The Light of Asia; or Mahâbhinishkramana (1934)


Illustrated by Willy Pogány





On the left, we show a rare copy of the Willy Pogány illustrative interpretation of the The Light of Asia, or Mahâbhinishkramana. The 1st Edition was published by David McKay Company (Philadelphia)

in 1932.


This example retains the original silver-stamped cover with the

applied illustrated paste-down.











The Light of Asia, or Mahâbhinishkramana, as illustrated by Pogány, was an epic Poem written by Edwin Arnold that

sought to represent life and teachings of Prince Gautama of India (the founder of Buddhism) and thus, introduce his

teachings to the West.


Arnold's Preface provides a wonderful introduction to the work, thus:


In the following Poem I have sought, by the medium of an imaginary Buddhist votary, to

depict the life and character and indicate the philosophy of that noble hero and reformer,

Prince Gautama of Ida, the founder of Buddhism.


A generation ago little or nothing was known in Europe of this great faith of Asia, which had

nevertheless existed during twenty-four centuries, and at this day surpasses, in the number of its

followers and the area of its prevalence, any other form of creed. Four hundred and seventy

millions of our race live and die in the tenets of Gautama; and the spiritual dominions of this

ancient teacher extend, at the present time, from Nepal and Ceylon, over the whole Eastern

Peninsula, to China, Japan, Tibet, Central Asia, Siberia, and even Swedish Lapland. India

itself might fairly be included in this magnificent Empire of Belief; for though the profession

of Buddhism has for the most part passed away from the land of its birth, the mark of

Gautama's sublime teaching is stamped ineffaceably upon modern Brahmanism, and the most

characteristic habits and convictions of the Hindus are clearly due to the benign influence of

Buddha's precepts. More than a third of mankind, therefore, owe their moral and religious

ideas to this illustrious prince, whose personality, though imperfectly revealed in the existing

sources of information, cannot but appear the highest, gentlest, holiest, and most beneficent,

with one exception, in the history of Thought. Discordant in frequent particulars, and sorely

overlaid by corruptions, inventions, and misconceptions, the Buddhistical books yet agree in

the one point of recording nothing - no single act or word - which mars the perfect purity

and tenderness of this Indian teacher, who united the truest princely qualities with the intellect

of a sage and the passionate devotion of a martyr. Even M. Barthélemy St. Hilaire, totally

misjudging, as he does, many points of Buddhism, is well cited by Professor Mas Müller as

saying of Prince Siddârtha:


Sa vie n'a point de tache. Son constant héroïsm égale sa conviction; et si la

théorie qu'il préconise est fausse, les exemples personnels qu'il donne sont

irréprochables. Il est le modèle achevé de toutes les vertus qu'il prêche ; son

abnégation, sa charité, son inaltérable douceur ne se démentent point un seul

instant ... Il prépare silencieusement sa doctrine par six années de la parole

et de la persuasion pendant plus d'un demi-siècle, et quant il meurt entre les

bras de ses disciples, c'est avec la sérénité d'un sage qui a pratiqué le bien

toute sa vie, et qui est assuré d'avoir trouvé le vrai.


To Gautama has consequently been granted this stupendous conquest of humanity; and -

though he discountenanced ritual, and declared himself, even when on the threshold of

Nirvâna, to be only what all other men might become - the love and gratitude of Asia,

disobeying his mandate, have given him fervent worship. Forests of flowers are daily laid

upon his stainless shrines, and countless millions of lips daily repeat the formula, "I take

refuge in Buddha!"


The Buddha of this poem - if, as need not be doubted, he really existed - was born on the

borders of Nepal about 620BC, and died about 543BV. at Kusingara in Oudh. In point of

age, therefore, most other creeds are youthful compared with this venerable religion, which

has in it the eternity of a universal hop, the immortality of a boundless love, an indestructible

element of faith in final good, and the proudest assertion ever made of human freedom. The

extravagances which disfigure the record and practice of Buddhism are to be referred to that

inevitable degradation which priesthoods always inflict upon great ideas committed to their

charge. The power and sublimity of Gautama's original doctrines should be estimated by

their influence, not by their interpreters; nor by that innocent by lazy and ceremonious

Church which has arisen on the foundations of the Buddhistic Brotherhood or 'Sangha'.


I have put my poem into a Buddhist's mouth, because to appreciate the spirit of Asiatic

thoughts, they should be regarded from the Oriental point of view; and neither the miracles

which consecrate this record, nor the philosophy which it embodies, could have been

otherwise so naturally reproduced. The doctrine of Transmigration, for instance - startling

to modern minds - was established and thoroughly accepted by the Hindus of Buddha's

time; that period when Jerusalem was being taken by Nebuchadnezzar, when Nineveh was

falling to the Medes, and Marseilles was founded by the Phocaeans. The exposition here

offered of so antique a system is of necessity incomplete, and - in obedience to the laws of

poetic art - passes rapidly by many matters philosophically most important, as well as over

the long ministry of Gautama. But my purpose has been obtained if any just conception be

here conveyed of the lofty character of this noble prince, and of the general purport of

his doctrines. As to these latter there has arisen prodigious controversy among the erudite,

who will be aware that I have taken the imperfect Buddhistic citations much as they stand in

Spence Hardy's work, and have also modified more than one passage in the received

narratives. The views, however, here indicated of 'Nirvâna', 'Dharma', 'Karma', and the

other chief features of Buddhism, are at least the fruits of considerable stuy, and also of a

firm conviction that a third of mankind would never have been brought to believe in blank

abstractions, or in Nothingness as the issue and crown of Being.


Finally, in reverence to the illustrious Promulgator of this Light of Asia, and in homage to the

many eminent scholars who have devoted noble labours to his memory, for which both

repose and ability are wanting to me, I beg that the shortcomings of my too-hurried study

may be forgiven. It has been composed in the brief intervals of days without leisure, but is

inspired by an abiding desire to aid the better mutual knowledge of East and West. The time

may come, I hope, when this book and my Indian Song of Songs, and Indian Idylls, will

preserve the memory of one who loved India and the Indian peoples.


Pogány's monotone illustrations for The Light of Asia, or Mahâbhinishkramana interpret a variety of moments from

the life and teaching of Gautama in spectacular fashion.



Our Greeting Cards and Reproduction Prints



For Pogány's work, we have prepared sets of 12 Greeting Cards displaying each of his images for The Light of Asia, or Mahâbhinishkramana and on the left, we show an example of how these Greeting Cards appear.







Code: WP LA MS(12)
Price: US$60.00


When presented on Greeting Cards, these images are prepared as tipped-on plates - in hommage to the hand-crafted

approach typical of prestige illustrated publications produced in the early decades of the 20th Century. Each card is

hand-finished, with the image presented on White card stock with an accompanying envelope. On the rear of each card

we also present some information about Willy Pogány and the profiled illustration. We have left the interior of the

cards blank so that you may write your own personal message.


Each of our large format reproductions are prepared with archival quality materials and processes to ensure many

years of enjoyment. In addition, our reproductions are accompanied by explanatory material relating to Willy Pogány

and the profiled illustration.


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In the meantime, enjoy perusing these wonderful examples of the art of Willy Pogány.



The illustrations


Plate 1

... So brought she forth her child

Pangless - he having on his perfect form

The marks, thirty and two, of blessed birth





Plate 2

Caressed it into peace with light kind palms

As soft as plantain-leaves an hour unrolled;

And while the left hand held, the right hand drew

The cruel steel forth from the wound



Plate 3

... A form

Of heavenly mould; a gait like Parvati's;

Eyes like a hind's in love-time; fact so fair

Words cannot paint its spell; and she alone

Gazed full - folding her palms across her breasts



Plate 4

These seven fears made the vision of his sleep,

But none of all his wisest dream readers

Could tell their meaning



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Plate 5

With sweet looks laid the sick head on his knee

And, while his soft touch comforted the wretch,

Asked, 'Brother, what is ill with thee? what harm

Hath fallen? wherefore const thou not arise'



Plate 6

Then lightly treading where those sleepers lay,

In the night Siddartha passed; its eyes,

The watchful stars, looked love on him; its breath,

The wandering wind, kissed his robe's fluttered fringe

Plate 7

Threaded their flesh with jungle thorns and spits,

Besmeared with mud and ashes, crouching foul

In rags of dead men wrapped about their loins



Plate 8

The fiends who war with Wisdom and the Light,

Arati, Trishna: Raga, and their crew

Of passions, horrors, ignorances, lusts,

The brood of gloom and dread; all hating Buddh,

Seeking to shake his mind



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Plate 9

First of the 'Noble Truths'; how Sorrow is

Shadow to life, moving where life doth move;

Not to be laid aside until one lays

Living aside, with all its changing states



Plate 10

The KARMA - all that total of a soul

Which is the things it did, the thoughts it had,

The 'Self' it wove - with woof of viewless time,

Crossed on the warp invisible of acts

Plate 11

Only, while turns this wheel invisible,

No pause, no peace, no staying-place can be;

Who mounts may fall, who falls will mount; the spokes

Go round unceasingly!

Plate 12

Strong limbs may dare the rugged road which storms,

Soaring and perilous, the mountain's breast;

The weak must wind from slower ledge to ledge,

With many a place of rest

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Reproduction on 12x18" sheet

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