SYLHET, a town and district of British India, in the Surma valley division of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The town is on the right bank of the river Surma, on rising ground, embowered in groves. Pop. (1901), 13,893. There are manufactures of mats, carved ivory and shells, and furniture. There is an unaided college, founded in 1892, which is mainly supported by a native gentleman. There are two dispensaries and an English church. The great earthquake of the 12th of June 1897 destroyed every substantial building, but caused very little loss of life. Sylhet is the largest town in Assam, but is steadily decaying, being 30 m. from a railway and inaccessible to steamers during the dry season.
The District of Sylhet has an area of 5388 sq. m. It consists of the lower valley of the Surma or Barak river, and for the most part is a uniform level broken only by scattered clusters of sandy hillocks called Mas, and intersected by a network of rivers and drainage channels. It is a broad and densely- cultivated plain, except in the extreme north, where the enormous rainfall converts many square miles of land into one huge lake during the rains, and in the south, where eight low ranges of hills, spurs of the Tippera mountains, run out into the plain, the highest range being about 1500 ft. above sea-level. There is also a small detached group in the centre of the district called the Ita hills. The district is watered by the branches of the Surma (q.v.) which are navigable by large boats, and support a busy traffic. The climate is extremely damp and the rainfall is heavy, reaching an annual average of over 150 in.; the rainy season generally lasts from April to October.
In 1901 the population was 2,241,848, showing an increase of 4% in the decade. More than half are Mahommedans. Tea cultivation is a flourishing industry in the southern hills. The Assam-Bengal railway crosses the district, but trade is still largely river-borne. Great damage was done by the earthquake of June 1897, which was followed by an outbreak of malarial fever.
Sylhet passed into the hands of the British in 1765, with the rest of Bengal, of which it formed an integral part until 1874, being included in the Dacca division. In that year it was annexed, together with the adjoining district of Cachar, to the chief-commissionership of Assam which was amalgamated with eastern Bengal in 1905.
See Sylhet District Gazetteer (Calcutta, 1905).