One of the first books your parents gave you to read or that book your uncle/aunt gave you for birthday will have to be Panchatantra!
Panchatantra is one of the finest contributions of Ancient Indian Literature to the world. It is a collection of stories written for children in Sanskrit in approximately 200 BC. The author is said to be a pundit named Vishnu Sharma. But there is some dispute about this. Be that as it may, the stories themselves are a delight and they have been translated in to many languages. They have said to inspire almost all the medieval fables of the world.
The story behind making of Panchatantra is also interesting. There was once a king who had 4 sons. They were least interested in studies. The king was desperate. The learned pundit Vishnu Sharma approached the king and volunteered to teach the kids. Then the pundit told the children a series of stories of animals and birds. The stories were so interesting that the princes were agog to learn more. The tales were of birds and animals. The stories that Vishnu Sharma told had morals interwoven into them. One story led to another, each teaching an important lesson of life. At the end of all the stories, the princes had learnt many important life lessons.
In all, there are almost 90 stories that are divided into 5 parts. Hence the name Panchatantra or 5 treatises.
Book 1 is called Mitra Bheda
The fables in this book are all about friends falling out. The protagonist in these is the jackal named Damanaka. He is a crafty and conniving fellow who is a minister in the jungle kingdom ruled by the lion. All the conspiracies that he creates lead to good friends breaking up.
Book 2 is called Mitra Labha or Mitra samprapti
This set is the total opposite of the first one. Here it is a collection of stories of 4 friends: a crow, a turtle, a deer and a mouse. These stories are tales that tell of friends sticking together and helping one another overcome difficulties by being each other’s strength.
Book 3 is called Kakolukiyam
This set has stories of kaka (crow) and uluka (owl). They have been pitted as enemies. This set of fables use animal analogies to teach all about war and peace. It teaches how using wit and strategy can win over the enemy rather than brute force. It teaches the importance of planning and finding the weakness of the enemy during war. Some stories also deal with how people change their priorities when faced with different scenarios.
Book 4 is called Labdaprasanam
The stories in this set tell the readers to be cautious of smooth talking people. There are stories of how the reader should not succumb to peer pressure and lose what is already available in pursuit of what is unattainable. Essentially these stories tell you “what not to do” versus the three earlier books that told of “what to do”.
Book 5 is called Aparikshitakaarakam
Unlike all the previous books, these stories have humans as the protagonists. These stories tell the tales of caution, and teach the reader to be patient and not to act in haste.
These wonderful stories have enriched our lives. These are stories with lessons for life and must be told and retold over and over again.
Telling stories is human nature. That is one effective way to pass on wisdom and culture too.
As adults, I feel we must re-intoduce these stories to our kids and make sure that the stories that have withstood the onslaught of time should not be lost to the new gen with smart technologies.