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Sylheti Nagri

Sylheti Nagri is an alternative script used in the sylhet region to write Bangla. Outside Sylhet, script was used in kishoreganj, mymensingh and netrakona in Bengal and Kachhar and Karimganj in Assam. Sylheti Nagri, which dates back to the first decade of the fourteenth century, was derived from Bangla, arabic, Kaithi, and Devanagari to write a form of Bangla using many words from Arabic and persian. Muslim writers of the Sylhet region especially used this script when writing on religion. It is traditionally believed that the preachers of Islam, who were contemporaries of Hazrat shah jalal (R), used to write about religious matters in this script. According to Ahmad Hasan Dani, Sylheti Nagri has been in use since the Muslim rule in Sylhet and specimens of the script are found on Afghan coins. Sylheti Nagri is also known as Jalalabadi Nagri, Musalmani Nagri, Phul Nagri etc.

The script has 32 letters: five vowels, A (a), B (i), C (u), D (e) and E (o); and 27 consonants F (ka), G (kha), H (ga), I (gha), K (cha), L (chha), M (ja), N (jha), O (ta), P (tha), Q (da), R (dha), S (ta), T (tha), U (da), V (dha), W (na), X (pa), Y (pha), Z (ba), a (bha), b (ma), c (ra), d (la), e (da), f (xa), g (ha). There are six dependent forms of vowels or markers, h (a-kar), i (i-kar),' k(u-kar), ` (e-kar), `` (ai-kar) and `h (o-kar). Although the three conjunct consonants, E8 (lla), EE (sta) and WU nda, are mostly use, there are 17 other conjunct consonants.

Eight of the Sylheti Nagri letters, B (i), I (gha), M (ja), P (tha), Q (da), R (dha), U (da) and e (da) are taken from the Bangla alphabet; six of them, A (a), N (jha), V (dha), c (ra), d (la) and g (ha), are native to Sylheti Nagri. The characters C (u), Z (ba), b (ma) and f (xa) were found inscribed on Afghan coins. Arabic has considerable influence on the shapes of the letters F (ka), G (kha), Y (pha) and E (o). Fourteen letters closely resemble Devanagari and Kaithi: C (u), D (e), H (ga), I (gha), K (cha), O (ta), S (ta), T (tha), W (na), X (pa), Y (pha), Z (ba), a (bha), and b (ma). The o of Sylheti Nagri has a dot under it to express the sound of Arabic (waw). Three letters of Sylheti Nagri, F (ka), G (kha) and Y (pha) are pronounced like Arabic ' (kaf), (khe) and' (fe), as they are pronounced in the regional dialect of Sylhet. One of the features of the Devanagari and Arabic writing systems extant in the Sylheti Nagri is that dependent vowel forms follow consonants. A reverse verse w' i-kar-like shape (i) is used after consonants for both h w (i-kar) and x (i-kar). A short diagonal stroke slanting backward over the serif (`), which looks like reverse Arabic fathah (zabr), is used for 86 (e-kar) in the fashion of its Devanagari counterpart; two such strokes (``) are used for 88 (ai-kar). Sylheti Nagri employs geminate consonant clusters at many instances since it does not have ya-phala ( A8 ), ra-phala (' AA) and repha ( 'A9 ).

During the Hindu reawakening at the time of Sri chaitanya (1486-1533), when sanskrit in Devanagari script was being widely used, Muslims started writing books in their newly devised Sylheti Nagri. A printing press with Sylheti Nagri typefaces was established in Sylhet sometime between 1860-1870 which helped spread the use of the script. Maulvi abdul karim designed the typeface and founded the Sylhet Islamia Printing Press, which was the first to print Sylheti Nagri. Later, other presses such as Sylhet Sharada Printing Press, Sialdah Hamidi Press in Kolkata, and General Printing Works on Gardiner Lane also printed books in Sylheti Nagri. Two primers, Sylheti Nagrir Pahela Ketab (The First Book of Sylheti Nagri) and Sylheti Nagri Likha (Writing in Sylheti Nagri), helped the script gain a footing.

The language of the puthis written in Sylheti Nagri and in dobhasi is identical, lacking the use of tatsama (Sanskrit) words. Many Persian and Arabic words are used in puthis written in Sylheti Nagri. In the fashion of dobhasi puthis, those written in Sylheti Nagri were paginated from right to left.

The earliest extant manuscript written in Sylhet Nagri is Talib Huson by Gholam Huson (1549). Other manuscripts include Ragnama (1727) by Fazil Nasim Mohammad, Noor Nosihat (Enlightened Teachings, 1819), Ragnoor and Sat-kanyar Bakhan by Syed Shah Noor (1730-1854), Bhedsar by Shah Huson Alam (1750-1850), Mushkil Taran, Hasar Taran, Ragbaul, Keyamatnama, Shitalabgi Rag by Shitalang Shah (1800), Haruful Khaslat (1875) by Nasim Ali (1813-1920), Halot-un-Nabi (Account of the Prophet, 1855), Mahobbat Nama, Hasor Michil, Raddequfur by Munshi Mohammad Sadeq Ali etc. Puthis such as Kadinama, Chhadchhi Machhla and Sonabhaner Punthi by Abdul Karim were extremely popular. According to an estimate there are about 150 extant Sylheti Nagri texts, in print or manuscript, by about 60 people. Anonymous puthis include popular texts such as Harinnama, Hushiyarnama, Safatunnabi, Abu Sama, Nur Najat, and Penchar Galpa.

Sylheti Nagri is found inscribed on Afghan coins that were minted towards the close of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth. Some deeds written in Sylheti Nagri are preserved in the Sylhet District Archives and Sub-Registry Office in maulvi bazar. [Muhammad Ashraful Islam]

Bibliography Shivprasanna Lahiri, Sylheti Bhasatattver Bhumika (Introduction to Sylheti Dialect), Dhaka, 1961; SM Ali, 'Sylheter Nagrilipi O Bangla Sahitya' (Sylheti Nagri and Bangla literature), Sahitya Patrika, Dhaka, 1961; GA Chowdhury, Sylheti Nagri Parikrama (Introduction to Sylheti Nagri), 1978; Golam Kadir, 'Sylheti Nagri: Pathan-Pathan' (Readings in Sylheti Nagri), Dhaka Visvavidyalaya Patrika, June 1982; DNAH Choudhury, Amader Sangskrtik Svadhinata : Uttaradhikar O Musalmani Nagri (Our Cultural Independence: Heritage and Muslim Script), Dhaka, 2001.