The original text of the Panchatantra in Sanskrit was probably written in about 2000 B.C. by a great Hindu Scholar, Pandit Vishnu Sharma. But some of the tales themselves must be much older, their origin going back to the period of the Rig - Veda and Upanishads (from 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C.). According to some scholars of the Indo-European languages, the Panchatantra is the oldest collection of Indian fables surviving .
In course of time, travellers took these stories with them to Persia and Arabia and finally through Greece they reached Europe It is surmised that a version of the Panchatantra was composed in the Pahlavi language of pre-Islamic Iran sometime in the 6th century A.D. being followed by an Arabic one in the 8th century A.D. The Greek translation was made towards the close of the 11th Century A.D. from which it was translated into various European languages. This accounts for the fact that to many Westerners , some of the stories have a familiar ring. So far it has been translated into 5O or more languages of the world .
The gypsies, whose Indian origin is well established, also helped in spreading these tales in Europe.
The Panchatantra is essentially connected with one of the branches of science known by the Indians as the 'Nitishastra' which in Sanskrit means 'A book of wise conduct in life'. It attempts to teach us, how to understand people, how to choose reliable and trustworthy friends, how to meet difficulties and solve problems through tact and wisdom, and how to live in peace and harmony in the face of hypocrisy, deceit and many pitfalls in life.
The Panchatantra is woven round the frame of a tale of a king who entrusts his three 'dud' sons to a learned man, a Brahmin, called Pandit Vishnu Sharma, to enlighten their minds within six months. The Brahmin promises to educate them and takes them to his 'ashrama' (hermitage). There he recites to them his specially composed tales divided into five tantras (in Sanskrit : Pancha = five and Tantra = systems or parts) of how to deal with people in life.
The language of the author is both artistic and elegant. The tale is narrated in prose while the exposition of a philosophical and moral theme is put in verse; maxims or wise sayings are also expressed in verse, which either sums up the narration or introduces the next tale.
The story-teller's art sugars the pill of his sober philosophy. he sets story within story and keeps us waiting for the sequels and so leads us on through the five 'Tantras'. As one fable follows another, people and animals are constantly changing places and they share the same characteristics of love and hatred, compassion and wit, selfless courage and base cowardice, generosity and meanness. Each story has a moral ands philosophical theme which has stood the test of times, also in the age of atomic fear and madness.
The Panchatantra is a rare book, for in no book you will find philosophy, psychology, politics, music, astronomy, human relationship, etc, all discussed together in such a simple and yet elegant style. This is exactly what Pandit Vishnu Sharma had in mind, to give as much knowledge to the princess as possible. And no doubt not only the princesses but also millions of listeners and readers for the last 2,200 years have benefited from this most unique book.
The book is intended for the adult mind, though children will love it if helped, it contains a fountain of India's philosophical wisdom- a fountain of nectar.
G. L. Chandiramani