When we think of our childhood, several beautiful images emerge in our minds. It is the most innocent and careless part of our lives, etched with numerous irreplaceable memories.. and one such memory is bedtime stories.
No matter in what part of this world we live, bedtime stories are an essential part of our earliest memories.
The magical stories, fables & folktales which delighted us to no end, that our parents and grandparents weaved for us, were the same stories they heard from their elders years ago, and their elders from theirs ..So on
But where these stories come from?
Unbeknown to us, several such stories specially those magical anthropomorphic animal tales come from Sanskrit literary creation ‘The Panchatantra’
The Panchatantra is an ancient Indian collection of intertwined animal fables and folktales originally in Sanskrit.
Its exact period is unknown but is believed to be written somewhere around 200 BC, based on even older times with many stories considered ancient by then, and passed down through oral storytelling traditions.
Although Panchatantra’s author is unknown, but its composition is widely attributed to Aacharya Vishnusharma or Vishnusarman, who was a great scholar in Varanasi in 3rd century BC. Also its authorship was accredited to Bidpai or Pilpay in several other countries, which refers to indian sage or vidyapati.
The main story of Panchatantra is about the three dull & dimwitted sons of King Amarasakti of Mahilaropya. After several teachers fail in educating the princes, Acharya Vishnusharma is called upon for this purpose on advice of the king’s minister. He took up this challenge and taught the three princes the central Hindu principles of Niti, the practical and political wisdom to lead life through various tales and stories, which transformed them within six months.
The compilation of these stories came to be known as ‘Panchatantra’, because it consists of five ‘Tantra’ or parts. Each part contains a main story, which in turn contains several stories within it, where one character narrates a story to another. Often these stories contain further more stories.
You must have heard many like the Monkey and the Crocodile, the Stork and the Crab, the Elephants and the Mice, tale of Three Fish, the Foolish Lion and the Clever rabbit etc etc.
It is the most frequently translated literature of India, and these stories are also among the most widely known & translated in the world. It is known by many names in different countries & cultures. There is a version of Panchatantra in nearly every major language of India, and in addition there are 200 versions of the text in more than 50 languages around the world.
These fables are found in numerous world languages.
One version reached Europe in the 11th century, and before 1600 it existed in Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, German, English, Old Slavonic, Czech, and perhaps other Slavonic languages.
It is also considered partly the origin of European works, such as folktale motifs found in Boccaccio, La Fontaine and the works of Grimm Brothers. Many believe that the popular worldwide animal-based fables has had origins in India and the Middle East.
Even many post-medieval era authors explicitly credit their inspirations to texts such as “Bidpai” and “Pilpay, the Indian sage” that are known to be based on the Panchatantra.
The French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine acknowledged this in his book –
“This is a second book of fables that I present to the public… I have to acknowledge that the greatest part is inspired from Pilpay, an Indian Sage”.
The Panchatantra is said to be the origin of several stories in Arabian Nights, and of many Western nursery rhymes and ballads as well.
And so these stories passed down through years and years.. centuries and millenniums. Something added something missed, but these stories travelled through us and continued to do so even today.
Lets maintain the magical spread of these tales, and the next time you hear one or narrate one, don’t forget to share their source – Panchatantra.