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Sylhet Division

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Jaflong Sylhet This article is about the administrative division of Sylhet. For other uses, see Sylhet (disambiguation).

Sylhet Division (Bengali: ????? ?????) is the northeastern division of Bangladesh. It is bordered by the Indian states of Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura to the north, east and south respectively, and by the Bangladeshi divisions of Chittagong to the southwest and Dhaka and Mymensingh to the west. Prior to 1947, it included the subdivision of Karimganj (presently in Barak Valley, India). However, Karimganj (including the thanas of Badarpur, Patharkandi and Ratabari) was inexplicably severed from Sylhet by the Radcliffe Boundary Commission. According to Niharranjan Ray, it was partly due to a plea from a delegation led by Abdul Matlib Mazumdar.

Table of contents
  1. Etymology
  2. History
  3. Economy
  4. Governance
  5. Geography
  6. Culture
  7. Demography
  8. In popular culture
  9. See also


The Sylhet Division is named after its headquarters, the city of Sylhet. Sylhet is the anglicisation of ????? (Silhôt), one of the archaic native names for the city. The local name is generally thought to be directly derived from ???????? (Srihatta), the Sanskrit name of the city, which was also commonly used in literary Bengali up until the 20th-century. The city of Srihatta takes its name from Srihattanatha, the tutelary deity of the Natha dynasty who promoted the early settlement of Nathas in the Surma and Barak valleys between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, founding the Srihatta janapada and establishing Srihattanatha idols across the region. The later Hindu rajas of Sylhet, such as Gour Govinda, continued to pay tribute to the deity as Hatkesvara or Hattanatha as evident from the Devipurana and copper-plate inscriptions.


Main article: History of Sylhet

In 1874, the current Sylhet Division, which included Karimganj District, was entirely known as the 'Sylhet district'. On 16 February 1874, Sylhet was separated from mainland Bengal to be made a part of the non-regulation Chief Commissioner's Province of Assam (Northeast Frontier Province) in order to facilitate Assam's commercial development. The people of Sylhet submitted a memorandum to the Viceroy protesting the inclusion in Assam. The protests subsided when the Viceroy, Lord Northbrook, visited Sylhet to reassure the people that education and justice would be administered from Bengal, and when the people in Sylhet saw the opportunity of employment in tea estates in Assam and a market for their produce. In 1905, Sylhet district rejoined Bengal as a part of the new Surma Valley Division of Eastern Bengal and Assam. In 1912, the then Sylhet district was once again moved to the newly created Assam Province alongside the other districts of the Surma Valley Division.

Historically, the entire Sylhet region was a single district within the Surma Valley and Hill Districts Division as part of the Assam Province. In 1947, a referendum was held in the Sylhet district, the people of the whole district voting in favour of succession to Pakistan. However, the district's Karimganj subdivision was given to India by Cyril Radcliffe, after apparently being pleaded by a delegation led by Abdul Matlib Mazumdar. The four other subdivisions (North Sylhet, South Sylhet, Habiganj and Sunamganj) joined the Dominion of Pakistan; subsequently forming East Bengal's 'Sylhet district' in the Chittagong division.

Following the Independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Sylhet became part of the newly formed country. In 1984, the four subdivisions of Sylhet district were upgraded to districts as part of H M Ershad's decentralisation programme. The four districts remained in the Chittagong Division until 1995 when they formed the new Sylhet Division.

The Sylhet Division has a "friendship link" with the city of St Albans, in the United Kingdom. The link was established in 1988 when the St Albans District Council supported a housing project in Sylhet as part of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. Sylhet was chosen because it is the area of origin for the largest ethnic minority group in St Albans. Sylhet also has many "friendship links" with other cities in the United Kingdom, as the majority of the half-million British Bangladeshis have origins in Sylhet. This includes places such as Rochdale, Oldham, London, and many more places.


Main article: Economy of Sylhet

The area around Sylhet is a traditional tea growing area. The Surma Valley is covered with terraces of tea gardens and tropical forests. Srimangal is known as the tea capital of Bangladesh; for miles around, tea gardens are visible on the hill slopes.

The area has over 150 tea gardens, including three of the largest tea plantations in the world, both in terms of area and production. Nearly 300,000 workers, of which more than 75% are women, are employed on the tea estates. Employers prefer to engage women for plucking tea leaves since they do a better job than, but are paid less than, men. A recent drought has killed nearly a tenth of the tea shrubs.

The plantations, or gardens, were mostly developed during the British Raj. The plantations were started by the British, and the managers still live in the white timber houses built during the Raj. The bungalows stand on huge lawns. The service and the lifestyle of managers are still unchanged.

Numerous projects and businesses in the city and in large towns have been funded by Sylhetis living and working abroad. As of 1986, an estimated 95 percent of ethnic British Bangladeshis originated from or had ancestors from the Sylhet region. The Bangladesh government has set up a special Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Sylhet, in order to attract foreign investors, mainly from the UK.

Sylhet has also benefited from tourism. There are many natural landmarks people tend to visit, such as the Keane Bridge, Ali Amjad's Clock, Lalakhal, Jaflong, Madhabkunda waterfall, Ratargul Swamp Forest, Hakaluki Haor, Lawachara National Park, Tanguar Haor and Bichnakandi. Sylhet is also considered to be the spiritual capital of Bangladesh, due to the resting place of Shah Jalal, a Sufi saint who spread Islam in Bangladesh, along with hundreds of his disciples. The Sylhet Shahi Eidgah is a famous place where Eid prayers take place and it is one of the largest Eidgahs in Bangladesh, built by Farhad Khan during the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. There are a number of hotels and resorts, particularly in Sreemangal Upazila and Bahubal Upazila.


In 1995, Sylhet split from the Chittagong Division and was declared the 6th division of the country. The Sylhet Division is overseen by the Divisional Commissioner, the current Divisional Commissioner is Md. Mashiur Rahman. The Sylhet Division is divided into four districts (Habiganj, Moulvibazar, Sunamganj and Sylhet) and further divided into 35 upazilas (sub-districts). These upazilas are further divided into 323 Union parishads. Each union is roughly divided into 9 wards before going to village-level. There are roughly 10,185 villages in the Division. The Division hosts 19 Municipal corporations known as pourashavas, and one city corporation in Sylhet city. It also has 19 Parliamentary constituencies. The headquarters of the Sylhet Division is the city of Sylhet in Sylhet Sadar Upazila, Sylhet District. Pre-partition Sylhet's Karimganj has been governed by India since 1947.


Geographically the region is surrounded by hillocks (known as tillas) from all three sides except its western plain boundary with the rest of Bengal. In the south of the region (Habiganj, Moulvibazar), eight hill ranges enter the plains of Sylhet running uniformly from the west to the east. They are: Raghunandan, Dinarpur-Shatgaon, Balishira, Bhanugach-Rajkandi, Hararganj-Singla, Patharia, Pratapgarh-Duhalia and Sorrispur-Siddheswar hill ranges. At the centre of the region is also an isolated range known as the Ita Hills.

The region is considered one of the most picturesque and archaeologically rich regions in South Asia. It is home to three national parks; the Lawachara National Park, Khadim Nagar National Park and Satchari National Park, as well as numerous smaller parks and forests such as the Ratargul Swamp Forest, Rema-Kalenga Wildlife Sanctuary. Its burgeoning economy has contributed to the regional attractions of landscapes filled with fragrant orange and pineapple gardens as well as tea plantations. The region has a tropical monsoon climate (Köppen Am) bordering on a humid subtropical climate (Cwa) at higher elevations. The rainy season from April to October is hot and humid with very heavy showers and thunderstorms almost every day, whilst the short dry season from November to February is very warm and fairly clear. Nearly 80% of the annual average rainfall of 4,200 millimetres (170 in) occurs between May and September.

The physiography of the division consists mainly of hill soils, encompassing a few large depressions known locally as "beels" which can be mainly classified as oxbow lakes, caused by tectonic subsidence primarily during the earthquake of 1762.

Geologically, the division is complex having diverse sacrificial geomorphology; high topography of Plio-Miocene age such as the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and small hillocks along the border. At the centre there is a vast low laying flood plain of recent origin with saucer shaped depressions, locally called haors. There are many haors in the region and the largest ones include Hakaluki, Kawadighi, Tanguar and Hail. Available limestone deposits in different parts of the region suggest that the whole area was under the ocean in the Oligo-Miocene. In the last 150 years, three major earthquakes hit the city, at a magnitude of at least 7.5 on the Richter Scale, the last one took place in 1918, although many people are unaware that Sylhet lies on an earthquake prone zone.

Flora and fauna

The region is home to the Asian elephant and the One-horned rhinoceros, mostly towards the south. Tigers and leopards were once found throughout the region. Other notable fauna include the Sambar deer, Indian hog deer, Sylhet hara and Sylhet roofed turtle.

The Asian elephant were once found in small numbers in places such as Chapghat, Bhanugach, Chamtolla, Mahram and the Raghunandan hills. More abundantly they are found near streams in Singla and Langai.


Main article: Culture of Sylhet


The official language of Sylhet is Bengali. It is used in education and all government affairs in the division. The Adivasi (indigenous) and tea labourers brought over during the British colonial rule also have their own native languages such as Khasi, Kuki, Laiunghtor, Meitei, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Hajong, Garo, Odia, Kurmi creole, Hindi, Bhumij and Tripuri.


See also: Bengali architecture, Islamic architecture, and Mughal architecture

The intense building of mosques which took place during the Sultanate era indicates the rapidity with which the locals converted to Islam. Today, mosques are present in every Muslim-inhabited village. Bengali mosques are normally covered with several small domes and curved brick roofs decorated with terracotta. Ponds are often located beside a mosque.

Faujdar Farhad Khan built Sylhet Shahi Eidgah in the 1660s under the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. It stands as the largest eidgah of the region.

In 1872, Nawab Moulvi Ali Ahmed Khan of Prithimpassa constructed Ali Amjad's Clock, named after his son, in Sylhet City. In 1936, a bridge was constructed across the Surma River known as the Keane Bridge. These two historic landmarks are known as the gateway to Sylhet city.

Assam-type architecture developed in Sylhet region under Assam Province during the late modern period.

Sports and games

Cricket is the most popular sport in Sylhet. Regional cricket teams include Sylhet Thunder, East Zone and the Sylhet Division cricket team. Football is also a common sport and the multi-use Saifur Rahman Stadium are known to host football matches. Beanibazar SC has played in the Bangladesh League. The home stadium of the football club, Sheikh Russel KC, is in Sylhet District Stadium. Board and home games such as Dosh Fochish and its modern counterpart Ludo, as well as Carrom Board, Sur-Fulish, Khanamasi and Chess, are very popular in the region. Nowka Bais is a common traditional rowing competition during the monsoon season when rivers are filled up, and much of the land is under water. Fighting sports include Kabaddi, Latim and Lathi khela.


The division's population is over 12 million and Bengalis make up a large majority of the region's population. The tribal and Adivasi population tend to live in secluded rural areas of the region primarily near the hills and tea gardens. They are made up of several ethnic groups such as the Bishnupriya Manipuris, Khasi, Lalengs, Tripuris, Meiteis, Garos, and Kukis. In the nineteenth century, the British brought over indigenous peoples from other parts of British India to work as tea garden labourers such as the Kurmis, Musahars, Bauris, Beens, Bonaz, Sabar and Bhumij amongst others.


Islam is the largest religion in the whole region practised by the Bengali Muslims. Sunni Islam is the largest denomination with majority following the Hanafi school of law although some also follow the Shafi'i and Hanbali madhhabs. There are significant numbers of people who follow Sufi ideals similar to the Barelvis, the most influential is the teachings of Abdul Latif Chowdhury Fultali of Zakiganj - a descendant of one of the disciples of Shah Jalal. The revivalist Deobandi movement is also popular in the region with Jamia Tawakkulia Renga being a notable centre and many are part of the Tablighi Jamaat. Haji Shariatullah's Faraizi movement was very popular during the British period and Wahhabism is adopted by some upper-class families. The Ahmadiyya community is mostly concentrated in Selbaras, which was the ancestral home of Ahmad Toufiq Choudhury, the leader of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Bangladesh.

There is a very small minority of Shia Muslims who gather every year during Ashura for the Mourning of Muharram processions. Places of procession include the Prithimpasha Nawab Bari in Kulaura, home to a royal Shia family, as well as Rajtila.

Hinduism is the second largest religion practised by the Bengali Hindus as well as majority of the Bishnupriya Manipuri, Beens, Bhumij, Bonaz, Sabar, Musahar, Kurmi, Lalengs, Bauris and Tripuri population. Sylhet has the largest concentration of Hindus in Eastern Bengal and is a part of the Shakti Peetha.

Other minority religions include Christianity (including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sylhet and Sylhet Presbyterian Synod), Ka Niam Khasi, Sanamahism, Songsarek as well as animism. In the early 20th century, there were over a hundred Marwaris from Rajasthan that were living in Sylhet, mostly as merchants and followed Jainism.

There was a presence of Sikhism in Sylhet after Guru Nanak's visit in 1508 to spread the religion. Kahn Singh Nabha has stated that in memory of Nanak's visit, Gurdwara Sahib Sylhet was established. This Gurdwara was visited twice by Tegh Bahadur and many hukamnamas were issued to this temple by Guru Gobind Singh. In 1897, the gurdwara fell down after the earthquake.

In popular culture

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