Description of the Collection
• All the volumes digitally archived under the Project
are written in a discrete Nāgri script which over the years came to be
known as Sylhét Nāgri script and was used in the region as an alternative
script for Bengali language as spoken in Sylhét, Cāchār and the
adjoining region. It developed as a simple alphabetical system with thirty-two
letters in all and was based on the principle of one letter for one sound. By
the eighteenth century this easy-to-learn script became very popular among the
rural masses and was used for composition and social exchange. In the sixties
of the nineteenth century the script was farther standardized and put into
print. Some scholars think that the script originated between fourteenth and
seventeenth centuries when Islam emerged as a social force in the region.
Although the exact date of its origin is not known, the fact that Islam acted
as a catalytic agent in the rise of the script is well established.
• All the writings in the collection are rendered in the form of songs.
• Most of the literature deals with Islam in the Sufi form. It also contains debates on Islamic theology, advice-manuals, hagiography and social commentaries. Some record contemporary events like floods. In the twentieth century the script was used for any kind of propagation to the community- religious, social and also political.
• We have procured the material from three institutions and twenty-nine individuals. We have located the material through local contacts and could access these for purposes of digitally storing only after much persuasion. As for the texts acquired from the individual collection in manuscript form, we could not get much history of the book. Neither could we date the printed texts with missing title-pages. We, however, tried to speculate on the basis of the interviews taken of the owners/custodians of the volumes and tried to date the texts. For example, in one case, we acquired a text from a person aged ninety-five. When interviewed he said that he inherited the text from his grandfather. In this case we surmised the text to be at least 150 years old. Only a critical study of the texts can help to find a more reliable date. It is however interesting to find that most of the handwritten manuscripts are copies of texts written much earlier, some of which were proscribed by the author himself to be put into print.
• The original material is not in good condition. Generally the texts are handed down through generations. As the script is not in use now, these texts are not valued by the younger members of the family and hence not preserved well. Moreover, the region is very flood-prone and extremely damp which affects the condition of the paper.
• The production of the books combine both Semitic and non-Semitic traditions. The binding is done on the right, so that as per the Semitic system, pages open from left to right. However, within the texts, the lines run from left to right as is the norm in non-Semitic practice of book production.
• The material is of immense significance. It throws light on the social and the cultural history of the region at a time when Islam emerged as a social force. In some ways the script as well as the literature written in the script may be looked upon as a creative expression of the acculturation process emerging out of the confrontation of indigenous culture of the region with Perso – Islamic civilization. The stages in Muslim identity formation can be studied through sociological insights into these texts. The texts may also yield significant socio-linguistic information on the socio –economic, cultural and religious factors that gave rise to the need for a distinct script and hence, a distinct identity for its users.