The 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 PANCHTANTRA
In 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.
The Panchatantra is a rare book, for in no book will you find philosophy, psychology, politics,
music, astronomy, human relationship, etc., all discussed together in such a simple and
yet elegant style. This is exactly what Pandit Vishnu Sharma had in mind, to give as much
knowledge to the princes as possible. And no doubt not only the princes but also millions of
listeners and readers benefited from this most unique work from time immemorial.