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The Panchatantra is a compilation of inter-woven series of tales in prose and poetry, mostly animal fables. It was compiled in Sanskrit (Hindu) and Pali (Bhuddhist). The compilation, attributed to , is considered by most scholars to be dated around 3rd century BC, and to be based on older oral civilization. Through cross-border mutations, adaptations and translations, the Panchatantra remains the most popular work of literature, especially amongst storytellers.
Tales of this ancient Indian work, the original texts of which is now long lost, portray the origins of the subcontinent's language and primitive lifestyle - apart from its objectives, according to its own narrative, to illustrate the primary Hindu principles of nïti - the wise conduct of life.
The Panchatantra consists of 5 parts, apart from a brief introductory narrative. Each of the five parts revolve around a frame story, which further contain "emboxed" stories, sometime three to four levels deep. These emboxed stories snap from each other, unexpectedly and irregularly at times, to sustain attention:
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Panchatantra Stories in English, With Pictures
Once upon a time, sitting by the fireside, man told his first story, and built the foundations of his own rule over his world. Stories gave the world shape. They established orders and challenged them, showed man the road to the future and helped him unravel the labyrinths of the past.
Through stories, man trapped the world around him, and bent it to his will. Man knew ... stories were what inspired him, made him stronger, better, wiser. Stories were what made man realize that there was more to life than mere existence. There was something to look up to, something to aim for, somewhere to go ...
From original Sanskrit manuscripts to short stories in English, our efforts are dedicated to 'The Panchatantra', the oldest collection of Indian fables surviving:
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Moral Short-Stories from the Panchatantra, in Sanskrit language with picturesThe Panchatantra was composed, in Sanskrit language, in ancient times. This book of five volumes, has travelled and been translated all over the world, primarily because of the witty moral values of the short stories and elegant representation of framed-stories. Despite the fact that the original work is long lost, the texts in Sanskrit scriptures are available here:
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The Panchatantra is a unique contribution of India to the world, and particularly to world literature, because of its elegant style in which it packages the wisdom of the ages. As noted by Professor Johannes Hertel, the German scholar who authored 'Das Pancatantra' (1914):
"Panchatantra has made an unparalled progress from its native land over all the civilized parts of the globe, and for over two thousand years delighted the young and old, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, high and low. It continues to delight to this day. He adds, Even the greatest obstacles of language, custom and religion have not been able to check that triumphal progress."
Franklin Edgerton, the English scholar who authored 'The Panchatantra Reconstructed', writes:
"Of all the works of Indian literarture, The Panchatantra has the most profound influence on world. No book other than Bible enjoyed such intensive worldwide circulation as the Indian collection of fables, 'The Panchatantra'."
Arthur W. Ryder, the American Oriental scholar who translated Panchatantra from Sanskrit (1949), writes:
"Panchatantra reveals to man, woman, or child that basic knowledge of wisdom makes one's life richer, happier, and fuller."
Many works of modern literature have directly or indirectly sourced from the Panchatantra, which can be traced to John Gower, Giovanni Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer and even William Shakspeare's works. Jonathan Scott epitomized the Bengal manuscript as 'Tales, Anecdotes and Letters' in 1800 AD.
Max Mueller, the German scholar, opines that India excercised great intellectual life, and finds India as the oldest, wisest and most enlightened nation in the world. Without explicitly mentioning Panchatantra, he goes on to express his views that India dazzled with fabulous antiquity, and with its literature.
Theodor Benfey, who authored 'Pantschatantra: Fúnf Búcher indischer Fabeln, Märchen und Erzählungen' (1859) wrote in his preface that the Panchatantra:
"... continues to delight everyone, with no barriers to language, customs or religion."
Doris Lessing, the popular novelist, notes:
"... it is safe to say that most people in the West these days will not have heard of it, while they will certianly at the very least have heard of the 'Upanishads' and the 'Vedas'. Until comparatively recently, it was the other way round. 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 20 English translations in the hundred years before 1888. Pondering on these tracks lead to reflection on the fate of the books, as chancy and unpredictable as that of people or nations."
Jean de La Fontaine, the French fabulist, acknowledged his indebtedness to the Panchatantra for his works:
"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."
History is evidence of the impact that Panchatantra had on early scholars. As early as 570 AD, Burzoy, the court physician to the Emperor of Iran, translated the Panchatantra into Persian (Pahalvi), which was again translated into Syriac by Buda Abdul Inu. Rudaki translated Burzoy's work into Persian verse. Panchatantra's Pahlavi translation was used for Arabic 'Alila wa Dimna', Old Syriac 'Kalilag and Damnag', John of Capua's 'Directorium Vitae Humanae', 'Buch der Beispiele der alten Weisen' in German and 'Doni's La Philosophy Morale' by Sir Thomas North. In London 1888 AD, Joseph Jacobs, published 'Fables of Bidpai' (Pilapay), and the 1915 'Das Pancatantra' by Professor Johannes Hertel was based on Purnabhadra's recension of Panchatantra in 1199 AD.
Many of the surviving historical manuscripts are found in Bhandarkar Library, Pune (India); Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran; Oxford library, Indian Office Library, London (UK); Tibet and Japan.
Being the most translated, and most adapted literary book in the world, over thousands of years, this 'Gem of Indian literature' remains the 'crown jewel of World literature':
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