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Customer Review

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gift from India to the World, August 29, 2005
This review is from: Panchatantra (Paperback)
No one knows when or how the Panchatantra was composed. However, according to the legend, a Brahmin scholar named Vishnu Sharma designed it to teach the sons of a king something about life, neeti (policy) and real-politik. The result was a mosaic of interlocking stories that emerge from one another, and leave you with a lot of understanding about dealing with life. Incidentally, though some people compare Panchatantra with Arabian Nights, the comparison is not apt. Arabian Nights do not really offer any learning, they are purely for entertainment. Panchatantra has the power to deepen your understanding of the world in immeasurable ways.

The book reached Arabia sometimes in the fifth century AD, and then later it reached Europe, where it is believed to have led to development of Aesop's fables. It is difficult to judge how it has affected these societies, but in India it has had tremendous impact, which continues to this day. Its lessons are alive and well even today, and almost every child will know at least one story from Panchatantra.

The present translation from the original Sanskrit is good one, though it appears to have been condensed at many places, with many critcal comments left out. If you want a more faithful translation, you may look in Penguin Classics where it has been published as 'Pancatantra', translated by Chandra Rajan, and offers an excellent introduction to boot.

However, Sanskrit and English are two very different languages in their orientation (though they belong to the same family). As a result, the translation of many ideas suffers. Also, some of the particularly interesting comments have been left out altogether. So if you know Hindi or Sanskrit, then you should try and buy the Panchatantram in Sanskrit/ Hindi (published by Motilal Banarasi Das of Delhi).

Even so, going through this book may open up another world for you, particularly if you were not brought up in India. It will change your perspective on many ordinary things and challenges that you face in everyday life. There are stories which teach you how to recognise deceit, fraud, cheating, make friends, cooperate with people, and generally get on with life. And there are arguments over particular positions that the protagonist takes, so that you get to see both points of view. You would also find this book particularly useful if you are dealing with Indians in business or in diplomacy, just as Western audiences have found the Art of War (Sun Tzu) to be a fascinating insight into the Chinese mind.

As the stories are built around animals, many people mistake these for nursery stories or for fables. This is not correct. Panchatantra is as relevant for adults as it is for teenagers. In fact some of the stories involving adults are not appropriate for young children (<13 years).

All in all, an excellent book for your own enjoyment or as a gift to a young or old friend.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 22, 2010 3:56:58 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2010 4:00:20 PM PST
I wanted to say thanks for reviewing this book as I came across it when searching for "Nitishastra" by Chanakya. I'm Indian and a history buff but know very little about Ancient Indian history. Anyway like you mentioned in the review I recently read "Art of War" by Sun Tzu and found it very interesting. I was looking for similar books online and found the name of two books written by Chanakya called "Arthashastra" and "Nitishastra" and was looking online for any good English translations. I found a few on the subject such as The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra and The Arthashastra (Penguin classics) and was wondering if they were good representations of the book.
I cant read Hindi or Sanskrit and was hoping if you could recommend any other well translated books on them. In the description of Panchatantra it says something about Nitishastra, does this book contain parts of it?

Thanks and keep up the great reviews

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 18, 2010 7:24:03 AM PDT
Thanks, Sajan. The Penguin translation is a fairly decent and accessible one, and you would find it quite useful for general purpose reading. If you want to make a deeper study, you might want to look at R.P. Kangle's translation is three volumes (set ISBN: 81-208-0042-7). of which the third volume contains Prof. Kangle's interpretation. You may want to read "The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra" later on, as this is more of the author's interpretation rather than a translation.

Nitishastra contains Chanakya's policies. It contains lots of gems, and is still relevant in many ways. However, Chanakya's perspective is more for statecraft. For a more nuanced reading of neeti (good policy), you may want to get hold of Vidur Neeti (King Dhritarashtra's adviser), which is bigger and more respected in Indian tradition. Apart from this, you will find scattered examples of Niti in various texts such as Ramayana and Mahabharata (of which Vidur Neeti is a part) as well.

Motilal Banarasidass (have an internet shopping site as is a good source for this kind of books in English.

Posted on Nov 27, 2010 7:32:21 PM PST
Hi. I have what seems like a very trivial question when compared to all the discussion of translation and morals: Is this version illustrated? If it is, are they well done? Thanks

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 27, 2010 10:06:25 PM PST
No, this is not an illustrated edition. Selected stories have been published separately by Amar Chitra Katha in comic book form - some are available at Amazon 5 in 1: Stories From the Panchatantra (Amar Chitra Katha 5 in 1 Series). Others can be ordered from Amar Chitra Katha's web-site. Manoj Publications (ISBN: 8181334626) has an illustrated collection of 100 stories.
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