|Stories from Ancient India|
Panchatantra is the oldest extant collection of fables in Sanskrit literature. Dating probably from the 4th century AD, it is based on still earlier collections of folk tales. The Panchatantra is sometimes attributed to an Indian sage, Bidpai (fl. about 300). The fables, primarily about animals, are organized into five books on such topics as winning friends, losing property, and waging war. They were originally intended to instruct a young prince in the conduct that would ensure his worldly success. The Sanskrit original is lost, but the Panchatantra was translated into the major languages of Europe and Southeast Asia and has influenced the folktales of those regions.
Panchatantra is a collection of fables with five (pancha) main tenets (tantra). It is in prose, with occasional verses, especially for maxims or morals. The prose is lucid but not artistic. It begins by saying that the King Amarshakti of Mahilaropya in South India had four mischievous sons badly in need of being disciplined. The king put them in charge of Pandit Vishnusharma, who taught them all about politics, administration and morals through a series of stories or fables. The stories are so constructed that one leads to another but the unity of theme is never lost. It is a novel educational experiment, and one that had worked well with the four naughty princes. Animals with all sorts of human traits, situations that remain relevant to date, and its overall vitality have kept the Panchatantra popular even today. Hitopadesha (Good Advice) is an independent version of Panchatantra for books of a more elegant style than the Panchatantra.
Jataka stories have always been recognized in Buddhist literature and occurred in the canonical Pitakas (literally basket of knowledge) as well as frescoes at Ajanta and railings at Sanchi. Buddhists monks used them in their religious discourses. The Pali work Jataka contains 550 Jataka-stories in 22 nipatas or books. Each story opens with a preface called the `paccuppannavatthu' or `story of the present' which relates the particular circumstances in the Buddha's life which led him to narrate this particular Jataka-story or birth-story, and so reveals some event in the long series of his previous existences as a bodhisattva (One Destined to be a Buddha). There is always a short summary at the end where the Buddha identifies the different actors in the story in their present births at the time of his discourse. Every story bears one or more gathas or verses uttered by the Buddha while still a bodhisattva and so with a part in the narrative, only sometimes are they put into his mouth as the Buddha. Although much of their matter related to Buddhism, the Jataka stories are also folklore. They are full of interesting information about early Buddhist times. of Panchatantra for books of a more elegant style than the Panchatantra.