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panchatantra

panchatantra

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Published by anzrain
PANCHANTRA STORIES
PANCHANTRA STORIES

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Published by: anzrain on Jun 09, 2008
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01/29/2013

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PANCHATANTRA REVISITEDIntroduction
The art of story telling is perhaps as old as the human existence. It has evolvedwith the growth of the mankind as a social creature and has taken differentmodes of expression. A story has the dual purpose of entertaining people andgiving them some thoughts to ponder upon. Thus it has two parts, the narrativeand the ideas that it wants to convey, the first being overt, the second covert.Panchatantra is a collection of stories that ostensibly transpose the two parts,since it is stated in the very beginning that the stories were intended to makethree wayward princes learned and wise in the ways of conducting themselves inthe prevailing social environment. Still the ideas behind the narratives remaincovert and subtle. It is the oldest extant collection of stories in the world, yet theideas and life strategies laid down in them are as relevant today. The immensepopularity of the book is demonstrated by the fact that it has been translated intomore than fifty languages.Panchatantra has been widely acclaimed as children’s book partly because of itsorigin but largely because the characters in the stories are mostly animalsalthough with human traits. It has certainly served the purpose of entertainingand educating children through the ages. But the ideas expressed in the storiesare as useful, if not more, to grown-ups. It is one of the few books on
niti 
-
shastra
 in classical Sanskrit literature. The word
shastra
means a branch of knowledgeand
niti 
means manner of proper conduct in a social environment. So itrepresents a branch of knowledge that is more appropriate for grown-ups eventhough the narrative of the stories may seem to be more suited to children. Theother reason for using animals as the main characters is more subtle. If we takethe view of the modern theory of evolution, there is an ascending order that goesfrom the lowest form of life to the highest. Man is currently at the highest rung ofthe evolution ladder but it does not mean that it is the highest stage of evolutioneven though he may think that way. Man is just a social animal even if a thinkingand speaking one. In his physical nature he is still an animal because in hismaterial habits and instincts he behaves like one. So man has yet to evolve to astage where he remains man in his external form but his consciousness rises tosuch a level that he recognizes his oneness with the universe and the concept ofsuperiority and inferiority ceases to exist. The use of animals as main charactersin the stories underscores this point.The purpose of the present version of the book is to narrate the stories and thento elucidate the tenets of
niti-shastra
expressed through them. They do not dealwith ideals or philosophy but with practical ideas of how to lead a successful andcomfortable life in any circumstance avoiding the pitfalls commonly encountered.The starting premise of the book is that knowledge and wisdom are two differentthings. Knowledge is vast and rational; there are many branches of knowledgeand it takes a long time to learn thoroughly even one. Wisdom is intuitional; it can
 
appear in a flash and is useful in all walks of life. The stories in Panchatantradeal with worldly wisdom needed for survival and prosperity.In reading a translated book the reader should also be aware of some inherentlimitations of translation. A language is closely related to the culture and,therefore, has nuances unique to the particular culture. A language can betranslated but not the culture. Quite often a particular word of one language hasno equivalent single word in another. This is particularly true for translatingSanskrit literature into English. A word can have several different meaningsdepending on the context and even then it may not be possible to determine themeaning or even the context unambiguously. For example let us consider theword ‘
tantra’ 
in the title of this book. It has been translated differently by differenttranslators and none can be categorically said to be wrong. A characteristic ofstories in Sanskrit literature is that the names of the characters whether animalsor human, have meanings closely associated with the character’s role. Totranslate these names makes no sense and it is better to leave the proper nounsas in the original. This is especially true in the case of Panchatantra. At the verybeginning of the story in the First Tantra we come across the name of themerchant Vardhaman. Then come the names of two bulls Sanjeevak andNandak before the lion Pingalak and the jackal brothers Karatak and Damanakare introduced. Vardhaman means growing or ascending. Sanjeevak means onewho restores life and Nandak one who gives pleasure. Pingalak means one whomakes others pale; Karatak means one who is vile and spreads meanness;Damanak is someone who beguiles with words. As the story develops one cansee how apt the names are for the particular characters. Another characteristic ofthe stories in Panchatantra is the clever nesting of sub-stories one leading to theother and finally getting back to the beginning. Each has its own moralcomplementing the main theme of the section. The wisdom contained in thestories pertains to different aspects of the human nature that has not intrinsicallychanged over the ages. In that sense it is perennial and not affected by time.***************The first part (Tantra 1) is called ‘Rift between Friends’. The main story describeshow a cunning jackal Damanak drives a wedge between the lion Pingalak – theking of the forest and his fast friend the bull Sanjeevak. The bull originallybelonged to a merchant who was traveling through the forest on his way toanother city with his troupe. The bull was one of the two harnessed in the maincart. While crossing a ford he broke his leg. The merchant left him with a fewservants for his care but the servants were afraid of wild animals in the forest.They abandoned the bull and rejoined the merchant telling him that the bull died.But Sanjeevak survived and with all the nourishment around he became verystrong. Occasionally he would snort and make loud roar. One day Pingalak heardthe roar and thought that it was some mighty and mysterious creature that wouldtake over the kingdom.
 
Damanak sensed his fear and saw a good opportunity to regain the post ofminister that his father had held before. He approached Pingalak and knowingthe cause of his fear arranged a meeting between him and Sanjeevak. To hisdisgust the two became fast friends and now he started thinking about breakingthe friendship. He succeeded in his evil design that resulted in the lion killing thebull. Within this main story there are twenty-three nested stories each having itsown moral to take note of. There is enough material in here to resolve issues thatcrop up in real life. We shall present here the stories that have relevance tosituations in every age and culture.
The Foolish Monkey
The first story comes up when Karatak, the brother of Damanak tries to dissuadehim from meddling into the affairs of the king. In a certain town a temple wasbeing built. The construction workers were on a break when a group of monkeyscame to the site. One of the monkeys became curious about a block of wood thatwas being sawed. The workers had put a metal wedge between the two splitparts to keep the parting open. Out of curiosity the monkey started pulling thewedge. Unfortunately his private parts were hanging in the opening. When hepulled out the wedge they were caught between the split sections and themonkey met his end. The moral here is: never meddle in something that is noneof your concern.*************
The Jackal and the Drum
To counter the brother’s arguments Karatak gives a long discourse on how easyand profitable it is to gain king’s favor if one uses intelligence and tactics. Hegoes over to Pingalak and tells him that one should not to be afraid of somethingunknown but try to know what it is. He sites the story of a jackal who was hungryand looking for food. He saw a drum lying at a distance; it had been abandonedquite sometime back and many bushes had grown around it. Blown in strongwind the branches hit the drum and it produced its usual sound. Not knowingwhat it was he thought that it was someone dangerous making that sound; hethought of running away from the forest before this someone spotted and killedhim.On second thought, though, he decided to first find out who or what it was. Heslowly approached the drum and noticed that the sound was being produced bythe branches. To make sure he himself tried beating it. Now he felt very happyseeing that it was big and had skin on it, so must have a lot of meat inside.Thinking about food he tore open the skin and was terribly disappointed to findthat it was just a hollow space.

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