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.
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.
Moulvi 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, Shitalangi Rag by Shitalang Shah (1800), Haruful Khaslat (1875) by Nasim Ali (1813-1920), Halot-un-Nobi (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]
Shivprasanna Lahiri, Sylheti Bhasatattver Bhumika (Introduction
to Sylheti Dialect), Dhaka, 1961; Syed Murtaza 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; Dewan Nurul Anwar Hussain Choudhury, Amader Sangskrtik Svadhinata
: Uttaradhikar O Musalmani Nagri (Our Cultural Independence: Heritage
and Muslim Script), Dhaka, 2001.