Arabic Panchatantra and Indo-Arab Cultural Relations


Oct 8, 2009
International seminar on ‘Indo-Arab Cultural Relations’ in Bhopal |

Bhopal: A three-day international seminar on “Arabic Panchatantra and Indo-Arab Cultural Relations” is starting here in Bhopal from January 12. Two Kuwaiti lady professors will be participating in the seminar amongst others.

The seminar is being organised by Barkatullah University, Bhopal and its inaugural function will be presided over by Barkatullah University Vice Chancellor Prof. Ravindra Jain. The keynote address will be delivered by Prof. Abdul Ali of Aligarh Muslim University, (AMU), while Maulana Mohammad Saeed Mujaddadi (Peer Saeed Miyan), Rector Dar-ul-Uloom Taj-ul-Masajid, Bhopal will be the chief guest at the inaugural function.

According to Prof. Aisha Rais, Convenor of the seminar, the lady professors from Kuwait coming to participate in the seminar are Prof. Laila Usman and Prof. Sab’aan. Apart from this about one half a dozen outstation scholars and about 10-15 local scholars would be presenting their papers in the seminar.

Prof. Mohammad Hassan Khan, Director of the seminar, talking to this Correspondent said among the Indian scholars who would be presenting papers include Prof. Abdul Qadir , Prof. Fayyaz-ul-Huq (both Allahabad), Prof. Manzoor Ahmad (Kashmir), Prof. Kafeel Ahmad (AMU), Prof. Mustafa Shareef (Osmania University), Prof. Abdul Majeed, Prof. Jameel, Prof. Iqbal Hussain & Dr. Jahangeer (both Hyderabad) etc.

It may be mentioned here that the original text, of the Panchatantra in Sanskrit was probably written about 200 B.C. by a great Hindu scholar, Pandit Vishnu Sharma. But some of the tales themselves must be much older, their origin going back to the period of the Rig-Veda and Upanishads (from 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C.).

According to some scholars of the Indo-European languages, the Panchatantra is the oldest collection of Indian fables surviving. In course of time, travellers took these stories with them to Persia and Arabia and finally through Greece, they reached Europe. It is surmised that a version of the Panchatantra was composed in the Pahlavi language of pre-Islamic Iran sometime in the 6th century A.D., being followed by an Arabic one in the 8th century A.D. The Greek translation was made towards the close of the 11th century A.D, from which it was translated into various European languages. This accounts for the fact that to many Westerners, some of the stories have a familiar ring. So far it has been translated into 50 or more languages of the world. The gypsies, whose Indian origin is well established, also helped in spreading these tales in Europe.

The Panchatantra. is essentially connected with one of the branches of science known by the Indians as the 'Nitishastra' which in Sanskrit means 'A book of wise conduct in life'. It attempts to teach us, how to understand people, bow to choose reliable and trustworthy friends, how to meet difficulties and solve problems through tact and wisdom, and how to live in peace and harmony in the face of hypocrisy, deceit and many pitfalls in life.

The Panchatantra is woven round the frame of a tale of a king who entrusts his three 'dud' sons to a learned man, a Brahmin, called Pandit Vishnu Sharma, to enlighten their minds within six months. The Brahmin promises to educate them and takes them to his 'ashrama' (hermitage). There he recites to them his specially composed tales divided into five tantras (in Sanskrit: Pancha=five and tantra=systems or parts) of how to deal with people in life.

The language of the author is both artistic and elegant. The tale is narrated in prose while the exposition of a philosophical and moral theme is put in verse, maxims or wise sayings are also expressed in verse, which either sums up the narration or introduces the next tale.

The story-teller's art sugars the pill of his sober philosophy. He sets story within story and keeps us waiting for the sequels and so leads us on through the five 'tantras.' As one fable follows another, people and animals are constantly changing places and they share the same characteristics of love and hatred, compassion and wit, selfless courage and base cowardice, generosity and meanness. Each story has a moral and philosophical theme which has stood the test of time and so is true even in modern times - an age 'of atomic fear and madness.

The Panchatantra is a rare book, for in no book will one find philosophy, psychology, politics, music, astronomy, human relationship, etc., all discussed together in such a simple and yet elegant style. This is exactly what Pandit Vishnu Sharma had in mind, to give as much knowledge to the princes as possible. And no doubt not only the princes but also millions of listeners and readers for the last 2,200 years have benefited from this most unique book.


Senior Member
Mar 28, 2009
The influence of Indian story telling on Arabic literature during its renaissance period is quite amazing.The most telling is the jewel in the crown of Arabic literature,the Alif layla.The principle narrative form of Ali,where queen Scheherazade weaves tale every night to keep her tyrant husband from copulating with her ordering her execution the following morning,seems to resonate with the olkder Indian tradition of Shuka Saptati where a pet parrot weaves a tale ever night to keep merchants wife from leaving her house and meeting her paramour(thus saving her from being unfaithful to her husband).Interestingly in both the Alif layla and Shuka saptati,the narrator ends one story in such a way that it becomes the kernel of the next story and so on and so forth.

Even the legend of Sindbad the sailor is believed to be of Indian origin.But Arabic story telling has wonderful charm of its own and it reached its peak with the Alif layla.

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