From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Sanskrit is a classical language of India ("Indian Latin"), a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and one of the 23 official languages of India. Member of Indo-Iranian and thus Indo-European language family.
Literature in Sanskrit begins with the Vedas, and continues with the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India; the golden age of Classical Sanskrit literature dates to late Antiquity (roughly the 3rd to 8th centuries AD). Literary production saw a late bloom in the 11th century before declining after 1100 AD. There are contemporary efforts towards revival, with events like the "All-India Sanskrit Festival" (since 2002) holding composition contests.
Given its extensive use in religious literature, primarily in Hinduism, and the fact that most modern Indian languages have been directly derived from or strongly influenced by Sanskrit, the language and its literature is of great importance in Indian culture, not unlike that of Greek and Latin in European culture.
Fairy tales and fables
Sanskrit fairy tales and fables are chiefly characterised by ethical reflections and proverbial philosophy. A peculiar style, marked by the insertion of a number of different stories within the framework of a single narrative, made its way to Persian and Arabic literatures, exerting a major influence on works such as One Thousand and One Nights.
The two most important collections are Panchatantra and Hitopadesha; originally intended as manuals for the instruction of kings in domestic and foreign policy, they belong to the class of literature which the Hindus call nīti-śāstra, or "Science of Political Ethics".
Other notable prose works include a collection of pretty and ingenious fairy tales, with a highly Oriental colouring, the Vetāla-panchaviṃśati or "Twenty-five Tales of the Vetāla" (a demon supposed to occupy corpses), the Siṃhāsana-dvātriṃçikā or "Thirty-two Stories of the Lion-seat" (i.e. throne), which also goes by the name of Vikrama-charita, or "Adventures of Vikrama" and the Śuka-saptati, or "Seventy Stories of a Parrot". These three collections of fairy tales are all written in prose and are comparatively short.
Somadeva's Kathā-sarit-sāgara or "Ocean of Rivers of Stories" is a work of special importance: composed in verse and is of very considerable length. It contains more than 22,000 shlokas, equal to nearly one-fourth of the Mahābhārata.
Fable collections, originally serving as the handbooks of practical moral philosophy, provided an abundant reservoir of ethical maxims that become so popular that works consisting exclusively of poetical aphorisms started to appear. The most important are the two collections by the highly-gifted Bhartṛhari, entitled respectively Nīti-śataka, or "Century of Conduct," and Vairāgya-śataka, or "Century of Renunciation." The keynote prevailing in this new ethical poetry style is the doctrine of the vanity of human life, which was developed before the rise of Buddhism in the sixth century B.C., and has dominated Indian thought ever since.