Friday, May 1, 2015

Panchatantra: Stories of ageless wisdom from South Asia

It’s May, the month of finals! There’s more to May, though; it’s also the South Asian Heritage Month. In the light of this, we want to point out some exciting books we have here at LITS to help you learn more about the culture of story telling in South Asia. The Panchatantra (which in Sanskrit means ‘Five Principles’) is a canonical collection of animal fables in verse and prose. It contains stories of Sanskrit (Hindu) as well as Pali (Buddhist) origins.It is one of the earliest and most frequently translated literary product of India. It contains numerous fables, often three to four layers in depth, arranged inside a frame story. It is believed that the original version, attributed to Pandit Vishnu Sharma, was composed in the third century BC.

*A page from a Persian translation of Panchatantra depicts
 a manipulative jackal trying to lead his lion king into a war.

The prelude of Panchatantra illustrates that Vishnu Sharma was asked by the King of Mahilaropya, to teach the principles of governance to his three unruly sons. Through his stories, Vishnu Sharma was able to teach nitishastra (treatise on government and political science) to the three Princes, who otherwise refused to study. According to Patrick Olivelle (the author of an English translation of the book), “Panchatantra is a complex book that does not seek to reduce the complexities of human life, government policy, political strategies and ethical dilemmas into simple solutions; it can and does speak to different readers at different levels.”  The five principles illustrated in its five volumes are -separation of friends (The Lion and the Bull), gaining of friends (The Dove, Crow,  Mouse, Tortoise and Deer), war and peace (Of Crows and Owls), the loss of gains (The Monkey and the Crocodile) and imprudence (The Brahman and the Mongoose). 

Some of the translated versions of Panchatantra available through LITS are:
  1. The Panchatantra : translated from the Sanskrit by Arthur W. Ryder (MH Cutter Collection 69Y P1 E - can be requested at the Circulation Desk) 
  2. Pancatantra of Viṣṇuśarman : by M. R. Kale (MH Stacks PK3741 .P2 1969)
  3. The five discourses on worldly wisdom by Viṣṇuśarman : translated by Patrick Olivelle (MH Stacks PK3798.V835 P3613 2006)

If you are looking for a fun and engaging book to read once you are done with finals, check out a copy from the Circulation Desk and enjoy some wonderful stories from South Asia!

*Image obtained from the New World Encyclopedia under Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License. 

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