The Beginning of Panchatantra

The following is a part of upcoming book TIMELESS TALES OF A WISE SAGE by U. Mahesh Prabhu

In the southern country called Mahilaropyam, there lived a king named Amara Shakti. He was a man of great learning and was also considered wise. His feet were made to dazzle 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 – Bhaushakti, Ugrashakti and Anantashakti. All three were known to be stupid.

When the king learned that they were hostile to education, he summoned his counsellors and said, “Gentlemen, it 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, although there are no external threats. I see wisdom in the Neeti:

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?

There must be some means by which we could instil intelligence in their ignorant minds.”

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

But one of them, a counsellor named Sumati, 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 awaken intelligence in them. There is a Neeti:

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

“Now there is a wise sage by the name of Vishnu Sharma, with a reputation for competence in numerous sciences. Entrust your princes to him. He will certainly make them intelligent in a twinkling.” Agreeing with his counsellor Sumati, Amarashakti summoned Vishnu Sharma and addressed him thus: “Revered sire, as a favour to me, you must make these princes incomparable masters of the art of practical life. In return, I will promise to bestow upon you a hundred land-grants.”

Smiling, sage Vishnu Sharma answered thus, “O King, listen. Here is the plain truth. I am not the person who sells 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 promise. My confidence arises from no greed for wealth. Besides, I have no use for money; I am eighty years old, and all the objects of sensual desires have lost their charm to me. But in order to satisfy your request, I will show a sporting spirit. 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 shame me.”

When King Amarashakti, surrounded by his counsellors, had listened to the sage’s unconventional promise, he was filled with wonder, and entrusted his princes to him in supreme content. Meanwhile, Vishnu Sharma took the boys, went home, and taught them by rote the following five treatises – Pancha Tantra.

Legend has it that the princes learned this in six months’ time and became worldly-wise. Since that day this work on the art of intelligent living has travelled the world, aiming at the awakening of intelligence in the young, middle as well as old. In short:

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

November 2, 2017

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