The Panchatantra, Book I
Category: Children
Level 3.71 4:54 h
The Panchatantra, Book I is a series of fables set together inside a larger story. The tales are told using verse and are all centered around animals. Although the tales are about animals and fictional, they teach lessons and touch on more significant issues in Indian culture. Despite the author being unknown, the value of these powerful fables has endured.

The Panchatantra

Vishnu Sharma

The Panchatantra, Book I


One Vishnusharman, shrewdly gleaning
All worldly wisdom’s inner meaning,
In these five books the charm compresses
Of all such books the world possesses.

And this is how it happened.

In the southern country is a city called Maidens’ Delight. There lived a king named Immortal-Power. He was familiar with all the works treating of the wise conduct of life. His feet were made dazzling by the tangle of rays of light from jewels in the diadems of mighty kings who knelt before him. He had reached the far shore of all the arts that embellish life. This king had three sons. Their names were Rich-Power, Fierce-Power, Endless-Power, and they were supreme blockheads.

Now when the king perceived that they were hostile to education, he summoned his counselors and said: “Gentlemen, it is known to you that these sons of mine, being hostile to education, are lacking in discernment. So when I behold them, my kingdom brings me no happiness, though all external thorns are drawn. For there is wisdom in the proverb:

Of sons unborn, or dead, or fools,
Unborn or dead will do:
They cause a little grief, no doubt;
But fools, a long life through.

And again:

To what good purpose can a cow
That brings no calf nor milk, be bent?
Or why beget a son who proves
A dunce and disobedient?

Some means must therefore be devised to awaken their intelligence.”

And they, one after another, replied: “O King, first one learns grammar, in twelve years. If this subject has somehow been mastered, then one masters the books on religion and practical life. Then the intelligence awakens.”

But one of their number, a counselor named Keen, said: “O King, the duration of life is limited, and the verbal sciences require much time for mastery. Therefore let some kind of epitome be devised to wake their intelligence. There is a proverb that says:

Since verbal science has no final end,
Since life is short, and obstacles impend,
Let central facts be picked and firmly fixed,
As swans extract the milk with water mixed.

Now there is a Brahman here named Vishnusharman, with a reputation for competence in numerous sciences. Intrust the princes to him. He will certainly make them intelligent in a twinkling.”

When the king had listened to this, he summoned Vishnusharman and said: “Holy sir, as a favor to me you must make these princes incomparable masters of the art of practical life. In return, I will bestow upon you a hundred land-grants.”

And Vishnusharman made answer to the king: “O King, listen. Here is the plain truth. I am not the man to sell good learning for a hundred land-grants. But if I do not, in six months’ time, make the boys acquainted with the art of intelligent living, I will give up my own name. Let us cut the matter short. Listen to my lion-roar. My boasting arises from no greed for cash. Besides, I have no use for money; I am eighty years old, and all the objects of sensual desire have lost their charm. But in order that your request may be granted, I will show a sporting spirit in reference to artistic matters. 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, then His Majesty is at liberty to show me His Majestic bare bottom.”

When the king, surrounded by his counselors, had listened to the Brahman’s highly unconventional promise, he was penetrated with wonder, intrusted the princes to him, and experienced supreme content.

Meanwhile, Vishnusharman took the boys, went home, and made them learn by heart five books which he composed and called: (I) “The Loss of Friends,” (II) “The Winning of Friends,” (III) “Crows and Owls,” (IV) “Loss of Gains,” (V) “Ill-considered Action.”

These the princes learned, and in six months’ time they answered the prescription. Since that day this work on the art of intelligent living, called Panchatantra, or the “Five Books,” has traveled the world, aiming at the awakening of intelligence in the young. To sum the matter up:

Whoever learns the work by heart,
Or through the story-teller’s art
Becomes acquainted,
His life by sad defeat — although
The king of heaven be his foe —
Is never tainted.

Book I

The Loss of Friends

Here then begins Book I, called “The Loss of Friends.”

The first verse runs:

The forest lion and the bull
Were linked in friendship, growing, full:
A jackal then estranged the friends
For greedy and malicious ends.

And this is how it happened.

In the southern country was a city called Maidens’ Delight. It rivaled the city of heaven’s King, so abounding in every urban excellence as to form the central jewel of Earth’s diadem. Its contour was like that of Kailasa Peak. Its gates and palaces were stocked with machines, missile weapons, and chariots in great variety. Its central portal, massive as Indrakila Mountain, was fitted with bolt and bar, panel and arch, all formidable, impressive, solid. Its numerous temples lifted their firm bulk near spacious squares and crossings. It wore a moat-girdled zone of walls that recalled the high-uplifted Himalayas.

In this city lived a merchant named Increase. He possessed a heap of numerous virtues, and a heap of money, a result of the accumulation of merit in earlier lives.

As he once pondered in the dead of night, his conclusions took this form: “Even an abundant store of wealth, if pecked at, sinks together like a pile of soot. A very little, if added to, grows like an ant-hill. Hence, even though money be abundant, it should be increased. Riches unearned should be earned. What is earned, should be guarded. What is guarded, should be enlarged and heedfully invested. Money, even if hoarded in commonplace fashion, is likely to go in a flash, the hindrances being many. Money unemployed when opportunities arise, is the same as money unpossessed. Therefore, money once acquired should be guarded, increased, employed. As the proverb says:

Release the money you have earned;
So keep it safely still:
The surplus water of a tank
Must find a way to spill.

Wild elephants are caught by tame;
With capital it is the same:
In business, beggars have no scope
Whose stock-in-trade is empty hope.

If any fail to use his fate
For joy in this or future state,
His riches serve as foolish fetters;
He simply keeps them for his betters.”

Having thus set his mind in order, he collected merchandise bound for the city of Mathura, assembled his servants, and after saying farewell to his parents when asterism and lunar station were auspicious, set forth from the city, with his people following and with blare of conch-shell and beat of drum preceding. At the first water he bade his friends turn back, while he proceeded.

To bear the yoke he had two bulls of good omen. Their names were Joyful and Lively; they looked like white clouds, and their chests were girded with golden bells.

Presently he reached a forest lovely with grisleas, acacias, dhaks, and sals, densely planted with other trees of charming aspect; fearsome with elephants, wild oxen, buffaloes, deer, grunting-cows, boars, tigers, leopards, and bears; abounding in water that issued from the flanks of mountains; rich in caves and thickets.

Here the bull Lively was overcome, partly by the excessive weight of the wagon, partly because one foot sank helpless where far-flung water from cascades made a muddy spot. At this spot the bull somehow snapped the yoke and sank in a heap. When the driver saw that he was down, he jumped excitedly from the wagon, ran to the merchant not far away, and humbly bowing, said: “Oh, my lord! Lively was wearied by the trip, and sank in the mud.”

On hearing this, merchant Increase was deeply dejected. He halted for five nights, but when the poor bull did not return to health, he left caretakers with a supply of fodder, and said: “You must join me later, bringing Lively, if he lives; if he dies, after performing the last sad rites.” Having given these directions, he started for his destination.

On the next day, the men, fearing the many drawbacks of the forest, started also and made a false report to their master. “Poor Lively died,” they said, “and we performed the last sad rites with fire and everything else.” And the merchant, feeling grieved for a mere moment, out of gratitude performed a ceremony that included rites for the departed, then journeyed without hindrance to Mathura.

In the meantime, Lively, since his fate willed it and further life was predestined, hobbled step by step to the bank of the Jumna, his body invigorated by a mist of spray from the cascades. There he browsed on the emerald tips of grass-blades, and in a few days grew plump as Shiva’s bull, high-humped, and full of energy. Every day he tore the tops of ant-hills with goring horns, and frisked like an elephant.

But one day a lion named Rusty, with a retinue of all kinds of animals, came down to the bank of the Jumna for water. There he heard Lively’s prodigious bellow. The sound troubled his heart exceedingly, but he concealed his inner feelings while beneath a spreading banyan tree he drew up his company in what is called the Circle of Four.

Now the divisions of the Circle of Four are given as: (1) the lion, (2) the lion’s guard, (3) the understrappers, (4) the menials. In all cities, capitals, towns, hamlets, market-centers, settlements, border-posts, land-grants, monasteries, and communities there is just one occupant of the lion’s post. Relatively few are active as the lion’s guard. The understrappers are the indiscriminate throng. The menials are posted on the outskirts. The three classes are each divided into members high, middle, and low.

Now Rusty, with counselors and intimates, enjoyed a kingship of the following order. His royal office, though lacking the pomp of umbrella, flyflap, fan, vehicle, and amorous display, was held erect by sheer pride in the sentiment of unaffected pluck. It showed unbroken haughtiness and abounding self-esteem. It manifested a native zeal for unchecked power that brooked no rival. It was ignorant of cringing speech, which it delegated to those who like that sort of thing. It functioned by means of impatience, wrath, haste, and hauteur. Its manly goal was fearlessness, disdaining fawning, strange to obsequiousness, unalarmed. It made use of no wheedling artifices, but glittered in its reliance on enterprise, valor, dignity. It was independent, unattached, free from selfish worry. It advertised the reward of manliness by its pleasure in benefiting others. It was unconquered, free from constraint and meanness, while it had no thought of elaborating defensive works. It kept no account of revenue and expenditure. It knew no deviousness nor time-serving, but was prickly with the energy earned by loftiness of spirit. It wasted no deliberation on the conventional six expedients, nor did it hoard weapons or jewelry. It had an uncommon appetite for power, never adopted subterfuges, was never an object of suspicion. It paid no heed to wives or ambush-layers, to their torrents of tears or their squeals. It was without reproach. It had no artificial training in the use of weapons, but it did not disappoint expectations. It found satisfactory food and shelter without dependence on servants. It had no timidity about any foreign forest, and no alarms. Its head was high. As the proverb says:

The lion needs, in forest station,
No trappings and no education,
But lonely power and pride;
And all the song his subjects sing,
Is in the words: “O King! O King!”
No epithet beside.

And again:

The lion needs, for his appointing,
No ceremony, no anointing;
His deeds of heroism bring
Him fortune. Nature crowns him king.

The elephant is the lion’s meat,
With drops of trickling ichor sweet;
Though lack thereof should come to pass,
The lion does not nibble grass.

Now Rusty had in his train two jackals, sons of counselors, but out of a job. Their names were Cheek and Victor. These two conferred secretly, and Victor said: “My dear Cheek, just look at our master Rusty. He came this way for water. For what reason does he crouch here so disconsolate?” “Why meddle, my dear fellow?” said Cheek. “There is a saying:

Death pursues the meddling flunkey:
Note the wedge-extracting monkey”

“How was that?” asked Victor. And Cheek told the story of THE WEDGE-PULLING MONKEY.

The Wedge-Pulling Monkey

There was a city in a certain region. In a grove near by, a merchant was having a temple built. Each day at the noon hour the foreman and workers would go to the city for lunch.

Now one day a troop of monkeys came upon the half-built temple. There lay a tremendous anjana-log, which a mechanic had begun to split, a wedge of acacia-wood being thrust in at the top.

There the monkeys began their playful frolics upon tree-top, lofty roof, and woodpile. Then one of them, whose doom was near, thoughtlessly bestrode the log, thinking: “Who stuck a wedge in this queer place?” So he seized it with both hands and started to work it loose. Now what happened when the wedge gave at the spot where his private parts entered the cleft, that, sir, you know without being told.

“And that is why I say that meddling should be avoided by the intelligent. And you know,” he continued, “that we two pick up a fair living just from his leavings.”

“But,” said Victor, “how can you give first-rate service merely from a desire for food with no desire for distinction? There is wisdom in the saying:

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