Quick Reference

c.300 ce)

A renowned collection of Indian ‘folk’ wisdom. Composed in Sanskrit by (according to the text itself) an ancient brahmin called Viṣṇuśarman, the Pañcatantra consists of five books of (mostly) animal tales and proverbs, each designed to confront a dilemma in order to make a moral and/or political point. It is not only the best-known collection of its kind in India—where, like its off-shoot, the Hitopadeśa, it helped to define the genre of nīti—but it is also the work of Indian literature most widely disseminated throughout the rest of the world. A Pahlavi translation, now lost, initiated the process that ended in the Pañcatantra influencing many well-known Middle-Eastern and Western story collections, such as the Arabian Nights and La Fontaine's Fables; indeed, according to one calculation, there have been more than two hundred versions in over 50 different languages.

Subjects: Hinduism.

Reference entries