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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Hitopadesha is a collection of Sanskrit fables in prose and verse written in the 12 century B.C.E. It is an independent treatment of the Panchatantra.

The only clue to the identity of the author of Hitopadesha is found in the concluding verses of the work, which gives us the name Narayana (नारायण), and which mention the patronage of a king called Dhavalachandra. As no other work by this author is known, and since the ruler mentioned has not been traced in other sources, we know almost nothing of either of them. It seems likely that Narayana was a pandit and preceptor employed in Dhavalachandra’s court. Since the invocatory and final verses evoke the god Shiva, he was most probably a Shaivite. Originally written in Sanskrit, the stories of his book have traveled to several parts of the world.

The book has many stories in common with the Panchatantra; it is believed that the author Narayana loved the Pachatantra so much that he rewrote it, improving the flow and adding stories of his own.

The work has been translated into most of the major languages of the world. After Sir William Jones, who had encountered it in 1786, announced his "discovery", it was translated into English by Charles Wilkins, who had made the earliest English translation of the Bhagavad Gita. An English translation by Sir Edwin Arnold, then Principal of Puna College, Pune, India, was published in London in 1861.

One of the most widely read Sanskrit books in India, Hitopadesha tales are short stories that have the priceless treasure of morality and knowledge. After Bhagavad Gita, Hitopadesha is considered to be the most sold religious text in India. The tales from Hitopadesha are written in a very logical and clear way and one does not have to make much effort to figure out what moral a particular story is implying. The stories feature animals and birds as main characters.

Hitopadesha has been derived from two words, hita (हित) and upadeśa (उपदेश). It basically means to counsel or advice with benevolence. The author of Hitopadesha, Narayana says that the main purpose of creating the Hitopadesha is to instruct young minds in a way that they learn the philosophy of life and are able to grow into responsible adults. The stories are very interesting and youngsters not only find it interesting, but also accept it easily.

The Hitopadesha although similar in content and structure to the Panchatantra is more copious. It has been translated into many languages and has been circulated all around the world. It is very popular in many countries and is one of the most widely read children's book. Even in today's world, it continues to amaze people with its simple but meaningful stories and many people are still inspired by the tales of Hitopadesha. Its simplicity and logic is what makes it a favorite among children and their parents.

The Hitopadesa may thus be fairly styled "The Father of all Fables"; for from its numerous translations have come Esop and Pilpay, and in later days Reineke Fuchs. Originally compiled in Sanskrit, it was rendered, by order of Nushiraván, in the sixth century, A.D., into Persic. From the Persic it passed, A.D. 850, into the Arabic, and thence into Hebrew and Greek. In its own land it obtained as wide a circulation. The Emperor Akbar, impressed with the wisdom of its maxims and the ingenuity of its apologues, commended the work of translating it to his own minister Abdul Fazel. He accordingly put the book into a familiar style, and published it with explanations, under the title of the Criterion of Wisdom. He followed the Emperor's suggestion that the incantions which often interrupt the narrative be abridged. To this day, in India, the Hitopadesa, under other names (as the Anvári Suhaili/1/, retains the delighted attention of young and old, and has some representative in all the Indian vernaculars.

See also

English Translations

The Clay Sanskrit Library has published a translation of Hitopadesha by Judit Törzsök under the title of Friendly Advice as the first part of the volume Friendly Advice & King Víkrama's Adventures.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hitopadesha" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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