Myth-Folklore Unit: Ryder's Panchatantra

Overview. The Panchatantra (the "Five Tantras," the "Five Books of Wisdom") is an enormously influential collection of stories from ancient India which has been translated into many languages of both Asia and Europe over the past two millennia; for this unit, you'll be reading the marvelous translation by Arthur Ryder, a great Sanskrit scholar. The Panchatantra uses a "nested" storytelling style, which means that the characters in a given story are also storytellers, creating a "stories within stories within stories" effect. The Panchatantra is the oldest example of a "nested" story collection in world literature, and is thus the ancestor of similar story collections such as the Thousand-and-One Nights (a.k.a. The Arabian Nights) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. As for the stories themselves, you will find both human drama and animal tales, including many trickster stories, such as the rabbit who tricked a lion named Numskull, or the tiny sparrow who defeated an elephant with the help of a gnat, a woodpecker and a frog.

Language. This is a wonderful English translation of the Sanskrit original, using both prose and verse, just as the Sanskrit does. The stories are in prose, but they contain many proverbs in verse form. Ryder also translates the Sanskrit names into their English equivalents, so instead of strange Sanskrit names, you get to learn what the Sanskrit names actually mean!

Story Length. This unit contains only single-page stories, and those stories are nested one inside the other.

Choosing Between Units. If you are not sure which of the two Panchatantra units to choose — Ryder's Panchatantra of the Tales of Bidpai — the main factor to consider is literary style. Ryder's Panchatantra conveys the story-within-a-story-within-a-story style of the original Sanskrit Panchatantra, while the Tales of Bidpai unit tells the stories individually, without the literary frametale.

Navigation. You will find the table of contents below, and you can also use this link to see the story posts displayed on two pages total: Panchatantra. Click "Older Posts" at the bottom of that page to see the second page.

  1. Introduction
  2. Numskull and the Rabbit
  3. The Ungrateful Man
  4. The Plover Who Fought the Ocean
  5. Forethought, Ready-Wit, and Fatalist
  6. The Duel between Elephant and Sparrow
  7. The Shrewd Old Gander
  8. The Lion and the Ram
  1. Right-Mind and Wrong-Mind
  2. The Mice That Ate Iron
  3. The Sensible Enemy
  4. The Foolish Friend
  5. How the Rabbit Fooled the Elephant
  6. The Cat's Judgement
  7. The Brahman's Goat
  8. Mouse-Maid Made Mouse
  9. The Loyal Mongoose

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