In an age where we are questioning our methods of education and their effectiveness in bringing all-round development in a child, we can learn from the example of King Amarshakti of Mahilaropya. He had appointed a teacher named Vishnu Sharma to educate his children. His three children did not want to learn anything and the king had spent all his time in looking after the kingdom. Fortunately, Vishnu Sharma had the right plan. He authored Panchatantra (meaning Pancha: five tantra: lessons): a collection of short stories under five headings, written in Sanskrit. The collection when taught properly would inculcate all the right values and culture a man must have.
Vishnu Sharma knew that he had to be unconventional to teach so he took it up as a challenge and finished their education successfully in 6 months. So for teaching the new generation, it’s time we also get a little unconventional and learn from our history how it’s done.
Panchatantra was written by Vishnu Sharma around 300 CE, he wrote some stories himself while some stories are inspired by others and are a little similar. The learning from these stories still has relevance in this present era. Following are the 5 lessons of the compilation which influence a child and instill wisdom:
Mitra-bheda (The loss of friends)
The story here explains the strategies and plans of how the strongest of friends separate. This chapter is the longest part of the whole anthology. It features a jackal (named Damanaka), who with the help of another jackal breaks a very deep friendship between the lion (who is their king) and a bull. It motivates us to keep good relations with our loved ones and always trust them over someone not as close.
Mitra-labha (The winning of friends)
This chapter is opposite of what the first chapter taught. It features a crow, a rat, a turtle and a deer. It shows how a crow and a rat become friends in spite of being two completely different beings and how they help each other in times of need. Chapter 2 teaches us always to protect our close ones. Also, it’s evident that friendship can happen between two characters that are totally different but have nothing but goodness in their heart.
Kākolūkīyam (On Crows and Owls)
Crows are considered good because they are present in the day but are few in numbers. Owls, on the other hand, are considered evil because they are creatures of the night, considerably stronger and large in number. This chapter teaches how between two traditional enemies, the good defeats the evil just by using wit and terrific strategy. This chapter teaches us that intelligence will always be higher than physical force. It also teaches us to take counsel from wise men and not be arrogant.
Labdhapraṇāśam (Loss of Gains)
The characters here are a crocodile and a monkey. It shows how a crocodile looking to befriend the monkey gets stupefied by how the monkey saves himself from being killed by him. This chapter teaches a lot of morals. It also teaches us to always be careful and not fall into danger, never succumb to pressure and beware of intent concealed in gentle words.
Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ (Ill-Considered Action)
The 5th chapter teaches us to never take actions in haste. Always be patient, get the right facts and only then take the right decision. The chapter features a Brahmin family who adopt a mongoose. The wife does not like the animal but still keeps it. Later, when the Brahmin couple is not at home and the mongoose saves their child from a snake, the wife on returning kills the mongoose just by seeing blood on its mouth and inferring that it ate her child. She later realized the truth and regretted it. Hence, one should never jump to conclusions without knowing the complete story.
Panchatantra is rewritten in many languages and is given different names by different authors. It’s associated many times with the buddhist Jataka tales. It is also known as Neeti Shastra, which means a book that teaches proper conduct and imparts wisdom. Panchatantra should not be reduced to a bedtime storybook as it’s no less than an encyclopedia if taught properly. The basic culture and ideas required to excel in the world are all included in it which is why it’s also helpful to adults. Various cartoons and shows based on Panchatantra are telecasted in many channels for a much better experience.
Vishnu Sharma says, “A man who has studied this Neeti Shastra or listened to its principles will never be defeated not even by Indra, the lord of the Heaven.”