Panchtantra, originally written in Sanskrit, is the set of stories with some moral in it. They are universally accepted as the “storehouse of wisdom” and are known as heritage of India. It is a common misconception to consider it a collection of short stories. It is not just that but a beautiful piece of art with little stories interlaced into one another. The other important feature of it is that it has different levels of story telling in it. Indian kids grew up listening to them in parts and parcel. Some narrated them as stories, and others as anecdotes. Although, the style and sources varied, the goal of edification always remained the same.
Initially, they were written with the sole purpose of educating disciples of royal lineage. I would like to quote Wikipedia to convey the pure essence of Panchtantra. “In the Indian tradition, the Panchatantra is a nitisastra, a treatise on political science and human conduct, or nīti..” Almost two millenniums have passed since these stories were written. Even the time cannot fade the acumen of the lessons taught by Panchtantra. They still are as relevant as they were at that time. Although, traditional Indian mythology reveals at some places that Lord Shiva told these stories to his companion Goddess Parvati. But modern historians bestow this credit to sage Vishnu Sarma of 3rd century BC. All the stories have been categorized under five sections; and therefore they are known as Panchtantra. Panchtantra is combination of two words, Panch (five) and tantra (device,) literally meaning five devices. The Five parts or the books are;
▪ Mitra Bhedha (The Loss of Friends)
▪ Mitra Laabha, also called Mitra Samprāpti (Gaining Friends)
▪ Kākolūkīyam (Crows and Owls)
▪ Labdhapraṇāśam (Loss Of Gains)
▪ Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ (Ill-Considered Action / Rash deeds)
Origin of Panchtantra is story in itself and wikipedia.com narrates it as follows;
According to a legend, Vishnu Sarma was a royal instructor, who used to live in a city called Mahilaropya in southern India. The ruler of Mahilaropaya was Amarashakti, whose minister Sumati suggested appointment of Acharya Vishnu Sarma as the official instructor for the princes. Vishnusharma was known to be a savant in all the shastras and the theory of politics and diplomacy. Acting on the suggestion, the king called Acharya Vishnu Sharma and declared that if he is able to make his sons into able administrators, he would gift him a hundred villages and gold without bound. Vishnu Sarma laughed and replied, “Oh King! I do not sell my education. I have no desire of any gift. You have called me with respect and deference, therefore I pledge to make your sons into able administrators within 6 months. If I fail to fulfill my pledge, I would change my name.”
The king happily gave the responsibility of the three princes to him and continued with his work. Vishnu Sharma, however, realized that it was more difficult than he had thought to teach his new students through conventional means, and there was a need of a creative way of teaching. Therefore he made many short stories, each with a lesson, and tied them in 5 parts, called tantras. After listening and working on these stories, all the three princes became fairly educated in politics and became able administrators.
In the end of my introduction I would like to applaud the Panchtantra by these few lines that I took from “The Panchtantra” by Chandra Rajan.
Whoever always reads this work;
Whoever listens to it told;
He will never face defeat, no,
Not even from the Lords of Gods, Himself.