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The origin of Kalila wa Dimna is the ancient Indian book called ‘Panchatantra’ which was first translated by a young Indian physician called Borzoyeh Tabib (Doctor) Marwazi commissioned by Anu Sharwān Khosrow the son of Qabād the Sāsāni king but Borzoyeh did add more tales most of them from other Indian legends.

After the islamization of Iran Ibn al Muqaffa translated the book into Arabic and called it the Kalila wa Dimna that was based upon the original Farsi and this Arabic rendition. Out of this translation, the legends were translated into many other languages. During the reign of the Sāmānian, ‘Abu ‘Abdallah Roodaki translated (320 HQ or 900 CE) the Ibn al Muqaffa’s version into versed Farsi poetry. And during the reign of the Bahrām Shah Ghaznavi a writer called Manshā’ again translated the Ibn al Muqaffa’s version into Farsi prose (not versed one).
Kalila wa Dimna were taught from the king’s courts down to the grammar schools indeed as a manual for teaching wisdom and conduct in the society.



There is hardly any other literary work in the World that has penetrated so deeply in many cultures encompassing almost every continent of the World. During last 1500 years there are more than 200 translations of Panchatantra in around 60 languages of the world. ‘Aesop fables’, ‘Arabian Nights’ and great many of Western nursery rhymes and ballads have their origin in Panchatantra and Jataka stories. In European countries there is so much of migration and borrowing of stories over many centuries, making it difficult to finalize their origin at one location in Europe. However, mostly, their Indian origins are not disputable. Traditionally in India it is believed that Panchatantra was composed around 3rd century BC. Modern scholars depending on references to earlier Sanskrit works in Panchatantra assign the period of 3rd to 5th Century CE for its composition in today’s form. The author of Panchatantra is not known.


History and Migration of the Core Set of Stories – Panchatantra

Panchatantra migrated to Iran in the 6th century CE. The story is well known. Burzoe, a physician at the court of Sassanian king Anushirvan (531-571 c.CA), was sent to India in search of Sanjivani herb. In search of this medicine he traveled a lot in India and brought Panchatantra to Iran, which he translated into Pahlavi and entitled it Kalilah wa Dimnah. This is the first known translation of Panchatantra into any foreign language. It is not available now but translation done into old Syrian language in 570 CE made by a Nestorian Christian called Bud, was discovered in a monastery in Mardin, Turkey in 1870 CA. The title of this book is Kalilag andDamanag, which is the Syrian version of Karataka and Damanaka, of the two jackals in the first Tantra of Sanskrit Panchatantra. This Syrian version was edited and translated into German in 1876 CE by Bickell and then again by Schulthess in 1911CE. Syrian translation is very close to Tantrakhyayika in many respects. The next important translation of Panchatantra was done two centuries later in Baghdad, in 750 CE. Abdallah ibn al-Moquaffa a Zoroastrian converted to Islam, working in the court of Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur translated it from Pahlavi. Moquaffa is credited with intellectual and literary development of Arabic prose. His Panchatantra translation enjoyed great popularity and is considered as master piece of Arabic narrative literature. Almost all pre-modern translations of Panchatantra in Europe have their roots in his Arabic translation. From Arabic it was translated again into Syrian language in 10th/11th century CE and into Greek in the 11th century CE. 12th century CE Hebrew translation made by Rabbi Joel was translated into Latin by John of Capua around 1263-1278 CE which got printed in 1480 CE. From this Latin translation Doni translated it into Italian. This book was printed in 1552 CE. La Fontaine’s collection of fables titled ‘Fables of Bidpai’ in French got published in 1678-9 CE in four volumes. In the introduction of his second volume he has acknowledged his indebtedness to Indian Sage Pilpay for inspiration. Many Subhashitas and Jataka stories have migrated to West and have formed an inseparable part of European secular and religious literature including Bible. Panchatantra in its German translation was the first Indian and probably second book after Bible published by Gutenberg press in 1483 CE. Panchatantra had earlier migrated to Tibet, China and Mongolia and almost all South Eastern countries. In Java there are versions available in old Javanese language known as Tantri Kamandaka, composed in 1031 CE. Relatively less work and critical study is available on these works.


Panchatantra in the Artworks

Panchatantra has inspired many artists and there are many Persian and Arabic miniatures, wall paintings and Vases decorated with stories from Panchatantra or various versions of Kalilah wa Dimnah. In Sri-Lanka, a fragment of second or third century CE Indian red polished ware exhibiting crocodile-monkey story has been unearthed. 7th century CE Mamallapuram rock relief has Panchatantra stories and tenth century Bengal Temple has them on molded terra cotta plaques. A 12th century CE Vishnu temple ceiling at Mandapur also is decorated with Panchatantra stories. In Central Asia, at Panjikent 7th and 8th century CE Soghdian artists have decorated walls of their houses with Panchatantra and Aesop’s fables. The artistic penetration of Jataka/Panchatantra tales and their translated versions are fascinating and textual and artistic expressions which should be studied together. In the preface of Kalila wa Dimnah, Ibn al Muqaffa mentions that the reasons for paintings in his text was to provide pleasure to the reader and also to make the reader more aware of the book’s value. Another artwork which became very popular was created by Husain bin ‘Ali-al-Waiz al Kashifi, titled Anwar-i-suhaili at Herat in 1504 CE. This work was very popular in Persian intellectual circle then. For some time this Text was taught to British officials of the East India Company at the East India College, Haileybury during the second half of the 19th century. Abul Fazl in 1588 CE under the instructions of Mughal Emperor Akabar produced another Persian version entitled, Iyar-i-Danish (Criterion of Knowledge. 12th century CE Shuka Saptati, another artwork of Katha literature written in classical Sanskrit was adapted into Persian in 1329 CE. Author Ziya al-din Nakhshabi entitled his translation as Tutinamah. It was translated into German in 1822 CE and subsequently into many other European languages including English by F.Gladwin. Cleveland Museum of Art has some of the best paintings of Tutinama manuscript. In India, Panchatantra stories have become the part of temple architecture along with Ramayana and Mahabharata stories.


Translations of Panchatantra and Katha

In the Colonial period Sir William Jones used the Sanskrit text of Hitopadesha for learning Sanskrit and translation practice, as he was familiar with the Turkish version which was translated into French language. He mentions Panchatantra and Niti Shastra in his address given to Asiatic society of Bengal in the year 1786 CE. His translation of Hitopadesha was published posthumously in his Works. However, Wilkins’ English translation of Hitopadesha was published earlier in the year 1787 CE. H.H. Wilson wrote on Hindu Fiction but not on Panchatantra or Hitopadesha specifically. We owe our debt to Max Muller, Buhler, and Kielhorn for their valuable contribution to some facets of this literature and also to Sternbach for his valuable contributions to Subhashitas. Many Indian, German, English and American scholars have critically edited and helped to preserve this voluminous literature for posterity.

However, Panchatantra was translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1570 CE from the Italian translation done by Doni in 1552 CE. Joseph Jacobs in his introduction to North’s English translation mentions about twenty translations of various versions of Panchatantra in Europe. British Library catalog lists about nine popular editions of the Fables of Pilpay published during seventeenth and eighteenth centuries CE and only three in the nineteenth century CE indicating decline in its popularity.



Panchatantra was not the only text translated in the sixth century CE. It was the beginning of the translation era. Chess, medical, toxicological and literally many mathematical Sanskrit texts were translated to Persian and Arabic languages. This knowledge enrichment movement lasted till 12th to 13th Century CE. It started in 5th & 6th Century CE at Jundishapur, Iran in pre-Islamic times, continued in Umayyadi Damascus, Syria and further in Abbasid Baghdad in Iraq in 8th to 10th century CE with the formation of Bait al-Hikma (House of Wisdom). Along with Sanskrit texts many Greek texts were also translated into Persian and Arabic. This was a golden period of Islamic civilization while Europe was in dark period. In 14th Century CE at Toledo, Spain started latinization of this knowledge, which helped Europe to launch the scientific revolution in 16th Century CE and also laid the foundation of Renaissance. This was also the beginning of Westernization and Hellenization of Sciences and further of Orientalism. This transfer of knowledge to Europe from India via Persia/Syria/ Iraq route is known, documented but not well communicated or reflected satisfactorily till today. These translations and borrowings were not without additions, deletions and cultural corrections. Today’s insistence on universality or unity of science may be politically correct but such assumptions or presuppositions numb our inquiry apparatus towards earlier non European civilizations. It also blinds us towards cultural moorings of science on which was founded the epistemology of science of those respective cultures. Study of Subhashitas and Panchatantra is no exception to this.



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