Page:A history of Sanskrit literature (1900), Macdonell, Arthur Anthony.djvu/381

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into five books, is, from the literary point of view, the most important and interesting work in this branch of Indian literature. It consists for the most part of fables, which are written in prose with an admixture of illustrative aphoristic verse. At what time this collection first assumed definite shape, it is impossible to say. We know, however, that it existed in the first half of the sixth century A.D., since it was translated by order of King Khosru Anushīrvan (531-79) into Pehlevi, the literary language of Persia at that time. We may, indeed, assume that it was known in the fifth century; for a considerable time must have elapsed before it became so famous that a foreign king desired its translation.

If not actually a Buddhistic work, the Panchatantra must be derived from Buddhistic sources. This follows from the fact that a number of its fables can be traced to Buddhistic writings, and from the internal evidence of the book itself. Apologues and fables were current among the Buddhists from the earliest times. They were ascribed to Buddha, and their sanctity increased by identifying the best character in any story with Buddha himself in a previous birth. Hence such tales were called Jātakas, or "Birth Stories." There is evidence that a collection of stories under that name existed as early as the Council of Vesālī, about 380 B.C.; and in the fifth century A.D. they assumed the shape they now have in the Pāli Sutta-piṭaka. Moreover, two Chinese encylopædias, the older of which was completed in 668 A.D., contain a large number of Indian fables translated into Chinese, and cite no fewer than 202 Buddhist works as their sources. In its present form, however, the Panchatantra is the production of Brahmans, who, though they transformed or omitted