Decoding the Panchatantra: 6 Little-Known Facts About the Evergreen Animal Fables

Originally composed in Sanskrit, the Panchatantra is one of the oldest collections of fables in the world. Devised for the purposes of teaching three dull-witted sons of a king, it strives to convey the principles of kingship and some valuable life lessons.

Nilanjana Roy, author and journalist, notes in her introduction to the refreshing new translation of the Panchatantra: “Stories are alive and they like to travel.” In fact, the more brilliant the stories the wider their reach. And therein lies the magic of the Panchatantra – it has hopped down and affected numerous centuries and generations!

Here are six little-known yet brilliant facts about the Panchatantra!

Who wrote the Panchatantra?Panchatantra - Blog Creatives 01Vishnusharma was renowned far and wide for his learning and his skill as a teacher, and was therefore given the task of educating the sons of the king and making them fit to rule. He was eighty years old at the time yet accepted the challenge, and devised the stories of the Panchatantra to  teach the princes the rules of kingship and the principles of government.

When was the Panchatantra composed?Panchatantra - Blog Creatives 02The exact date of its composition is uncertain. We do know, however, that it was translated into Pahlavi in 550 CE. Thus, we know with certainty that the Panchatantra must have been composed before this date.

Where was the Panchatantra composed?Panchatantra - Blog Creatives 03We do not know the exact location of this city, or even if it was a real place. The Panchatantra only states, rather vaguely, that Mahilaropya was the capital city of ‘a kingdom in the south’.

The Structure of the PanchatantraPanchatantra - Blog Creatives 04The original Panchatantra is a mixture of verse and prose. The stories are narrated mainly in prose, but the lessons derived from the tales are usually given in verse form. Panchatantra takes its audience into a series of stories, deeper and deeper, from one level to the next.

Characters in the PanchatantraPanchatantra - Blog Creatives 05The author has used a device to make it easy for his audience to understand the nature of his characters, and that is their names. He has given his characters, whether human or animal, names that highlight certain aspects of their appearance or behaviour. Thus, we have Pingalaka the lion, whose name means ‘one who is red–gold’, named for his fiery coat!

Translations and RetellingsPanchatantra - Blog Creatives 06The subject matter of the Panchatantra and its delightful tales made it a very popular text. Its stories, carried far and wide by travellers and merchants, spread rapidly across the world.

Want to soak in the magic of the Panchatantra? Relive the joy of this enduring classic, translated brilliantly from the original by Rohini Chowdhury and now in a classic keepsake edition – here!

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The Penguin India Blog

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