Dr. Karunamaya Goswami

Karunamaya Goswami was born on 11th March 1943 in a village named Gosain Chandura in the district of Mymensingh, Bangladesh. In his childhood Karunamaya found his native village to possess all the glories of an affluent Hindu village in British India glowing in terms of happiness of daily living and in terms of round the year festivities and celebrations. Karunamaya Goswami has given a vivid description of the pre-partition village life in his novel Bharat Bhager Ashrukona: years from the partition of India. Karunamaya traces their descent from a great Vaishnava sait-poet Madhavacharya in whose name a public library in Gosain Chandura was founded in the late nineteenth century. The library symbolized the intellectual height of the Gosains from a remote rural area. The Goswamis or Gosains of Chandura were practicing Vaishnavas from a school of Sri Chaitanya line. And liberally took part in Vaishnava rights, rituals and ceremonies. They performed Namakirtana, Nagar-Sankirtana and Padavali Kirtana as duties in Vaishnava legacy. The Goswamis of Chandura took inspiration from classical music centers of Mymensingh like Gauripur, Kalipur, Ramgopalpur, Muktagachha etc. made their houses reverberate in learning and singing at the instances of the Jamindary Durbars. Gosai Chandura sang Vaishnava and courtly songs like focusing on Vaishnava songs all the more. There were abundance of Yatras and Dramas, Kavigan, Palagan, Horigan and Baulgan. There were tols to run Sanskrit medium education leading to bachelors’ and masters’ level of degrees.

Karunamaya’s father, Rasbihari Goswami was a powerful actor on stage and a keen organizer of dramatic performances in the village which surprisingly went neck to neck with Kolkata in matter of choosing plays, conducting rehearsals and shaping up the stage craft. Gosain Chandura had a permanent stage and a moderately big auditorium for dramatic performances to accommodate. Karunamya’s uncle Nagendranath Goswami was a poet-composer-singer. His grandmother Indramani Devi was a kavi poet-composer-singer too. The village and the family acted on him and from early childhood Karunamaya appeared to be a gifted singer and actor. Pavitra Kumar Goswami was his trainer for singing and acting at the early stage and Karunamaya without fail took part in the village musical programs and dramas on stage. He looked like destined to be a singer and an actor although at the end of the day he has become a writer and researcher, Tagore being his dominate area of interest. As a consequence of the 1947 partition of India the Gosains from Chandura started leaving the village for different destinations in India and it took like six-seven years for the village to offer a deserted look with only a few families including the one of Karunamaya’s father staying back.

Karunamaya Goswami read in Gosain Chandura Primary School, neighboring Bahadurpur High School, Gurudayal College, Kishoreganj and the University of Dhaka where from he passed MA in English in 1964 and did PhD in 1987 under a Bangla Academy scholarship on Nazrul, the title of the thesis being The Place Kazi Nazrul Islam Occupies in the History of Bengali Art Songs. His work was very largely applauded as having laid the solid foundation of Nazrul song criticism and he was given the highest Bangladesh national award for Nazrul research, Nazrul Award 1987 by the Nazrul Institute, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

Karunamaya Goswami joined Tolaram College, Narayanganj as a lecturer in English on 23rd November, 1964 and started contributing to the Daily Sambad, a Bengali language national daily from the early 1965 on a very regular basis. He began his career as a writer by contributing serialized articles on Rabindranath Tagore, equally on Tagore songs and Tagore literature. At Narayanganj he revived his passion for being trained in vocal music. He got trained over the years under Nitya Gopal Saha, Abdul Aziz Khan and Yasin Khan. He learned Kheyal and Thumri fairly well. He had then to work very hard to continue writing singing and teaching simultaneously.

It was then Karunamaya Goswami decided to write down dictionary of world music, an ambition project ever taken anywhere in the world by an individual. As for this Goswami felt like having some introductory training in western music, its forms, methodologies and notational ideas. Mr. Sebastian Perrera, a Shrilankan western music scholar then living in Dhaka trained him up for more than a year and enable him to grasp the fundamentals of western music. Goswami then began to build his personal collection of books on Western and Indian music written from any angle of view. He bought a huge collection of books on music from a Dhakeshwari Mills, Narayanganj employee Some Chakraborty at a very small price. Binay Roy, a lawyer from Narayanganj donated him his own collection of books of music and literature. With support of a strong collection of books Karunamaya Goswami started preparing the manuscript of the dictionary of music. Making entries religiously every day from 1966. He also paid attention to translating in Bengali Latin American poems, stories and poems from Africa. Writing on Tagore added with writing on Nazrul continued.

Bangladesh war of liberation began in 1971. Goswami left Narayanganj first for his village home and then for India through the Garo Hills boarder. Upon the surrender of the Pakistan army on 16th December 1971, Bangladesh emerged as an independent country and like many other refugees Karunamaya came back to Narayanganj on 10th January 1972 and found his home completed looted out. He lost his entire collection of books, the musical instruments and the manuscript of the dictionary of world music made so far for the last five years and a complete manuscript of Latin American poems with a long introduction and a half done manuscript of African stories. 

It was a very difficult for Karunamaya Goswami to begin to rebuild his career as a researcher-writer from a terrible zero. Slowly and steadily he reconnected himself for all what he pursued all these years past. His first book Kishore Sangeet a book on music for beginners was published in 1972 from Barnamichhil, Dhaka. His next book was Africar Galpo, a collection of stories from Africa. It was a pioneering work of translation into Bengali of some important stories written across a host of African countries. It was published my Muktodhara, Dhaka in 1975. Nazrul Geeti Prasanga, issues on Nazrul songs, his third book was published from Bangla Academy, Dhaka in 1978. This book is regarded as the first ever book of criticism on Nazrul songs. His doctoral thesis was a developed version of this work. Africar Kabita, his next book of translation of poems from different African countries into Bengali was published in 1979. He added very comprehensive introduction to both the books of African stories and poems.

Karunamaya Goswami joined general education service in 1980 when his college was taken over by the government and had soon gone on deputation to accomplish a research on Nazrul leading to PhD. The most fruitful period of his life as a writer-researcher had begun by this time. Some of his books of essays on Bengali, English and French literature came out in the early 80s. Sangeet Kosh, a huge dictionary of world music was first published from Bangla Academy, Dhaka in 1985. A short history of Bengali songs by him was also published in the same year. It was at this time Karunamaya Goswami took up a pioneering recording work called history of Bengali music in sound. Supported by Ford Foundation, Dhaka the work was done under a program of LOSAUK. The history of the development of Bengali music was presented from the earliest stage to 1971 and afterword both in urban and rural streams in song by song presentation format with very highly chosen introductory remarks. It was a 10-cassette publication first of its kind in the entire Indian sub-continent. Karunamaya took up under Ford grant a highly research based recording work called Splendors of Old Bengali Songs. Its moto was to focus on Padavali Kirtana, Tappa, Tappa based early Bengali songs, early Baul songs and early Bengali patriotic songs presented again in song by song analysis method. It was a six-hour long recording while the earlier one covered ten hours in length. History of Bengali Music in Sound and Splendors of Old Bengali Songs are the two benchmark sound history from the south Asia.

Karunamaya Goswami was at this time invited by the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, New York to contribute an article for the volume five, which is the South Asia the Indian sub-continent volume, covering the history of the development of music in Bengal. He did it and a long article has been published under the title West Bengal and Bangladesh. Groves McMillan, London has also assigned him the task to contribute an article to cover the history of Bengali music for their multi volume encyclopedia called the encyclopedia of music and musicians. With this published article Karunamaya Goswami becomes the loan contributor on the history of Bengali music in the two most leading encyclopedia of the world. 

Karunamaya Goswami’s first book on Rabindranath Tagore was published in 1990from Bangla Academy, Dhaka. It was a comprehensive book on Tagore song criticism and was named Rabindra Sangeet Parikrama, Survey of Tagore songs. His next book on Tagore was Rabindra Natya Sangeet, Songs of Tagore Dramas and then one after another in English and Bengali Dr. Goswami came out with six more books on Tagore, the most important of which was The Art of Tagore Songs published with support from HSBC Bangladesh by Sahitya Prakash, Dhaka to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore in 2011. His last yet book on Tagore was Rabindranath Huntington O Bharatbhag, Rabindranath Huntington and Partition of India was published in 2015 from Anupam Prakashani, Dhaka.

Karunamaya Goswami of late has been paying attention to writing novels to focus on a so long unexplored such a political reality. His first novel Bharat Bhager Ashrukana, Tears from the Partition of India was published from Sahitya Prakasha, Dhaka in 2015. The novel reflects on one of the greatest human tragedies which issued from the socio political reality centering the 1947 partition of India. In the backdrop of the same historical reality Karunamaya Goswami has written down his second novel Lahorer Rahim Kher, Rahim Kher of Lahore. It has been published by Yukta, Dhaka in 2017. His forthcoming novel focuses on the same historical background emphasizing mostly on the South Asian communal relationship psychology. 

Last Updated : June 1, 2009

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