Through the jungle of the
speaking animals Vishnusharman has created a storehouse of wisdom in
the form of short stories for children. These stories written as far
back as 2000 years came to be known as Panchatantra. The influence
of Vishnusharmans stories has been vast. By the 3rd
and 4th centuries Panchatantra had already been translated
into Syriac and Arabic from the original version in Sanskrit written
in the 1st and 2nd century A.D. Subsequently
there were versions in Paisachi, Pahlavi and Prakrit (other Indian
languages). Panchatantra has been translated into 50 different
languages with 200 different versions. What is more interesting is
that even Grimms fairy tales and Aesops fables can be t raced back to
this treasure-house of animal tales created by Vishnusharman.
There is however a lesser
known version which as a school of thought claims to be the original
and credits the authorship to Vashubhagabhatta. The genesis of this
version lies in mythology that Lord Shiva told the stories to
Parvati, his consort which were overheard by Pashpadatta, who was
born on earth as Gunadya and was appointed as a noble laureate in the
court of an emperor named Salivahara. Gundaya then retold these
stories in Paisachi and the compilation of his stories is called
Brahatkatham (ocean of stories). Vasubhaga drew a few stories from
them and compiled them into what is known as Panchatantra.
Vasubhagas Panchatantra has found mention in the Javanese,
Laotian and Siamese versions in addition to a few Indian versions
How Vishnusharman wrote
these stories is a story by itself. The preface of the Panchatantra
tells us that there was once a king called Amarashakti. He had three
sons, all dullards. Amrshakti despaired. Show me a way to
educate them, he told his courtiers. One among them was a wise
man named Sumati. He came up with the idea that the princes should
not be taught the scriptures but only the wisdom in them. There is a
man called Vishnusharman, he said, who could do just this.
Vishnusharman was summoned. He asked for just six months to make the
princes wise. Disbelievingly Amarshakti watched as the miracle
Galloping on the steed of
imagination Vishnusharman held the reins to guide them into a world
where myth was reality. Weaving one story into another, the aspect
under consideration was amply illustrated and elaborated. The
princes were exposed to life with the lessons or morals that each
The Panchatantra means
the five devices (pancha =five, tantra =devices). The stories
under five different heads cover all aspects of administration,
personal life and cunning that one has to combat in life. The first
of Panchatantra deals with Mitrabhedha (loss of friends), which
illustrates a situation where friends are separated by a cunning
Mitrabedha begins with
the story of a bull named Sanjivak. Stranded in a forest Sanjivak
lives in constant fear of wild animals. But Pingalik, the lion king
of the forest is in awe of Sanjivaks voice and figure. The two
are brought together by Damanak. Damanak and Kartak are the two
foxes attending on the king. Sanjivak and pingalik become friends.
Sanjivak is wise and learned and soon Pigalik too acquires a lot of
knowledge. Sanjivak teachers him the laws of city life as opposed to
the jungle laws. Soon Pingalik stops hunting.
This grieves Damanak and
Kartak, for they fed on Pignaliks hunt. So Damanak starts
driving a wedge between the two friends. He tells Sanjivak that
Pingalik is after all a carnivore and that he is planning to kill
Sanjivak the next day. He tells Pingalik that he has heeded the
herbivore for too long and now that he has forgotten how to hunt
Sanjivak is planning to kill him. Damanak tells many stories to
illustrate his point and the friends slowly begin to fall into his
trap. Finally Pingalik kills Sanjivak.
As subsidiary to this
theme are stories underlining the different ways of reducing the
enemys strength. What if the enemy is very strong, then the
intellect should take over, which is illustrated in the story of the
lion and the rabbit. And also that if the enemy is mighty then a
clever plan has to be worked out first. The enemy could be anybody
a poisonous snake, a mighty king or even the invincible ocean.
Friends and their
acquisition is the section called Mitrasamprapti. The well known
story of the pigeons caught in a net, is illustrative of
Mitrasamprapti. Together the pigeons fly off with the net to
Hiranyaka, the mouse. The mouse bites off the net and sets the birds
free. In addition there are stories which stress the need for
courage. A coward, says Vishnusharman would not be able to enjoy
himself even when good fortune smiles upon him. It is courage and
amity which saved the life of the four friends, the raven, the mouse,
the tortoise and the deer. The raven, the mouse and the tortoise
vowed to stand together at all times. Suddenly they heard some noise
and found it was a deer, looking scared and nervous. The three
friends took the deer into the fold and together they pledged unity.
One day the deer was caught in a hunters net. Traveling on the
ravens back the mouse bit off the net and just when the three
of them began to run away they; found their friend, the tortoise
coming Oh why did you come? They asked you move so
slow and what if the hunter comes now. Sure enough he did.
The wise raven then outlined a plan of action. The deer pretended to
be lame and unaware of the hunter. The tortoise drew his body into
his shell and the mouse began attracting the hunters attention
towards the tortoise. Predictably the hunter tied up the tortoise in
a bag and then moved towards the deer. The deer led him a wild
chase. The mouse meanwhile bit open the deer and the tortoise.
Progmatism is however
important to emerge a survivor as the Panchatantra wishes you to be.
So the section entitled Kakolookiyam on worldly wisdom described the
ways of the world. Trust not everybody warns Vishnusharman,
especially those who having been enemies, now pretend friendship.
Nip it in the bud; all is fair in war; a king should never run away
from war; are some of the other lessons. The morals, therefore, in
Panchatantra are in sharp contrast to our conventional understanding
of the word mortal. They are not comforting stories of
the victory of good over evil. Nor are they preachers of ethics.
They are a manual of administration of all aspects of ones
life, in the complex and varied world of ours. The lessons learnt
are applicable equally to the common mans life as to the
princes for whom the Panchatantra was originally devised. They try
to expose the reader to various occurrences that he could come across
in his daily life and prepare him to face them with courage and
Dropping names can be
beneficial says Vishnusharman. Thee was once a forest in which all
the lakes had dried up due to drought. A herd of elephants living in
the forest started dying of thirst. Their king then led them to a
faraway lake which was on a lower level. The elephants were happy.
But around the lake was a colony of rabbits. Each time the elephants
visited the lake many young ones got trampled over. Distressed, the
rabbits hit on a plant. A representative from them went to the
elephants and said the moon was unhappy that the elephants were
drinking water form the moons own lake. Paying their obeisance
to the reflection they went back never to return to that lake!
Labdhapranasha or the
slip betwixt the cup and lip this is illustrated by the
well known story of the crocodile and the monkey. They become
friends and the monkey gives the crocodile some blackberries
everyday. One day the crocodile takes some for his wife. The wife
is thrilled. If the blackberry is so sweet, the heart of the monkey
who feeds on them should be sweeter, she says. She wants to eat the
monkeys heart or else she says shell lay down her life.
The crocodile is in a fix but eventually invites the monkey home for
a meal. Carrying him on his back he reaches the middle of the ocean
and then tells him his wifes intentions. The monkey
immediately responds saying hed left his heart on the tree Let
us go back and get it. When they reach the shore the monkey
jumps off the crocodiles back and saves his life.
Other stories relate how
that which is underservingly acquired is bound to be lost; how
acquired is bound to be lost; how a beautiful woman can rob a man of
his sense; how believing flattery can harm; and how inconsistent
behaviour should always be watched as in the story of the old Brahmin
whose young wife suddenly turned over-affectionate towards him.
Later he discovered hed lost her to her young lover.
Throughout the book, there is no flattering reference to women.
Women, says Vishnusharman, are always infidel, and a beautiful women?
- She cannot be satiated by any number of lovers. A woman who does
not please her husband is no woman at all and a man who is always
trying to please a woman is sure to face doom. Does this give a clue
as to why male chauvinism is buried in time!
The concluding section is
called Aprikshitakaraka or that which has not yet been tried. Any
new situation demands that it is fully considered for its pros and
cons before any action is taken. What happened to the four friends,
three of whom were well versed in scriptures? In an attempt to put
to use their knowledge they brought to life a dead lion not heeding
the fourth mans advice which was based on sound common sense.
The lion ate up the three learned men while the fourth watched
sorrowfully form a tree-top. Book knowledge alone is not enough,
application is essential.
tales are universal in their sentiments. Though much of the
conversation is put into the mouths of the beasts, it is genuine
human feeling that prompts the utterances. The original has page
after page of shrewd observations, proverbs and well-worn maxims.
Vishnusharman aimed at nothing more than teaching worldly wisdom and
to be obtained by the exercise of intelligence in securing a moderate
fortune, personal safety, learning and a wide circle of friends.
This faraway land where
fantasy dissolves into the factual has entertained children all over
the world. The crescendo is reached with Vishnusharmans claim
that the readers of helpless in any situation, not even when faced by
Lord Indra, the King of the Heavens. What else does one need,