Sunday, July 5, 2009

History of Sylhet

Sylhet was not a place of first preference for settlement, wedged between Assam and Tripura and with their hills and forests on all three sides, north, east and south and vast water-bodies in the basin impeding movement. The basin, known as Sylhet basin- one of the three geographically distinguishable sub-regions of the vast Bengal delta-the deltaic plain and the Tippera surface being the other two, has its own features. Much of Sylhet, most prominently the central area, forms a saucer-shaped basin. This Sylhet basin can be distinguished from the rest of the recent alluvaium by its subsidence and the profound effect this has had upon the drainage pattern, the sinking of this large area into its present saucer-shape seems to be intimately connected with the rise of the Madhpur Tract. This long basin is also known as the Haor basin because it is a succession of large lake-like water bodies of various sizes known as Haors. It has been held that Hsuan Tsang while giving his account of Samatara makes a reference to Sylhet which he describes as being on the borders of an ocean. Since there cannot be any real ocean in the geographical location of Sylhet in the 7th century A. D. when Hsuan Tsang travelled, it can be taken that he relied on his informers - it appears from the context that the pilgrim never really visited Sylhet – who had reported to him about these endless expanses of joined – together haors. We may recall the usal explanation that the word haor is probably derived from the word Sagara or Sayara i.e. sea or lake. But we have doubts if Hsuan Tsang really meant Sylhet by the word that he used in Chinese transformation i.e. Shi-li-Ch’a-ta-lo. In describing the location of Shi-li-Ch’a-ta-lo Hsuan Tsang says according to Beal’s translation. “Going north-east from this (i.e. Samatata) to the borders of the ocean, we come to the kingdom of Shi-li-Ch’a-ta-lo. It was Vivien de Saint-Martin who first equated Shi-li-Ch’a-ta-lo with Srihatta i.e. Sylhet and it received added respectability when Cunningham accepted it. Historians have accepted the identification since. However, if probably looked at Hsund Tsang’s statement has contradictions in it which was in fact pointed out by his translator Beal, although ignored by other including Chnningham. What has been ignored so far is that “North-east towards Sylhet does not lead to the borders of the ocean” (Beal, 407 f.n.). Shi-li-Ch’a-ti-lo – does it os obviously stand for Srihatta? It was not so obvious to Beal either who would rather identify it with the Burmese kingdom named Srikshetra. Hsuan Tsang describes it as “Kingdom of Shi-li-Ch’a-ti-lo. Form the political history of Bangladesh what we have so far recovered it is extremely unlikely that in the middle of the seventh century when Hsuan Tsang visited Bangladesh there was a Srihatta kingdom. The first srihatta kingdom Srihattarajya that we know of belongs to the 12th/13th century as we will see below. Our position in this arctcle is as will be seen further down, that in the 7th century parts of Sylhet were rathe under the kingdom of Kamarupa-Pragjyotisha. It not an alternative suggesting possible? Shilichatalo sounds more like Sri-chattala (i.e. Chittagong) than Srihatta. And that would be on the “borders of the ocean” but Chittagong or Srikshetra – that would be south-east of Samatata, not “north-east’ as given by Hsun Tsang. Perhaps Hsuan Tsang committed an error here. Suniti Kumar Chatterji speak of “the five Bengals” during the 600-100 A. D. period and defines it as “Radha, Varendra, Vanga, Chattala and Samatata,” on what authority however we do not know. The contries beyond Si-li-Ch’a-ti-lo that have been mentioned by Hsuan Tsang are all South-East Asian - which is also an indicator. Robert Lindsay, the Resident of Sylhet in the 2nd quarter of the eighteenth century leaves a graphic account of his journey from Dhaka to Sylhet and describes how he encountered so vast an expanse of water that he had to use a compass of finding his direction. Even in the ancient inscriptions of Sylhet there are clear references to the existence of large water bodies, giving an overall impression of a land with much watery areas around-unlike the inscriptions from the many other settled areas of Bengal. These watery feature are particularly mentioned in demarcating the situation of the lands granted in ancient Sylhet, particularly noticeable in the Paschimbhag Copper Plate of Srichandra. In the very first lines of its grants portion it states: “in the matter of Garala vishaya, Pogravishaya and Chandrapuravishaya with the group of atoll like forms of lands formed out of unfathomable waters moveover inclusinv of marshy lands surrounding them belonging to Shrihattmandala”. Moreover, the Paschimbhag Copper Plate refers to a large naval establishment, a Naubandha (ship anchorage) i. e. the Indresvara Naubandha. The place survives till today as Indesvara in the Maulvibazar district only a few miles from Pachimbhag, the find-place of the copper plate. The Naubandha according the inscription extended over an area comprising 52 patakas of land. Raja Kesavadeva and Isanadeva, local potentates of the 12th /13th centuries felt it important to have innumerable war-boats (nauvatakas) according to their Bhatera Copper Plates. So much naval activity in the land presupposes extensive watery areas. Indeed that these joined-together waster bodies used to gave the impression of a sea (Sagar) we find again in L 38 in the Bhatera CP No.1 which makes mention of Sagar as the boundary of the land granted.

The 5,000 sq. mile basin in demarcated by the Shillong plateau in the north, the Burmese and Tripura high-lands on the east and an upthrust of Pleistocene alluvium called Madhupur jangle on the south and the Brahmaputra river might have been the western border in ancient times. Besides there sea like watery areas, entire Sylhet, expecting its western side, is surrounded by hilly areas.

Protected by these natural barriers the Sylhet region remained isolated in ancient times. The gradual aryansiation of Bengal that had been going on ever since around the sixth century B.C and then through the Mauryan times, first Gauda and Pundravardhana (northern region), and then Vanga and Samatatra (eastern region) apparently did not reach the uninviting area to the north-east of Samatata that lay beyond the forest region and covered by much water.

Even the powerful Guptan thrust under Samudragupta (c. 330-380 AD) that reached as far east as the borders of Samatata stopped there and did not reach out into thes externmost regions i.e. the region known as Sylhet. Even in the Muslim times it was one houndred years after Bakhtyer that Sylhet fell to the Turki outsiders (1303 A.D.) with the coming of the might of Shamsuddin Firoz Shah and the light of Shah Jalal. When I the early part of the 6th century A. D. The Guptas extended their sway over Samatata under. Vainyagupta they did not apparently show any desire of expanding into the Sylhet region the usual early historical diagnostic cultural materials – NBP were punch-marked coins and Sunga terracotta and pottery – that indicate early historic occupation and settlement are noticeably absent in Sylhet. Even Guptan relics such as sculptures, coins and inscriptions are also absent. It can be easily concluded that Brahmanical cultural and life-pattern was very late in arriving in Sylhet. No proven early historic settlement site is known. The scarce number of sculptures both Hindu and Buddhist recovered form Sylhet compared to the other areas of Bangladesh is indeed most significant. Similarly sculptures are rare from the contiguous area of Mymensingh and rather few in number from Chittagong. Form K.K. Gupta the historian of Sylhet we come to know about the stone Vasudeva images from Sylhet which he merely describes as “ancient”. He writes: “In the district of Sylhet there are three ancient stone images of Vasudeva worshipped in three different places. The first one was discovered in the Rajaramardighi in Amberkhana mahalla just north of north of the present municipal area of Sylhet town. This beautiful stone image is now enshrined in the temple of Narasimhajiu of Kalighat, Sylhet town. The second one is worshipped in Jagannathpur in Sunamgonj sub-division. The third one is the famous Vasudeva of Panchakhanda – there is a local tradition that this was discovered when the silted tank of Durga Dalai in Supatala village was excavated”. Gupta has not provided any photographs of them nor has he given any description. Thus it is not possible to suggest any date for them. However, as regares the third image, Supatala being contiguous to the village of Nidhanpur, the find-spot of the Pragiyotisha king Bhaskaravarman’s copper plates and the image according to Gupta being “very old” he suggests that this image may belong to the time of Bhaskaravarman (7th century A.D.) and may even, by implication, perhaps to the time of Mahabhutivarman (6th century A. D) the Pragjyotisha king (also known as Bhutivarmma). “So it is not unlikely that the forefathers of the Brahmanas mentioned in Nidhanpur Copper plates of Bhaskaravarman were settled in the district of Sylhet, in Panchakhanda area in connection with the Bali-Charu-Satra of god Vasudeva and also in connection with other institutions, educational or charitable, connected with such a big establishment”. However this dating of the imapg is highly unlikely. Achuyta Charan Chaoudhury also refers to this Supatala Vasudeva and also gives a photograph of the image. However, it is clothed and the photograph is so unclear that it is of no use either for describing it or for dating. Choudhury also refers to the Jagannathpur Vasudeva which according to him is exactly similar to the supatala one. He dates it to the 12th century A.D. but for what reason is not clear. Of the 851 Vishnu image in the Bangladesh National Museum only two are from Sylhet. Of the two No 108 is simply mentioned as being from Sylhet and the no 15: wbe as from Hobigonj. Hunitngton knows no Vishnu image form Sylhet-Vasudeva or otherwise. The bronze Lokanatha – (2’-8’’ × 5’11’’) from Bandarbazar, Sylhet – which is also in the custody of the Bangladesh Notional Museum, however exception as it is well documented and has been studied by experts. However, the suggested for it by them range from 8th - 9th century A. D. to 10th – 11th century A.D. R. D Bangrji dated it to 10 the century A. D. However , Bhattasali assigns it to an early date, 8th – 9th century A. D. on the ground of the style of the script in the seals attached to the back of the image and also the image appeared to him to be “very old”. Alam and Huntington support its 9th century date and Asher also asserts “this Lokanatha is much earlier” while contradicting Banerji’s 10th century dating. However Nihar Ranjan Roy on statistic grounds favored this later date of 10th century.

But he successively advanced the dating father to “second half of 10th century” and in 1993 to 10th -11th century wqon stylist grounds. On the basis of evidence that we have so far, the position that has been taken in this paper is that Sylhet region had been under Kamarupa-Pragjyotisha from the time of Bhutivarmma (below) until its passing under the domain of the famous Vanga-Samatara king Srichandra as a result of his successful invasion of the territory of the Assam king in the very first years of his accession to the throne ( C. 925 A.D.) as evidenced in his Pashimbhag inscription which was issued in his 5th regional year i.e. about 930 A. D. Kamarupa-Pragjyotisha regime throughout had been Hindu and Buddhist images are rare in Assam. On this ground we are included to believe it extremely unlikely that Buddhist bronze image like that of Lokanatha would be cast while the Assamese dominion lasted in Sylhet. Technologically also Huntington remarks, “it is one of the largest of the early metal pieces form Bengal and thus must have been the product of a fairly well-established metal working tradition. She would rather ascribe its origin to the Lalmai-Mainamati region particularly as “it shares a number of features apparently characteristics of the area. Asher although supporting an early date also relates it to the bronze image of Samatara, particularly the bronzes of Mainamati. So we are of the opinion that this bronze image is more probably to connected to the Vanga-Samatata tradition of art and that tradition we assert was introduced to Sylhet after it came under the Buddhist Cahndras in the second quarter of the 10th century A.D. the 10th – 11th century A.D. date for the image suggested on grounds of style can be asserted on political grounds also. For its 8th- 9th century dating the necessary political and cultural context is missing. Further, seals are attached to the back of this image which again is a Chandra-Mainamati Characteristic.

The scarcity of image in Sylhet can only indicate that wealthy patrons were not forthcoming in large numbers unlike Pundravaradhana or Vanga or Samatata, which is turn indicates very little urbanization. Indeed any major archaeological site – as already pointed out is known in Sylhet region.

However, as we will see below attempts of colonization were going on form Bhutivarmma (6the century A. D.) till as late even as the 12th/13th century A.D Apparently these were planned attempts of colonization – the priestly class being settled presumably among a tribal people- and of creating a Brahmaputra (i. e. abode of Brahamans), the tern used in the Paschimbhag grant for the spread of a particular belief system and a way of life, i. e. Brahmanism, under the patronage of the ruling power and also for the purpose that more and more land could be brought under cultivation and the natural resources could be exploited.

Because of its comparatively more natural advantages Sylhet, south of the Surma and the Kushiyara rivers was thus the nuclear area basing which much political and colonial activities were carried out over the centuries. It would seem that Bhutivarmma’s colony of 300 Barhmans did not expand and flourish in any remarkable way so that Srichandra had to make another massive attempt by patronizing the influx of another six thousand Brahmanas and mindful of the prevailing Hindu culture of the area he, a Buddhist king established a Hindu matha dedicated to Brahmanical gods. Indeed the most important aspect of these Sylhet inscriptions – beginning from Bhutivarmma’s ghost inscription, Bhaskara’s Nidhanpur inscription through Srichandra’s (Paschimbhag) to Kesavadeva’s (Bhatera) ,, as already pointed out is that they give us a continuous history of settlement in Sylhet region of very large number of Brahmana, for long six to seven hundred years from the 6th to 12th/13th centuries A. D. – under royal patronage. Settling Brahmanas through the greant of Agrahara village was an ancient practices. There is a tradition among the Brahmanas of Sylhet that their ancestors were immigrants from Mithila i.e North Bihar. K. K. Gupta along with Achyuta Charan Choudhury points out the vey strong influence of the Maithili tradition on the Hindus of Sylhet. Gupta also finds some indication of migration and settlement in Sylhet of Nagara Brahmans (or Latadvijas ) of Gujrat area. Latadvijas used to be brought into Bengal for service at temples – the Khalimpur Copper plate of Dharmapala mentions with pride the engagement of Latadvijas for service at the temple of Nanna – Narayana.

In 380 A.D. The western boundary of Kamarupa was traditionally the river Karatoya (Kalika Purana c. 12th-13th centuries A. D.) and on its eastern frontier was situated Davaka which has been identified with modern Daboka on the Yamuna rive n the Nowgong district of Assam. The short rock inscription found among the extensive ruins of Daboka of the illustrious Maharajadhiraja Bhutivarmadeva the devout worshipper of Lord Vishnu" and dated either in 234 or 244 G.E (553-54 A.D. or 563-64 A.D) The inscription descries him as the "performer of the Asvamedha sacrifice" and the inscription marked " the religious retreat (Asramam) of this minister of state (Vishayamatya) [Aryya] guna (or Adyaguna) this indicates Bhutiverma's conquest of the Davaka country. It is reasonable to believe that Bhutivarman felt himself worthy of performing hours sacrifice after the conquest of the Surma and the Kushiara valleys (i.e Sylhet) and Davaka. By the second half of the sixth century A.D. his probable region period being C. 540-570 A. D. Mahabhutivarmma was the Maharajadhiraja ruling over an extensive kingdom form the Karatoya on the west to the Chinese Borders on the east and south of Sylhet to the south. Bhutivarman's expansion into Sylhet perhaps had been at the cost of Samatata and if not then it was a case of forst occupation of an unclaimed land, Hsuan Tsang very correctly descried Samatata being to the south of Kamarupa but where was the frontier between the two kingdoms? Hsuan Tsand gives the area of Samatata as being 3,00 li, equivalent to about 600 miles in circuit on the basis of which Bhattasali calculates and concludes that for Samatata to have such a vast area it must have included the regions of Mymensingh and Dhaka to the east of the Brahmaputra and also entire Sylhet. However Hsun Tsand obviously has erred here and following him Bhattasali, as we know that when Hsuan Tsang was visiting Samata and Kamarupa - the Sylhet region and necessarily also eastern parts of Mymensingh,where still under Kamarupa - as Hsuan Tsang's contemporary Bhaskaravarman's re-confirmation of Bhautiverman's land - grants prove and indeed the status quo perhaps remained until the region cme under the rule of Srichandra, as a result of his raid into the Kamarupa country probably taking advantage of the unsettled contition there after the end of the rule of Balavarman III of the Salastambah dynasty in c. 910 A.D. However, the sovereignty of Kamarupa proper remained unaffected by the raid. The Pascimbhag grant of Srichandra is among the most important ones in the whole range of Bengal epigraphs. Apart from its many other features giving it distinction, this charter establishing a great Hindu Matha and named as the chandrapurasasana i.e "Chandrapura Charter" in the inscription itself is the largest endowment of land in spite of the fact that some very big endowments are known in south India. This gave away land in widely scattered areas of the whole southern Sylhet and parts of eastern Sylhet as well and total area of land gifted away, according to K. K. Gupta's calculation is not less than 1,00 sq miles. The land was given "free from all dues with all income such as taxes and tributes of gold enjoyed by the king, in the name of the lord Buddhabhattaraka and for the increase of merit and fame of my ( i.e. Srichandra) parents and myself" (Ll. 47-56 of the inscription).

Therefore although he was donating land for a grand Hindu religious establishment Srichandra was doing it for pleasing the lord Buddha. There were four kinds of endowment as categorized in the inscription : first and foremost the donation of land for his grand design of creating a Brahmapura. It was named Brahmapura because it was dedicated to Brahman. Additionally the capital city of Brahman according to Hindu mythology is also known as Brahmapura. Moreover , Srichandra intended it to be an abode of Brahmanas thousands of them and hence it was a Brahmapura. Srichandra also put to the best use the similarity between his name and the name of his newly acquired Vishaya i. e. Chandrapura. Now, was Srichandra making some experiment with the meeting of faiths? Are we face to face here with some incipient syncretism the trend of which of which perhaps can also be seen in the inclinations of Ladahachandra who dedicated a temple to Ladahamadhava (Vishnu) and Govindachandra who donated land to Natesvarabhattaraka (Siva). Govindachandra is sometimes identificated with Gopihandra of the queen Mainamati-Gopihandra legend of the Nathapanthi tradition. This developing trend was soon submerged under the high tides of resurgent Hinduism at the time of the Senas. However this maverich religious trend survived in the rise, later of many unorthodox cults at the popular level. The Paschimbhag inscription also give s in interesting glimpse of how elaborately these mathas used to be organized and the picture of the way these were maintained and run. Most interestingly, this give us by analogy an insight into the organization and administration of such ruined monasteries as Paharpur and Mainamati about which every little is known. The establishment at the main Chandrapura matha consisted of one professor (upadhyaya) whose main duty to explain Chandra works - and ten students. And there was provision for extending hospitality to five guest Brahmanas apurva-brahamanas. It is also interesting that the mathas were provided with means to make them self-sufficient for all their needs as regards maintenance and performance of daily worship.

The mighty Vijayasena who form his base in western and northern Bengal is known t have conquered the Vanga-Samatata region as evidenced by the Barackpore plate and established and all-Bengal power for the first time in pre-Muslim period apparently left Sylhet region unmolested. For, more or less contemporaneously with the Senas, we come across the existence of a line of independent Hindu kings, Kshatriyas of the lunar race of whom two copper plate inscription of two kings Kesavadeva and Isanadeva have been found (in 1872 in village of Bhatera about 20 miles south of Sylhet town) and whose line is also partially known form a local traditional history. Contained in the manuscript Hattanathera Pachali. They were independent and ruled in their own right in what they call in their inscription as "Srihattarajya". In their inscs they do not recognize the Senas or any other as their overlords and also for the first time their "Srihattarajya" which comprised move or less lands more anciently forming the Chandrapurivishya (plus Pogara and Garalavishayas) is no longer Srihattarajya, just an administrative segment of a greater administrative unit i.e. Pundaravandhanabhukti but a rajua aknogdom in its own right. It has also been suggested that the later Deva kings Damodaradeva, Dasarathadeva, Viradharadeva who in the late 13th century taking advantage of the weakness of the Senas set up an independent kingdom in Samatata and later even in the citadel of the Senas Viramapura itself may have been linked in some way with these Sylhet Devas. The two Bhatera Copper Plates thus have the unique distinction of being inscriptions of an independent local kingdom of Sylhet and a Hindu dynasty. The two Copper plates trace their history through the reigns of five/six kings ruling gin south and central and eastern Sylhet including. It seems the region of present Sylhet town. The first plate (i.e. of Kesavadeva) traces the genealogy of the dynasty form Navagirvvana, followed by his son whose name has been variously read as Gokuladeva, Kongana and Gokvana etc. the traditional history Hattanathera Pachli however gives the name as Gokula. He was followed by his son Narayana and Narayana's son was Kesavadeva alias the "Ripuraja-Gopi-Govinda" (Bhatera Copper Plates nos 1 &2, no 2 i.e Isanadeva) shortened as Govindakesava. The Bhatera plate No.2 was issued by Raja Isanadeva, the third son of Kesavadeva, who was provably reigning only as a Regent during the minority of his second brother's son. It seems he was preceded by his eldest brother who was infirm and sonless. The Bhatera plate no. 2 was issued in the 17th year of Isanadeva reign. Isanadeva's plate traces the genealogy form Gokula/Gonguna - Navagirvvana being omitted. This perhaps indicates that Navagirvvana's reign was not of much consequence and the greatness of the dynasty began with the second king. The Hattanathera Pachali gives the genealogy of these Srihatta Kings form navagirvvana to Govindakesava i.e. four generations and this segment of the Pachili genealogy is common with the Bhatera plate genealogies. The occurrence of these inscriptionally attested historical personas lends some credence to the accounts of Sylhet dynasties as given in the Hattanathera Pachali, The Pachali also descirbes this line of kings as being Kshatriyas of the lunar race. It however traces their line form times much earlier3than that of the Bhatera inscriptions and then takes it down to a much later period - right down to a Gauda- Govinda who must be the same as Gaud - Govinda who went down to Bengal Sultan Shamsuddin Firuz Shah's onslaughts in 1303 A.D.

Thus the terminal king of the dynasty as mentioned in the Hattanathera Pachali is also a known historical personage. From the ancestors of Navagirvvana to Gaud-Govinda the last king we have to accommodate a large number of kings of this line and its branches and for this we have to have a time frame of say more than a century. The summary of their history from Hattanathera Pachali as gathered by K. k. Guptaalong as follows:

1. Kahnda Kamarupa ("portion of Kamarupa", i.e. Sylhet) was divided into three parts amongst the three brothers Ladduka, Gudaaka and Jayantaka who were children of Gunhaka and the divided kingdoms were known after their names as Lauda, Ganda and Jayantia respectively. The old capital fell to the share of the second brother Gudaka and was known as Gauda or Pata-Gauda i. e. "Gauda Capital" (probably near present Sylhet town). The long line of descendants of Gudaka as given in the Hattanathera Pachali include the names of the kings that we get from the Bhatera plate No. 1, although the name of Raja Isana of the second plate does not occur. However, It is clear that in the Bhatera plates we are dealing with these Gauda kings.

2. According to Gupta's reconstruction, at one stage Gauda was divided into two separate kingdoms viz. South Gauda and north Gauda amongst the two step brothers, Bramajit and Dharmadhvaja, respectively. According to Gupta this happened probably during the last part of the 12th century A.D.

3. The south and north Gauda again became an amalgamated kingdom under Govinda, the prince of the south Gauda branch (senior branch) and was popularly known as Gauda-Govinda (also Garuda0Govinda, Gad-Govinda etc.) Govinda's minor cousin Garuda of the north or Pata-Gauda branch (junior branch) was the crown prince. However we know from authentic history that Gauda-Govinda was the last king.

What is interesting is that the present Greater Sylhet region, as we have seen above is known to the Hattanathera Pachali is as "Khanda-Kamarupa" a "portion of Kamarupa and the three portion in which it was divided i. e Lauda or north, north-western Sylhet (later Laud, a paragon in Sunamgonj) Jaintia i. e. north, north-eartern Sylhet, president Jaintia region and Gauda i.e. central, eastern and southern Sylhet or what we historically know as Srihattamandala in which was situated Chandrapurivishya (plus Pogara and Garala Vishayas). These three parts together made up "Khanda-Kamarupa)" part-Assam" i.e. what is now Sylhet. If this traditional history is any worth then it is to be assumed that it is only by the time when these three kingdoms were created-sometime perhaps in the last quarter of the eleventh century - that the northern parts, north of Sylhet town, apparently had become habitable and came into the light of history. All Sylhet history prior to that evolved as we have seen round the colonizing efforts of successive dynasties of settling Brahmanas in the southern and eastern regions. The original settled area was the historical Srihattamandala and Chadrapurivishaya.

When did these independent Bhatera plates kings rule? This long line of kingdom of Hattanathera Pachali including those covered by the Bhatera plates is to be accommodated between the middle of the eleventh century and the end of the thirteenth century 1303 A. D. as we have seen, being he terminal date. The Chandras who possessed Srihattamandala by virtue of conquering it form Assam, ruled it till the middle of the 11th century_Govindachandra, the last of the lines rule having ended in c. 1050 A. D. this circumstance must have contributed to the emergence of the independent kingdoms in Sylhet, particularly the line of the Bhatera kings. They took advantage of the state of flux created after the disintegration of Chandra power. They maintained their independence under the successor states of the Varmans and the Senas.

The Bhatera plate of Isana give only the regional year (year 17) for the date of issue of the grant . the plate No. 1 gives the date in an era the reading and interpretation of which has not been agreed upon among scholars. So we are left to rely on the paleography of the two inscriptions and here opinions of scholars range from the eleventh century to thirteenth century. The original editor of the plate Rajendrala Mitra read the date as the equivalent of 1049 A. D. R.C. Majumdar argues on paleographic grounds that the date of 1245 is more portable. Nihar Ranjan Roy however favors the eleventh century. Barrie Morrison trusts Majumdar's judgement and follow thirteenth century date, the eleventh century dating however, is not very sound since some of the characters very nearly resemble developed Bangla script. The date is most likely to be rather later. There are internal evidences in the text-some Bangla words even some words which may be recognized as the earliest form of words used in Sylhetee dialect - names of a large number of villages that have survived in slightly altered forms - that indicate a date that should not be very remote. We have the definite terminal date, 1303 A. D. for Gaud-Govinda and the beginning should be logically sometime after C. 1050 A. D. Thus these Bhatera plates kings perhaps can be placed between the middle of the 12 century A. D. and the middle of the 13th century. The Guhaha line of kings and the Bhatera plates kings between them till 1303 A. D. could cover more than 150 years.

The Bhatera plates emphasize the continuous Hindu tradition of Sylhet in ancient and early medival times. Raja Kesavadeva the Srihattanatha, the ruler of Srihattarajya, the "crest-jewel of the kings of Eastern countries" has also been described in this own copper plate and also in Isanadeva's as Ripuraja-Gopi-Govinda a Vaishnavite title. But Kesava is also described as being a "worshipper of Siva"; he opens his inscription was to record the grant of 375 halas of land and 296 Vatis in the service of lord Vatesvara "who has come into his world at Bhattapataka and is living here have given up the desire to live in Kailasa and that he gave to that Siva different kinds of attendants belonging to races". Isanadeva adds furthure that attracted by his reputation pleasing to the ears, the chiefs amongst the twice-born people arrived from all quarters and with their desires fulfilled, forgot their places of birth. So the policy of settling Brahmanas in south Sylhet that began with Bhutivarmma in the 6th century continued till 12th-13th centuries.

And this "worshipper of Siva" with Vaishanva alias later in life built a lofty stone temple dedicated to Kamasanisudana (Krishan) - as we come to know from Isandeva's inscription. Isanadvea however, begins his inscription with an adoration to Narayana and he too built another lofty temple for god madhukaitabhari (Vishnu). Does it mean that from a later period of Kesava's life this line became votaries of Vishnu? Does this policy of the Bhatera Devas help us in understanding the strong Vaishnava as well as Tantric tradition of Sylhet in medieval times? Changing faith in one god for another is not unknown during this century as has been exemplified by the Senas. Isanadeva's plate also provides us with another important information i.e. Kesavadeva later in life performed Tulapurushadana (gift of gold etc. equal to a man's weight amongst learned Brahamnas) and "the twice born people receiving riches looked like the tree of plenty adorned with gold ornaments. This dynasty duly upheld and nurtured the predominant Hindu traditions and culture handed down from the time of the kings of Kamarupa.

These two inscriptions are also remarkable in many other ways. Along with 375 halas of for maintain service to Vatesura Siva we learn Kesavadeva also donated 365 Vatis apparently to the Brahmans for the service of the god. The donation of Vatis along with the land is something we do not come in any other land grant in any other part of Bengal. If it is to be understood that each Vati was given to one Brahmana family that is 365 families, then this would be the third instance of settling a large number of Brahananas in Sylhet under royal patronage. Isanadeva's grant is concerned about the grant of 2 halas of land (including residential quarters) as a fief for the maintenance of Vanamali Kara the accountant general. Now this unique as we know of no other Bengal inscription so far that records the grant of a fief for the maintenance of an official of state. All the other inscriptions are records of religious nature - grants of land of gods, temples, mathas, monasteries and Brahamans. However grant of only 2 halas of land for the maintenance of a key state official is somewhat surprising. What is also interesting is that Isanadeva first eulogies his army chief Viradatta and then names him as the one who gives the order of the land grant - thus throwing light on the very powerful position of the army chief in the running of the kingdom. What is particularly remarkable is that the Bhatera plate No. 1 contains two lines in an unknown language except one word in Sanskrit i. e pradattah and may be a tribal language of the area of time. Tribal elements were quite numerous in Sylhet. What were these two lines for we do not know as yet. Was it imprecatory as has been suggested? But the imprecatory verse n Sanskrit is already there. There is the only inscription of early medival Bengal containing a line other than in the Sanskrit language. In this inscription the language of the schedule portion also has elements nearly approaching Bengali and local Sylhet dialects. A word often used is tathake, a Bangla word, however, with a local twist and meaning "there". Then gama for grama (village) and Katakhale which are Bangla words. Another interesting feature of the inscription is that besides the vatis to the Brahmans, may house including outhouses, kitchens, cowsheds etc. were given for the use of the various helping hands of the temple establishment like gapa (milkman), Kasya (bellmetal worker), napita (barber), rajaka (washerman), vaniya (goldsmith), navika (boatman), danakara (ivory worker), malo (fisherman) etc. and so here again like the Paschimbag inscription we are given the elaborate description of the various kinds of services that were required for running a temple or matha establishment and thus we are given a glimpse of the daily activities in these establishments. Another significant thing about Bhatera plate No. 1is that many of the places and villages and also rivers named in the donation portion retain their names almost unaltered till today and they have been identified tolerable accurately. Those identified palces are scattered over an extensive area spreading from Hobigonj through Maulvibazar with Bhatera-Baramchal block to cachar district including Karimganj in Assam and possible portions in Tripura. This perhaps gives an outline of the extent of th e Srihattarajya of the Bhatera kings.

Some interesting side - light is thrown on Sylhet history by a much - damaged copper plate found in May 1963 at Kalapur in Srimangal in Moulvibazar district of Sylhet. On paleographic considerations it can be placed in the 7th century A. D. circular seal attached to the palte represents the figure of the standing Gaja-Lakshmi her feel placed on a lotus. Two male attendants seat at her feet on two sides. Just below her feet and the louts but within the circle of the seal is the legend Kumaramatyaadhikaranasya also in relief. In the space between the right side of Lakshmi and the attendant is a small circular depression which contains the figure of a recumbent bull-the emblem of the issuer, Sri Marundanatha. This name is represented in relief just below but within the circle. Being in a bad state of preservation only part of it could be read by its decipherer K. K. Gupta. However , although deciphered only in parts its main purport is quite clear. Sri Marundanatha who was only a Samanta by this copper plate charter donated a plot of land in the forest region (atavibhukhanda) for the purpose of maintenance of the balicharusatra of god Anantanarayana and also for the maintainance of the math and the Brahamans attached to the establishments for the five daily sacrifices - panchamahayajanas. The land according to Gupta's computation comes to 630 bighas approximately. Here it may be recalled that Lokanatha - also a Samanta - whose copper pate inscription was recovered form somewhere in Comilla in 1905 and which has also been dated to the mid - seventh century granted land in forest region ( atavikhanda) for a temple dedicated also to Anantanarayna for maintainance of daily worship and for maintenance of a hundred Bramanas. The Lokanatha plate also bears the Gaja-Lakshmi emblem with the legends Kumaram-atyadhikaranasya and "Lokanathasya". Among the names of the kings of this line given in the Lokanatha palte is mentioned Srinatha as the second feudatory chief. It is to be noted that we ckme across the name of Samanta Srinatha in the Kalapur Copper Plate also and Guptasuggests that " it is very likely that Samatata Srinatha was the common ancestor of both Lokanatha and Marundanatha". The similarities between these two copper paltes-similar emblems on their seals, their common "natha"-ending names the common Srinatha of their lines in the two inscription,both giving land in the forest region, signifying both ruling in the 7th century in region which had extensive forest areas and both patronizing Vishnu worship-all these suggest perhaps a family link.

As regards their being contemporaries of the Khadgas some complication has been introduced by A. H Dani who on paleographic grounds would place the Lokanatha inscription in the first half of the seventh century A. D. and Khadgas to the later half of the 7th century A. D. Nihar Ranjan Roy would place it in the 8th century A.D. D.C. Sircar suggested that both Sridharana and Lokhnatha were feudatories of Paramesvara i.e King of Gauda.

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