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An Indian work of morally enlightening tales in Sanskrit originating around 500 A.D.
The background of the tales is the education of four slovenly princes in the kingdom of Mahilaropya about the finer aspects of political science and morals by a skilled pundit called VishnuSharman.

The literal meaning of Panchatantra is five tantras or sciences

They are labelled as follows:
  • The separation of friends. This is a story of a deep friendship between a lion and bull which is destroyed by two crafty jackals for their own ends.
  • The acquisition of friends.
  • The crows and the owls. A story about a feud between the crows and owls involving elements of espionage , double dealing and manipulation.
  • Losing what has been gained.
  • Thoughtless actions.
The stories are usually about animals and each story has several sub-stories within it , usually told by the characters in the story. The level of story nesting goes upto 5 levels deep in a couple of cases!

A distinction that some of the tales from the Panchatantra have in contrast with with other similar tales like Aesop's fables or the Jataka tales is that , cunning and deceit are not shown as a bad thing but as a powerful skill used by rulers to acheive their ends. This illustrates that the work is not just moral in nature but also political.
The animals who feature in the stories , are used in an allegorical way , representing not just talking animals but certain stereotypical classes of people in society.

The various translations and derived works do little justice to the teachings and concentrate more on the story. In the original sanskrit version , the story plays a minor part and the lectures given by the various characters are more prominent. Also some of the stories are not covered in any translation that has been published.

An excellent link for some of the stories is http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/panchatantra.html.

In India , Anant Pai created a revolution in the comic book industry by creating a comic called Amar Chitra Katha (translates to Eternal Picture Tale) which covered The Panchatantra , The Mahabharata , The Ramayana and almost every Indian mythological and folk tale.
A whole generation of kids have been raised on these comics which still provide a more healthy reading diet than the plethora of psychedelic super-hero comics by Marvel Comics et al.

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