The Panchatantra, Book III, Vishnu Sharma
The Panchatantra, Book III
Vishnu Sharma
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The Panchatantra ("Five Treatises") is an ancient Indian collection of interrelated animal fables in Sanskrit verse and prose, arranged within a frame story. The text's author has been attributed to Vishnu Sharma in some recensions and Vasubhaga in others, both of which may be pen names. The Panchatantra is a series of inter-woven fables, many of which deploy metaphors of anthropomorphized animals with human virtues and vices. The third treatise discusses war and peace, presenting through animal characters a moral about the battle of wits being a strategic means to neutralize a vastly superior opponent's army. The thesis in this treatise is that a battle of wits is a more potent force than a battle of swords. The choice of animals embeds a metaphor of a war between good versus evil, and light versus darkness.

The Panchatantra

Vishnu Sharma

Book III

Crows and Owls

Here, then, begins Book III, called “Crows and Owls,” which treats of peace, war, and so forth. The first verse runs:

Reconciled although he be,
Never trust an enemy.
For the cave of owls was burned,
When the crows with fire returned.

“How was that?” asked the princes, and Vishnusharman told the following story.

In the southern country is a city called Earth-Base. Near it stands a great banyan tree with countless branches. And in the tree dwelt a crow-king named Cloudy with a countless retinue of crows. There he made his habitation and spent his time.

Now a rival king, a great owl named Foe-Crusher, had his fortress and his habitation in a mountain cave, and he had an unnumbered retinue of owls. This owl-king cherished a grudge, so that whenever he met a crow in his airings, he killed him and passed on. In this way his constant aggression gradually spread rings of dead crows about the banyan tree. Nor is this surprising. For the proverb says:

If you permit disease or foe
To march unheeded, you may know
That death awaits you, sure if slow.

Now one day Cloudy summoned all his counselors and said: “Gentlemen, as you are aware, our enemy is arrogant, energetic, and a judge of occasions. He always comes at nightfall to work havoc in our ranks. How, then, can we counter-attack? For we do not see at night, and in the daytime we cannot discover his fortress. Otherwise, we might go there and strike a blow. What course, then, shall we adopt? There are six possibilities — peace, war, change of base, entrenchment, alliances, and duplicity.”

And they replied: “Your Majesty does well to put this question. For the saying goes:

Good counselors should tell their king,
Unasked, a profitable thing;
If asked, they should advise.
While flatterers who shun the true
(Which in the end is wholesome, too)
Are foemen in disguise.

Therefore it is now proper to confer in secret session.”

Then Cloudy started to consult severally his five ancestral counselors, whose names were Live-Again, Live-Well, Live-Along, Live-On, and Live-Long. And first of all he questioned Live-Again: “My worthy sir, what is your opinion under the circumstances?” And Live-Again replied: “O King, one should not make war with a powerful enemy. And this one is powerful and knows when to strike. Therefore make peace with him. For the saying goes:

Bow your head before the great,
Lifting it when times beseem,
And prosperity will flow
Ever onward, like a stream.

And again:

Make your peace with powerful foes
Who are rich and good and wise,
Who are seasoned conquerors,
In whose home no discords rise.

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