The Panchatantra

In South India there was a city called Mahilaroopya ( “Maidens’ delight,” modern Mylapore in Madras, a fashionable quarter of Madras- In some other editions we find ‘‘Pataliputra” for ‘Mahilaroopya”- This may refer to Pataliputra, the capital of the Mauryas, or to a local Pataliputra in the vicinity of Madrasruled by a king called Amarasakti. He was a powerful, learned and generous monarch, with many princes under him as his feudatories, and was well-versed in politics and fine arts. He had three sons named Vasusakti, Ugrasakti and Anekasakti, who were devoid of learning and commonsense alike. The king was sad at their ignorance of politics and the science of government, and lack of commonsense.


He called his ministers, one day, and said to them: “Sirs, you know that my sons are fools, devoid of commonsense and ignorant of even the elements of politics and good government. Of what use is a son who is not wise or virtuous ? Of what use is a cow which does not calve or give milk? Better an abortion, better a still-born son, or even a daughter, better a barren wife, better a Sannyasin’s life than have a foolish son, though strong, handsome and rich. Sons who die or are not born cause but a little grief compared to foolish sons, who cause life-long grief. So, tell me, Sirs, some way of awakening their intelligence and making them experts in politics and good government”.

Then one minister said; “Sire, let them study Grammar for 12 years. Afterwards, let them study the Dharmasastras of Manu (Law books of Manu are still the greatest authority) and others, the Arthasastras of Chanakya (Books on economics, politics and statecraft-Chanakya’s Artha-sastra still exists and is a remarkable book) and others and the Kamasastras of Vatsyayana (Books on the art of love, Vatsyayana’s Kamasastra still exists and IS the first book on sex and love written scientifically.) and the rest. They will then be well-versed in the laws of economics, Justice, love and morality, and well-fitted to govern this kingdom.” But another minister, Sumati, said: “Sire, life is short. The arts and sciences named by my brother require a long time to master. So, let a better course be suggested. Let the arts and sciences, which are boundless in extent and abound in obstacles and impediments to clear understanding, be churned and the cream alone taught to the princes, just as even a swan separates the milk from the water and drinks the milk alone. There is a celebrated teacher called Vishnu Sarman in this very town who has completely mastered all the arts and sciences and is famous for his skill in imparting their essence to his pupils in an easily assimilable form. Your Majesty had better entrust your sons to him. He will make them proficient in politics and worldly wisdom in an incredibly short time.” The king then sent for Vishnu Sarman and said to him: “Reverend Sir, confer a favour on me by taking charge of my sons and making them proficient in politics arid worldly wisdom. In return I shall give you a hundred villages in perpetuity”.

Vishnu Sarman replied: “Sir, be pleased to hear my humble but true representation. I am not one who sells knowledge. Your hundred villages have no attraction for me. Of what use is wealth to me, especially when I am 80 years old ? But I am a teacher and am bound to teach those who request me. I guarantee to make your sons proficient in politics and worldly wisdom before six months are out and I swear hereby to abandon my name and profession and consent to be sent out of this Kingdom if I fail to do so.” The King was immensely pleased at hearing this vow of this famous teacher.

He entrusted his sons forth- with to him with the unanimous approval of his ministers, and felt that an immense burden was off his shoulders. Vishnu Sarman took the three princes to his house and taught them politics and worldly wisdom in five months in the shape of the celebrated stories of the Panchatantra. He divided his instructions into five tantras or books. These books were: ‘Mitrabheda”, or “How to Separate Friends, ”Mitrasamprapti,” or “The Acquisition of Friends,” ‘‘Kakolukeeyam” or “The war between the Crows and the Owls,” “Lubdhapranasam” or “The Loss of One’s Gains,” and “Apareekshita Karakam” or “The Fruits of Rash Acts .” At the end of the course, he said to the princes with pardonable pride: “All worldly wisdom has been compressed by me in these five books; whoever masters them will succeed in life and will not be defeated even by Indra, the King of Heaven.” The princes, by their quick mastery of politics and the science of government in the short period of five months, proved the truth of his claim. 

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