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The Panchtantra (पंचतंत्र)

Posted by Think India

India, our country, has got abundance of cultural and social heritage. One of such heritage is Panchtantra. Panchtantra can be considered as the most ancient collection of animal fables in the form of prose and verses. These stories were actually folklores which were inscribed in some later period. The actual period of these stories is still unknown, but it is assumed to be written sometimes around 3rd century BC.

The most popular and widely accepted assumption about the origin of Panchtantra is that there was a kingdom namely MAHILAROSHYA, which was ruled by a proficient king called AMARSHAKTI. He had three lazy and rattle-head princes. The king was deeply worried for the future of his reign, as to how and who would be able to hold that kingdom properly. He wanted them to be perfect in Nitishastra.Niti can be roughly translated as "the wise conduct of life" and a Shastra is a technical or scientific treatise; thus it is considered a treatise on political science and human conduct.


No teacher in the kingdom could make this task accomplished. One day, the king was suggested by his courtiers to ask VISHNU SHARMA, a renowned teacher, who had a profound knowledge of the subject. Vishnu Sharma took the challenge of educating the princes within a time period of six months. In this way, an inter-woven series of tales emerged in the form of PANCHTANTRA. Since his wards are dimwitsVishnu Sharma decides to pass on wisdom to them in the form of stories. In these stories, he makes animals speak like human beings. Panchatantra is a collection of attractively told stories about the five ways that help the human being succeed in life. Pancha means five and tantra means ways or strategies or principles. Addressed to the king's children, the stories are primarily about statecraft and are popular throughout the world.

Apart from a short introduction — in which the author, Vishnu Sharma, is introduced as narrating the rest of the work to the princes — it consists of five parts. Each part contains a main story, called the frame story, which in turn has intertwined several other stories, as one character narrates a story to another. This goes on, thus containing more and more of stories.
The five books are called:
·         Mitra-bheda (मित्र-भेद): The Separation of Friends (The Lion and the Bull)
·          Mitra-samprāpti (मित्र संप्राप्ति ) The Gaining of Friends (The Dove, Crow, Mouse, Tortoise and Deer)
·         Kākolūkīyam: (काकोलूकीयम) Of Crows and Owls (War and Peace)
·         Labdhapraṇāśam: (लब्ध्प्रणाशम) Loss of Gains (The Monkey and the Crocodile)
·         Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ:(अपरीक्षितकारकम) Ill-Considered Action / Rash deeds (The Brahman and the Mongoose)

The work has gone through many different versions and translations from the sixth century to the present day. The original Indian version was first translated into a foreign language (Pahlavi) by Borzuya in 570CE, then into Arabic in 750. This Arabic version was translated into several languages, including Syriac, Greek, Persian, Hebrew and Spanish, and thus became the source of versions in European languages, until the English translation by Charles Wilkins of the Sanskrit Hitopadesha in 1787.

Scholars have noted the strong similarity between a few of the stories in The Panchatantra and Aesop's Fables.

The Persian lbn al-muqaffa translated the Panchatantra (in Middle Persian: Kalilag-o Demnag) from Middle Persian to Arabic as Kalīla wa Dimna. This is considered the first masterpiece of "Arabic literary prose. By the time the Sanskrit version migrated several hundred years through Pahlavi (Middle Persian) into Arabic, some important differences arose.

The Panchatantra shares many stories in common with the Buddhist JATAK KATHA, purportedly told by the historical Buddha before his death around 400 BCE. As the scholar Patrick Olivelle writes, "It is clear that the Buddhists did not invent the stories. It is quite uncertain whether the author of [the Panchatantra] borrowed his stories from the JATAKAS or the MAHABHARATA, or whether he was tapping into a common treasury of tales, both oral and literary, of ancient India.” Many scholars believe the tales were based on earlier oral folk traditions, which were finally written down, although there is no conclusive evidence.
Whatever might be the reality, there is no doubt that for more than two and a half millennia, the Panchatantra tales have regaled children and adults alike with a moral at the end of every story. Some believe that they are as old as the Rig Veda. There is also another story about these fables. According to it, these are stories Shiva told his consort Parvati. The present series is based on the Sanskrit original.


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