Friday, February 17, 2012

Origins of Panchatantra

Long time ago, there lived a king called Amarshakti, who ruled the kingdom of Mahilaropya. He was a good kind man and a very able administrator. The people in his kingdom loved him. The king had three sons - Bahushakti, Ugrashakti and Anantshakti.

The King was extremely busy in the matters of the state and could not spend much time with his family. As he got older, the King decided that he had to crown one of his sons as the King after him. He called with his sons and talked with them. However after talking with his sons, the King was appalled! His sons were not interested in learning anything. His sons would not learn anything in school or about the stately arts of ruling the kingdom. The king was disheartened when he saw his sons.

The very next day he called his council of ministers, 'Ministers' He said as soon as the meeting started, 'There is a problem...a big problem if we don't solve it now....Ever since I started ruling the kingdom, it has taken the sole priority over everything else. I...' Amarshakthi looked at his ministers, 'I spent all the time for the kingdom...Now I am regretting that...I...' The king gulped, '...I did not spend any time with my sons. Had I spent anymore time with them earlier I would have known how they have become....' The king was quiet and closed his eyes. The ministers did not say anything...

The king opened his eyes and looked around at his ministers. 'They have become...dull and disinterested....' The king looked at the ministered once more. 'How can such people become good persons...let alone good rulers....' The king despaired and closed his eyes again.

One of the minsters spoke, 'Your Majesty! Education is the only means to remove this disinterest....'

However another minister intervened, 'It is going to take atleast 12 years for them to learn the grammar of the Sanskrit...and they are royal children...We have to teach them the rules of administration...We do not have that much time....' The minster glanced at the old king and murmured apologetically, 'I am sorry sir!'

The king nodded and waved his hands, 'You speak the truth, I am getting old and these children need to learn fast...'

The king heard some more ideas, none of them good.... Finally one of the minsters - Sumati spoke, 'Science, Politics and diplomacy were limitless and it would take your whole life time to master them...Instead of teaching the princes scriptures and texts, we have to teach them the wisdom within them...Sir! We could call in Vishnu Sharma....'

The King sat up and as did the other minsters. 'Vishnu Sharma? Who is that?'

'Sir he is an excellent guru sir! He can teach Neethi Shastra in a very short time...'

The other ministers also said, 'Yes sir! That is an excellent idea! Vishnu Sharma is well known throughout the kingdom and is an excellent teacher...'

Looking at his ministers the King felt some hope. 'Request Vishnu Sharma Guru to come and see me as soon as possible...'

The very next day Vishnu Sharma came to the royal palace with the Kings messengers. The king received the teacher with great respect and honoured the teacher.

After the hospitality, the king told the Guru all about his problem. 'Sir! I do not mean to be rude. I would give you a hundred villages and a lot more..Just...Just teach my sons sir!' The king was looking at Vishnu Sharma desperately.

Vishnu Sharma smiled and shook his head. 'Sir! I never sell knowledge for money! But...' Vishnu Sharma said looking at the dejected king, 'I will teach the princes....I will take up the challenge and I will do it....'

The king looked at Vishnu Sharma hopefully, 'If you can do that sir, I will...'

Vishnu Sharma cut off the king with a wave of his hands, ' I would like to talk to your sons sir!

Overjoyed, the king called his sons. Vishnu Sharma talked with the sons for some time. The king watched. Looking at the disinterested manner in which his sons were replying, the king was sure that Vishnu Sharma was going to walk out of the palace, without taking up the job.

Finally Vishnu Sharma finished talking and sent the sons away. He then turned to Amarshakthi and spoke, 'Your Majesty! Have no fear! I will take up the teaching of your sons! I will teach them everything they need to know and that too within six months!'

The king looked at Vishnu Sharma with tears in his eyes. 'Sir, if you do that I will give you anything you want....Why I will...'

Vishnu Sharma cut off the King for the second time, 'Your Majesty! I am an old man. You need not have to waste money on me. I do this work because it challenges me! Your sons...they are intelligent...just bored....I will make my stories interesting and present them well. If...' Vishnu Sharma said with conviction, 'I do not teach your sons within six months, I will change my name...'

The king looked at Vishnu Sharma with disbelief, but he knew enough of human nature to realize when a man spoke with utter conviction and believed in what he said. The king nodded his head. Vishnu Sharma looked at the king and spoke again, 'Send the princes with me to my hermitage. I will teach them there...'

The king nodded and made preparations for the travel of the princes the very next day.

Vishnu Sharma was busy thinking as he was lying in the royal bed that night. These princes cannot be taught by conventional teaching. I have to teach them stories in a simple manner. Probably using animals and teach morals to them...and to teach them the art of managing the kingdom after their father...

The next day the princes left with their Guru to his hermitage. During the course of teaching the princes, Vishnu Sharma compiled the Panchatantra - books based on animal stories. [In Sanskrit 'Pancha' means five and 'Tantra' means 'principles']. Most of the stories were written by Vishnu Sharma himself. However some stories were thousand years older and Vishnu Sharma incorporated these stories inside the main story.

The Panchatantra is a collection of short stories under five headings - Mitra Bhedha [The loss of friends]; Mitra Samprapti [How to win friends]; Kakolukiyam [Of owls and crows]; Labdha Prasanam [Loss of Gain] and Aparikshita Karakam [Rash Actions]

Vishnu Sharma told the stories in such a way that each collection of story started with one main story, with other stories woven inside the main story. Each story gave insight into politics and practical wisdom as the essence or moral of the story was always similar to what a person would face in day-to-day life.

Taught in such a manner, the princes listened to each story with great interest and wonder. Within a very short time the three princes became highly knowledgeable in politics and became able administrators.

After six months when the sons returned to the kingdom, the king was amazed at how much the princes had picked up in a short span of six months! Though he tried to give gifts to the Guru, who refused it, Vishnu Sharma became popular throughout the kingdom.

The stories of the Panchatantra are not just relevant that day, but still holds good even now!

The beginning sentence of the Panchatantra in Sanskrit reads like this:
'All the worldly wisdom and inner meaning of life which was written anywhere in any book was compressed in the five books by the shrewd Vishnu Sharma!'


  1. Panchatantra stories are totes COOL

  2. How intelligent people had been in those days....Their shrewdness is league apart from what we call as 'intelligence' today!.....Nice writing as well.

  3. Grt wrk by Vishnu Sharma.I really loved the book & found the article very helpful.

  4. Really loved the book & found the article very helpful.

  5. Great work Vishnu Great work !