Panchatantra – tales from Panchatantra

panchatantra-5The Panchatantra means ‘Five Principles’ in sanskrit is an ancient Indian collection of educational stories. Scholars beleive that the orginal work in Sanskrit was composed in the 3rd century BCE by Vishnu Sharma. It is amongst the most frequently translated literary product of India around the world. Panchatantra is a nītiśāstra as per Indian tradition. It means ‘the wise conduct of life’ or a treatise on political science and human conduct. It is inspired from the Dharma and Artha sastras and quotes them extensively. It deals with principles on how to enjoy life in the world of men and the harmonious development of the powers of man, a life in which security, prosperity, resolute action, friendship, and good learning are so combined to produce joy.

Translations of Panchatantra across the world

To quote Edgerton (1924) …there are recorded over two hundred different versions known to exist in more than fifty languages, and three-fourths of these languages are extra-Indian. As early as the eleventh century this work reached Europe, and before 1600 it existed in Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, German, English, Old Slavonic, Czech, and perhaps other Slavonic languages. Its range has extended from Java to Iceland… [In India,] it has been worked over and over again, expanded, abstracted, turned into verse, retold in prose, translated into medieval and modern vernaculars, and retranslated into Sanskrit. And most of the stories contained in it have “gone down” into the folklore of the story-loving Hindus, whence they reappear in the collections of oral tales gathered by modern students of folk-stories.

Persian illustration of the Kalileh and Dimneh – 1333

Panchatantra had at least 25 recensions, including the Sanskrit Tantrākhyāyikā and the Hitopadesha. It was translated into Middle Persian in 570 CE by Borzūya. This became the basis for a Syriac translation as Kalilag and Damnag and a translation into Arabic in 750 CE by Persian scholar Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa as Kalīlah wa Dimnah. A New Persian version from the 12th century became known as Kalīleh o Demneh and this was the basis of Kashefi’s 15th century Anvār-e Soheylī. The book in different form is also known as The Fables of Bidpai (or Pilpai, in various European languages) or The Morall Philosophie of Doni.

Scholars have noted that Panchatantra as the origin/ source of various stories of the Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Nights, many Western nursery rhymes and ballads. Folklorists view India as the prime source a lot of fables found in most cultures across the world. India is described as the “chief source of the world’s fable literature” in Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore Mythology and Legend. The French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine acknowledged his indebtedness to the work in the introduction to his Second Fables – “This is a second book of fables that I present to the public… I have to acknowledge that the greatest part is inspired from Pilpay, an Indian Sage”.

Why & how Panchatantra was composed?

Long time ago in the kingdom of Mahilaropya, the king had a major issue. He had 3 sons who were not smart enough to be groomed for ruling the kingdom. The king was worried and tried to get a solution for this problem. After thinking for some time he thought if his sons knew the scriptures they would become smart very fast. Then he started looking for a teacher who can teach his sons the scriptures in the shortest possible time frame. His minister suggested the name of Vishnu Sharma a skilled pundit. But the issue was that it would have taken more than 10 years even for an intelligent person to learn the scripture. How could the learned teacher teach all these in a short span of time?

The wise pundit Vishnu Sharman assured the king that he would teach the princes about the kingly conduct through a series of stories. He said this would be more effective than teaching the scriptures. Vishnu Sharman compiled the stories in 5 volumes known as Panchatantra. The 5 volumes are as follows

1)      The Loss of friends

2)      The winning of friends

3)      Crows and Owls

4)      Loss of Gains

5)      Ill considered action


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