The Panchatantra (IAST: Pañcatantra, Sanskrit: पञ्चतन्त्र, 'Five Principles') is an ancient Indian inter-related collection of animal fables in verse and prose, in a frame story format. The original Sanskrit work, which some scholars believe was composed in the 3rd century BCE, is attributed to Vishnu Sharma. It is based on older oral traditions, including "animal fables that are as old as we are able to imagine". It is "certainly the most frequently translated literary product of India", and these stories are among the most widely known in 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.
Thus it goes by many names in many cultures. In India, it had at least 25 recensions, including the Sanskrit Tantrākhyāyikā (Sanskrit: तन्त्राख्यायिका) and inspired 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 (Arabic: كليلة ودمنة). A New Persian version from the 12th century became known as Kalīleh o Demneh (Persian: کلیله و دمنه) and this was the basis of Kashefi's 15th century Anvār-e Soheylī (Persian: انوار سهیلی, 'The Lights of Canopus'). 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 (English, 1570).
1.1 Indian version,
1.2 Mid. Persian and Arabic versions,
2 Links with other fables,
3 Origins and function,
4 Cross-cultural migrations
4.1 Early cross-cultural migrations,
4.2 How Borzuy brought the work from India,
4.3 The Arabic classic by Ibn al-Muqaffa,
4.4 Spread to the rest of Europe,
5 Modern era,
6 See also,
8 Editions and translations
8.1 Sanskrit texts,
8.2 Translations in English,
9 Further reading,
10 External links,
For lists of stories in the Panchatantra, see List of Panchatantra Stories.
The Panchatantra is an inter-woven series of colourful fables, many of which involve animals exhibiting animal stereotypes. According to its own narrative, it illustrates, for the benefit of three ignorant princes, the central Hindu principles of nīti. While nīti is hard to translate, it roughly means prudent worldly conduct, or "the wise conduct of life".
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 contains several stories "emboxed" in it, as one character narrates a story to another. Often these stories contain further emboxed stories. The stories thus operate like a succession of Russian dolls, one narrative opening within another, sometimes three or four deep. Besides the stories, the characters also quote various epigrammatic verses to make their point.
The five books are called:
Mitra-bheda: The Separation of Friends (The Lion and the Bull),
Mitra-lābha or Mitra-samprāpti: The Gaining of Friends (The Dove, Crow, Mouse, Tortoise and Deer),
Kākolūkīyam: Of Crows and Owls (War and Peace),
Labdhapraṇāśam: Loss Of Gains (The Monkey and the Crocodile),
Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ: Ill-Considered Action / Rash deeds (The Brahman and the Mongoose),
Mitra-bheda, The Separation of Friends
In the first book, a friendship arises between the lion Piṅgalaka, the king of the forest, and Sañjīvaka, a bull. Karataka ('Horribly Howling') and Damanaka ('Victor') are two jackals that are retainers to the lion king. Against Karataka's advice, Damanaka breaks up the friendship between the lion and the bull out of jealousy. This book contains around thirty stories, mostly told by the two jackals. It is the longest of the five books, making up roughly 45% of the work's length.
Mitra-samprāpti, The Gaining of Friends
Seeing the favour the rat performed to free the dove (or pigeon) and her companions, a crow decides to befriend the rat, despite the rat's initial objections. The storyline evolves as their friendship grows to include the turtle and the fawn. They collaborate to save the fawn when he is trapped, and later they work together to save the turtle, who falls in the trap. This makes up about 22% of the total length.
Kākolūkīyam, Of Crows and Owls
Traditional enemies, the crows and the owls are at war. One of the crows pretends to be an outcast from his own group to gain entry into the rival owl group; he learns their secrets and vulnerabilities. He later summons his group of crows to set fire to all entrances to the cave where the owls live and the creatures suffocate to death. This is about 26% of the total length.
Labdhapraṇāśam, Loss of Gains
The story tells of a symbiotic relationship between the monkey and the crocodile. The crocodile risks the liaison by conspiring to acquire the heart of the monkey to heal his wife. When the monkey finds out the plan, he avoids the grim fate.
Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ, Hasty Action
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Brahmin_and_the_Mongoose
A Brahman leaves his child with a mongoose friend. When he returns, he sees blood on the mongoose's mouth, and kills his friend, believing the animal killed his child. The Brahman discovers his child alive, and learns that the mongoose defended the child from a snake. He regrets having killed his friend.
Mid. Persian and Arabic versions:
The Persian Ibn 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 introduction and the frame story of the first book changed. An initial introduction explains how the book was first composed at the time of Alexander the Great's (called ذو القرنين in the book- he with 2 horns) attempt to reach India. In it an Indian King repents past misdeeds and requests an Indian sage (called Bidaba) to compose a body of work with wisdom and fables that are to be past down for the future generations. This is then stored in the great vault of kings as a national treasure. In the second part a Persian emperor hears of a great book of wisdom in the vaults of treasures in the land of the Indian kings. He sends one of his trusted aides who spends years winning the trust of the inner circle in the castle before he is able to access the book and return with it to Perisa. The Persian emperor then rewards him and allows him to translate the book into the Persian language to be read by everyone. Ibn Al-Muqaffa then follows this long introduction, interjected with many sayings of wisdom, fables and noteworthy morals, with the actual fables of Kalila and Dimna.
The two jackals' names transmogrified into Kalila and Dimna. Perhaps because the first section constituted most of the work, or because translators could find no simple equivalent in Zoroastrian Pahlavi for the concept expressed by the Sanskrit word 'Panchatantra', the jackals' names, Kalila and Dimna, became the generic name for the entire work in classical times.
After the first chapter, Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ inserted a new one, telling of Dimna's trial. The jackal is suspected of instigating the death of the bull "Shanzabeh", a key character in the first chapter. The trial lasts for two days without conclusion, until a tiger and leopard appear to bear witness against Dimna. He is found guilty and put to death.
Ibn al-Muqaffa' inserted other additions and interpretations into his 750CE "re-telling" (see Francois de Blois' Burzōy's voyage to India and the origin of the book Kalīlah wa Dimnah). The political theorist Jennifer London suggests that he was expressing risky political views in a metaphorical way. (Al-Muqaffa' was murdered within a few years of completing his manuscript). London has analysed how Ibn al-Muqaffa' could have used his version to make "frank political expression" at the 'Abbasid court (see J. London's "How To Do Things With Fables: Ibn al-Muqaffas Frank Speech in Stories from Kalila wa Dimna," History of Political Thought XXIX: 2 (2008)).
Al-Muqaffa' also changed the characterisation of some animals, perhaps to have local types which his readers would recognise. For instance, the crocodile in the fourth chapter is changed to a tortoise, and the mongoose into a weasel. The Brahman is described as a "hermit".
He begins each chapter of Kalila wa Dimna with a guiding frame-story theme that suggests key aspects of leadership:
One should always be wary if one friend accuses another of crime;,
(Added chapter) Truth will be revealed, sooner or later;,
Cooperation among friends is vital to their survival;,
Mental strength and deceit are stronger in warfare than brute force;,
One must be careful not to betray friends, especially guarding against one's own tendencies towards foolishness; and,
One should be wary of hasty judgements.,
Links with other fables:
Scholars have noted the strong similarity between a few of the stories in The Panchatantra and Aesop's Fables. Examples are 'The Ass in the Panther's Skin' and 'The Ass without Heart and Ears'. "The Broken Pot" is similar to Aesop's "The Milkmaid and Her Pail", "The Gold-Giving Snake" is similar to Aesop's "The Man and the Serpent" and "Le Paysan et Dame serpent" by Marie de France (Fables) Other well-known stories include "The Tortoise and The Geese" and "The Tiger, the Brahmin and the Jackal". Similar animal fables are found in most cultures of the world, although some folklorists view India as the prime source. 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".
The Panchatantra is the origin also of several stories in Arabian Nights, Sindbad, and of many Western nursery rhymes and ballads.
Origins and function:
In the Indian tradition, The Panchatantra is a nītiśāstra. Nīti can be roughly translated as "the wise conduct of life" and a śāstra is a technical or scientific treatise; thus it is considered a treatise on political science and human conduct. Its literary sources are "the expert tradition of political science and the folk and literary traditions of storytelling". It draws from the Dharma and Artha śāstras, quoting them extensively. It is also explained that nīti "represents an admirable attempt to answer the insistent question how to win the utmost possible joy from life in the world of men" and that nīti is "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".
The Panchatantra shares many stories in common with the Buddhist Jataka tales, 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 Jātakas or the Mahābhārata, 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. In the early 20th century, W. Norman Brown found that many folk tales in India appeared to be borrowed from literary sources and not vice-versa.
An early Western scholar who studied The Panchatantra was Dr. Johannes Hertel, who thought the book had a Machiavellian character. Similarly, Edgerton noted that "The so-called 'morals' of the stories have no bearing on morality; they are unmoral, and often immoral. They glorify shrewdness and practical wisdom, in the affairs of life, and especially of politics, of government." Other scholars dismiss this assessment as one-sided, and view the stories as teaching dharma, or proper moral conduct. Also:
On the surface, the Pañcatantra presents stories and sayings which favor the outwitting of roguery, and practical intelligence rather than virtue. However, .. From this viewpoint the tales of the Pañcatantra are eminently ethical. ... the prevailing mood promotes an earthy, moral, rational, and unsentimental ability to learn from repeated experience.
As Olivelle observes:
Indeed, the current scholarly debate regarding the intent and purpose of the 'Pañcatantra' -- whether it supports unscrupulous Machiavellian politics or demands ethical conduct from those holding high office -- underscores the rich ambiguity of the text.
In the first frame story, the evil Damanaka ('Victor') wins, and not his good brother Karataka. The persistent theme of evil-triumphant in Kalila and Dimna Part One, frequently outraged readers among Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders who encountered the work in translation. Some scholars believe that Ibn al-Muqaffa inserted a chapter at the end of Part One, which puts Dimna in jail, on trial and eventually to death, in an effort to assuage religious opponents of the work.
The pre-Islamic original, The Panchatantra, contains no such dogmatic moralising. As Joseph Jacobs observed in 1888, "... if one thinks of it, the very raison d'être of the Fable is to imply its moral without mentioning it."
See also: Hitopadesha
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 Borzūya in 570CE, then into Arabic in 750. This became the source of versions in European languages, until the English translation by Charles Wilkins of the Sanskrit Hitopadesha in 1787.
Early cross-cultural migrations:
The Panchatantra approximated its current literary form within the 4th-6th centuries CE, though originally written around 200 BCE. No Sanskrit texts before 1000 CE have survived. According to Indian tradition, it was written by Pandit Vishnu Sharman, a sage. Buddhist monks on pilgrimage took the influential Sanskrit text (probably both in oral and literary formats) north to Tibet and China and east to South East Asia. These led to versions in all Southeast Asian countries, including Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, Javanese and Lao derivatives.
How Borzuy brought the work from India:
The Panchatantra also migrated westwards, during the Sassanid reign of Khosru I Anushiravan. Around 570 CE his notable physician Borzuy translated the work from Sanskrit into the Middle Persian language, and transliterated the main characters as Karirak ud Damanak.
According to the story told in the Shāh Nāma (The Book of the Kings, Persia's late 10th century national epic by Ferdowsi), Borzuy sought his king's permission to make a trip to Hindustan in search of a mountain herb he had read about that is "mingled into a compound and, when sprinkled over a corpse, it is immediately restored to life." He did not find the herb, but was told by a wise sage of
"a different interpretation. The herb is the scientist; science is the mountain, everlastingly out of reach of the multitude. The corpse is the man without knowledge, for the uninstructed man is everywhere lifeless. Through knowledge man becomes revivified."
The sage pointed to the book Kalila, and Borzuy obtained the king's permission to read and translate the book, with the help of some Pandits.
The Arabic classic by Ibn al-Muqaffa:
Borzuy's 570 CE Pahlavi translation (Kalile va Demne, now lost) was translated into Syriac. Nearly two centuries later, it was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Muqaffa around 750 CE under the Arabic title, Kalīla wa Dimna. After the Arab invasion of Persia (Iran), Ibn al-Muqaffa's version (two languages removed from the pre-Islamic Sanskrit original) emerged as the pivotal surviving text that enriched world literature. Ibn al-Muqqaffa's work is considered a model of the finest Arabic prose style, and "is considered the first masterpiece of Arabic literary prose."
Some scholars believe that Ibn al-Muqaffa's translation of the second section, illustrating the Sanskrit principle of Mitra Laabha (Gaining Friends), became the unifying basis for the Brethren of Purity (Ikwhan al-Safa) -- the anonymous 9th century CE encyclopedists whose prodigious literary effort, Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Sincerity, codified Indian, Persian and Greek knowledge. A suggestion made by Goldziher, and later written on by Philip K. Hitti in his History of the Arabs, proposes that "The appellation is presumably taken from the story of the ringdove in Kalilah wa-Dimnah in which it is related that a group of animals by acting as faithful friends (ikhwan al-safa) to one another escaped the snares of the hunter." This story is mentioned as an exemplum when the Brethren speak of mutual aid in one risaala (treatise), a crucial part of their system of ethics.
Spread to the rest of Europe:
Almost all pre-modern European translations of the Panchatantra arise from this Arabic version. From Arabic it was re-translated into Syriac in the 10th or 11th century, into Greek in 1080, into 'modern' Persian by Abu'l Ma'ali Nasr Allah Munshi in 1121, and in 1252 into Spain (old Castilian, Calyla e Dymna).
Perhaps most importantly, it was translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Joel in the 12th century. This Hebrew version was translated into Latin by John of Capua as Directorium Humanae Vitae, or "Directory of Human Life", and printed in 1480, and became the source of most European versions. A German translation, Das Der Buch Beyspiele, of the Panchatantra was printed in 1483, making this one of the earliest books to be printed by Gutenberg's press after the Bible.
The Latin version was translated into Italian by Antonfrancesco Doni in 1552. This translation became the basis for the first English translation, in 1570: Sir Thomas North translated it into Elizabethan English as The Fables of Bidpai: The Morall Philosophie of Doni (reprinted by Joseph Jacobs, 1888). La Fontaine published The Fables of Bidpai in 1679, based on "the Indian sage Pilpay".
It was the Panchatantra that served as the basis for the studies of Theodor Benfey, the pioneer in the field of comparative literature. His efforts began to clear up some confusion surrounding the history of the Panchatantra, culminating in the work of Hertel (Hertel 1908, Hertel 1912, Hertel 1915) and Edgerton (1924). Hertel discovered several recensions in India, in particular the oldest available Sanskrit recension, the Tantrakhyayika in Kashmir, and the so-called North Western Family Sanskrit text by the Jain monk Purnabhadra in 1199 CE that blends and rearranges at least three earlier versions. Edgerton undertook a minute study of all texts which seemed "to provide useful evidence on the lost Sanskrit text to which, it must be assumed, they all go back", and believed he had reconstructed the original Sanskrit Panchatantra; this version is known as the Southern Family text.
Among modern translations, Arthur W. Ryder's translation (Ryder 1925), translating prose for prose and verse for rhyming verse, remains popular. In the 1990s two English versions of the Panchatantra were published, Chandra Rajan's translation (based on the Northwestern text) by Penguin (1993), and Patrick Olivelle's translation (based on the Southern text) by Oxford University Press (1997). Olivelle's translation was republished in 2006 by the Clay Sanskrit Library.
Recently Ibn al-Muqaffa's historical milieu itself, when composing his masterpiece in Baghdad during the bloody Abbasid overthrow of the Umayyad dynasty, has become the subject (and rather confusingly, also the title) of a gritty Shakespearean drama by the multicultural Kuwaiti playwright Sulayman Al-Bassam. Ibn al-Muqqafa's biographical background serves as an illustrative metaphor for today's escalating bloodthirstiness in Iraq -- once again a historical vortex for clashing civilisations on a multiplicity of levels, including the obvious tribal, religious and political parallels.
The novelist Doris Lessing notes in her introduction to Ramsay Wood's 1980 "retelling" of the first two of the five Panchatantra books, that
"... it is safe to say that most people in the West these days will not have heard of it, while they will certainly at the very least have heard of the Upanishads and the Vedas. Until comparatively recently, it was the other way around. Anyone with any claim to a literary education knew that the Fables of Bidpai or the Tales of Kalila and Dimna -- these being the most commonly used titles with us -- was a great Eastern classic. There were at least twenty English translations in the hundred years before 1888. Pondering on these facts leads to reflection on the fate of books, as chancy and unpredictable as that of people or nations."
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license