Following the footsteps of Rama : Siddhartha Sarma

Bal Sahitya Akademi winner Siddhartha Sarma brings to light a facet of Mamoni Goswami that is often ignored: that of a world renowned academic and scholar

Not only did scholars of 
Ramayana and Vaishnavite 
traditions follow her academic 
writings avidly, they also 
sought her advice and 
guidance on translation 
and analytical works

One of the turning points in Goswami’s life as a scholar was during her stay at Vrindavan, where she pursued her research at the Institute of Oriental Philosophy on a scholarship from the government of Assam in 1969.

Goswami had already inherited a strong interest in Vaishnavite traditions and literature, since her family belonged to that sect of the state. But at Vrindavan, she bought a voluminous edition of TulasidasRam Charit Manas and began her scholarly journey into the numerous retellings of the Ramayana. She did her PhD on a comparative study of Tulasidas’ Ramayana and Madhav Kandali’s Ramayana from Assam, a work which has been subsequently cited by numerous scholars as a ground-breaking analysis in the field of studies on the Indian epic.

Continuing in this theme, Goswami wrote Ramayana: From Ganga to Brahmaputra which was released in 1996 by the then president of the country. In this monumental work, she has summed up the various iterations that the epic has undergone over the centuries in North and East India.  She also attended several International Ramayana Conferences in countries across South and Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and China as one of the world’s foremost scholars specialising in the story of Rama. Besides several articles in national and international articles on this subject, she also wrote the novel Dasarathir Khoj in 1999.

As a Ramayana scholar, she was also naturally drawn into the preservation and study of ancient manuscripts from Assam written on various subjects. She actively campaigned for preserving these invaluable bits of Assamese culture. However, her interests as a scholar were not limited to the epic alone. She also actively pursued research into Buddhist traditions of art and storytelling. Her anthology on the stories from the Jataka, titled Jataka Katha, is particularly influential among students of Buddhist Studies.
As a professor of Modern Indian Languages and Linguistic Studies at Delhi University, her contribution to language studies is substantial and influential. Besides her numerous novels in Assamese, which were translated into English and which reflect on various aspects of Assamese society, she also worked on other languages. For instance, Kalam, a collection of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali short stories was co-translated by her into Assamese, bringing a lot of works otherwise not accessible to Assamese readers. In 1988, she marked another milestone in Assamese translation by bringing to readers Premchandar Suti Galpa, an anthology of the great Hindi writer’s best-known works. In 1978, she translated the Malayalam novel Arana Zika Neram into Assamese as Adha Ghanta Samay.

Her reach was not just national: it went abroad too. Not only did scholars of Ramayana and Vaishnavite traditions follow her academic writings avidly, they also sought her advice and guidance on translation and analytical works. Meanwhile, as a language scholar, she also avidly followed international works, translating Shinji Tajima and Kang Hoo Hyon’s noted book Sarisnipar Sakalo into Assamese.

She was also closely associated with the publication of Volumes VII and VIII of the definitive History of Indian Literature. The two volumes were published in 1991 and 1995 respectively by the Sahitya Akademi.

In particular, her study and articles on Vaishnavite art and dance forms of Assam actually helped bring about awareness in the rest of the country and abroad about Assam’s deep traditions of Vishnu worship. Her articles, which she presented at forums and seminars in India and abroad, on contemporary and historical women writers of the country, have also been cited as comprehensive accounts combining both scholarly insight and a writer’s creative eye at understanding how female writing has evolved with the changing generations

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