Dr Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof

Ghulam Sarwar Yousof  (b. 1939) graduated in English from the University of Malaya (1964), and did a Doctorate in Asian Theatre at the University of Hawaii (1976). He is one of Malaysia’s most distinguished scholars, and one of the world’s leading specialists of traditional Southeast Asian theatre.Professor Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof was responsible for setting up Malaysia’s first Performing Arts programme at the Science University of Malaysia (USM) in Penang in 1970. He served at that university as lecturer and Associate Professor. He joined the Cultural Centre, University of Malaya (UM) as Professor in 2002. Currently he is Adjunct Professor at the Centre, and also Director of The Asian Cultural Heritage Centre Berhad, a private research initiative set up by him to promote research in traditional Asian cultures.

As a lecturer at USM and UM  as well as part-time lecturer at University Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), National Arts Academy (ASK/ASWARA), University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR)  and  Sunway College, Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof  taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Literature and Performing Arts, in a wide range of  topics:  Theatre of India, China and Japan,  Southeast Asian Theatre, Malay Traditional Theatre, The Shadow Play,  Mak yong, Bangsawan,  Modern Indian Drama, Western Theatre History, Theories of the Theatre,  Playwriting, Western  Classical Drama, Shakespeare, Romantic Poetry, Odes and Sonnets, Malaysian-Singapore Literature in English,  Southeast Asian Art History, Research Methodology and Aesthetics.

Apart from traditional theatre, his major interests include Asian literature, folklore studies, as well as South- and Southeast Asia cultures, comparative religion, mythology and, Sufism.  In ethnographic and folklore studies he has explored Malay-Indonesian mythology and folk literature, Malay concepts of the soul (semangat), and traditional healing processes. He has published papers in all of these areas. (See Research/Publications).

In literature, apart from producing original work in the form of poetry, drama and short stories, he has written papers on Malaysian-Singapore Literature, done a translation of  Kalidasa’s Shakuntala as well as translations of  Urdu poetry into English.

Professor Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof’s most outstanding contribution to academia is in traditional Southeast Asian Theatre. In this area he has carved a unique niche for himself, with meticulous field work and research, in some previously unexplored genres, resulting in the most important existing publication, his Dictionary of Traditional Southeast Asian Theatre. His vast collection of fieldwork materials and documentation is currently held by the Asian Cultural Heritage Centre Berhad.

Professor Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof  has held visiting positions at several universities, has lectured in many countries on a broad spectrum of culture-related subjects and on altogether unclassifiable disciplines alike to absolute novices and specialized audiences. He has also given readings of his poetry and short stories. He has been, over the decades involved in various capacities in numerous cultural organizations, national and international.

Referring to his lifetime involvement in theatre, Prof Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof claims, in all seriousness, that he has never really been interested in theatre, except perhaps as an occasional, casual, observer. It all happened by chance in 1970 when he was “persuaded” (more accurately coerced) on a “temporary” basis,  to set up the Performing Arts programme at USM  by its first Vice-Chancellor, the late Tan Sri Hamzah Sendut, who then further persuaded him to stay on in theatre.He thus became Malaysia’s first theatre scholar by chance rather than design, and has been trying all along to get out of it. Along the way he has been carried, as if by a relentless flood, into numerous territories, a few known, others utterly strange. He has often been asked what his “real” specialty is as an academician. He is unable to tell; he wished he knew.  If there is one important discovery Prof Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof  has made while dabbling in all these different disciplines, he says, it is that, essentially, knowledge cannot be separated into compartments. Wisdom is One.

Current Positions

  1. Adjunct Professor, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.
  2. Director, Asian Cultural Heritage Centre Berhad,  Malaysia.
  3. Editor, Malaysian Journal of Performing and Visual Arts, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Honorary Position

Member, Board of Advisors, Penang Heritage Council.

Academic Awards

  1. East-West Centre Grant for a Doctoral Programme at the Department of Drama and Theatre, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA. September 1972 to September 1976.
  2. Universiti Sains Malaysia Academic Staff Training Scheme (ASTS) Fellowship for a Doctoral Programme at the Department of Drama and Theatre, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA. September 1972 to September 1977.
  3. Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Research Grants for Research, Field Work and Documentation of Traditional Malay Theatre Genres. 1978 to 1994.
  4. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, Research Grant. June 1983-June 1984.
  5. Southeast Asian Studies Programme (SEASP), Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, teaching and Research Exchange Fellowships Award. June 1983 to March 1984.
  6. Southeast Asian Studies Programme (SEASP), Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, Cross-Cultural Research and Writing Award. June 1983 to March 1984.

Awards of Recognition

  • Tokoh Maal-Hijrah (Persatuan Melayu Pulau Pinang), 2001.
  • International Award for Outstanding Contribution for Humanity, Peace, Culture and Education (Forum for Culture and Human Development, Bangladesh), 2001.
  • Dove Award for Excellence in Poetry awarded (Poetry Day Australia), 2001.
  • Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri (DSPN), which carries the title of Dato’ awarded by the Tuan Yang Terutama Yang DiPertua Negeri Pulau Pinang (Governor of Penang), 2008.
  • Boh Cameronian Lifetime Achievement Award (Kakiseni Malaysia), 2008.

Citation from Kakiseni:

“In 1970, Prof Dr Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof was invited to set up the Universiti Sains Malaysia’s performing arts programme — the first of its kind in the country. Attached to USM until his retirement, he remains a consummate educator in various institutions of higher learning. Prof Ghulam is a leading scholar of Southeast Asian culture, with eclectic interests in literature, religion, philosophy, and theatre; he is a pioneer in the practice, documentation, and preservation of traditional forms of performance, like mak yong, bangsawan and wayang kulit. He has published widely on these subjects — most significantly, the landmark “Dictionary of Traditional Southeast Asian Theatre”. Because of his work, Prof Ghulam was awarded the prestigious Tokoh Ma’al Hijrah in 2001, for an outstanding contribution to Malay culture. For his role in ensuring the continued appreciation of art-forms that are part of our shared cultural heritage, Prof Dr Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof is this year’s recipient of the Boh Cameronian Lifetime Achievement Award.” 

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