Sylhet was not a place of first preference for settlement, wedged between
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
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
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
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
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
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
The mighty Vijayasena who form his base in western and northern
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.
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
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.