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Sylhet, by Murshed.jpg
Sylhet Osmani Airport.jpg
Sylhet Railway.jpg
05122009 Sylhet Circuit House photo1 Ranadipam Basu.jpg
05122009 Hazrat Shahjalal Majar Exit Sylhet photo1 Ranadipam Basu.jpg
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From top: City Skyline, Sylhet MAG Osmani International Airport, Sylhet Central Railway station, Sylhet Circuit House, Sufi Shah Jalal Shrine, Sylhet International Cricket Stadium
Sylhet is located in Bangladesh
Location of Sylhet in Bangladesh
Coordinates: 24°54?N 91°52?E / 24.900°N 91.867°E / 24.900; 91.867Coordinates: 24°54?N 91°52?E / 24.900°N 91.867°E / 24.900; 91.867
DivisionSylhet Division
Municipal Board1867
Sylhet City Corporation9 April 2001
Metropolitan city31 March 2009[2]
 o TypeMayor-Council
 o BodySylhet City Corporation
 o City MayorAriful Haque Chowdhury (Bangladesh National Party)
 o Metropolis26.50 km2 (10.23 sq mi)
 o Metro
110 km2 (40 sq mi)
35 m (115 ft)
 o Metropolis526,412[1] metro-800,000
Time zoneUTC+6 (BST)
Postal code
Police Sylhet Metropolitan Police (SMP)[3]
International airportOsmani International Airport
Regional Calling code+880821

Sylhet (Sylheti: ?, Bengali: ), is a metropolitan city in northeastern Bangladesh. It is the administrative seat of Sylhet Division. The city is located on the right bank of the Surma River in northeastern Bengal. It has a subtropical climate and lush highland terrain. The city has a population of more than half a million.[1] Sylhet is one of Bangladesh's most important spiritual and cultural centres. It is one of the most important cities of Bangladesh, after Dhaka and Chittagong due to its importance to the country's economy.

The name of Sylhet is the anglicized form of the ancient Indo-Aryan term Srihatta.[4] In 1303, the Sufi Muslim leader Shah Jalal conquered Sylhet by defeating the local Hindu Raja.[5]Ibn Battuta visited Sylhet in the 14th century and saw Bengali Muslims transforming the region into an agricultural basket.[6] Sylhet was a mint town of the Bengal Sultanate. In the 16th-century, Sylhet was controlled by the Baro-Bhuyan zamindars and became a district of the Mughal Empire.[7]British rule began in the 18th century under the administration of the East India Company. With its ancient seafaring tradition, Sylhet became a key source of lascars in the British Empire. The Sylhet municipal board was established in 1867.[8] Originally part of the Bengal Presidency and later Eastern Bengal and Assam; the town was part of Colonial Assam between 1874 and 1947, when following a referendum and the partition of British India, it became part of East Bengal.[5] The Sylhet City Corporation was constituted in 2001. The Government of Bangladesh designated Sylhet a metropolitan area in 2009.[9]

The hinterland of the Sylhet valley is the largest oil and gas-producing region in Bangladesh. It is also the largest hub of tea production in Bangladesh. It is notable for its high-quality cane and agarwood.[4][10] The city is served by the Osmani International Airport which is named after General M A G Osmani, the Commander of the Bangladesh Liberation Forces. People from Sylhet form a significant portion of the Bangladeshi diaspora, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as other countries in the Middle East.


The name Sylhet is anglicized from Srihatta. In Indo-Aryan languages, Sri means prestige or beauty. Hatta (Haat) is a term for a marketplace. In the Mughal Empire's records, Srihatta was used as the name for the district in the Bengal Subah.[11] In British India, Srihatta became known as Sylhet in English.



Sylhet was under the realm of the Harikela and Kamarupa kingdoms of ancient Bengal and Assam. Buddhism was prevalent in the first millennium. In the early medieval period, the area was dominated by Hindu principalities, which were under the nominal suzerainty of the Senas and Devas.[12][13] The history of the dynasts in the region is documented by their copper-plate charters.[14]


Shrine of Shah Jalal

The 14th century marked the beginning of Islamic influence in Sylhet. The Muslim general Shamsuddin Firoz Shah's army defeated the local Hindu Raja Gour Govinda. The general's army was aided by a Middle Eastern Sufi missionary, Shah Jalal, and 313 of his companions.[15] The area became known as Jalalabad (Land of Jalal) under the Bengal Sultanate. It hosted a mint which produced the taka. When the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta visited Shah Jalal in Sylhet in 1345, he noted that the locals embraced Islam due to Shah Jalal's missionary activities."It was by his labours that the people of these mountains became converted to Islam" wrote Battuta in his diary. Bengali Muslims were exploiting the fertile land of Sylhet for agricultural production and enjoyed relative prosperity. The region began to experience an influx of Muslim settlers, including Turks, Arabs and Persians. The Mughals subsequently conquered the region. Sylhet became a district headquarter of the Bengal Subah. Its eight mahals included Pratapgarh, Bahua, Jaintia, Habili, Sarail, Laur and Harinagar. The district generated annual revenues of 167,000 rupees.[16] The place is famous for the shrine of Shah Jalal where thousands attend religious gatherings.


The Mulnicherra Estate is the oldest tea garden in South Asia

Sylhet came under British administration in 1765. Sylhet was strategically important for the British in their pursuit of conquering Northeast India and Upper Burma. The first commercial tea plantation in British India was opened in the Mulnicherra Estate in Sylhet in 1857.[17] Sylhet was constituted as a municipality in 1867.[8] Despite protests to the Viceroy from its Bengali-majority population, the district was made part of the Chief Commissioner's Province of Assam in 1874 in order to facilitate Assam's commercial development.[18] The Assam Bengal Railway was established in the late 19th century to connect Assam and Sylhet with the port city of Chittagong.[] In 1905, Sylhet became part of Eastern Bengal and Assam. In 1912, it was again separated from Bengal and made part of Assam Province. By the 1920s, organizations such as the Sylhet Peoples Association and Sylhet-Bengal Reunion League mobilized public opinion demanding the division's incorporation into Bengal.[19]

Due to the size of Sylhet's Bengali Muslim majority, the All India Muslim League formed the first elected government in British Assam.

The numbers of lascars grew between the two world wars, with some ending up in the docks of London and Liverpool. Sylhet's lascars married English women. During World War II, many fought on the Allied front before settling down in the United Kingdom, where they opened cafes and restaurants.[20][21]

In 1947, following a referendum, almost all of erstwhile district of Sylhet became a part of East Bengal in the Dominion of Pakistan, barring its Karimganj sub-division which was incorporated into the Dominion of India.[] The referendum was held on 6 July 1947. 239,619 people voted to join East Bengal (with the effect of becoming East Pakistan) and 184,041 voted to be part of Assam (i.e. part of India).[22] The referendum was acknowledged by Article 3 of the Indian Independence Act 1947.

East Pakistan

Sylhet became the hub of Pakistan's tea industry after 1947. Pakistan became one of the world's largest tea exporters due to development of plantations in Sylhet by the Ispahani family, James Finlay & Company and others. Burmah Oil discovered natural gas reserves in Sylhet's hinterland in 1955.[23]


Central Shaheed Minar

Sylhet was a focal point of East Pakistan's Liberation War, which created the Bangladeshi Republic. It was the hometown of General Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani, the Commander of Bangladesh Forces. The Battle of Sylhet raged between the Pakistani military and Bangladesh-India Allied Forces from 7 to 15 December 1971, eventually leading to a Pakistani surrender and the liberation of Sylhet.

In 1995, the Government of Bangladesh declared Sylhet as the sixth divisional headquarters of the country.[24] Sylhet has played a vital role in the Bangladeshi economy. Several of Bangladesh's finance ministers have been Members of Parliament from the city of Sylhet. Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran was a longtime mayor of Sylhet. Humayun Rashid Choudhury, a diplomat from Sylhet, served as President of the UN General Assembly and Speaker of the Bangladesh National Parliament.

In 2001, the municipality was upgraded to the Sylhet City Corporation. It was made a metropolitan city in 2009.[9]

Geography and climate

Sylhet is located at 24°53?30?N 91°53?00?E / 24.8917°N 91.8833°E / 24.8917; 91.8833, in the north eastern region of Bangladesh within the Sylhet Division, within the Sylhet District and Sylhet Sadar Upazila. Sylhet has a typical Bangladesh tropical monsoon climate (Köppen Am) bordering on a humid subtropical climate (Cwa) at higher elevations. The rainy season from April to October is hot and humid with very heavy showers and thunderstorms almost every day, whilst the short dry season from November to February is very warm and fairly clear. Nearly 80% of the annual average rainfall of 4,200 millimetres (170 in) occurs between May and September.[25]

The city is located within the region where there are hills and basins which constitute one of the most distinctive regions in Bangladesh. The physiography of Sylhet consists mainly of hill soils, encompassing a few large depressions known locally as "beels" which can be mainly classified as oxbow lakes, caused by tectonic subsidence primarily during the earthquake of 1762. It is flanked by the Indian states of the Meghalaya in the north, Assam in the east, Tripura in the south and the Bangladesh districts of Netrokona, Kishoregonj and Brahmanbaria in the west. The area covered by Sylhet Division is 12,569 km2, which is about 8% of the total land area of Bangladesh.

Geologically, the region is complex having diverse sacrificial geomorphology; high topography of Plio-Miocene age such as Khasi and Jaintia hills and small hillocks along the border. At the centre there is a vast low laying flood plain of recent origin with saucer shaped depressions, locally called Haors. Available limestone deposits in different parts of the region suggest that the whole area was under the ocean in the Oligo-Miocene. In the last 150 years three major earthquakes hit the city, at a magnitude of at least 7.5 on the Richter Scale, the last one took place in 1918, although many people are unaware that Sylhet lies on an earthquake prone zone.[26]

A tea garden at Jaflong, Sylhet
A tea tree in a tea garden at Sylhet
Climate data for Sylhet, Bangladesh
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 25.2
Average low °C (°F) 12.9
Average rainfall mm (inches) 8
Source: WMO[27]


Sylhet consists of 27 wards and 210 mahallas, it is a small city with an area of 26.50 km2.[28] The rapid growth and expansion of Sylhet occurred during the colonial period. Sylhet Municipality was established in 1878. A devastating earthquake demolished almost the entire town on 12 June 1897 following which a modern and European model new town was built on the wreckage. Many new roads were constructed in the late 1890s and Sylhet became really connected to the other parts of the country with the establishment of an extension line of Assam Bengal Railway in 1912-15. From the beginning of the 20th century, the importance of Sylhet increased with the establishment of the tea industry. In the 1950s and 1960s, rapid urbanisation took place in the town, fostered by the expatriate Sylhetis and the process is still ongoing.

On 10 April 2001, Sylhet was changed to a city corporation from a municipal board, and currently the city is administrated by the Sylhet City Corporation. At present, Sylhet is the district-headquarters as well as the divisional headquarters of the districts of Sunamganj, Habiganj, Moulvibazar and Sylhet District. The Sylhet City Corporation is responsible for the services that are provided within the city which includes traffic, roads, garbage collection, water supply, registrations and many others. The corporation consists of the Mayor and 22 other commissioners, and focuses on the development of the city.[29]


Sylhet is strategically important for the Bangladesh Armed Forces. The Bangladesh Army's 17th Infantry Division is based at Jalalabad Cantonment in Sylhet.[30] The cantonment is also home of the School of Infantry and Tactics (SI&T) and the 1st Para-commando Battalion, an elite commando unit of the Bangladesh Army.


Sylhet is also home to many hospitals that strategically provide healthcare to the community such as the Shahid Shamsuddin Hospital District Hospital, Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College, Jalalabad Ragib-Rabeya Medical College, North East Medical College, Sylhet Women's Medical College, Parkview Medical College, Ibn Sina Hospital Sylhet Ltd, Noorjahan Hospital (pvt) Ltd, Oasis Hospital, Mount Adora Hospital, Square Medical Service, Popular Medical Service, Medinova Medical Service, Labaid Ltd and the Mohanagar Hospital as well as world's leading five star hospital such as the Al Haramain Hospital.[31]


According to the 2011 Bangladesh census, the city had a population of 531,663.[1] The population growth rate of the city is 1.73%, which has reduced from 1.93% in 1991.[32] As of 2001, It had average literacy rate of 69.73%.[33] The highest literacy rate was 84.24% in Ward 22 and the lowest was 48.15% in Ward 10 (2001). The total number of households in the city was 55,514.[28]

The majority of the population are of Bangali (Sylheti) ethnic background, while there are significant minority groups which includes the Bishnupriya Manipuri, Khasi and others.[34]

Sylheti is spoken by the vast majority of the people, while standard Bengali is the official language used by the state government and officials.[35][36][37]

The majority of Sylhetis are Muslims (87.2%), other religious groups include Hindus (12.6%) and less than 0.2% of other religions, mainly Buddhists and Christians.[1] The majority of the Muslims are mainly Sunni Hanafi;[38] and there are significant numbers of people who also follow Sufi ideals, the most influential is the teachings of Maulana Abdul Latif who was from the village of Fultoli, Zakigang. He was a descendant of Shah Kamal Quhafa, one of the disciples of Shah Jalal.[39]


Street sign in English and Bengali on Brick Lane, London

In the United Kingdom, the 2001 Census found 283,000 people of Bangladeshi heritage, 154,000 of whom were Bangladeshi-born.[40] As of 1986, an estimated 95% of Bengalis living in the United Kingdom were from Sylhet Division.[41] They are concentrated in the boroughs of East London, having established themselves within the communities, notably in the vicinity of Brick Lane which has been dubbed as Banglatown.[42][43][44] Sylheti expatriates are known as "Londoni" in Sylhet.[39][45] Many have also emigrated to the United States, they are mainly spread out across the country but have a large concentration in New York City and Hamtramck, Michigan.[46][47] Many Sylhetis have also emigrated to Canada, France, Australia, Spain, Germany, Sweden and other European countries. Tens of thousands of Sylhetis are also working as guest workers in the Middle Eastern Gulf states.[48][49]

Sylhet has a "Friendship Link" with the city of St Albans in the United Kingdom. The link was established in 1988 when the District council supported a housing project in Sylhet as part of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.[] Sylhet was chosen because it is the area of origin for the largest ethnic minority group in St Albans.[50] In July 1996, the mayor of Sylhet, Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran, signed the Twinning accord between Sylhet and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (home to around 55,000 Sylhetis at the time), with the mayor of Tower Hamlets late Albert Jacobs in London.[51] In March 2009, the Mayor of Sylhet, Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to form another Friendship Link between Sylhet and the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale, home to around 10,000 people with Sylhet heritage, with the Mayor of Rochdale Cllr Keith Swift at the Sylhet City Corporation


One of the commercial areas of Sylhet

The Sylhet Metropolitan Area is one of Bangladesh's main business centers. Sylhet's economy is closely linked with the Bangladeshi diaspora, especially the British Bangladeshi community. The city receives a significant portion of the country's annual remittances, which have driven growth in real estate and construction.[52] A number of shopping centers, restaurants and hotels have opened as a result. Sylhet also relies on religious tourism, with thousands of devotees visiting its Sufi shrines annually, as well as ecotourism in its broader natural hinterland. Nature resorts have been built in the city's outskirts. Several important Bangladeshi companies are based in Sylhet, including Jalalabad Gas Transmission and Distribution, Sylhet Gas Fields and Alim Industries. Biman Bangladesh Airlines operates several flights from Sylhet to the United Kingdom and the Middle East. Roads connect Sylhet with the Indian states of Meghalaya and Assam.

Sylhet's hinterland plays a vital role in the economy of Bangladesh. It is home to the country's largest natural gas fields, sole crude oil field,[53] largest tea plantations, rubber, palm oil, cane, agarwood[10] and citrus farms. Rice production in the region is one of the country's highest. Heavy industries include power plants, fertilizer plants, cement plants and liquefied petroleum gas plants. Other major industries in the region include ceramics, machinery and equipment, ready-made garments and pharmaceuticals. Most of the tea production in Bangladesh is based around Sylhet, and the industry also has significant exports. The area is also known for producing oranges and other similar fruits. One of these fruit is called "Satkara" which is a variety of grapefruit that can be used in pickles and even as an ingredient in traditional Sylheti curry dishes.[]

Two Bangladeshi finance ministers from the city have been elected to the Jatiyo Sangshad: Saifur Rahman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Abul Maal Abdul Muhith of the Awami League.


Sylhet has high rates of electric power shortage and water shortage. According to the Power Development Board, Sylhet is only receiving 50MW, which is half if the required demand of 100MW. The city corporation is also supplying only 22,500 gallons of water, far less than the demand of about 65,000.[54] The major sources of water to the city is the tube wells and the Surma River.[] Tests of tube wells in Sylhet District by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 1997 found that about 27.6% contained more arsenic than the acceptable limit set by Bangladesh of 50 micrograms per liter, and 49.2% contained more arsenic than the World Health Organization standard of 10 micrograms per liter.[55] There are about 331 registered restaurants in the city, only 15% maintain sanitary facilities and 85% have unhygienic conditions that are unsafe for the public.[56]


Sylhet has a very diverse culture which is noticeably distinct from that of Bengali owing to the influx of multi-ethnic immigrants in ancient times. There is a widely held misconception through which Sylhetis are usually seen as having a conservative mindset; a very inaccurate portrayal of Sylhetis and their culture, while in reality it's quite the opposite thanks to Sylheti culture's liberal and pro-plurality outlook. Sylhet is religiously very diverse, and is noted for peaceful co-existence, harmony, and mutual respect between its inhabitants of different faiths since ancient times. Sylhet has a distinct cultural and economic development, and linguistic differences (Greater Sylhet region was a part of Assam and Surma Valley State for much of the British Raj in comparison to the rest of Bangladesh), and given that Sylhet has, for most of its recent history, been a region of a larger entity.[57][58] As so many Sylhetis are resident abroad, Sylhet has a major flow of foreign currency from non-resident Bangladeshis. The major holidays celebrated in Sylhet include traditional and religious celebrations, Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha, Durga Puja, Diwali, Holi, Christmas, Easter, Magha Purnima [59][60] Cultural or nationalistic celebrations include the Language Movement Day, this is where wreaths are laid at the Shaheed Minar paying tribute to the martyrs, the Bangladeshi Independence Day, Victory Day celebrated with parades by school and academies, and the Pohela Baishakh--celebration of the Bengali New Year. Marriages are practised in a traditional sylheti Muslim style, sini faan (engagement) with the gaaye halud (haldi or turmeric ceremony), mehendi(henna ceremony) akht ( Nikah )and walima (reception) holy prayers. The traditional dance of Sylhet is called Sylheti Dhamail.


Cricket is the most popular sport in Sylhet. Bangladesh Premier League franchise Sylhet Sixers are based in Sylhet International Cricket Stadium (M.A.G. Osmani Stadium), which was built in 2007 and has a capacity of 18,500 spectators. The Sylhet International Cricket Stadium was renovated in 2013 especially to host matches of 2014 ICC World Twenty20. It is situated near lush green tea gardens on the city fringe. In the National Cricket League Sylhet Division has not won any titles however did win in the One-Day Cricket League in 2001-02 season. Notable players from Sylhet who have played for the Bangladesh national cricket team include Rajin Saleh,[61]Enamul Haque Jr,[62]Tapash Baisya,[63] and Alok Kapali.[64] Chess player Rani Hamid was awarded the FIDE Women's International Master (WIM) title in 1985.


Sylhet Central Railway station

The main transport systems used in the city are cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws (mainly known as baby-taxis or CNGs), buses, mini-buses and cars. There are about 80,000 rickshaws running each day. Bus service prices have increased as of 2008, up to 30% higher, prices ranges from Tk4 to 15.95.[65]

The N2 is the national highway that connects the city with country's capital and largest city Dhaka as well as with many other parts of the country. The N2 highway is also part of AH1 and AH2- two longest routes of the Asian Highway Network.

The city of Sylhet is served by Osmani International Airport, located at the north of the city. It is Bangladesh's third busiest airport and became an international airport due to the demand of expatriate Bangladeshis and their descendants from the United Kingdom and the United States. The main frequent airlines of the airport are Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Flydubai, United Airways, US-Bangla Airlines and Novoair. The airport received its first international arrival on 3 November 2002, with Biman arriving from Kuwait via Abu Dhabi en route to Dhaka.[66] Meanwhile, it received first direct international arrival on 15 March 2017 as a direct flight of Dubai based carrier Flydubai landed at the airport.[67] Work started in 2006 to upgrade the airport to international standards, including a new terminal building, a jetway, a taxiway, and expansion of the runway to accommodate wide-bodied aircraft.[68] It was confirmed that in May 2007, Biman will be operating Hajj flights directly from the airport later in 2007.[69]


The Sylhet Railway Station is the main railway station providing trains on national routes operated by the state-run Bangladesh Railway. Some important train that origins/terminates :

Towards Dhaka

Train No. Train Name Train Type Departures
710 Parabat Express Intercity Daily (except Tue)
718 Jayantika Express Intercity Daily
740 Upaban Express Intercity Daily
774 Kalni Express Intercity Daily (except Fri)
10 Surma Mail Mail Daily

Towards Chittagong

Train No. Train Name Train Type Departures
724 Udayan Express Intercity Daily (except Fri)
720 Paharika Express Intercity Daily (except Fri)
14 Jalalabad Express Mail Daily

Towards Akahura

Train No. Train Name Train Type Departures
18 Kushiara Express Mail Daily


There are two public universities in Sylhet: Shahjalal University of Science and Technology and Sylhet Agricultural University.[70] There are some prominent colleges in Sylhet such as Jalalabad Cantonment Public School and College, MAG Osmani Medical College, Sylhet, Sylhet Women's Medical College, North East Medical College, Sylhet Engineering College,[71]Sylhet Cadet College, Murari Chand College,[72]Institute of Health Technology, Sylhet, Scholarshome, Sylhet Science And Technology College and Sylhet Polytechnic Institute, Sylhet Government Women's College

Notable people




Sister cities

United KingdomSt Albans, United Kingdom[73]
United KingdomMetropolitan Borough of Rochdale, United Kingdom[74]
JordanAmman, Jordan
TurkeyKonya, Turkey
United KingdomLuton, United Kingdom

See also


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  36. ^ Sylheti unicode chart
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  57. ^ Not all Bangladeshis oppose the filming of Brick Lane The Guardian (by Iqbal Ahmed) 20 July 2006
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  64. ^ Players and Officials - Alok Kapali Cricinfo. Retrieved 27 May 2009.
  65. ^ Sylhet city bus services hike fares on whim Archived 15 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine. New Age Metro. 4 November 2008. Retrieved 25 May 2009.
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  73. ^ [1]
  74. ^ "Rochdale Township Committee" (PDF). Rochdale Borough Council. Retrieved 2016.

External links

Parabat Express Sylhet travel guide from Wikivoyage

  1. ^ Population and Housing Census 2011 - Volume 3: Urban Area Report (PDF), Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Aug 2014

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