Posthumous Publication of Carol Salomon's City of Mirrors

Carol Salomon interviewing a Baul guru in Bangladesh
Carol Salomon interviewing a Baul guru in Bangladesh

At the time of her passing in March 2009, former Asian Languages and Literature faculty member Carol Goldberg Salomon had been working for many years on an annotated translation of the songs of Lālan Sai, the renowned Baul poet who lived in what is now Bangladesh in the late nineteenth century. The Bauls are the modern inheritors of the centuries-old syncretic tradition of Bengali mysticism, incorporating and combining elements of tantric spiritual practice from Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic traditions. Carol’s work involved examining the surviving manuscripts of the songs, attending and transcribing performances of them by members of the Baul tradition in Bangladesh and West Bengal (India), and discussing their meaning with members of Lālan’s spiritual lineage. With her fluent colloquial Bengali and her sincere interest in and sympathy for Baul beliefs, she was able to win the confidence of the Bauls, who revealed to her rare insights into their esoteric doctrines.

After her untimely death, Carol’s research notes lay untouched for several years, until the Bangladeshi scholar Saymon Zakaria visited her home in Seattle in order to excavate and organize her dozens of boxes of notes and hundreds of computer files and recordings. Then, working in collaboration with former UW student Keith Cantú, he organized and edited the materials into an anthology of the 137 songs which Carol judged to be the authentic creations of Lālan. The volume of over 600 pages has now been published by Oxford University Press in its South Asia Research Series, under the title City of Mirrors: Songs of Lālan Sai.

We – Carol’s former colleagues, students, and friends – are profoundly grateful to the editors and the many other persons involved in this decades-long project. Thanks to their labors, Carol’s decades of research have at last emerged from their long hibernation in the attic of her house and into the light of day, for all to see.

 

That man is in this man.

Yet for ages,

countless seers and sages

have roamed in search of him.

 

The unseen man

always sits in an unseen place

beyond their grasp.

Who can reach out and catch

the reflection of the moon

in water?

 

(City of Mirrors, p. 149)