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This article is about the city of Sylhet. For other meanings see Sylhet .


Sylhet (Sylheti: সিলট Silôţ, Bengali: সিলেট Sileţ), is a major city in north-eastern Bangladeshmarker. It is the capital of Sylhet Divisionmarker and Sylhet District, and was granted metropolitan city status in March 2009. Sylhet is located on the banks of the Surma Rivermarker and is surrounded by the Jaintia, Khasi and Tripuramarker hills. The city is approaching a population of 500,000 people while also having a high population density. It is one of the largest cities in Bangladesh. The Sylhet region is well known for its tea gardens and tropical forests, the city however is currently known for its business boom — being one of the richest cities in Bangladesh, with new investments of hotels, shopping malls and luxury housing estates, brought mainly by expatriates living in the United Kingdom.

Sylhet has a history of conquests and heritage from different types of cultures. The city is described as a City of Saints, with the mausoleum of the great saint Hazrat Shah Jalal, who brought Islam to Bengal during the 14th century, being located here. During the next few centuries it was part of the state of Assammarker during the rule of British India, after independence between India and Pakistan, Sylhet was then part of East Pakistan based on a referendum, and is part of Bangladesh as of today, which also played a major role in the Bangladesh Liberation War during the 1970s. The 1980-90s was the period where mass migration started from Sylhet mainly to the United Kingdom and the United States. The 21st century sees the economic growth of the city.

History

Historians 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. It has also been suggested that the Ancient Kingdom of Harikela was situated in modern Sylhet. It was believed that Anamul Hawk of Jagunnuthpur, Parrargow was the founder of Sylhet.

In the ancient and early medieval period, Sylhet was ruled primarily by local chieftains as viceroy of the kings of Pragjyotishpur. There is evidence to suggest that the Maharaja Sri Chandra, of northern Bengalmarker, 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 Indiamarker, 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 Hindu kingdom, controlled by the Rajas. One of the most renowned Arab Sufis was Shaikh Jalal Uddin Yamani of Sylhet, who entered Sylhet to battle against Raja Gaur Govind, with 360 Sufi devishes, but the Raja had 100,00 men, which led to a hostile battle leading the Raja to be defeated, and the entire region falling to Shaikh Jalal (d. 1357).

Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal
The 14th century marked the beginning of Islamic influence in Sylhet, with the arrivals of Sufi disciples to the region. In 1301, Sylhet was conquered by Shamsu'd-Din Firuz, a Bengali enterprising governor. Shaikh Jalal was driven out by Mongol invasions. Sikander Shah rallied his army against Raja Gaur Gobind, due the fact that the Raja ordered a man to be killed for sacrificing a cow for his son. But Sikander Shah was defeated by the Raja. A messianic Muslim saint, Shah Jalal, arrived in Sylhet in 1303 from Meccamarker via Delhimarker and Dhakamarker with the instructions for aiding Sikhander Khan Ghazi in defeating Govinda of Gaur. Shah Jalal was also joined by Shah Farhan (nephew) who was also a renowned Sufi saint, in their expedition. After the conquest of Sylhet, Shah Farhan established a khanqah at Khadim Nagar in Dakshingarh Pargana, a few kilometers away from Sylhet town, where he started Sufi spiritual practices and activities. He played a significant role in propagating Islam and establishing Muslim rule in the Sylhet region. Ghazi was the direct nephew of Sultan Firoz Shah of Delhi. Under the spiritual leadership of Shah Jalal and his 360 companions many of the populous converted to Islam and began spreading the religion to other parts of the country. Shah Jalal died in Sylhet in or around the year 1350. His shrine is located in the north of the city, inside the perimeter of the mosque complex known as Dargah-e-Shah Jalal. Even today Shah Jalal remains revered; visitors arrive from all over Bangladesh and beyond to pay homage. Saints such as Shah Jalal and Shah Paran were responsible for the conversion of most of the populace from the native religion of Hinduism or Buddhism to Islam. Shortly thereafter, Sylhet became a center of Islam in Bengal. In the official documents and historical papers, Sylhet was often referred to as Jalalabad during the era of the Muslim rule.

The 17th century started the British rule in the Indian subcontinent. 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 Burmamarker. 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 over disregarded by the local Sylhetis and other Muslims. 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 Piraza in battle in Sylhet. For the next centuries thousands of young Sylhetis started to serve on British merchant ships, cooking curry for their sailors. The numbers of lascars grew during the wars, some ending up on the docks of Londonmarker and Liverpoolmarker temporary, other however established themselves in the communities and married English women. In the next few years during the World War 2, 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 the British administrative reorganization of India, Sylhet was eventually incorporated into Assammarker. It remained a part of Assam for the rest of the era of British rule. In 1947, following a referendum, almost all of erstwhile Sylhet became a part of East Pakistan, barring the Karimganj subdivision which was incorporated into the new Indian state of Assammarker. The referundum was held on 3 July 1947, there were a total of 546,815 votes cast on 239 polling stations, a majority of 43.8 per cent voted in favour of being part of East Bengal. 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.

Sylhet has a "friendship link" with the city of St Albansmarker, in the United Kingdommarker. The link was established in 1988 when the 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. In July 1996, the mayor of Sylhet, Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran, signed the Twinning accord between Sylhet and the London Borough of Tower Hamletsmarker (home to around 40,000 Sylhetis at the time), with the mayor of Tower Hamlets late Albert Jacobs in Londonmarker.

Geography and climate

Sylhet city is located at , in the north eastern region of Bangladesh within the Sylhet Division, within the Sylhet District and Sylhet Sadar Upazila. The climate of Sylhet is tropical monsoon with a predominantly hot and humid summer and a relatively cool winter. The city is within the monsoon climatic zone, with annual average highest temperatures of 23°C (Aug-Oct) and average lowest temperature of 7°C (Jan). Nearly 80% of the annual average rainfall of 3,334 mm occurs between May and September.

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 comprises 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 Meghalayamarker in the north, Assammarker in the east, Tripuramarker in the south and the Bangladesh districts of Netrokonamarker, Kishoregonj and Brahmanbariamarker 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 Khasimarker 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 the earthquake prone zone of Bangladesh.

Civic administration

Sylhet consists of 27 wards and 210 mahallas, it is a small city with an area of 26.50 km². The rapid growth and expansion of Sylhet occurred during the colonial period. Sylhet Municipality was established in 1878. A devastating earthquake demolished almost the entire town on 12 June 1897 following which a modern and European model new town was built on the wreckage. Many new roads were constructed in the late 1890s and Sylhet became really connected to the other parts of the country with the establishment of an extension line of Assammarker-Bengalmarker Railway in 1912-15. From the very beginning of the 20th century, the importance of Sylhet increased with the establishment of the tea industry. In the 1950s and 1960s, rapid urbanisation took place in the town, fostered by the expatriate Sylhetis and the process is still ongoing.

On 9 April 2001, Sylhet was changed to a city corporation from a municipal board, and currently the city is administrated by the Sylhet City Corporation. At present, Sylhet is the district-headquarters as well as the divisional headquarters of the districts of Sunamganjmarker, Habibganj, Maulvi Bazar and Sylhet District. The Sylhet City Corporation is responsible for the services that are provided within the city which includes traffic, roads, garbage collection, water supply, registrations and many others. The corporation consists of the Chairman and 22 other Commissioners, and focuses on the development of the city.

Economy

The Garden City tower in Sylhet
Remittance has been the key element of the economic growth of the city and also the region. The money is mainly sent by expatriates of Sylhet living abroad, particularly the United Kingdom, majority of the community originate from Sylhet. These foreign Bangladeshis are now looking to invest in the city. During the fiscal year of 2005-06, the flow of remittances increased by 25 % to $4.8 billion, mostly from expatriates of Sylheti origin living in the United Kingdommarker with significant contributions from expatriates in the United Statesmarker. That amount was expected to increase to $5.5 billion in 2007, with the government's attention toward supervising and monitoring banks. The amount of idle money lying with the commercial banks in Sylhet as deposits is about 4,000 crore taka, which is not common in the rest of Bangladesh.

Rose View Hotel, Shahjalal-Uposhohor
Although Sylhet is a small city in comparison to the capital, it has been transformed drastically over the years. The construction industry in Sylhet is currently booming, with many shopping centres and apartments being built to luxurious standards. It has been described as the wealthiest city in the country after the capital Dhaka which has fuelled the increase in property prices. The skyline of the city is mainly dominated by large buildings of western-style shopping malls, which has been the largest investments made by the expatriates. There are many new restaurants and stores, often themed on those found in Londonmarker, which have been established to cater to the visiting Sylheti expatriate population and the growing Sylheti middle classes. These include, Garden Tower in Uposhohor, the London Mansion, Sylhet Millennium, Blue Water (named after Bluewater Shopping Complexmarker in the UK), London Fried Chicken (from Perfect Fried Chicken) and Tessco (misspelt from the original Tescomarker). New hotels have been established, the Rose View Hotel and the first Apartment-Hotel and resort in Bangladesh, called Grand Sylhet, are both the only five-star hotels in the city. Large multinational companies have also started to invest in Sylhet, one of these being HSBC Bank, which started its service in 2006 with 6,000 customers, and opened a Customer Service Center in 2008 in the Upashahar area. The Sylhet area contains several important natural gas fields, which make an important contribution to the energy balance of Bangladesh.

The government has taken steps to create a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Sylhet. It is the first SEZ to be created in Bangladesh, after research conducted showed that the region is the best place, which will protect the human and natural resources, including the infrastructure of foreign investment, and to create strong economic development with domestic and international markets. The new zone only allows public-private partnership, without the interference of government finance. The SEZ was created due to the demands of the British-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce, which is an economic forum of British Bangladeshis. The plan comes as an initiative toward stimulating the ongoing investment that has already taken place in Sylhet as well as providing a basis towards long-term investment to turn Sylhet into a major economic hub. Investments by British Bangladeshis led the way for two additional privately owned airlines, Royal Bengal Airlines and United Airways, to launch services in 2007. The investment is regarded to serve the Sylheti population living in the UKmarker.

However with the growth of new businesses being based in the city, there are criticisms for the lack of sustainability of the economy of the city. There are few numbers of industries developed and is also lacking the levels of agricultural production, which is very low in comparison to other districts. Large numbers of remittance and investment is being spent in the city, but the first and second generation British Bangladeshis have not considered whether these investments will create new jobs for the people in order to create a sustainable developing economy. It has created a prosperity type of society, where school children believe that London will only provide success. Studies have shown that 70% of the community rely on remittance sent from relatives abroad, shopping malls are mainly created because it is recognised as being safe, and these investments may have reached to the point of saturation.

Demographics

The population of Sylhet within the city corporation, was approximately 427,265 as of 2007 and estimated 463,198 in 2008 (density population is 17,479 per km²). Together with the metropolitan area it has a population of 2,675,346 as of 2001, constituting 2.06% of the national population. The population growth rate of the city is 1.73%, which has reduced from 1.93% in 1991. As of 2001, It had average literacy rate of 69.73%. The highest literacy rate was 84.24% in Ward 22 and the lowest was 48.15% in Ward 10 (2001). The total number of households in the city was 55,514.

The Sylheti language is the main language spoken in the city as well as throughout the division, and is considered as a dialect of Bengali, which does not contain a written form, where in this case Bengali is written, and sometimes spoken. It is often accepted that Sylheti is a separate language on its own right, however it has not been given an official status by the government. There is much debate to whether it should be recognized, for example there is greater differences of Sylheti to Bengali, than Assamese to Bengali, which is recognised as separate. Most Sylhetis are at least bilingual to some degree, as they are taught Bengali at all levels of education in Bangladesh. Sylheti is also the dominant dialect of Bengali in India, mainly in Assammarker, Silcharmarker, and in north-eastern regions.

The majority of Sylhetis are Muslims (93%), other religious groups include Hindus (7%), and very few numbers of other religions, mainly Buddhists and Christians (less than 0.1%). The majority of the Muslims are mainly Sunni Hanafi; though there are significant numbers of people who follow Sufi ideals, the most influential is the teachings of Saheb Qibla Fultali who descends from the village of Fultoli, Zakigangmarker. It is believed that the late leader is a descendant of Shah Kamal, one of the disciples of Shah Jalal. Research in Bangladesh found that 60% of Sylhetis pray daily as compared to 35% in the whole country.

Sylhet has high rates of power shortage, including water shortage. According to the Power Development Board, Sylhet is only receiving 50MW, which is half than the demand of 100MW. The city corporation is also supplying only 22,500 gallons of water, far less than the demand of about 65,000. The major sources of water to the city is the tube wells and the Surma River. There are also high levels of arsenic in the water in Sylhet than in most other regions, this is mainly due to the multiple depth screening in the tubewells. According to the World Health Organization in 1997, about 61% are highly contaminated by arsenic, however in 1999, the percentage of boreholes tested where arsenic levels are above 50 micrograms per litre, was under 25%. There are about 331 registered restaurants in the city, only 15% maintain sanitary facilities and 85% have unhygienic conditions that are unsafe for the public.

Thousands from Sylhet have moved abroad and settled in different countries. Although there are no official statistics, it is estimated that there are over 500,000 Sylheti people living abroad. The largest numbers of people from Sylhet living abroad is in the United Kingdom, with a population of about 300,000 (95% of the Bangladeshi population). Over 150,000 people are Bangladeshi-born, who have migrated to the UK. They are highly concentrated in the East Londonmarker boroughs, having established themselves within the communities, notably in Brick Lanemarker which has been dubbed as Banglatown. Sylheti foreigners are known as "Londoni" in Sylhet. Many have also immigrated to the United Statesmarker—they are mainly spread out across the country, but has a large population in New York Citymarker. Several people are also working as foreign workers in the Middle East countries.

Culture

Given its unique cultural and economic development, and linguistic differences (Greater Sylhet region was a part of Assammarker and Surma Valley State for much of the British Raj in comparison to the rest of Bangladeshmarker), and given that Sylhet has, for most of its recent history, been a region of a larger entity. As so many Sylhetis are resident abroad, Sylhet has a major flow of foreign currency from non-resident Bangladeshis. The major holidays celebrated in Sylhet include traditional and religious celebrations, Muslim festivals are the Eid-ul-Fitr after Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr. Colourful Hindu festivals celebrated by the Hindu community, are the Laspurnima, Jolung Jatra and Rotra Jutra. Cultural or nationalistic celebrations include the Language Movement Day, this is where wreaths are laid at the Shaheed Minar paying tribute to the martyrs, the Bangladeshi Independence Day, Victory Day celebrated with parades by school and academies, and the Pohela Baishakh—celebration of the Bengali New Year.

There are large shopping malls in the city, cosmetics and confectionary is mainly available in Bondor Bazar, handicrafts and textiles stores can be found in Zinda Bazar, these include the Al-Hamra Shopping City, Bluewater, Sylhet Millenium, Sylhet Plaza, Shukria Market and many others. These malls sell many items in particular from a wide range of sarees. Majority of these shoppers are from the middle-class and visiting expatriates. Restaurants from different types of cuisines are available, such as the Agra Restaurant, Chinese and Thai food is also sold in Hamadan Restaurant or Royal Chef. The cuisine in Sylhet is quite similar to that shared across the country which is rice with chicken or meat curry, it does however have different staples of fish such as the Pabda fish, and the citrus fruit known as hatkora is used for flavour in curries, which is grown primarily in the Sylhet region.

All Bangladeshi television channels are available as in throughout the country via cable or satellite, such as Channel i, NTV or ATN Bangla in the Bengali language including many other Indian channels. There are no national television stations based in Sylhet or broadcasting programs in Sylheti, however the British-owned Channel S has a team, correspondents and reporters based in the city and the region mostly with Sylheti programs. The main newspapers produced in the city includes Sylheter Dak, Jalalabad, Manchitra, Yeugaveri, Daily Sylhet Sanglap, and Aajker Sylhet. The first Grameenphone Centre opened in Sylhet on May 20 2007, which was the first telecommunication centre in the city. The most celebrated personalities in Sylhet include Shah Jalal, who was one of the greatest saints in the region, credited for the conversion of people in the Bengal region. His tomb lies in the Shah Jalal Dargah Mazar Sharif in the north, which is still as used as a place of pilgrimage, M. A. G. Osmani was the commander-in-chief of the Bangladesh Forces during the Bangladesh Liberation War, and Saifur Rahman, was the first politician from Sylhet to be a member of the cabinet in the government. Sylhet has also influenced much of the music in Bangladesh, notable legends include Hason Raja and Shah Abdul Karim who have produced Bangladeshi folk music.

Sylheti attachment to their regional identity also continues in the efforts of many Sylhetis to keep marital relationships within the same regional cultural background. Sylheti people are considered as a distinct ethnic group in Bangladesh; this is mainly because of language differences between the standard Bangla language, and the Sylheti dialect, and they are fiercely protective of their language. There are also many cultural and custom differences between Bengalis and Sylhetis. Many Sylhetis only marry within the Sylheti-speaking community, and not people from other regions of Bangladesh. They are also more domesticated, have a family-orientated community type of culture, and are more conservative Muslims. These stereotypes have led to some rivalry between non-Sylhetis and Sylhetis, due to differences of cultural customs. Marriages are practiced in a traditional Bengali Muslim style, with the gae holud ritual, and the prayers.

The most popular Sport in Sylhet is Cricket and also Football. The largest team is the Sylhet Division, which plays its matches in the Sylhet Stadium (M.A.G. Osmani Stadium), used for cricket-use (jointly with football) is the only stadium in the city, and one of the two in the division, it was created in 1965 and has a capacity of 15,000 people. In the National Cricket League it hasn't won any titles however did win in the One-Day Cricket League in 2001–02 season. Notable players from Sylhet who have played for the national team include Rajin Saleh, Enamul Haque Jr, Tapash Baisya, and Alok Kapali.

Transport

The main transport systems used in the city are Cycle rickshaws (mainly known as baby-taxis or CNGs), auto rickshaws, buses, mini-buses and cars. There are about 80,000 rickshaws running each day. Bus service prices have increased as of 2008, up to 30% higher, prices ranges from Tk4 to 15.95. Sylhet is well connected by highways and railway links to Chittagong and Dhaka, as well as other parts of Sylhet. Highway links to India have been established through the Asian highway. The Sylhet Railway Station is the main railway station providing trains on national routes operated by the state-run Bangladesh Railway.

The city of Sylhet is served by Osmani International Airportmarker, located at the north of the city. It is Bangladesh's third busiest airport and became an international airport due to the demand of expatriate Bangladeshis and their descendants from the United Kingdom and the United States. The main frequent airlines of the airport are, Biman Bangladesh Airlines and domestic flights with GMG Airlines. The airport received its first international arrival on 3 November 2002, with Biman arriving from Kuwaitmarker via Abu Dhabimarker en-route to Dhakamarker. Work started in 2006 to upgrade the airport to international standards, including a new terminal building, a jetway, a taxiway, and expansion of the runway to accommodate wide-bodied aircraft. It was confirmed that in May 2007, Biman will be operating Hajj flights directly from the airport later in 2007. British Bangladeshi-owned airlines, Air Sylhet and Royal Bengal Airline are also seeking landing rights to the airport in order to provide a better service to the expatriate community in the UK.

Education



Sylhet city is served by Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Sylhet and educational institutes like Shahjalal University of Science and Technologymarker, it is the first science and technology university established in Bangladesh and one of the popular in the country, there also other prominent schools such as Sylhet Government Pilot High School, Sylhet Engineering Collegemarker, Murari Chand College, and Osmani Medical College. Other notable educational institutions are Jalalabad Cantonment Public School and College, Sylhet Cadet College, and Sylhet Law College. All education is provided only in the Bengali language, however there are also private English schools, among them Scholars-home is one of the English medium schools. There are also four private universities in Sylhet, namely Leading University, Sylhet international University and Metropolitan University. Many Muslim families also send their children to madrassahs to learn Arabic, such madrassahs includes the Jamia Tawakkulia Renga Madrasah, one of the oldest institutions in the city.

There are also four private medical colleges in Sylhet, namely Jalalabad Ragib-Rabeya Medical College and Hospital, North East Medical College & Hospital, Sylhet Women's Medical College and Durre Samad Red Crescent Medical College. Jalalabad Ragib-Rabeya Medical College is the largest; established in 1995, founded by philanthropist Ragib Ali and his wife Rabeya Khatun.

Sister Cities

Sylhet is Sister cities with: In addition there are friendship links with:

See also



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