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 further 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.
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.
Sylhét Nāgri Script and Literature, Jadavpur University
Retired Professor, Department of History &
Director, School of Women's Studies, Jadavpur University