INTRODUCTIONThe Panchatantra is a legendary collection of originally Indian animal fables in verse and prose. Some scholars believe that the original text of the Panchatantra in Sanskrit was probably written in the 3rd century BCE by a great Hindu scholar, Pandit Vishnu Sharma. However, it is based on older oral tradition, its origin going back to the period of the Rig-Veda and Upanishads (from 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C.). According to some scholars of the Indo-European languages, the Panchatantra is the oldest collection of Indian fables surviving. According to To quote Edgerton (1924), It is "certainly the most frequently translated literary product of India". And these stories are among the most widely known in the world.
Some etymologists suggest that the term 'Panchatantra' is a combination of two Sanscrit words, 'Pancha' and 'Tantra'. Pancha means five and tantra, systems or parts. Panchatantra refers to a collection of specially composed tales divided into five tantras of how to deal with people in life. The five principles that are highlighted in Panchatantra are:
Mitra Bheda (Enstrangement of Friends): This tantra gives a deep understanding of how good friends can be lost. The stories mention how opponents or enemies can create many situations due to which good friends can be lost, and help the enemy become stronger and achieve its goal.
Mitra Samprapti (Winning of Friends): This tantra gives insight into how lost friends can be gained back or new friends made. It also teaches how people or friends with mutual interest can join together to achieve a common goal and come out of difficult situations.
Kakolukiyam (Of Crows & Owls): This tantra teaches how misunderstanding between enemy can be created using decite and duplicity, to weaken their unity. In the story crows and owls are portrayed as the opponent parties and how the crows finally destroyed the oppressing owls. This tantra is also known as - Suhrudbheda or "Causing Dissension Between Friends".
Labdha Pranasam (Loss of Gains): This tantra gives an insight into how gains made earlier can be lost if proper care is not taken or the consequences not analysed.
Aparikshita Karakam (Rash Deeds): This tantra teaches about consequences of taking action in haste without knowing the details or the truth.
The Panchatantra is essentially based on one of the branches of science known by the Indians as the 'Nitishastra' meaning 'A book of wise conduct in life' in Sanskrit. The Panchatantra is woven round the frame of a tale of a king who entrusts his three sons to a learned court Brahmin, called Pandit Vishnu Sharma, to enrich their minds with moral values and governing skills within a time span of six months. The Brahmin promises to educate them and takes them to his 'ashrama' (hermitage). There he recites to them his specially composed tales came to be known as Panchatantra.
However the stories hold valid credit in showing the mankind in general the ways to understand people, to choose reliable and trustworthy friends, to meet difficulties and solve problems with tact and wisdom, and to live in peace and harmony in the face of hypocrisy, deceit and many pitfalls of life.
Both animals and human are portrayed as the characters of the Panchatantra tales. During all these centuries, many authors and publishers worked hard to make these fables accessible and readable by a layman. These extraordinary tales are liked, even loved by people of all age group because of the fact that they serve as the best guide to instill moral values in children with each tale telling a moral lesson in its end. Many of the stories show how the seemingly weak and powerless can survive and prosper by using their wits and playing on the pride and ignorance of those more powerful. That is one more reason they are so appealing. The Panchtantra is a great book where plants and animals can speak and converse with human beings too.
SPREAD OF PANCHTANTRAIn course of time, travelers took these stories to countries like Persia, Arabia, Greece and Europe. Different versions of the Panchatantra was believed to be composed first in the Pahlavi language of pre-Islamic Iran sometime in the 6th century A.D, followed by an Arabic one in the 8th century A.D. The Greek translation was made towards the close of the 11th century A.D, from which it was translated into various European languages. This accounts for the fact that to many Westerners, some of the stories have a familiar feel. So far it has been translated into more than 50 languages worldwide. The gypsies played a laudable part in spreading these tales in Europe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The narration of the author is both so artistic and elegant that the monotony of the study of philosophy is not all felt. The tale is narrated in prose while the exposition of a philosophical and moral theme is put in verse. The maxims or wise sayings are also expressed in verse. One story is set within another or one fable follows another to keep flow through all the five 'tantras.' People and animals are constantly changing places and they share the same characteristics of love and hatred, compassion and wit, selfless courage and base cowardice, generosity and meanness. Each story has a moral and philosophical theme which has stood the test of time which is true even in this modern times of scientific evolution.