The Panchatantra: an introduction

The many casual Christians I know are far more familiar with Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1812) than they are with Bible stories. For instance, here are just some of the brothers’ stories:

  • Rapunzel
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Cinderella
  • Snow White
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Golden Goose
    & many other animal stories.

Similarly, better than their classic religious texts, most Indians are probably more familiar with the moral animal tales from the Panchatantra (~200 BCE). In fact, the Panchatantra (Sanskrit for “5 Books”) influenced the famous Arabic book “One Thousand and One Nights” (circa 1000 CE). And it seems that the brothers Grimm themselves also borrowed some of their stories from the Panchatantra. All to say, Western kids may indirectly know this ancient Indian text better than they do their Bible.

The Panchatantra (like Machiavelli’s “The Prince“, 1513) was written to educate future rulers in morality, wisdom and sly states craft.  But most of us have never heard of this ancient Indian text, yet alone of these deep connections. So I will do a series of posts on the Five Books, to remedy that situation for a few of you!

Here are my Panchatantra posts:



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

9 responses to “The Panchatantra: an introduction

  1. The “ring around the rosy” nursery rhyme is supposed to describe the boils on human flesh that killed millions during the Black Death of medieval Europe.

    Kids are good at parroting ancient rhymes. Adults too. We seldom know the gory tales in our songs. But they seem so innocent and sweet– like a tender baby.

    I look forward to your posts to connect the dots between the ancient stories and modern folklore.

  2. Earnest

    Looking forward to it!

  3. Thanks. Does tantra mean book then?

  4. @ Takis,
    Tantra is a very complex word is Sanskrit with a long history. At its earliest it was associated with a loom and the warp from “tan” meaning “to stretch, extend”. Here it is used as a label for a work or as I have translated it, “a book”.

    But Tantra has complex philosophical, religious and ritual meanings too, completely unrelated to the use in Panchatantra.

    Thanx for asking, Takis.

  5. Thanks Sabio. I have heard that Aesop’s fables (well known to us, Greeks, from elementary school) also have origins in India. Panchatantra could very well be one of the sources.

    By the way, you label your nice diagram as “the Panchatantra and other religious documents” suggesting that its contents are religious texts. But, Plato, for example, isn’t.

  6. Another informative picture. Thumbs up. 🙂

  7. @ Takis:
    Yeah, Takis, it used to say “& philosophy texts” but it was too crowded. Maybe I will change it back.

  8. May

    Very informative. I look forward to reading more😊

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