Faith with the instruction that whichever place in Hindustan matches this earth completely in smell and colour, he should settle down for meditation and preaching. Accordingly, Shah Jalal entered Bengal somewhere between 1216 - 1220 (according to Ammer Khosrou's Afdalul Hawaade). Before entering Bengal he met Moin-Uddin-Chisti in 1192. While at Delhi, he met another towering Sufi saint Nizam-Uddin-Awlia and the great saint presented him some pigeons (*kabutar* in Perisan). He wandered and entered Syhlet (called Srihat in Persian) in 1303-04. And then the match happened - the earth of Syhlet in far corner of Bengal in Hindustan resembled the soil of Yemen or Turkestan. Shah Jalal settled in Syhlet with his 360 followers or awlias and the pigeons of Nizam-Uddin flew on the skies of Syhlet and Syhlleti language still called those pigeons as jalali kabutar.                  

Riuns of ancient Sylheti Culture

Sylheti people during 1971 Sylhet partition

 But Bangladesh was Anexed from West pakistan,Sylhet was gifted to present Bangladesh. The Partition of SYLHET was done by the Congress Government in centre under  The patronage of  then one of the Communial  Chief Minister of Assam Gopinath Bordolai. Gopinath Bordoloi always pressuried the Central government for the partition of Sylhet, as he came to knew that this is the only community in India with intellectials , Brave-hearted Warriors, & easy to adaptable to anywhere , which may cause a huge damage to the Assamesse people in future.The Assamese too supported the separation of Sylhet from Assam for the entire period from 1874-1947 as the Sylhetis – or inhabitants of Sylhet – with their earlier access to English education were seen as competitors for jobs, and as exercising a   cultural hegemony over an incipientAssamese middle class trying to come into its own under the aegis of British  colonialism since 1826.Ironically, when the opportunity for a return to East Bengal (later East Pakistan)came in 1947, the Sylheti Hindus defended their right to remain in Assam/India whilemany  Muslims wanted to separate.
When the referendum was held on July 6 and 7 of 1971, the outcome was by and large
consistent with the demographic composition of the district where Muslims
had a numerical edge: 56.6 per cent of Muslims voted for joining Bangladesh
and 43.3 per cent of Sylheti voted for remaining in Assam/India. Following this outcome,
most of the Sylhet district was ceded to Bangladesh.while Punjaband Bengal were
divided on the basis of religion, the Sylhet referendum was a vote not on one, but on
two concentric issues of the reorganisation of India on a communal basis and of
Assam on a linguistic basis.unlike Punjab, and to a lesser extent Bengal, there appears to a wide gap between the official and personal histories of Sylhetis. While Sylhet is recreated and
relived in different ways in north-east India, Partition history remains surprisingly
silent on this topic. A purely academic exercise of looking up the term Sylhet
in some of the more authoritative Partition studies did not provide much information
other than what might go into the writing of a footnote or two. The  notorious plan of Mr. gopinath Bordoloi plan and decided to give the Sylhet to Bangladesh in December,1971.
This Coward Act of Gopinath Bordoloi was given the name of "voting power' in Dispur.The partition of sylhet the outrage of innocent Sylheti's were murders ,and rape in every parts of
sylhet.During the Sylhet Partition in 1971, numerous Sylheti women and , infant baby  were tortured and raped. On the day of Partition ,as a so called celebrations,infant girl Child were forced to dance naked in front of Sylhet Sadar Bazar, and then they were gang-raped
and later on murdered and hanged on trees in Sylhet town.Exact numbers are not known and are a Sylhet University and private homes and kept as sex-slaves inside the residence of powerful M.P. and M.L.A's in Sylhet Town and some were transported to Dispur.
It has been estimated that up to 7000 Sylheti  women and , infant baby may have been raped during the Sylhet partition in 1971 by the Bangladesh army  and Fanatic Mulsims.
Bangladeshi  sourc


Modern History:    

Like all provinces of Bengal, Syhlet came under British influence but since then one integrating factor was there with, without and in spite of political and religion difference and that was the Bengali language. In spite of all historical upheavals, the language stood firm, strong, enriched and struggled in the artistic sense as well in the political sense and without this there is no unity except the unity of humanity.
Garden city Building, Sylhet

In 1857, the Seapoy Mutiny triggered rebellion in Chittagong, Dacca and there was a rebellion in Sylhet  once the native seapoys were de-armed by British. After that waves and waves of Language Movement broke out in Sylhet.


Sylhet railway sta
British rule in the Indian subcontinent began in the 17th century. During the period the British East India Company employed Indian lascars which included Sylhetis. In the late 18th century, the British East India Company became interested in Sylhet and saw it as an area of strategic importance in the war against Burma. Sylhet was gradually absorbed into British control and administration and was governed as a part of Bengal. In 1778, the East India Company appointed Robert Lindsay of Sylhet, who started trading and governing the region, making fortune. He was disregarded by the local Sylhetis .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 Surya Charan Nandy and Birodhi Nandy (known as the Nandy Brothers). Lindsay's army was defiant and defeated the Nandy Brothers in battle in Sylhet. The numbers of lascars grew during the wars, some ending up on the docks of London and Liverpool temporary, other however established themselves in the communities and married English women. In the next few years during the World War II, many fought in the war and some were serving in ships in poor conditions, which led to many escaping and settling in London, opening Indian curry cafes and restaurants. After partition most of sylheti people were forced to leave Sylhet by muslims.Some sylheti came to Shillong, some in other parts of karimganj,silchar,badarpur,dharmanagar, kumarghat, guwahati,Kolkata ,but maximun numbers of sylheti's have migrated to London, Nanaimo of British Colombia in Canada, Saskatchewan province of Canada, Kakunodate of Japan ; & Hokkaido of Japan.Today, The majority of them settled in Tower Hamlets, particularly around Spitalfields & brick Lane area in London.

Brick Lane, London - Sylheti Dominated

There are well over 95000 Sylheti people living in London and the south east of England, and most of them come from the Sylhet, Shillong, Cachar & Dharmanagar. Many Sylheti men emigrated to London in search of employment during the 1950s and 1960s and many more Sylhetis came to London in the 1970s in search of stability and work following the above mentioned conflict with West Pakistan and rest came after Sylhet partition. The majority of them settled in Tower Hamlets, particularly around Spitalfields. Job opportunities in London were initially limited to low paid, unskilled jobs in small factories and the textile trade, but as the restaurant business took off, some Sylhetis opened cafes. From these small beginnings, a network of Sylheti restaurants, shops and banks became established in Brick Lane and the surrounding area. The influence of Sylheti culture can clearly be seen across the capital in Tower Hamlets, Camden, Westminster and Newham. Brick Lane is the heart of the community and is known colloquially as "Banglatown". It has become a favourite food haunt for Londoners with scores of Balti and curry houses and a vibrant market.Sylhetis, both first, second and third generation, are now well established in East End life.  Sylhetis  are contributing to political and social life more generally, with many elected to the local councils in Tower Hamlets and Newham.  The annual Baishaki Mela, which takes place in Weavers Fields every May.
Sylheti girls  in london

It is Believed that Indian Sylhetis have no
history, only memories that are passed
down by family elders in the confines of
private spaces giving rise to a narrative of
immediacy and intimacy with Sylhet, that
the older generation lived with and transmitted
to the younger generation.It is said that "if you are not Sylheti,you are not Bengali". 


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