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The Poem That Defined The Buddha | BIC Streams
Author Jairam Ramesh in conversation with Radhika Chadha.

The Light of Asia is an epic poem by Sir Edwin Arnold that was first published in 1879. It is a narrative of the life and message of the Buddha. It quickly became a huge sensation and has continued to resonate powerfully across the world over the last century and a half. The poem captivated an Indian monk who remains an iconic personality—Swami Vivekananda. Around the same time, it deeply moved a young man in Colombo who has become famous in history as Anagarika Dharmapala.

It also caught the attention of an aspiring Indian lawyer in London in 1889. This man later became immortal as Mahatma Gandhi. A few years later it impacted a teenager in Allahabad who would, in 1947, become the first prime minister of India— Jawaharlal Nehru. Two copies of the book adorned the bookshelves of B.R. Ambedkar, the prime architect of the Indian Constitution.

Weaving together literary, cultural, political and social history, Jairam Ramesh uncovers and narrates the fascinating story of this deeply consequential and compelling poem that has shaped our thinking of an ancient sage and his teachings.

Ramesh brings into this unusual narrative the life of the multifaceted poet himself who, among other things, was steeped in Sanskrit literature. Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Song Celestial, an English rendering of the Bhagavad Gita, was one of Mahatma Gandhi’s abiding favourites. Sir Edwin was also in many ways the man who shaped Bodh Gaya as we know it today.

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Jun 18, 2021 06:30 PM in India

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