The Pancatantra is an interesting case in terms of Indian literature, it has travelled far and wide since around 550 AD when it is documented to have left India as it travelled to the Persian court of King Khorsro Anushirvan (Rajan 1). It was the first Indian book to be printed on a printing press under the name of Das Buch der Beyspiele (The Book of Examples) (Rajan 1). Many fairy tales and nursery rhymes from around the world may find origin or influence in the Pancatantra, for example Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Nights and Sindbad (Bedekar 1). With so many retellings of these stories there is often a need to change it for local appeal. Although certain changes are unavoidable, some changes can completely change the tone of a story or book. For example, in the version translated by Thomas North the first book has a sequel where the interfering jackal is tried and killed for his part in the death of the bull (Rajan 2).
The Pancatantra is an ancient collection of Indian fairy tales that the introduction attributes to a Brahmin by the name of Vishnu Sharma. Vishnu Sharma was hired by a king to teach his three sons the art of intelligent living and he used the five books of the Pancatantra to do so. The five books are The Loss of Friends, The Winning of Friends, Of Crows and Owls, Loss of Gains and, Ill-considered Action (Ryder 15). Each book contains many stories, each with a lesson on how an individual should conduct themselves (Rajan, 3). Many of these stories are about animals personified with some of them containing exclusively human characters.
The longest book in the Pancatantra is the first one, The Loss of Friends. This book tells the story of a bull left in the forest by his owner after getting stuck in mud. He becomes very happy, grazing all day and bellowing in happiness. The bellowing unnerves a lion who is the King of the Jungle and a couple Jackals, who were once members of his court begin plotting. Throughout this book, they argue about what actions should be taken, telling stories to illustrate their points. One of them goes to talk to the king and is told of the fear that the king feels over the loud animal that he had heard. The bull is brought to the king by this jackal and they become close friends. The jackals become worried by this and hatch a plan to create a rift between the two friends. The same jackal as mentioned before wrongfully informs the king that the bull is planning to kill him and take his power for his own. The jackal claims that the king should kill the bull before the bull can kill him. The king is skeptical and asks for proof; the jackal claims that the bull will look angry with the king and that would be his proof. The jackal visits the bull next claiming the king plans to kill him as they are too different. The bull takes offence to this and plans to start a war with the king. This scares the jackal as a war could lead the death of the king. He urges the bull to simply leave the country. The bull is skeptical of his friend’s plans and the jackal claims that if the king looks at him with anger, that is proof of his plan. Upon returning to his companion and relaying his story, the other jackal calls him wicked. Elsewhere the bull questions his friendship with the lion and goes to see him. The lion, who believed the jackal’s lies attacks the bull and they start to fight. The jackals, seeing this, fear for their king’s safety, the less involved one calling the involved one out for his foolishness in interfering in the kings matters. All this time the battle between the two friends raged on with the lion killing the bull in the process. The king feeling remorse for his actions is comforted by the meddling jackal who tells him that the bull deserved no sympathy because of his treachery (Ryder pg. 19-210).
The second book of the Pancatantra is called The Gaining of Friends. It is shorter than the first book. It tells the story about four friends, a crow, a mouse, a turtle and a deer. In the beginning the crow warns the dove of a trap set by a hunter, but the dove does not listen. Which causes him to lead his retainers into the trap. They fly as one group to the home of the mouse, who helps them get out of the net. The crow follows them and after they leave, starts a friendship with the mouse. One day the crow decides that he wants to leave the country as he is dissatisfied with the way things are. The mouse, also unhappy with the way of things, decides to go with him. They travel to the lake home of the crow’s friend, the turtle, who welcomes them with open arms. The mouse explains that after getting food for other mice from a hermit, the hermit found and emptied the mouse’s food store, making him unable to get food for the other mice. One day they meet a deer who is running away from a hunter and they welcome him into their friend group. Later the deer is caught in a net and while the friends free him the hunter arrives, all the friends except for the turtle escape. This leads the other three friends to plan a rescue, allowing the turtle to escape the hunter (Ryder pg. 213-288).
The third book of the Pancatantra is Of Crows and Owls. The story begins with two warring factions, the crows and the owls. The owls killed any crows that were not at their home tree and the King of crows wanted to find a solution to this murder of his subjects. His ministers put forward different options. His oldest councillor offered a plan that would allow for an attack on the home of the owls, though its location was unknown. The plan had the King fake an attack on the old councillor, allowing the owls to find him, and convincing them to reveal the location of their home to him. The plan succeeded as only one of the Owl King’s ministers advised killing the crow. The crow had the Owl King’s full trust, but the minister continued to mistrust the crow. Unable to convince his colleagues and his king of the danger the crow posed; the minister left the cave, taking his own ministers with him. After that, the crow minister blocked the entrance under the pretense of building a nest and went to get the other crows. They burnt the pile of twigs, killing all the owls inside. When asked how he managed to fool his foes, he explained that he was friendly with the owls so they would not suspect him of lying (Ryder 291- 378).
The fourth book of the Pancatantra is called The Loss of Gains. This book tells of a monkey who lives in a rose apple tree. Once a day a crocodile comes by and the monkey offers to feed him. This becomes a daily thing and they become close friends. The crocodile’s wife upon hearing how her husband got the food asks him to bring her the monkey’s heart. He initially denies her but eventually gives in to her desire. The crocodile invites the monkey to his home and the monkey accepts his invitation. Together they travel towards the crocodile’s home with the monkey riding on the back of the crocodile. Once in deeper water the crocodile speaks of his plan to take the monkey’s heart. The monkey claims it is back in the tree and urges the crocodile to take him back to the tree so they can retrieve it. They return and the monkey calls the crocodile foolish and cuts off his friendship with him. The crocodile only wishing to please his wife, pleads with the monkey to come with him, only to learn that his wife is dead from fasting. He is saddened, but the monkey tells him that he should be celebrating as she wasn’t a very good wife. Soon the crocodile learns that a large crocodile has moved into his home, prompting him to seek advice from the monkey. The monkey tells him that he should fight the crocodile for his home as he will either die or kill his opponent. The crocodile chose to take the monkey’s advice. He fought the other crocodile for his home and won (Ryder 381- 423).
The fifth book of the Pancatantra is the last one, it is called Ill-Considered Actions. At the beginning of the story a merchant is told in a dream that the Jain monk who would visit him that day, this monk would turn to gold if struck on the head with a stick, and the monk did. The barber witnessed this and thought that he could replicate the results, so he invited all the Jain monks at the temple to his house and beat them. The soldiers heard the crying of the monks and intervened. They took the barber to court and the judges ruled he would be impaled for his poor actions. There is a new story after this one of four Brahmins who are struck with poverty and decide to leave the city. They encounter a man who gives each of them a quill, telling them that where the quill falls from their hands, they should dig and find treasure. The first Brahmin found copper where his quill fell, but the other three decide to continue hoping for better treasure. The next quill to drop led the Brahmin to find silver. But the other two continued still hoping for better treasure. The third quill fell and the Brahmin found gold. The fourth Brahmin, thinking there must be something even better in his future, continued without his friend. After much wandering, he finds a man with a wheel spinning on his head, and asks the man for water. The wheel leaves the man’s head and settles on the Brahmin’s. The man explained that the only way to escape is for some other person with a quill to speak to the current wheel bearer as the Brahmin spoke to him. The man further explained that his body will be maintained eternally until he leaves. The Brahmin who found the gold started to wonder about his friend and decided to go find him. Upon finding him, he is told the story and chastises his friend for being greedy. The wheel-bearer pleads with his friend not to leave him there, but as there is nothing to be done about his current situation, the gold-finder bids his friend goodbye and returns home (Ryder 427-470).
The Pancatantra is universally appealing, and people can understand the moral teachings of the stories. The message is clear, the stories are interesting, and it allows for an easy method of imparting knowledge to children because stories like the ones found in the Pancatantra are a more engaging medium of learning.
Bibliography and Related Readings
Bedekar, Vijay (2008, December 27th) History of Migration of Panchatatra and What it can Teach Us. Paper presented at Suhbashita, Panchatantra & Gnomic Literature in Ancient & Medieval India, Thane College Campus, Thane, Maharashtra. Thane, Maharashtra: Institute for Oriental Study. Retrieved from http://www.orientalthane.com/speeches/speech2008.htm
González-Reimann, L., & Taylor, M. (2009). The fall of the indigo jackal: The discourse of division in purnabhadra’s pañcatantra. The Journal of Asian Studies, 68(4), 1337. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S002191180999146X
Rajan, C. (2000). Panchatantra: The globe-trotting classic of India. Bookbird, 38(4), 6-9.
Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/216105520?accountid=12063
Ryder, Arthur (1925) Pancatantra. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/Panchatantra_Arthur_W_Ryder
Related Research Topics
This Article was written by: Kayla Schewe (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.