The Pancatantra

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Item Code: IHL402
Author: Chandra Rajan
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 1993
ISBN: 9780144000715
Pages: 453
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 7.8 inch X 5.1 inch
Weight 415 gm
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Book Description


The Panćatantra

Translated from the Sanskrit with an introduction by Chandra Rajan


To Tangerina,

a great lady of elegance,

sensitivity and intelligence,

and to her delightful family,

special in individual ways:

I have learnt much from them.

Key to the Pronunciation of Sanskrit Words


The line on top of a vowel indicates that it is long.

a(short) as the u in but

ā(long) as the a in far

i.(short) as the i in sit

ī(long) as the ee in sweet

u(short) as the u in put

ū (long) as the oo in cool

rwith a dot is a vowel like the i in first or u in further

eis always a long vowel like a in mate

ai as the i in pile

o is always long as the o in pole

ow as the ow in owl


k, b and p are the same as in English

kh is aspirated

g as in goat

gh is aspirated

ć is ch as in church or cello

ćh is aspirated as in chhota

jas in jewel

jh is aspirated

t and d are hard when dotted below as in talk and dot

tt is the aspirated sound

dd is aspirated

n when dotted is a dental; the tongue has to curl back to touch the palate.

n as in king

tundotted is a th as in thermal th is aspirated

d undotted is a soft sound—there is no corresponding

English sound, the Russian 'da' is the closest. dh is aspirated ph and bh are aspirated The Sanskrit v is an English w

There are three sibilants in Sanskrit: S as in song, as in shover and a palatal Ś which is in between, e.g. Siva.


key to the Pronunciation of Sanskrit Words






The Panćatantra : Preamble


Book I : Estrangement of Friends


Frame Story: Lively and Tawny


The Monkey and the Wedge


The Jackal and the Battle-drum


Fine Tooth and the Palace Sweeper


The Holy Man and the Swindler


and The Weaver's Unfaithful Wife


The Crow and the Serpent


The Crab and the Crane


Dim Wit and the Hare


The Weaver and Princess Charming


The Grateful Beasts and the Ungrateful Man


Crawly, the bedbug and Drone, the wasp


The Blue Jackal


The Owl and the Wild Goose


The Camel, the Crow and Others


The Lion and the Chariot-maker


The Lapwing who defied the Ocean


The Turtle and the Geese


The Three Fishes


The Sparrow and the Tusker


The Ancient Wild Goose and the Fowler


The Lion and the Lone Ram


The Jackal who outwitted the Lion


Strong and the Naked Mendicant


The Maiden wedded to a Snake


Death and Little Blossom


The Tailor-bird and the Ape


Fair Mind and Foul Mind


The Foolish Heron


The Preposterous Lie


The Twin Parrots


The Three Friends and the Noble Robber


and Faithful but Foolish


Book II : Winning of Friends


Frame Story: The Crow, the Mole, the Deer


and the Tortoise


Bharunda Birds


Goldy's Sorrows


Mother Śāndilee


The Greedy Jackal


The man who received what was his


Little Simple, the weaver


Hangballs and the Vixen


The Mice that freed the Elephants


Speckle's Captivity


Book III : Of Crows and Owls


Frame Story: Of Crows and Owls


How the birds picked a king


The Hare who fooled the Elephant-King


The Cat's Judgement


The Brāhmana and his Goat


The Ants who killed the Snake


The Serpent who paid in gold


The Golden Geese of Lotus Lake


The Dove who sacrificed himself


Old Man, Young Wife


The Brāhmana, the Robber, and the Demon


The Snake in the Prince's belly


The Chariot-maker cuckolded


The Mouse-Maiden who wed a mouse


The Bird who dropped golden turd


The Talking Cave


The Frogs that rode snakeback


The Brāhmana's revenge


Book IV : Loss of Gains


Frame Story: The Ape and the Crocodile


The Frog-King who overreached himself


Long Ears and Dusty


The Potter who played the hero


The Jackal mothered by the Lioness


The Ungrateful Wife


Two Henpecked Husbands


The Ass in tiger-skin


The Unfaithful Wife


The Officious Sparrow


The Smart Jackal


The Dog who went abroad


Book V : Rash Deeds


Frame Story: The Barber who slaughtered


the Monks


The Brāhmani and the faithful Mongoose


The Four Treasure-seekers


The Scholars who brought a dead lion to life


Thousandwit, Hundredwit, Singlewit


The Singing Ass 1


The Dull-witted Weaver


The Day-dreaming Brahmin


The Ape's Revenge


The Credulous Ogre


The Three-breasted Princess


The Brāhmana who asked


Notes and References



The authorship, dates and provenance of ancient Sanskrit texts have always been problematic. The Panćatantra is no exception. And in this case the problem is further complicated by the fact that the work belongs to the age-old oral tradition of which story telling is an important part.

Storytelling has its origins in pre-literate societies of the Distant past, where it was a communal activity. No story is ever 'told' the same way twice; no song is ever 'sung' the same way twice. Names and dates are difficult to pin accurately and securely to works in the oral tradition.

The author of the Panćatantra is a storyteller of hoary antiquity, an almost legendary figure like Vyāsa (a word that literaily means 'compiler' or 'editor') whom tradition declares to be the author of the Mahābhārata. In fact we know a little more about the author of the Mahābhārata than we do about the author of the Panćatantra. Tradition ascribes this fabulous work to one Visnu Śarma. But we know nothing about this gifted author who, judging from the artistry displayed in the text he is credited with having composed, brought storytelling to such heights of sophistication; who in fact created a literary genre of storytelling; who had many imitators over the centuries, none of them his equal.

Sometimes the name Visnu Śarma is given as one of the names of Visnu gupta Ćānakya (son of Ćanaka), the author of the Arthaśāstra. But there is no evidence to show that the author of the Arthaśāstra also wrote a Nitiśātra, the term used to describe the Panćatantra; there is nothing to prove the contrary either.

Who then is Visnu Śarma? His name occurs in the Preamble to the text, nowhere else. He is a celebrated teacher living in Mahilāropya, a place unidentified except by H. H. Wilson who suggests that it might be Mayilāpura, Peacock City, now part of the capital of Tamil Nadu. As he says of himself, he is eighty years of age, has no worldly desires and concerns; and he is successful in educating three very refractory princes in six months time through storytelling, so that they become expert in the art of government. Then he fades away leaving behind an impersonal voice. This is not much to go upon. And what little there is about Visnu Śarma is all in the text; it is part of the story-book world.

We are therefore left with two possibilities to consider in relation to the identity of the author of the Panćatantra. Visnu Śarma might have been the name of the storyteller/author who had the imagination and the artistry to first shape a floating body of tales—popular and moral tales, fairytales and folklore—into the artistic whole with the complex and unique structure and well-defined purpose that the Panćatantra is. The names of the storytellers who went before him and who come after have perhaps been subsumed under his revered name—not an uncommon practice in India, as in the case of the Mahābhārata and of the Nātya Śāstra of Bharatamuni. It is reasonable therefore, to consider a multiple authorship for the Panćatantra.

The other Possibility is that Visnu Śarma is himself a fictional character like the numerous characters, human and nonhuman in the Pantćtantra that have delighted children of all ages in all places at all times, and still continue to do so. It is noteworthy that there is an anonymous narrator in the Preamble to the text, who introduces Visnu Śarma, the first of a series of narrators, (perhaps an archetypal storyteller) and the three princes, the very first audience (see pp. xlviii-il of the introduction). Who this anonymous narrator was we shall never know. And we have been pushed into a region of anonymity.

Anonymity is a distinctive feature of much of Indian art in the past. We have therefore to rest content with the realization that we do not know who the author of the Panćatantra is, where he lived and composed his great work, and when. Tradition is important in oral transmission. But tradition says little here; it merely provides an ascription, a name.

What's in a name, one might ask: a great deal if they are the names of the delightful characters in the Panćatantra. Nearly all the names in this work are descriptive of some essential trait, physical or otherwise of the characters. For instance, Pingalaka, Tawny, the lion in the frame story of Book I, is so named because of the reddish-brown coat of lions, but another lion is named Mandamati, Dimwit (I. Dimwit and the Hare), because he meets his end on account of his stupidity. Sūćīmukha, Needlebeak (IV. The Officious Sparrow) aptly describes a weaver bird, and so on. The choice of names is deliberate, as in some of the novels of Thomas Hardy, and adds to the total meaning of the story. I have therefore translated most of them. In a few cases, the Sanskrit names have been retained, because they are untranslatable, for example, Nāduka in the tale of 'The Preposterous Lie', (I. tale 29); or because the name sounds silly or cumbrous in English—Mahilāropya, City Ornamented with women, Yajnadatta, Gift of Sacrifice (I. The Grateful Beasts and the Ungrateful Mm).

The names of the two jackals, Karataka and Damanaka, in the frame story of Book I form a special case of some interest. I have called them Wary and Wily; these are not translations of the Sanskrit names. In English these two names would be Little Crow and Little Tamer, neither of which convey what the Sanskrit names express so well. Karata is one of the many words in Sanskrit for a crow. It is a common belief that the crow is the most intelligent of birds, wise, shrewd, cautious, with good judgement; just the qualities we see in the first jackal whom I have named Wary. (The suffix 'ka' denotes the diminutive form of a word). Whether the second jackal, Damanaka, is a 'tamer' is highly doubtful; but wily he certainly is; a mean and conniving rascal. And the name Wily seemed appropriate, in contrast to Wary.

Dharma and nīti are two all-embracing words that cannot be translated by a single English word. In most contexts where the word occurs I have translated dharma as the Law; the moral law of the universe in its physical and ethical aspects which implies the existence of order at all levels. Nīti, I have rendered by the phrase, 'living wisely and well in the truest sense of these terms'. These two important terms have been fully explained in the introduction, on pp. xlii, xliii and xlv.

I conclude this foreword with a few words on the jacket design. It is a reproduction of an illustration in a manuscript copy of the original Kalila wa Dimnah, the Arabic version of the Panćatantra done in Iran in AD 870 (see p.xv of the introduction for details). This manuscript in Arabic script dates from 897 H (AD 1491) and has recently been acquired by the National Museum, New Delhi. It was inscribed and illustrated somewhere in India. The illustration is for the frame story of Book III of the Panćatantra—Of Crows and Owls.

I take this opportunity to express my thanks to Dr Naseem Akhtar, Keeper, Manuscripts Section, the National Museum, New Delhi, for showing me this manuscript copy of the original Kalila wa Dimnah and for arranging to provide the slide for the jacket design.

Makara Samkrānti, Vikrama 2050 (14 January 1993) New Delhi.

Chandra Rajan


Since then, this work on wise conduct (nātiśāstra1) has become celebrated as an excellent means of awakening young minds. It has travelled far and wide over this earth.

This is how the Preamble (Kathamukha) of the Panćatantra speaks of itself before it closes with the traditional phalasruti (Preamble. 3), the declaration of benefits that are gained by the proper study of a text. And this is no idle claim, but a claim amply justified. For this work, the product of the genius of Visnu Śarma, has indeed travelled far and wide over the globe in many guises—translations, transcreations and adaptations.

As Johannes Hertel who spent many years in the study and editing of the textual corpus of the Panćatantra writes in the Preface (p. vii) to his Das Panchatantra(1914):

This book treats of the history of a work which has made an unparalleled triumphal progress from its native land over all the civilized parts of the globe and which for more than fifteen hundred years has delighted young and old, educated and uneducated, rich find poor, high and low, and still delights them. Even the greatest obstacles—whether of language or customs or religion— have not been able to check that triumphal progress.

That is a fair and accurate assessment of the extraordinary

* Key to quotations from and references the translation of the text: The books or tantras are referred to by roman numerals; the tales and verses by Indian numerals in universal use; lines of prose in the translation are referred to by using points and plus and minus signs after a verse number; eg. II.3.-6 refers to the sixth prose line-before verse 3 and II.3.+2 to the second line after verse 3.

popularity of this fabulous work. According to Hertel, there are more than 200 versions of the Panćatantra in fifty languages, most of them non-Indian. Carried by scholars from the land of its origin to other lands and peoples, as many Indian texts were during the early centuries AD, the Panćatantra started on its 'triumphal progress' before AD 570, initially as a version in Pehlevi (Middle Persian) during the reign of Khosro Anushirvan (AD 550-578), Emperor of Iran. This version was executed under; the Emperor's orders by his court physician, Burzoeu. The original Pehlevi version was unfortunately lost, but not before a Syriac version by a priest named Bud, in AD 570, had been done entitled Kalilag wa Dimnag, followed by one in Arabic, the Kalilah wa Dimnah by Abdallah Ibn al-Moqaffa, a Zoroastrian convert to Islam, AD 750. The two words in the titles, Kalilag-Kalilah and Dimnag-Dimnah, are Arabizations of the names of the two jackals in the Sanskrit original—Karataka and Damanaka—in the frame story of Book I, Estrangement of Friends; Wary and Wily in our translation.

The Arabic version is the parent of nearly all the European versions of the Panćatantra known generally in medieval Europe as The Fables of Bidpai. Between AD eleventh and eighteenth centuries, versions of the Panćatantra had been made in Greek, Latin, German, Spanish, French, English, Armenian and Slavonic languages; and Hebrew and Malay. A more or less complete jape of the Panćatantra versions in medieval Europe can be found in the 1938 reprint of the Elizabethan version by Sir Thomas North (published by David Nutt, Strand, London—Bibliotheque de Carabas).

Immediately after the invention of printing, the German version, Das der Buch Beyspiele (1483), was published, making the Panćatantra one of the earliest works to be printed. An Italian version in two parts by one Doni2(La Moral Philosophia, 1552) caught the eye and the imagination of Sir Thomas North (the translator of Plutarch's Lives). He made a version of the first part in fine Elizabethan English. This was published in 1570, a full thousand years after Visnu Śarma's famous book of moral and political instruction through stories, left its native land to travel to the Persian court. North's translation (of Doni) was entitled The Fables of Bidpai: The Morall Philosophie of Doni.

The initial phase of the Panćatantra's 'triumphal progress' over the globe, is itself a 'story'; a miniature romance in fact. The Panćatantra was the earliest work to travel outside India. Individual stories that this work had in common with the Jātaka Tales had already spread far beyond the shores of India, long before the Panćatantra set out on its travels. The Jātaka Tales is a collection of tales about the Buddha's nativity and his many incarnations as Bodhisattva, some in non-human forms. The Buddha is believed to have come down to earth many times, to redeem mankind by teaching the dhamma, (Pali for dharma), the Law or the Right Path. In the ancient world, stories and legends migrated, carried like silks, spices, ivory, gems and other rich commodities, from port to port and caravanserai to caravanserai by merchants and travellers, soldiers and sailors.

The story of the 'book of stories' probably formed part of the lost Pehlevi redaction of the Panćatantra by Burzoeu (AD 570), perhaps as a prologue. It was carried over into the Arabic version of the Pehlevi text, Kalilah wa Dimnah, and into the European versions based on it. It forms part of Sir Thomas North's The Fables of Bidpai: The Morall Philosophie of Doni (1570), as 'The Argument of the Booke'.3 The following is a brief account of the story.

Once, Khosro Anushirvan (Anestres Castri, in North), King of Iran (Edon) was presented a book which contained among other things the secret to raise the dead by means of an elixir (rasāyana4 in Sanskrit). The book explained how the elixir was extracted from herbs and trees growing on the high mountains of India. The king, eager to find out the truth about this elixir sent his chief minister and treasurer, Burzoeu, to India, providing him with a great deal of gold and silver to defray the expenses of the long and arduous journey, and with letters to the courts of many monarchs in India, requesting their help. Burzoeu, on reaching India, received all the help he needed and with the wisest and most learned sages began combing the mountains for the herbs and trees mentioned in the book. But to no avail, for no extract had the power of restoring the dead to life. Burzoeu and the learned

Indian sages were driven to the conclusion that everything that had been written about the elixir in the book, 'was false and untrue'.

Burzoeu, greatly distressed, consulted the learned sages as to what he could do to not return empty-handed to his king. Then 'a famous philosopher', who had also searched long and in vain for the Elixir of Life only to discover in the end that the elixir was in truth a book, showed Burzoeu a copy of it. This philosopher also explained the allegory contained in the first book, the one presented to the King of Iran, which started Burzoeu on his travels, as follows: The high mountains were the wise and learned men of lofty intellect; the trees and herbs their various writings and the wisdom extracted from these writings the Elixir of Life that revived the dead intelligence and buried thoughts of 'the ignorant and unlearned'.

Burzoeu asked for a copy of that book which was 'alwayes in the handes of those Kings, for that it was ful of Morall Philosophy' and permission to translate it into his own tongue for his king. And so 'with the helpe and knoledge of all those learned philosophers', Burzoeu rendered the famous book into Pehlevi and returned home with it.

King Khosro Anushirvan studied the book deeply and was so impressed by the wisdom it contained that he began to collect books with great diligence and sought out learned men to come and live in his court. Then he built a great library in his palace, in which the book he esteemed so highly—the Panćatantra—wasgiven the place of honour, 'being of examples and instructions for man's life, and also of Justice and the feare of God . . . . '

Burzoeu is reported to have asked as his sole reward, the honour of having his life and exploits form part of the book he had brought back from India; which it certainly has. A happy ending indeed, to Burzoeu's travels and travail; the pity is that his own version of the original Sanskrit text he used (also lost), is lost to posterity.

Judging from the English versions of the Panćatantra, that of Sir Thomas North which is several removes from the Arabic version, Kalilah wa Dimnah, and the recent translation of the same

text by Thomas B. Irving,5 it would appear that Burzoeu or al-Moqaffa6 was much more of a moralist than the venerable Indian sage Bidpai whom we know as Visnu Śarma. Indeed, we might suspect that the Persian and Arab and their medieval European successors in the transmission of the Panćatantra were attracted to the work by the 'moral philosophy' that it contained. The tales might have been regarded as incidental to the message. Whereas, in fact, what makes the Panćatantra a unique work and fascinating to study, is the intricacy of its structure: the art and artistry with which the tales are interwoven with the discourse; the skilful blend of narrative and dialogue with maxim and precept; the over-arching frame in which the tales and everything else are set, as we shall see later in the introduction. Another interesting feature of this very ancient work is the presence of a dual perspective—entertainment and edification. And an element of inconclusiveness in Book I which takes up almost half of the text, further adds to its literary merits.

The Panćatantra has not only been enormously popular as an entertaining (and instructive) work of fiction, it has also had great influence on world literature as no other work of Indian literature has had. Arthur Macdonell points to its 'extraordinary influence on the narrative works of the whole Middle Ages' in Europe, and to the enrichment it brought into the literature of the those languages in which versions of the work were made (India's Past; p. 122). Because of its great antiquity and its extensive migrations, traces of its influence might be detected in works of literature so widely separated in time and place as The Arabian Nights, the Gesta Romanorum, Boccacio's Decameron and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Fables of La Fontaine, some stories of Grimm, and in the most unlikeliest of places, the Br'er Rabbit stories7 current in the southern United States. However, if we are to pick the two works that display an unmistakable and notable influence of the Panćatantra, they would be The Arabian Nights and La Fontaine's Fables. La Fontaine acknowledges his debt to our text when he expressly states in his preface to the second edition of The Fables (1678), that the greater part of the new material was 'derived from

the Indian sage Pilpay', whose work is regarded 'as earlier than Aesop's'.

As we have seen, the name of 'the Indian sage' appears in some European versions as Bidpai. Strange indeed are the ways in which Indian names of places and persons appear metamorphosed in other languages in other lands. It is not easy to detect the original form of this name, Pilpay-Bidpai under its linguistic disguises. A. B. Keith and Thomas B. Irving9 (translator of the Kalilah wa Dimnah), suggest that it is a corruption of the Sanskrit name Vidyāpati. But it might just as well be the odd transformation of Vājapeyi,10 an honorific title assumed by Brāhmanas who had successfully performed the great vājapeya sacrifice of the Vedas.

Within the country the popularity of the Panćatantra down the centuries has been unsurpassed, as the many recensions of the work in Sanskrit (Hertel lists twenty-five), and the numerous translations into other Indian languages indicate.

Individual stories belonging to it which might have originally come out of folklore have passed back into that vast body of folktales current to this day, often without any knowledge of the work (the Panćatantra) that the specific story or stories were once a part of. Works of fiction written later, such as Dandin's Dasakumāracharitam (The Tale of Ten Princes) and Sukasaptati (Seventy Tales Told by The Parrot), employ the frame structure of the Panćatantra.

Like the great epic11 the Mahābhārata, the Panćatantra belongs to the rich, age-old oral literature of India. Even after it was committed to writing at some point in its transmission the work retains some of the characteristics of its origin as an oral text. We find certain formulaic phrases: 'as it is told'; 'as we have heard'; 'and then he said'. The use of two or three and sometimes several maxims or illustrations to make a point as in I.69, might also be a feature of patterns of speech rather than writing.

Because it belongs to the oral tradition of storytelling, the Panćatantra has undergone continuous and constant revision. For it has been narrated repeatedly, countless number of times over the long period of nearly two millennia. In the quadrangles and

pillared corridors of temples, in the palaces of princes and mansions of wealthy merchants, in fairgrounds and market squares under makeshift awnings and under the spreading banyan tree in villages, wherever skilled and celebrated storytellers gathered a group of eager listeners round them, this very popular work must have been narrated. Kālidāsa mentions Village-elders/well-versed in the Udayana tales', and 'skilful storytellers' who 'entertain their visiting kin', 'recounting old tales'. (Meghadūtam)

Music might have been a part of the narration: singing, drums and a primitive lute like the one still used by wandering minstrels and performers in the oral tradition. Miming and dance might also have been part of a storytelling session, as they still do in the country, forming part of the performances of contemporary storytellers such as the fabulous Teejan Bai and others. These have always been part of the storytelling tradition.12 An example in the West of a story told to the accompaniment of music is that of the narration of Peter and the Wolf, with music by Prokofiev.

Since a text in the oral tradition is not fixed as a printed text is, a storyteller has some scope for inventiveness and a certain freedom to exercise his imagination. Working within certain given parameters, he can introduce changes by varying the details of narrative and dialogue; by expanding or condensing the discourse; by altering the point of view and so on. A skilled storyteller is both creator and narrator. By making revisions in the oral text handed down to him he exercises his rights as a creator while preserving the continuity of the tradition.

It might be assumed that revisions in an oral text are made with an eye to relevance to the place and time of narrator and audience. The narrator or storyteller has a relationship with his audience and establishes a rapport with it that are denied the storywriter. He can improvise on the spur of the moment, adding something, leaving out something else because he has an instant feedback.

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