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It is time to put the punch back into the Pancatantra. For too long this text has been underestimated as an anthology of animal fables to impart simple moral lessons to children in a fun and engaging way.
Quite the contrary, the Pancatantra claims itself to be a nitisastra and presses upon the reader deep political issues for which there are no easy solutions. The tales are well-known but there has been hardly any reflection on the dilemmas lurking underneath and the frustrations of worldly life they conceal from unwary eyes.
A jackal brokers a friendship between a lion and a bull out of self-interest but was there another way for him to succeed in a world that undervalued his worth due to his inferior status? And if the lion gave up violence due to the influence of the bull and the kingdom tottered to its doom, was it right of him to sow discord between them and get the bull assassinated?
Is deception the way for the weak prey to resist the oppression of the strong predator? Can kings be compelled to execute justice only by the pressure of a mass agitation? Was it right of the hare to breach the contract between the denizens of the forest and kill the lion because it was his turn to die? Was the camel deceived into offering himself as food for the lion or was it his duty to sacrifice himself to save the life of his master anyway?
What prudence did men learn to become masters of the household and the refuge of their brethren and servants? And why are women regularly portrayed as lustful, uncontrolled beings and ascetics as frauds and hypocrites? Does paramartha (ultimate truth) have a place in vyavahara (worldly life) or is it merely the platitudinous babble of charlatans, articulated to win the trust of their victims?
There is a reason why the Pancatantra became an international success in the ancient world, without the backing of an army or a mission. Join me on an exciting journey to uncover its dark and deep, foreboding secrets, to hold up again this mirror to the world of human politics.
The jungle awaits us ...