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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.
Jairam Ramesh, a member of Parliament, has held key ministerial portfolios between 2006 and 2014- rural development, drinking water and sanitation, environment and forests, power and commerce. He has authored a number of best-selling books including Old History, New Geography: Bifurcating Andhra Pradesh (2016), To the Brink and back: India’s 1991 Story (2015), Legislating for Justice: The 2013 Land Acquisition Law (2015), Green Signals: Ecology, Growth and Democracy in India (2015), Making Sense of Chindia: Reflections on China and India (2005) and Kautilya Today: Jairam Ramesh on a Globalising India (2002).
Radhika Chadha is an innovation consultant, author, and artist. She is the author of Intelligent Investing (Wheeler Publishing), Innovative India (Penguin), and a monthly column on strategic innovation for the Hindu Business Line. She has written a series of bestselling children’s books, including the Baby Bahadur Books, Basava and The Dots of Fire, and A Well is Born (Tulika), which have been translated into several languages, Indian and foreign. Recently, she co- authored the script for Mandukya Sant Vani – a theatrical production by Sunaad, Bangalore. Radhika is currently working on a project exploring the creative journeys of artists in India. She hopes to hold her first show of mixed-media sculpture using handmade paper and found objects, at the end of this year.