Regrettably, many people are unaware of another lipi in Bangladesh, besides Bangla, which is called Nagri lipi (Sylhet) -- a Sylheti heritage. This is a rare example in history that one language has two scripts or alphabets. This almost wiped-out script has derived from Brahmi lipi which was mainly used for writing Sylheti language. Nagri script was created by Saint Shah Jalal in the early 14th century. It is said that Syloti Nagri was created mainly to spread Islamic ideals in the Sylhet region during that time.
Moulvi Abdul Karim became skilled in printed trade during his stay in Europe and he designed a special woodblock for this script. He was the first man who founded the Islamia Press in Sylhet town in 1870. Unfortunately, after the fall of this press during the Liberation War in Bangladesh, this script mainly became a part of the linguists and academics.
This proud bequest of Sylhet is yet to be discovered by many youth of this generation. The alphabet of this Nagri script is written in horizontal lines from left to right just like Arabic alphabet. Syloti Nagri matches the phonology (sound system) of spoken dialect in Sylhet perfectly. Having only 33 characters (5 vowels and 28 consonants), Syloti Nagri is not related to Bengali or to the form of Devanagari used for writing Hindi, even though some Bengali writers have erroneously called this script 'Devanagri' or 'Hindi', quoting from a book by a British author 100 years ago who had not himself seen any examples. In fact, the Syloti Nagri alphabet seems to be closely related to, and may have been derived from, the Kaithi script of Bihar, though with a number of differences.
This almost extinct script is mainly used by the local muslims of Sylhet. Nagri script was more prevalent in the eastern district of Sylhet -- Sadar, Karimganj and Moulobhibazar subdivision. Unfortunately, the dominance of this contemporary culture engulfed the use of this proud heritage.
Hundreds of books, documents have been written in Nagri character and also daily necessities have been conducted using this Nagri character. This script had been exercised for several centuries. This was in practice especially in rural Sylhet region till middle of the twentieth century. Literature in this inscription was used in the North-eastern region, mainly in Sylhet region for a couple of centuries. Nagri script was also used in Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, Netrokona, Bhairab, Assam, Karimganj and Shilchar. As the literary manuscripts and books written in Nagri alphabets have almost vanished and no longer in vogue now, people of this country are not getting the chance to know about this proud heritage of Sylhet.
However, some inspiring personas are enthusiastically giving their effort to make this almost-extinct-script alive. Mohammad Ashraf Hossain Shahityorotno has done extensive research on Nagri script and literature. It won't be wrong if it is said -- he led the way. To make this almost swallowed up heritage alive another person is giving his unconditional effort and he is Mustafa Salim, CEO and proprietor of Utso Prokashan. His dream is to introduce this proud heritage of our country to everyone. In order to reach this goal, he published many Puthis or scripts written in this character. A set of 25 Sylheti Nagri books has been published on January 15, 2014. The titles are: Haltunnabi, Jung Nama, Hashor Toran, Moskhil Toran, Doi Khurar Raag, Bahram Johura, Hushiar Gafeleen, Shohor Choreet, Ociotunnabi, Mayarshi Duchra, Mohobbat Nama, Hashor Micheel, Chandra Mukhi, Desh Choreet, Horeen Nama, Kori Nama, Saat Konyar Bakhan, Sodochi Mochla, Soyful Bedat, Sunavaner Puthi, Ved Kaya, Ved Choreet, Nur Porichoy, Ahkame Chorka and Raag Hori Bongsho. These books, published by Utso Prokashan, were transliterated by Nagri-researcher Engineer Mannan and jointly edited by him and Mustafa Salim.
Total number of books published by Utso Prokashan is now more than 400. Utso has extra enthusiasm in publishing history, heritage and folk literature. Moreover, it has unique role for publishing innovative and intellectual writings. Kurchy Tumar Laagi, an intellectual book by Dijen Sharma which was published by Utso, received Prothom Alo Borsho Sera Book Award 1413. This enterprise was honoured by Bangla Academy in 2008 for publishing best quality books. Mostafa Salim, lead person of Utso received London Award 2004 and Monthly Purbapor honor 2008.
Utso Prokashan is patronizing revival of Sylhet Nagri. As an obligation towards Sylhet and also to uphold its commitment, Utso has been publishing sensational but scarce Syloti Nagri puthis by presenting those in modern digital format with lucrative look. To facilitate computer-compose, Nagri fonts were developed by Engineer Mannan who also took the responsibility of transliteration of these books.
Puthi is the Sylheti name of an ancient manuscript. It's a book of poetic fairy tales, romantic and religious stories of rural ancient Bengal. During leisure time an elderly person surrounded by many other listeners in the village or in the family used to recite Puthi as a medium of amusement and also education; it was simply a medium of simple community's refreshment. During that period a maxim was popular -- "Nagri can be learnt in two and half days".
Many muslim people, who were unable to write in Bangla, used to sign documents using Nagri alphabet. Biographies of saints are written using this alphabet. Nagri alphabet was also used to write romantic stories as well. These scripts included spiritual beliefs too. Syloti Nagri script is carrying a magnificent pride of our rural tradition but unfortunately this contemporary era is unaware of this glory, which is a matter of tremendous disgrace. This distinct history of Bengal must be promoted in a larger scale to the upcoming generation.
Sadia Alam is a graduate from the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh