The Light of Asia : Sir Edwin Arnold and his Biography of the Buddha
A dialogue between Jairam Ramesh and Tansen Sen

Speaker: Jairam Ramesh & Tansen Sen
Venue: Hosted via Zoom
Date & Time:
2021-9-15 | 19:00-20:30 (Shanghai)
2021-9-15 | 16:30-18:00 (New Delhi)
2021-9-15 | 7:00-8:30 (New York)
2021-9-15 | 15:00-16:30 (Abu Dhabi)

‘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. At about the same time, it deeply moved a young man in Colombo who has become famous in history as Anagarika Dharmapala. It caught the attention of an aspiring Indian lawyer in London in 1889. This man later became immortal as Mahatma Gandhi. A few years hence 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.

Jairam Ramesh brings into this unusual narrative the life of the multi-faceted poet himself who, among other things, was steeped in Sanskrit literature. Sir Edwin Arnold’s 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 Rajya Sabha MP, was Union minister between 2006 and 2014, holding several key portfolios including environment and forests. He is the author of several well-known books including Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature and Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi. His last book, A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon won the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2020.

Tansen Sen, Director of the Center for Global Asia, Professor of History, NYU Shanghai; Global Network Professor, NYU.

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