Pañcatantra

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Pancatantra, PaJcatantra, Paycatantra


Pañcatantra literally means ‘five rules of political conduct’.

The Pañcatantra is the most celebrated and interesting work in Sanskrit literature classed under the didactic fable group. It comprises of five books or sections,[1] each dealing with one particular tantra or rule of political conduct.

Available Edition of Pañcatantra

The earliest edition known to us, though completely lost, is the Pehlevi[2] translation by a Persian physician Burzoe, at the order of the king Khossu Anushirvan.[3] The text we now have is based on an old Syrian version by Bud in A. D. 570 and an Arabic version by Abdallah Ibnal Mogaffa in A. D. 750. This work was translated into several European languages during the period A. D. 1080 to 1678. The Pañcatantra is generally assigned to the period 100 B. C. to A. D. 300.

Overview on Pañcatantra

The introductory part of the work states that it was taught by a wise teacher, named Viṣṇuśarmā, to the idle and stupid sons of a king Amaraśakti of Mahilaropa, at his request. The princes very soon became well-educated and well-behaved, due to the marvelous effects of the tales they heard from their preceptor. So far the identity of neither the teacher nor the king has been determined.

Contents of Pañcatantra

The contents of the work are:

Mitrabheda

It literally means breaking the friendship which deals with the policy of ‘divide and rule’ by the story of two jackals, Karaṭaka and Damanaka, who lived happily after estranging the lion and the bull who had been fast friends for a long time.

Mitralābha

It literally means acquisition of friends and illustrates the advantages of a judicious friendship by the story of the adventures of a tortoise, a deer, a crow and a mouse.

Kākolukiya

It literally means tale of Crows and Owls which brings out the dangers of friendship between those who are natural enemies.

Labdhapranāśa

It literally means loss of what has been acquired and points out, by means of the story of an ape and a crocodile, how certain weaknesses lead to the loss of one’s own possessions.

Apariksitakāritam

It literally means results of inconsiderate actions and illustrates the general principle of ‘haste makes waste’.

Versions of Pañcatantra

There are two distinct versions of the Pañcatantra available now:

  1. The Tantrā-khyāyikā - It is the Kashmir version in simple prose; the stories found in the Kathā-saritsāgara of Somadeva
  2. The Bṛhat-kathāmañjari - It comprises stories from the Kṣemendra.

The Pañcatantra is one of the most translated works in world literature.


References

  1. Pañca means five.
  2. It is a language.
  3. He lived in A. D. 531-575.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore