ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Elusive existence of literature in Sylheti Nagari script in the histories of Bengali literature


Panasiuk Michal - University of Warsa, Chair of South Asian Studies, Warsaw, Poland


01 – Bengali Muslim Societies and Literatures, c.1600-1947


 Sylheti Nagari is a name of a particular script and sometimes a generic name given to works of literature from the Sylhet district. Not many historians of literature, and native and foreign researchers, have given much importance to it. Despite the existence of many texts carefully digitized in many educational or cultural institutions, the last few decades have brought just a few works on the topic and given a glimpse of what hides within pages covered in bizarre, to most Bengali speakers, letters. It appears to the modern Bengali speaker as elusive as a work in any foreign script.

In the second half of the 19th century, a few printing houses, such as Islāmiẏā Pres, Sāradā Pres in Bangladesh, or Hāmidi Pres in Battala, Calcutta, printed many works from the region of Sylhet and neighboring areas using Sylheti Nagari writing. The number of texts is proof of the popularity of the script. 

Before India’s independence, Sylhet’s region was a part of Assam for more than 70 years. Till modern times, it was isolated from the metropolises of Dhaka and Calcutta. It can be called peculiar because of its distinctive language and culture. The script in question was almost solely used by Muslim authors.

This paper’s main aim is to look closer at the presentation of works written or printed in Sylheti Nagari script and examine genres used by authors. Is it just proof of the multilingual and multiscript history of the Bengali literary scene before modern times?