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India 's Ancient Fables - Panchatantra Five Principles
Lion and Jackal
Panchatantra Five Principles
The Panchatantra Five Principles of ancient India is a collection of fables originally written in Sanskrit. It is believed to have been written by Vishnu Sharma.
Fables are a much loved part of folklore and one of the most enduring forms of folk literature. Almost every country has their own collection of fables that has become an important part of their literary history.
Vishnu Sharma was an Indian scholar and author whose date of birth and death are not known for certain, but some scholars believe he lived in the 3rd century BCE,the beginning of the Gupta era, which was considered the Golden Age of India.
From about 320 to 550 CE, this era, which was founded by Maharaja Sri Gupta, was filled with peace and prosperity. Gupta and his descendants encouraged scientific and artistic pursuits. The Panchatantra was written during this era and these works became some of the most widely translated writings of non-religious pieces in history.
...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.— Franklin Edgerton, 1924
Legend of the Creation of Panchatantra
The introduction to the Panchatantra tells how Vishnu Sharma created the collection of fables.
There was a ruler of a kingdom who had three sons. The king, whose name was Sudarshan, was apparently quite intelligent and powerful, yet his sons were not a source of pride to the king. The sons had no inclination or ability to learn anything, in fact they were quite unimaginative, slow and rather stupid. In desperation, the king turned to his counselors for advice.
Only one of the ministers, Sumati, seemed to make sense to Sudarshan. Sumati told the king that the things the princes needed to learn, politics, diplomacy, and the sciences, were difficult and would take a lifetime of hard study and dedication. Now, you see, both Sudarshan and Sumati knew that the princes were incapable of such strict discipline.
Sumati gave the suggestion that rather than having the princes learn scriptures and texts that it would be better to somehow teach them the wisdom that existed in those works, which were essential attributes of the scriptures and texts.
Sumati said the most likely man to take on that task was Vishnu Sharma, the aged scholar. The king wasted no time in inviting Vishnu to court and offered him a hundred land grants if he could turn the princes into learned scholars. Vishnu refused the gift, saying he does not sell knowledge and said he will take on the task and within six months make the princes wise so they will be able to rule as wisely as their father.
Now, the method Vishnu devised was to gather and adapt ancient stories that had been told in India. He then created an interesting, entertaining work of five parts which he called the Five Principles and that became the Panchatantra. Pancha means five and tantra means treatises. The five parts he titled
- Mitra-bheda: The Separation of Friends (The Lion and the Bull)
- Mitra-labha or Mitra-samprapti: The Gaining of Friends (The Dove, Crow, Mouse, Tortoise and Deer)
- Kakolukiyam: Of Crows and Owls (War and Peace)
- Labdhapranasam: Loss Of Gains (The Monkey and the Crocodile)
- Apariksitakarakam: Ill-Considered Action / Rash deeds (The Brahman and the Mongoose)
These Five Principles (or Five Books) are a succession of animal fables. Each fable is woven into the next fable in the order given above.
The princes learned, became wise, and the king was very pleased.
The Lion and the Bull
Animal fables are presented in short story or poetic format in which animals talk. Fables are a traditional form of allegorical writing. Allegory in literature is used to give to the reader an idea, principle or meaning, such as a moral. It has a metaphorical meaning with symbolic representation - this is usually presented in rhetorical allegory which conveys a meaning other than the words that are spoken in the fable.
The Panchatantra represents important traditions in animal fables. The Panchatantra in the Indian tradition was written by Vishnu Sharma, who presented it as a nitisastra. Niti basically means "the wise conduct of life", and sastra is seen as a treatise on political science and human conduct. Therefore it combines the traditions of folk tales with the expertise of political science, which seems to be quite technical, yet it does produce some endearing fables that teach a wisdom for living life in the best way possible.
Many slightly different versions of the Panchatantra developed as it was spread from country to country. In the Indian version there are Five Principles (books), each containing a main story and others in succession to reinforce the message, or lesson. Some scholars note the strong similarity between Panchatantra and the fables of Aesop.
Of Crows and Owls
The Rabbit and the Elephant
One great example of how to deal with an opponent without causing yourself or your group more harm is shown in the fable of 'The Rabbit And The Elephant' in the Third Principle titled "Of Crows And Owls" which teaches how to get along with opponents. This particular story is from the Hitopadesha collection.
In this fable there is an elephant king who cared for his large herd in the jungle. When the source of their water was drying up, the king sent out scouts to find water. One scout found a large lake far off in the jungle, so the herd travelled there.
Living near this lake was a colony of rabbits. As the elephants sensed the water they rushed to it, charging through the rabbit colony and killing thousands of rabbits in their hurry to get to the water.
The rabbit king addressed all his colony in an emergency meeting, saying there must be urgent action taken in order to prevent more deaths and damage. He asked all to find a way to save the colony.
As they all held discussions, one little rabbit came forth and addressed the king, saying, "Your majesty, please send me as your messenger to the leader of the elephants and I will find a solution to the problem." So the king sent him off with blessings.
When the rabbit found the elephant herd he stood atop a rock and addressed the elephant king.
"O great leader of elephants, please hear me, I am a messenger of the Mighty Moon. He sends you an urgent message. But before I deliver the message, I want you to remember that I am only a messenger and you must not be angry with me or harm me. I am only doing my duty."
Being very impressed with the courage of the little rabbit, the elephant king asked him to speak his message.
The Moon says that you are a mighty and wise leader and you brought your herd safely here to drink water and saved their lives. But you killed thousands of rabbits on your way to the lake and soiled the waters of the holy lake that belongs to me. The rabbits are under my special protection. The king of rabbits lives with me. So I ask you not to kill any more rabbits or something terrible will happen to you and your herd.
The elephant king was shocked and said, "O Rabbit, you are right. We have unknowingly killed many rabbits on our way to the lake. I shall see to it that you do not suffer any more. I shall request the Moon to forgive me for the sins of my herd. Please tell me what to do."
The rabbit took the king to the lake to meet Moon, where it was reflected within the waters. The king bowed to Moon and dipped his trunk into the water. As the water was disturbed the reflection of Moon moved to and fro.
Rabbit said Moon was angrier because the elephant touched the holy waters. The elephant king bowed his head and begged Moon to forgive him. He then promised never to touch the waters of the holy lake again - nor would his herd ever again harm the rabbits who were so dear to Moon.
The elephants left the area and went away. Soon the rains came and all lived happily.
~ ~ ~
Rabbit and Elephant
The lesson to be learned is that when your opponent causes you harm, to retaliate with anger and brawn may bring about more harm. To approach with the right words, technique and suggestions works to the advantage of yourself.
This lesson is valuable even today in such places as forums where each person has their own purpose or beliefs. To approach each other with the right words, technique and suggestions is beneficial for all.
© 2015 Phyllis Doyle Burns