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The Panchatantra (also spelled Pañcatantra, Sanskrit पञ्चतन्त्र "Five Chapters") is a collection of Sanskrit animal fables in prose and verse. The original version, now lost, was written around 200 BC and is attributed to Vishnu Sarma.

The work illustrates the central priniciples of Raja neeti (political science) through animal stories. The five principles illustrated are:

  • Mitra Bhedha (The Loss of Friends)
  • Mitra Laabha (Gaining Friends)
  • Suhrudbheda (Causing Dissension Between Friends)
  • Vigraha (Separation)
  • Sandhi (Union)

The Panchatantra reached its current form in the 4th-6th centuries AD. One of the most influential Sanskrit contributions to world literature, it was exported to China and South East Asia by Buddhist Monks on Pilgrimage. Travellers carried the stories westward to Persia and Arabia, where they are known as the stories of Kalilag and Damnag.

They were then transmitted in the 11th century to Greece and thence to the rest of Europe. But it was a 12th century Hebrew translation that became the source of most European versions. The French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine acknowledged his indebtedness the work in the introduction to his Second Fables:

"This is a second book of fables that I present to the public... I have to acknowledge that the greatest part is inspired from Pilpay, an Indian Sage" ("Je dirai par reconnaissance que j’en dois la plus grande partie à Pilpay sage indien") Avertissement to the Second Compilation of Fables, 1678, Jean de La Fontaine

The stories also travelled to Indonesia in both oral and written forms. Similar tales are found in almost all cultures of the world - many folklorists look upon India as the source of all the tales.

See also

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