The tales of Panchatantra, perhaps, are the oldest stories known in the literature of India. The dates of the Panchatantra are not known and these tales are usually attributed to Vishnu Sharma. Some believe that the fables of panchatantra are as old as Rig-veda.
The popular story about the origin of Panchatantra goes like this: Once there was a king who has three son who are dull and without any wit or wisdom. Worried about the wellbeing of his sons the king approaches a wise brahmin called Vishnu Sharma and prays him to impart wisdom into his sons. Since the songs of the king are dimwits, he chooses to pass the wisdom in the form of interesting fables. The stories narrated by Vishnu Sarma contains animals and birds and he makes them speak and behave like humans.
Panchatantra tells about five ways that help the human being succeed in life. Pancha means five and tantra means ways (or strategies or principles). Addressed to the king's children, the stories are primarily about statecraft and are popular throughout the world. The five strategies are:
- Quarrel among friends (mitra-beda)
- Gaining friends (mitra labha)
- Of crows and owls
- Loss of gains
- Imprudence (mindless action)
Stories from Panchatantra
The Heron, Serpent and the Mongoose
The Heron, Serpent and the Mongoose
The crab heard of the serpent and then thought to itself, " The heron is also the natural enemy of our race. So i need a scheme to get rid of all of them". So he advised the heron to throw fish bits all the way from the house of the mongoose to the tree where it lived.
The heron did as told and the mongoose following the trail of the fish came and ate the seprent and at the same time crept up the tree and ate all the herons too.
The mice and the elephants
Once upon a time there lived a group of mice under a tree peacefully. But once a group of elephants came that way and destroyed the homes of all the rats as a result of which many of them were crushed to death. Then the king of rats decided to approach the elephant chief and request him to guide his herd through another route.
The elephant king agreed to this and took another route to the water. And so the lives of the rats were saved. One day a group of elephant-hunters came and trapped the group of elephants in huge nets. Then the elephant king suddenly remembered the king of the rats. He summoned one of the elephants of his herd which had not been trapped, to go and contact the king of rats.
On listening to the elephant, the rat king took his entire group of mice and they cut open the nets which trapped the elephant herd. So the elephant herd was totally set free.
The cat, partridge and the hare
Once upon a time there lived a partridge under a tree. The partridge one day decided to go to the fields and indulge itself in the food there. But it did not return for many days as it found the fields a good source of food.
In the meantime a hare came along one day and occupied the same dwelling which the patridge used to live in. The partridge however returned from the fields having grown plump from the food. It wanted to claim the dwelling for itself. A fight ensued and the hare was saying that the dwelling belonged to whoever occupied it.
Then they both decided to contact a supposedly learned cat, on the shores of the Ganges who was supposed to be wise and old. So one day they both approached the cat with their problem. The cat, which was actually a hypocrite who earned his livelihood by posing as a priest, decided to take advantage of the occasion. On hearing the partridge and the hare from a distance, it said, "Sorry! I can't hear you from that far a distance because of old age. Dont worry I mean no harm to you. Come closer and both of you relate your stories."
They were fooled into coming near and as soon as he could lay his hands on both of them he killed them both and had a meal.
The gold giving serpent
Once upon a time there lived a poor brahman. He used to work hard on the fields but all his efforts did not bear fruit. He one day found an anthill on his field and found a serpent there. Thinking that he had not paid respect to the gauridan diety of his field, he procured milk and started feeding the anthill with milk from that day. One day he found a gold coin in the plate. So he used to get a gold coin everyday he fed the serpent with milk.
Then one day he had to go to the town and asked his son to look after the seprentby feeding him the milk. The son was greedy and he thought,"This anthill must be full of gold coins". And he stuck the serpent. Unluckily the serpent did not die and it attacked the boy and he died.
The day dreaming priest
Once upon a time there lived a priest who was extremely lazy and poor at the same time. He did not want to do any hard work but used to dream of being rich one day. He got his food by begging for alms. One morning he got a pot of milk as part of the alms. He was extremely delighted and went home with the pot of milk. He boiled the milk, drank some of it and put the remaining milk in a pot. He added slight curds in the pot for converting the milk to curd. He then lay down to rest.
He was extremely delighted at the pot of milk he found and started dreaming about the pot of curd while he lay asleep. He dreamt that if he could become rich somehow all his miseries would be gone. His thoughts turned to the pot of milk he had set to form curd. He dreamt on : "By morning the pot of milk would set, it would be converted to curd. I would churn the curd and make butter from it. I would heat the butter and make ghee out of it. I will go to that market and sell that ghee, and make some money. With that money i will buy a hen. The hen will lay may eggs which will hatch and there will be many more hens and cocks. These cocks and hen will in turn lay hundreds of eggs and I will soon have a poultry farm of my own." He kept on imagining.
"I will sell all the hens of my poultry and buy some cows, and open a milk dairy. All the town people will buy milk from me. I will be very rich and soon I shall buy jewellery. The king will buy all the jewellery from me. I will be so rich that I will be able to marry an exceptionally beautiful girl from a rich family. Soon I will have a handsome son. If he does any mischief I will be very angry and to teach him a lesson, I will hit him with a big stick." During this dream, he involuntarily picked up the stick next to his bed and thinking that he was beating his son, raised the stick and hit the pot. The pot of milk broke and he awoke from his sleep. Only then did he realise he was daydreaming.
The mongoose and the farmer's wife
Once upon a time there lived a farmer and his wife. They had a new born son. The farmer's wife wanted to have a pet animal to protect the child which would also be a companion to the child. They debated and decided upon a mongoose. So they brought a mongoose and started rearing it.
A couple of months later, one day the farmer and his wife wanted to go out of the house leaving the child at home. The farmer thought that the mongoose would take care of the child while they were away. So they left the mongoose and the child at home and went out.
The farmer's wife returned earlier and on returning home found that the mouth of the mongoose was stained with blood and she immediately inferred that the mongoose had killed the child. In anger she threw a box on the mongoose and the mongoose was hurt badly. She then rushed inside to see what happened to the child. She was surprised to find a dead snake lying in the room. She could infer that that the mongoose had saved the child's life by killing the snake. Realising the mistake she went out of the room only to find the mongoose dead on the floor. She cried out load at her hasty action.
The Sage's daughter
Once upon a time there lived a sage on the banks of a river. He and his wife did not have any children. One day when the sage was praying in the middle of the river, an eagle happened to pass by and the eagle dropped a female mouse in the hands of the sage. The sage found the mouse in his hands on opening his eyes, and took it home to his wife.
On reaching home, he talked to his wife about the mouse and they decided to convert the mouse into a young baby girl. The sage and his wife began to take care of the girl child and brought her up as their daughter. The child grew day by day to a beautiful maiden by the age of sixteen. At this age, the sage decided to find a match for the girl. He and his wife decided that the Sun God would be an ideal match for their girl.
So the sage prayed for the Sun God to appear, and once the sun god appeared asked him to marry his daughter. But his daughter said, "Sorry! I cannot marry the sun god because he is very intense and I will be reduced to ashes in his heat and light.". The sage was displeased and asked the sun god to suggest a possible groom. The sun god suggested the name of the Lord of the clouds. For, the cloud can easily stop the rays of the sun.
The sage then prayed for the lord of the clouds and once he appeared him took him to his daughter. The daughter once again decided not accept him as his groom. She said, " I do not want to marry a person as dark as him. Moreover, I am afraid of the thunder he produces". The sage was dejected once again and asked the lord of clouds for a suitable groom. The lord of clouds suggested, " Why don't you try the lord of wind, for he can easily blow me away".
The sage then prayed for the lord of the wind. On the appearance of the wind-god, he took him to his daughter. His daughter rejected the groom saying that she cannot marry such a feeble person like the wind god who is always on the move. Dejected once again the sage asked the wind-god for a suggestion. The wind-god suggested the lord of the mountain which was rock solid and stopped the wind easily. So the sage then went to the mountain lord and requested him to marry his daughter. But the daughter once again rejected the mountain lord saying that he was too cold-hearted for her to marry and requested the sage to find somebody softer. The mountain god then suggested a mouse to him, because the mouse is soft and yet can easily make holes in the mountain.
This time the daughter was happy and agreed to marrying a he-mouse. So the sage said, "Look at what the destiny had to offer you. You started as a mouse, and were destined to marry a mouse in the end. So be it". He then converted her back to a she-mouse and got her married to a he-mouse.
The Moon lake
Once A large herd of elephants lived in a jungle. Their king was a huge, majestic tusker. He looked after them with love and care. A severe drought hit the area. As there was no rain for a few years, all the rivers and tanks had dried up. Birds and animals died of thirst. The wild elephants suffered for want of water. Their king knew that if they did not get water soon, many of them would die of thirst. He had to find water as quickly as possible.
He asked the elephants to go in different directions to look for water. One of them found a large lake full of water in another jungle far away. The king was happy. He ordered all the elephants to make their way to the lake. It was a beautiful lake. Close to it was a colony of rabbits. The elephants had to pass through this colony. Thousands of rabbits were trampled to death and thousands more were injured. The rabbits were in a panic. Their king called a meeting.
"A herd of wild elephants is passing through our colony," he said. "They have already killed or injured thousands of us. We have to take urgent steps to prevent more deaths. I want all of you to think of a way to save our race." The rabbits thought and thought. How could they stop the elephants? One little rabbit stood up.
"Your Majesty," he said, "if you will send me as your messenger to the king of the elephants, I may be able to find a solution." "By all means, go as my messenger and see what you can do." The little rabbit hurried out.
He saw a group of elephants returning from the lake. Right in the middle was the king. To get near him was impossible. "I will be crushed to death,' thought the rabbit. So he climbed up a huge rock.
"O, king of the elephants," he shouted, "hear me, please." The king heard his voice and turned towards him.
"Well, who are you?" he asked. "I am a messenger," replied the rabbit. "A messenger? From whom?" "I am a messenger from the mighty Moon." "What is your business? Is there a message for me from the Moon?" "Yes, yes, your Majesty. But you must not be angry with me. Please remember that a messenger is never punished for what he has to say. He is only doing his duty." "Very well. Say what you have been sent to say. I shall not harm you." "Sir," said the little rabbit, "the Moon has this to say"
" You, the king of the elephants, have brought your herd to my holy lake and soiled its waters. You have killed thousands of rabbits on your way to the lake. You know that rabbits are under my special protection. Everyone knows that the king of the rabbits lives with me. I ask you not to kill any more rabbits. Otherwise something terrible will happen to you and your herd."
The king of the elephants was shocked. He looked at the little rabbit. "You are right," he said. "We may have killed many rabbits on our way to the lake. I shall see that you do not suffer anymore. I shall request the Moon to forgive me for my sins. Please tell me what I should do." "Come with me alone," replied the rabbit. "Come, I shall take you to the Moon." The little rabbit took the huge elephant to the lake. There they saw the Moon reflected in the still waters. "There, your Majesty, meet the Moon," said the little rabbit.
"Let me worship the divine Moon," said the elephant, and dipped his trunk into the water. At once the water was disturbed. The Moon seemed to move to and fro. The rabbit said, "Now the Moon is angrier than ever." "Why?' asked the king. "What have I done?" "You have touched the holy waters of the lake," replied the rabbit. The elephant bowed his head. "Please ask the Moon to forgive me. Never again will we touch the holy waters of this lake. Never again will we harm the rabbits whom the Moon loves so much." And the king and his herd went away. Soon there was rain and the elephants lived happily. It did not occur to them ever that a little rabbit had fooled them.
The Fox feared by the Lion
Once upon a time there was a lion and a lioness in a dense forest. The couple gave birth to two cubs in due course of time. The lion asked the lioness to stay at home and take care of the cubs. One day the lion could not hunt any animal but found a little fox on the way home. He took it home as a gift for the lioness. The lioness brought the fox kid with the same love as her own cubs. The three young animals grew and played together. One day the children saw an elephant. The lion cubs wanted to fight the elephant. But the fox kid was frightened and asked them to run away. So they ran away and went to the mother lioness.
The lion cubs told the story to her. She laughed at the fox kid. At this the fox kid was offended and in a rage challenged the lioness as to why she called it a coward. The lioness replied, "What's wrong with eating an elephant? You feel like that only because you're not a lion kid. You are the child of a fox. Your breed never eats elephants. If you cannot be bold please leave us and go live with your tribe." The fox kid did not want to live there any longer and left for the forest.
The Brahmin's Gift
Once there lived a pious brahmin in a village. He used to perform religious rituals. On one occasion he was rewarded with a cow by a rich man for his service. The brahmin started to bring the cow to his home. On the way, three rogues saw the brahmin bringing the cow. They were lazy and wanted to cheat the brahmin so that they could take away the cow. They hatched a plan.
The first person approached the brahmin and said, "Are you a washerman that you're pulling a donkey." The brahmin was annoyed at being mistaken for a washerman. He went on. A little later he was met by the second of the three. The second person asked him why being a brahmin he needed to pull a pig. Now the brahmin was confused but he went on. Some distance later he was met by the third person who asked him why he was pulling along a wild animal. Now the brahmin was totally confused and also afraid. He thought that it was a devil animal which took different forms. He ran away leaving the cow behind. The three tricksters laughed at the brahmin at having obtained the cow from the brahmin.
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Vedas and also to Brahmasri Sreeman Vishnu Sharma, an eminent Scholar for the collection)