Panchatantra

(Panchatantra is arguably the mother of all fables in the world. Conceived around 3rd century BCE, this epic tome has inspired fables and kids stories across civilizations ever since. You can read the Wikipedia entry of these fables here for further details. While the stories herein were originally targeted towards young men (princes to be precise) to teach them about the modern ways of life and statecraft, they have been simplified here to cater to kids by removing mature content like death and adultery.)

In ancient times, there was a kingdom named Mahilaropyam in south India which was ruled by an accomplished king named Amarasakti. This king had three sons. Their names were Bahushakti, Ugrashakti & Anantashakti, and they were supreme blockheads. On realization that his sons were lazy and were hostile to education, he summoned his minsters and said:

“You know I am not happy with my sons. According to men of learning, a stupid son will bring dishonour to his father. How can I awaken their intelligence & make them fit to be my successors?”

One of the ministers, Sumati, suggested the name of Vishnu Sharma, a Brahman with a reputation for competence in numerous sciences. He was known to be a genius in all the shastras and the theory of politics and diplomacy. “He is the most competent person to tutor the princes. Entrust them to his care and very soon you will see the change.”

The king summoned Acharya Vishnu Sharma and pleaded with him “Holy sir, take pity on me and please train my sons into incomparable masters of the art of practical life and I will make you the lord of a hundred villages.”

Vishnu Sharma said “O king, I am eighty years old and have no greed for cash. I am not the man to sell good learning for a hundred villages. But since you have requested, I take a pledge. Make a note of the date. If I fail to render your sons, in six months’ time, incomparable masters of the art of intelligent living, you can ask me to change my name.”

Wondered by the Brahman’s highly unconventional promise, the king immediately called his sons and handed them to his care. Vishnu Sharma took them to his monastery where he started teaching them. He, however, realised that it was more difficult than he had thought to teach his new students through conventional means. Therefore he decided to pass on wisdom to them in the form of stories. He created five books about the five core strategies (Panchatantra) of ways of the world.

  1. Mitra-bheda: The Loss of Friends (The Lion and the Bull)
  2. Mitra-lābha or Mitra-samprāpti: The Gaining of Friends (The Dove, Crow, Mouse, Tortoise and Deer)
  3. Kākolūkīyam: War and Peace (Of Crows and Owls)
  4. Labdhapraṇāśam: Loss Of Gains (The Monkey and the Crocodile)
  5. Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ: Ill-Considered Action / Rash deeds (The Brahman and the Mongoose)

Keeping his word, he finished the task the king entrusted him in six months and the three princes went on to become able administrators.