Sylhet was under the realm of the Harikela and Kamarupa kingdoms of ancient Bengal and Assam. Buddhism was prevalent in the first millennium. In the early medieval period, the area was dominated by Hindu principalities, which were under the nominal suzerainty of the Senas and Devas.[12][13]The history of the dynasts in the region is documented by their copper-plate charters.[14]


Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal

The 14th century marked the beginning of Islamic influence in Sylhet. The Muslim general Shamsuddin Firoz Shah‘s army defeated the local Hindu Raja Gour Govinda after the raja’s persecution of Muslim migrants. The general’s army was aided by a Middle Eastern Sufi missionary, Shah Jalal, and 313 of his companions.[15] The area became known as Jalalabad (Land of Jalal) under the Bengal Sultanate. It hosted a mint which produced the taka. When the Moroccan traveler Ibn Batutta visited Shah Jalal in Sylhet in 1345, he noted that the locals embraced Islam due to Shah Jalal’s missionary activities.”It was by his labours that the people of these mountains became converted to Islam” wrote Battuta in his diary. Bengali Muslims were exploiting the fertile land of Sylhet for agricultural production and enjoyed relative prosperity. The region began to experience an influx of Muslim settlers, including Turks, Arabs and Persians. During the late 16th century, the region was largely controlled by the Kingdom of Bhati. The Mughals subsequently conquered the region. Sylhet became a district headquarter of the Bengal Subah. Its eight mahals included Pratapgarh, Bahua, Jaintia, Habili, Sarail, Laur and Harinagar. The district generated annual revenues of 167,000 rupees.[16]


The Mulnicherra Estate is the oldest tea garden in South Asia

Sylhet came under British administration in 1765. Sylhet was strategically important for the British in their pursuit of conquering Northeast India and Upper Burma. The first commercial tea plantation in British India was opened in the Mulnicherra Estate in Sylhet in 1857.[17] Sylhet was constituted as a municipality in 1867.[8] Despite protests to the Governor of Bengal from its Bengali-majority population, the town was made part of the Chief Commissioner’s Province of Assam in 1874 in order to facilitate Assam’s educational and commercial development. The Assam Bengal Railway was established in the late 19th century to connect Assam and Sylhet with the port city of Chittagong. In 1905, Sylhet became a divisional headquarter of Eastern Bengal and Assam. In 1912, it was again separated from Bengal and made part of Assam Province. The Muslims of Sylhet generally favored reunion with Bengal.[citation needed]The Bengali Muslim elite in Dacca also vouched for Sylhet’s reunion with Bengal. By the 1920s, organizations such as the Sylhet Peoples Association and Sylhet-Bengal Reunion League mobilized public opinion demanding the division’s incorporation into Bengal. Nevertheless, the Bengalis of Sylhet were influentially placed in the administration, educational institutions and commercial activities of Assam.[18][19]

Due to the size of Sylhet’s Bengali Muslim majority, the All India Muslim League formed the first elected government in British Assam.

The numbers of lascars grew between the two world wars, with some ending up in the docks of London and Liverpool. Sylhet’s lascars married English women. During World War II, many fought on the Allied front before settling down in the United Kingdom, where they opened cafes and restaurants.[20][21]

In 1947, following a referendum, almost all of erstwhile district of Sylhet became a part of East Bengal in the Dominion of Pakistan, barring its Karimganj sub-division which was incorporated into the Dominion of India. The referendum was held on 6 July 1947. 239,619 people voted to join East Bengal (with the effect of becoming East Pakistan) and 184,041 voted to be part of Assam (i.e. part of India). The referendum was acknowledged by Article 3 of the Indian Independence Act 1947.[22]

East Pakistan

Sylhet became the hub of Pakistan’s tea industry after 1947. Pakistan became one of the world’s largest tea exporters due to development of plantations in Sylhet by the Ispahani family, James Finlay & Company and others. Burmah Oil discovered natural gas reserves in Sylhet’s hinterland in 1955.[23]

Central Shaheed Minar

Sylhet was a focal point of East Pakistan‘s Liberation War, which created the Bangladeshi Republic. It was the hometown of General Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani, the Commander of Bangladesh Forces. The Battle of Sylhet raged between the Pakistani military and Bangladesh-India Allied Forces from 7 to 15 December 1971, eventually leading to a Pakistani surrender and the liberation of Sylhet.

In 1995, the Government of Bangladesh declared Sylhet as the sixth divisional headquarters of the country.[24] Sylhet has played a vital role in the Bangladeshi economy. Several of Bangladesh’s finance ministers have been Members of Parliament from the city of Sylhet. Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran was a longtime mayor of Sylhet. Humayun Rashid Choudhury, a diplomat from Sylhet, served as President of the UN General Assembly and Speaker of the Bangladesh National Parliament.

In 2001, the municipality was upgraded to the Sylhet City Corporation. It was made a metropolitan city in 2009.[9]

Geography and climate

Sylhet is located at 24.8917°N 91.8833°E, in the north eastern region of Bangladesh within the Sylhet Division, within the Sylhet District and Sylhet Sadar Upazila. Sylhet has a typical Bangladesh 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.[25]

The city is located within the region where there are hills and basins which constitute one of the most distinctive regions in Bangladesh. The physiography of Sylhet 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. It is flanked by the Indian states of the Meghalaya in the north, Assam in the east, Tripura in the south and the Bangladesh districts of Netrokona, Kishoregonj and Brahmanbaria in the west. The area covered by Sylhet Division is 12,569 km2, which is about 8% of the total land area of Bangladesh.

Geologically, the region is complex having diverse sacrificial geomorphology; high topography of Plio-Miocene age such as 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. 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.[26]

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