The journey of ‘Panchatantra’ through the world

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is on a three-day visit to India, gifted an animated version of Kalila Wa Demna (Farsi translation of the Panchtantra) and a copy of the Mahabharat in Farsi to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While popularity of epics like Ramayan and Mahabharat is known far and wide, not many are aware of reach of Panchatantra, a bestseller which was translated into 50 different languages with over 200 different versions, all before 1600 A.D. Twitter user who goes by the name ‘Adivaraha‘, in a series of tweets talks how Panchatantra became a bestseller of medieval world from Java to Iceland.

A page from Kelileh o Demneh,depicts the jackal-vizier Damanaka (‘Victor’)/ Dimna trying to persuade his lion-king that the honest bull-courtier, Shatraba(شطربة), is a traitor.

- Advertisement - - Article resumes -

A ‘Panchatantra’ relief at the Mendut temple, Central Java, Indonesia.

Meshal ha-Kadmoni, by Isaac ibn Sahula (13th century), which is heavily inspired by Indian Panchatantra

Storytelling is an ancient Indian art and animal fables have appeared in many of our ancient Vedic literature. Panchatantra was written around the 3rd century or before by Vishnusharman to impart knowledge of governance on princes was but the product of the same millennia-old legacy.

Panchtantra illustration in Nalanda Temple, 7th cent CE (Turtle and the Geese)

An 18th century Pancatantra manuscript page in Braj dialect of Hindi (The Talkative Turtle).

But the lesser known story is the spread of Panchatantra throughout the known medieval world. A proud legacy which we have completely chosen to ignore. This thread celebrates the fascinating story of the migration of Panchatantra throughout the known world. One of the earliest translation of Panchtantra outside India was done in Pahlavi. The story goes that in year 570 CE, Iranian physician named Borzuya travelled to India in search of the plant giving immortality which turned out to be the Panchtantra – a book which granted immortality from ignorance! Borzuya secretly copied/translated the Panchatantra from the king’s library in Kannauj and sent it to the court of Khusrau Anushirvan. Borzuya’s 570 CE Pahlavi translation (Kalile va Demne, now lost) was translated into Syriac and nearly two centuries later, it was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Muqaffa around 750 CE.

A page from the Arabic version of Kalila wa dimna, dated 1210 CE, illustrating the King of the Crows conferring with his political advisors.

An illustration from a Syrian edition dated 1354. The rabbit fools the elephant king by showing him the reflection of the moon.

The Arabic version was named Kalilah wa Dimnah which is basically Arabic rendering of Karataka and Damanaka – names of the two jackal ministers – frequently recurring characters of the book I of Panchtantra. It is this name that subsequently became popular in the Middle East. The Arabic version was re-translated into Syriac in the 10th or 11th century, into Greek around 1080, into modern Persian by Abu’l-Maʿālī Naṣrallāh Munshi in 1121. Around 15th century at the request of Timurid Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara Persian version was further simplified known as Anwar-e-Sohayli (the lights of Canopus) which ironically became popular in Mughal elites of India itself! Around 12th century it was translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Joel which through its Latin translation spread throughout the Europe where it was popularly known as The Fables of Indian sage Bidpai/Pilpai (probable corruption of Sanskrit word Vidyapati or Vajapeyi).

Isaac ben Solomon Ibn Sahula’s Meshal haqadmoni, printed in Italy by Gershom Soncino, 1497.

Between 1263 – 1278 The Hebrew version was translated into Latin by John of Capua – an Italian Jewish convert to Christianity and published under the title of “Directorium Vitae Humanae” (Directory of Human Life) which later on spread through rest of Europe. Beyond the translations itself, Panchtantra also influenced Arabic & European narrative literature of middle ages such as The Arabian night & La Fontaine Which in fact specifically mentions fables of Indian sage Pilpay as a source of inspiration.

Hence, the Farsi translation of Panchatantra being gifted by Iranian President to Prime Minister Modi is like the ancient Indian wisdom reaching a full circle.

(you can follow ‘Adivaraha’ at @vajrayudha11 on Twitter)

Share and Support:
Support OpIndia by paying for content

Most read articles recently

Here is why BJP lost elections, and of course, it was deliberate

What BJP supporters need to realise is this - no political party ever wants to lose and least of all, a party led by the two most politically aggressive politicians the country has ever seen.
Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Mizoram assembly election results

Latest updates and breaking news on counting day: EC declares 3 wins in Madhya Pradesh, all 3 go to BJP

Latest news and updates from 2018 assembly election results of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Mizoram.

Can the BJP satisfy its online supporters? If only it were Congress

BJP supporters online, also known as the ‘right wing’, are first to attack the party and write it off after electoral setbacks.

Prashant Bhushan and left-liberal cabal was actively helping Vijay Mallya in UK court by attacking CBI special director Rakesh Asthana

Vijay Mallya's defence team was using Indian left-liberals' allegations agaist Rakesh Asthana in London court

Has PM Modi sounded the start of slog overs with the new RBI Governor’s appointment

Shaktikanta Das, who is currently a member of The Finance Commission and Former Finance Secretary (the one who presided over Demonetisation), has been appointed as the new RBI Governor by the Modi government

BJP’s real woes: Lessons from the electoral semi-finals

The prolonged silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah on election results was very telling. The results were clearly unexpected and possibly led to prolonged internal discussions on the future course of action.

Mayawati extends support to Congress for Madhya Pradesh, may consider Rajasthan ‘to keep BJP out of power’

She said to defeat BJP in Rajasthan, too, BSP will extend support to Congress.

Demystifying Civil Society: Organization linked to ‘Urban Naxals’ wants schools to teach ‘Human Rights Education’

Federation for Human Rights (FPR) urged the government of Puducherry to introduce "Human Rights Curriculum" in the school curriculum in the Union Territory.

Supreme Court says mosque located in the Allahabad Court complex not to be removed now, orders to maintain status quo

The Allahabad High Court has been facing a crunch of space so much so that twelve judges have been sharing six chambers.

Latest articles

Connect with us

125,531FansLike
97,403FollowersFollow
6,058SubscribersSubscribe

Don't miss these