Fables are a much loved part of folklore and one of the most enduring forms of folk literature. Almost every country has their own collection of fables that has become an important part of their literary history. The Panchatantra (Five Principles) of ancient India is a collection of fables originally written in Sanskrit. It is believed to have been written by Vishnu Sharma.
Vishnu Sharma was an Indian scholar and author whose date of birth and death are not known for certain, but some scholars believe he lived in the 3rd century BCE.
Animal fables are presented in short story or poetic format in which animals talk. Fables are a traditional form of allegorical writing. Allegory in literature is used to give to the reader an idea, principle or meaning, such as a moral. It has a metaphorical meaning with symbolic representation -- this is usually presented in rhetorical allegory which conveys a meaning other than the words that are spoken in the fable. The Panchatantra represents important traditions in animal fables. The Panchatantra in the Indian tradition was written and presented as a nitisastra. Niti basically means "the wise conduct of life", and sastra is seen as a treatise on political science and human conduct. Therefore it combines the traditions of folk tales with the expertise of political science, which seems to be quite technical, yet it does produce some endearing fables that teach a wisdom for living life in the best way.
Many slightly different versions of the Panchatantra developed as it was spread from country to country. In the Indian version there are Five Principles (books), each containing a main story and others in succession to reinforce the message, or lesson.
One great example of how to deal with an opponent without causing yourself or your group more harm is shown in the fable of 'The Rabbit And The Elephant' in the Third Principle titled Of Crows And Owls which teaches how to get along with opponents.
In this fable there is an elephant king who cared for his
large herd in the jungle. When the source of their water was drying up, the king sent out scouts to find water. One scout found a large lake far off in the jungle, so the herd travelled there.
Living near this lake was a colony of rabbits. As the elephants sensed the water they rushed to it, charging through the rabbit colony and killing thousands of rabbits in their hurry to get to the water.
The rabbit king addressed all his colony in an emergency meeting, saying there must be urgent action taken in order to prevent more deaths and damage. He asked all to find a way to save the colony.
As they all held discussions, one little rabbit came forth and addressed the king, saying, "Your majesty, please send me as your messenger to the leader of the elephants and I will find a solution to the problem." So the king sent him off with blessings.
When the rabbit found the elephant herd he stood atop a rock and addressed the elephant king. Pretending he was a messenger from the Mighty Moon, Rabbit entreated the elephant king to please not be angry at the messenger, for he was only doing his duty.
Being very impressed with the courage of the little rabbit, the elephant king asked him to speak his message.
Rabbit told Elephant that although Moon thinks of him as a wise and might leader in saving the lives of the herd, they had carelessly killed many rabbits in their hurry to get to the lake -- and also had soiled the lake by entering the water. If this continued, Rabbit said, terrible things would happen to the herd.
The elephant king was shocked and asked for forgiveness, promising to not kill any more rabbits or to muddy the waters. Elephant asked what he should do to be forgiven for the sins they had done. The rabbit took the king to the lake to meet Moon, where it was reflected within the waters. The king bowed to Moon and dipped his trunk into the water. As the water was disturbed the reflection of Moon moved to and fro.
Rabbit said Moon was angrier because the elephant touched the holy waters. The elephant king bowed his head and begged Moon to forgive him. He then promised never to touch the waters of the holy lake again -- nor would his herd ever again harm the rabbits who were so dear to Moon.
The elephants left the area and went away. Soon the rains came and all lived happily.
The lesson to be learned is that when your opponent causes you harm, to retaliate with anger and brawn may bring about more harm. To approach with the right words, technique, and suggestions works to the advantage of yourself. This is as true today as in ancient times.
Image Credits: The Rabbit And The Elephant King