Pandit Vishnu Sharma’s ‘Panchatantra’

The more things change the more they remain the same– or so the saying goes.

The Princely families of earlier years are Royal in name only, their privileges and Privy Purses having been cancelled. But the resulting void has been filled by the Royal Families of Indian Politics.

The recently concluded Indian General Elections have shown us this.

Vinod Sharma at India Retold has analysed how the 2009 elections have empowered Dynasties and not the youth.

Indyeah has given a comprehensive and detailed summary of Dynasty and Nepotism in Indian politics.

Kislay Chandra has- tongue in cheek- explained the suitability of the Scion of the First Family of Indian Politics for the post of Prime Minister.

It is evident that Dynasty Politics is here to stay. A change may be possible in the long run, but not anytime soon.

So why not try to make the best of a bad situation? If we cannot change the system, perhaps we may be able to influence the people involved.

And that is where our traditional wisdom may be useful. It is the trend nowadays to trash anything traditional. But in the present situation, we should look back in history a little.

Some think that the younger generation in politics today do not have the talent, intelligence or common sense required to rule the country.

But this same problem was there, in the old days, when princes ascended the throne just by virtue of birth.
We find that earlier generations were more adept than us at solving this problem.
Their motto was-“catch them young”.

The future rulers had to be molded while they were still at an impressionable age. We have seen earlier that the game of Moksha Patamu (or Snakes and Ladders) was used to impart moral education to children in ancient India.

Similarly the Panchatantra, a collection of animal fables, was used to impart knowledge of ‘Nitishastra‘ or principles of human conduct and political science to Princes who were likely to succeed to the throne.

The Panchatantra is thought to have been written around 200BC by the great Hindu Scholar Pandit Vishnu Sharma.

The Panchatantra is an interwoven series of interesting animal stories. It has been compared to a set of Russian Dolls, which is a good description.

The stories are divided into five parts-
1. The Loss of Friends
2. Gaining Friends
3. Of Crows and Owls
4. Loss of Gains
5. Imprudence

These stories from the Panchatantra have entertained and imparted wisdom to many generations of children. Children love the colourful and very pertinent names of the animals in the stories. Laghupatanaka, the crow, Chitragriva, king of doves, Hiranyaka, the rat, Priyadarsana, the Cobra and many others.

A favourite story is The Crocodile and The Monkey . Through this story of Raktamukha, the Monkey and Karalmukha, the Crocodile- Pandit Vishnu Sharma explains to the Princes,

“He overcomes all problems
Who does not lose his cool
Even in the face of adversity
Like the monkey in the water

So, is this likely to be a viable solution? –Catch the politicians’ children while they are still at school and try to mold their characters? It has been successful in the past.

There is one catch, however. The Kings in India Past wanted their children to be taught Nitishastra. They wanted their successors to be well versed in moral political principles. They saw this as an advantage.

What will the attitude of today’s politicians be? Will they allow their children to be instructed in Nitishastra?

Perhaps they will see an understanding of moral principles as a handicap instead of an asset?



  1. I like your suggestion MAnjuWhy not catch them young?why not make the best out of a bad situationthey will never agree to such a concept :)because that would entail agreeing and accepting that it indeed is dynasticism and nepotism that is prevalent…somethign they wll be loath to do..Nitishastra will be turned into rajnitishastra..and tehrein lies the difference…though rajniti too has a beautiful meaning but in the hands of these people nothing can remain sacred for long..PS:-thanks for linking Manju:))((hugs))


  2. I would say no to that . Political leaders today should be no different from any other professional . I mean , can it be expected that a Doctor's son will be a Doctor ?


  3. Ma'm very good suggestion .. but the problem is talking of Panchtantra is not really an in-thing and a Govt machinery is not expected to talk about instilling the learnings from books like 'Panchtantra' as they are 'secular'


  4. Indyeah- No, they would never agree. Maybe we could send someone 'undercover' to teach Nitishastra at the schools where they send their children?:)Kislay- Unfortunately, there is a vast difference between 'should be' and 'are'!It was not a serious suggestion- I was just comparing today's politicians unfavourably with the Royal Dynasties in ancient India.:)


  5. Manju, I do not believe that dynastic politics can be here to stay if the people of India are woken up by an enlightened leader, not by one looking to grab power only. Giving in is almost like saying "When rape is inevitable, lie down and enjoy it". Dynastic raj is not inevitable.In ancient days, as you have rightly pointed out, the training of princes used to begin early and it was not just nitishastra but also warfare that they were trained in because the first and foremost duty of a ruler was to ensure the safety and security of his subjects and kingdom.I will agree with you to the extent that those aspiring to rule the country must equip themselves with all this knowledge. But, when the only real qualification to get into Parliament and even become PM is just one's age, what can we expect? That needs to change.As of today, scions of political dynasties have learnt that all they have to do is enjoy "Punch-tantra" (Punch as in Rum punch!) and practice Karma Sutra with a silent "r", in a foreign land till called for national duty!Panchatantra contains such terrific real-life and practical stories with easily understandable lessons that it should be made compulsory reading in all schools.


  6. SP- You are certainly right about that! Teaching the Panchatantra would probably not be 'Politically correct'!Vinodji- I am not really suggesting that we teach Nitishastra to children of political leaders- I was just trying to show how impossible it would be to hope that they could learn some principles.However, I do not share your optimism that Dynastic Rule can be overcome. People had a chance in these elections, and everywhere, they voted for the children of current politicians. We have all heard the deafening clamour for RG to become PM. The people of India do not need to be wakened up, because they are not asleep. They are just pretending that they cannot see what is happening around them- for personal gain!


  7. Manju, I got your sarcasm in the post; that is what I was also trying to voice, rather unsuccessfully, it seems.Let us not be overly disheartened. People will passively accept things if they do not directly affect their lives, till they are awakened to the big picture by an enlightened leader they can trust. Till such a leader emerges, nothing dramatic might happen. And I want to believe that we will not have to wait for too long.


  8. Panchtantra for politicians ! That is one heck of a tantra ! The system is in for a change. I think there is going to be change. I am glad to see fringe politics fade. If only slightly though. But still, this time, there seems to be some refreshing change. The likes of a CM, camping in Delhi to get portfolios for his children are not going to go away in a hurry. But there is atleast a certain level of noise about it. A certain dismay. And public anger and disapproval. I see these as first steps in a journey of change. I see some hope. That things are going to be different in some time. i remain hopeful.and ofcourse, panchtantra…thats needed. For everbody !


  9. Endeavouring to teach nitishastra to their children is a theoretical conecpet today. For everyone , "niti" is just a four letter word. In the system of kings, although a rigid class structure existed in society, many kings were dedicated to improving the facilities available to their "praja" , in the field, of arts, education, sports, etc. Todays niti is all about getting "cuts", and maximising the "intake". When they make money out of even fodder meant for cows, , you think they will have time to read /learn from Punchatantra ?


  10. Ugich Konitari – Though I think Democracy is the best system of government, sometimes I wonder whether the 'common people' were not better off in the old feudal systems.Kavi- I'm glad you are hopeful, Kavi. I'm finding it difficult…:)


  11. I just hope that things will change.. I think once people start demanding..things will change.. And hopefully a time will come when, moral principles will not considered a handicap..


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