Panchatantra, Mores, Morality and Tradition

Down the millennia man has been thinking of pleasure and pain and has been having ideas of both happiness when facing hardships. Societal mores and tradition vary from country to country and from clime to clime. Honouring and upholding morality and its principles is the age old ideal behaviour. Pedagogy has various methods. Moral teaching needs different modes.

Panchatantra, the fivefold text is age old. Believed to be originally coming from Sanskrit its variants have gone into several world languages. Some say a Persian king asked his vaid, doctor and his erudite servant Barzo in the sixth century after Christ. The original text was believed to have from Kashmiri with the title Karataka-Damanaka, the names of a duo of foxes. The title is related to the characters which are birds, animals and things which roused the children’s interest. The title refers to five tricks or methods. This explains why the title is related five.

Morality and dharma, honoured and respected edified conduct, are primarily attributes of thoughtful humans. The author, creator of the text is believed to be one Vishnu Sharma in the South of India. King Amara Shakti caused this to be written. The moralistic ways promoting good behaviour patterns can be infused in children with narratives, tales that electrify. The beginning of the text goes that the king asked his minister to find some way of ‘educating’ his sons who appeared to him good for nothing. Once in his court he addresses the assembly thus:

“My children are stupid and averse to shastras. I find it useless even to be king in my situation. Reigning over the people does not give me the taste of kingship without having the mind the position demands.”

The scholars in the assembly spoke on after another. The first scholar said:

“Of the three, the one not born, the one dead after birth, the one a stupid (moorkha), the first cause grief which is limited. But the stupid keeps bothering the father all along his life.” Then goes he: “Suffering an abortion, copulation with the wife in her period baby dying in the womb, dying immediately after birth, and wife being childless are all painful. But having a child who is not a scholar though handsome is horrible. What is the use of a barren cow which does not bear calves? In the same way, if one has a son one without scholarship and devotion to God, what is the use? The death of son, though born in a high caste is better if he is stupid and evil, making his father bend his head like the son of a prostitute when a finger does not bend in counting the virtuous. Is there a more barren woman than being a woman of disrepute?”

“Then,” said the king “do something to make these three intelligent and useful. There are a hundred pandits and scholars who draw their livelihood from me. Do something, make some effort to see that my wish is fulfilled.”

Among the ministers one said, “Lord, the science of grammar needs a study and learning for twelve years. Then there are other shastras like Manu’s Shastra, Artha Sastra and the science of erotic by Vaatsaayana. Studying these would take a very long time. Only these studies would enrich knowledge and wisdom achieving maturity.”

Then another minster stood up and said, “This life is short. Acquiring the knowledge of grammar takes a long time. To make children knowledgeable and mature, some brief science has to be taught. Thinking along these lines necessary.

The elders said: “There is no end for sciences. It needs a very long training and teaching to learn all these. Human life is short and there are many setbacks along the way. For that reason, as swans differentiate milk from water, the young should know how to distinguish the good and the bad.”

At that juncture a highly learned Brahmin offered to use the technique of pedagogy for effective learning making use of tales with birds and animals as characters which would instil discrimination in little children.

So came up Vishnu Sharma’s Pacnchatantra.

Next came moralising in verse centurions, called neeti shatakas after a long time. These are hundred four liners with the refrain coming in the end line. These are to instil common sense to acquire knowledge, wisdom and mores for good behaviour. These are being used down the centuries and they are all in vogue even today.

Baddena (Telugu) (1220-1280) wrote Sumathi Shatakam. Sumathi is the one having a pure mind. He was a prince in the family of ChoLas. The following are a few samples:

  • Joy of the father for the birth of a son does not come just on the son’s birth. When people prise his words and deeds only the father would be delighted.
  • An act of help to one who has helped is not great. It is great to help one who has harmed.
  • Food offered when one is hungry is nectar for the recipient. A donor is one who gives without ‘pain’ and person who controls hanger are real men,
  • Never inflict pain on the wife, never abuse relatives, never run away from the battla fild, neer violate orders of the preceptor.
  • When the lotus leaves its residence, water it suffers son’s heat,
  • Never quarrel with the wife, never accuse her. When the virtuous wife sheds tears, the wealth of the house dwindles
  • If a worthless is born, he spoils the good qualities of the father. When the sugar cane’s top grows a ‘flower; the cane loses its sweetness.
  • Never walk alone in the way, never eat in the house of an enemy with friendliness. Never take away or bundle other’s money, never speak hurtlingly.
  • Never boast and speak hastily with many. It is not safe. Even strong serpent can be killed by ants ‘attacking’ it.
  • In the presence of the king or a powerful officer don’t attempt to ‘shine’. Though big like a mountain, the elephant is nothing without the trunk.
  • For the words of praise life breath is truth. For fortress, the army is the life breath. For the woman chastity is the life breath. For a letter or document written the signature is the life breath.
  • Yogi Vemana (1652- not known) Wrote wise, yogic, moralistic averments. The pithy statements in the quartet have the refrain as the end line: Rama, worshipful universally, listen O! Rama!
  • A son with no love, consideration for mother and father – what he is born or dead! Wouldn’t termites too have birth and death!
  • A stick bent may be straightened – mountain could be crushed to powder – but, the hardened heart-mind can never be reformed.
  • By merely being with the learned, one would not become scholar. Along with swans in a pond the cranes would only be called cranes!
  • The pig litters ten - but the elephant gives birth to just one. Wouldn’t that one be enough!
  • Controlling desire and burning it in fire, the one who stays with a G-string is the yogi!
  • Truth and falsehood, only Easwar knows. Water flows downward knowing its course. Only the mother knows the son’s birth!
  • Those who pick holes – finding faults are plentiful. In the world everyone has lapses. Those who find faults are not aware of their own!
  • With anger one’s worth comes down: with anger virtues become few: with anger life and living dwindle!
  • Taking a pot to milk cow that has gone barren only makes the man get a kick to fall and break his teeth. There would be no use begging a miser!
  • Stupid is the man who leaves his wife going to a prostitute. When his own fields yield plenty it is like picking up gleanings!
  • When the heart is clean why the customary law? When the pot is not clean why cooking in it! When the mind is not clean, why worship Shiva!

One can go to many, many compositions of age-old moralists, devout personalities and persons of wisdom of the highest order culled from many languages. A few examples are given here (Courtesy Internet):

Akka Mahadevi (Kannada) 12th Century

Sunlight made visible
the whole length of a sky,
movement of wind,
leaf, flower, all six colours
on tree, bush and creeper:
all this
is the day's worship.

Night and day
in your worship
I forget myself
O lord white as jasmine.

Sarvajna (Kannada) 16th Century

Better befriend a barking dog
Than be friends with a Tamil,
Crocodile's mouth is safer
Than thorn tree shade.

Force fruit green mango by squeezing;
Profit from peddling your wars by foot;
Pain eyes from crying for the dead
Are all in vain.

A town without fellowship;
A house without children;
A merchant without records;
Walkways to woe.

Donkey is not for riding;
Whore is not for heirs;
Think Before you Jump
Naked into the lake.

A meal without salt;
Wife without breasts;
Chewing the tip of a sugarcane;
Are all insipid.

Lal Ded (Kashmiri) 14th Century

By a way I came, but I went not by the way.
While I was yet on the midst of the embankment
with its crazy bridges, the day failed for me.
I looked within my poke, and not a cowry came to hand
(or, atI, was there) .
What shall I give for the ferry-fee?
(Translated by G. Grierson)

By a way I came, but I went not by the way.
While I was yet on the midst of the embankment
with its crazy bridges, the day failed for me.
I looked within my poke, and not a cowry came to hand
(or, atI, was there) .
What shall I give for the ferry-fee?
(Translated by G. Grierson)

Tukaram (Marathi) 17thCentury

I was sleeping when Namdeo and Vitthal Stepped into my dream.
'Your job is to make poems. Stop wasting time,' Namdeo said.
Vitthal gave me the measure and gently aroused me from a dream inside a dream.
Namdeo vowed to write one billion poems.
'Tuka, all the unwritten ones are your responsibility.'

To repeat Your name is to string pearls together.
The pleasure in your manifested form is always new.
I have ceased to desire the unembodied God.
Your worshippers do not seek liberation.
With You, it is still possible to give and to receive.
What use is the place where a dish sat when it is taken away?
Tuka says, 'Give me the gift of freedom from fear.
After all, O Lord who pervades the world, I have given the world You.'

Tiruvalluvar (Tamil) 4th Century

Better ten million times incur the wise man’s hate,
Than form with foolish men a friendship intimate.

So, learn that you may full and faultless learning gain,
Then in obedience meet to lessons learnt remain.

So, learn that you may full and faultless learning gain,
Then in obedience meet to lessons learnt remain.

Kabir’s Dohe are rendered into English by RK. They are accessible here and readers are welcome to go to them for moral, ethical edification.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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