Article of the Month - Aug 2021

This article by Jonathan Clark

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The Hindu Moral Stories

Let’s begin with a story.

Once upon a time, there was a village that suffered a terrible earthquake. All the buildings were destroyed, and the villagers fled to live in other places. In the ruins of the village, mice began to gather. They found the destroyed village a perfect fit for their needs. They rejoiced and made their home there.

But soon they heard a rumble, and over their heads came the trampling feet of enormous elephants. The village was on the way to a lake where the elephants loved to drink deeply of the water and bathe themselves.

The mice worried. Their new home would be under attack every day by these mighty creatures. The king of the mice thought and thought. He wondered what possible solution there was to the problem. After much deliberation, he decided to go visit the elephants by the water.

He was met by the king of the elephants. The king of the mice implored him to change the elephant’s pathway to the lake, for their current way would soon kill all the mice. He promised that if the elephants did so, the mice would make sure to return the favor.

The king of elephants thought this was curious. What could mice possibly do for mighty elephants? Nevertheless, he decided out of kindness to change their route to spare the lives of the mice.

Some days later, the elephants were enjoying their time at the water, drinking and bathing and playing. Out from the bushes came human hunters, who caught all but one elephant in giant nets. The king of elephants, remembering their mice friends, called out to the one elephant who was free. “Go to the mice,” he said, “and ask them for help.”

Tales From the Panchatantra ? 3 Classics from India (How the Jackal ate the Elephant, The Jackal and the War Drum and other Stories and The Brahmin and the Goat and other Stories)

Upon hearing the request, the mice sprang into action, hurrying down to the water. They chewed through all the netting and freed the mighty elephants.

The elephants learned that day that it truly is wise to be kind to others, for you will never know when you will need their help.

This charming tale is one of countless similar fables found in Hindu folklore. This one, from the Panchatantra, has imparted wisdom for thousands of years.

The Hindu Moral Story

Today, Hindu moral stories are available in books, DVDs, and (as they have always been) through telling. But no matter the medium you prefer, they continue to do what they have always done: teach us about how to live.

All told, Hindu moral stories encompass an enormous number of fables. The vast amount of stories from the Hindu tradition give us a near endless supply. And the best part? The morals at the core never go out of date. In fact, reading through them reminds us just how little being a human has changed after thousands of years.

We still must help those in need. We must honor our friendships. We must be honest with the good and cunning against our oppressors. We must be quick witted but not quick to judge. We must not hesitate to act but never become hasty. We must keep our heads, trust our hearts, and protect others. Hindu moral stories give us memorable tales that impart this wisdom over and over again.

Panchatantra Stories : The Winning of Friends

On top of that, when we read or watch these tales unfold, we are joining in an unbroken chain of people who have told and retold these exact same stories since the dawn of civilization. It’s a thrilling thought to join as a link in this chain.

That’s why it is worth celebrating the Hindu moral story and to continue this legacy into the future.

To get a better appreciation for their depth and beauty, let’s take a closer look at one of the most important and ancient collections of these, the Panchatantra.

With this new appreciation in mind, we can then expand our scope to include the long and ongoing tradition of Hindu moral tales.

The Panchatantra Explained

The Panchatantra is one of, if not the, oldest works in Indian literature. Some believe they are as old as the Rig Veda. That makes this collection one of the longest surviving sources of wisdom in the world.

This collection of Hindu moral stories has awed, amazed and edified a global audience for millenia. It’s been translated more than any other work of Indian literature, with widespread European editions already in the Middle Ages. Through this collection of stories, children around the world have learned the highest of arts: how to live wisely (what the Hindu call nīti).

Panchatantra- A Collection of Stories from Panchatantra in Simple Sanskrit (Set of 2 Volumes)

In fact, the collection can really be seen as a guidebook for people at any time in life. While its charming details and animal characters especially delight children, the lessons they teach go on to be an important part of moral development. The lessons continue to enrich people’s character as they mature, and every time one returns to the stories, they find new complexities to the lessons and are reminded of their importance.

But what exactly is the Panchatantra?

At its heart, it is a collection of fables meant to teach us how to be upright people in the world. The dazzling amount of fables contained in the work points to the importance of repetition. Children love to hear their favorite stories over and over, and as they grow up, they naturally fall in love with new tales in the collection. Over the course of a childhood, their own interest and fascination draws them into a full moral education. And all along the way, the repetition helps drive home the morals at the core.

Stories From Panchatantra

The entire work is framed by the story of three princes. Each tale we read is being told to them, to strengthen their character. In a sense, we are all one of these princes. We must learn how to conduct our lives wisely, because while we may not lead a nation, we still have the most important job to do: develop our inner Self.

Because the Panchatantra is as much a treatise on correct living as it is a series of children’s tales, it is divided into topics. These topics make up the most fundamental categories of our moral lives.

There is a core theme within each of the five books of the Panchatantra:

Mitra-bheda: This book focuses on navigating disputes and problems among friends.

Panchathantra Stories for Children

Mitra-lābha: Here we turn a corner, and focus on gaining friendship.

Kākolūkīyam: This book, literally called The Story of Crows and Owls, talks about war.

Labdhapraṇāśam: Now we turn to losing those things that we have.

Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ: The final book gives cautionary tales about characters who act in haste.

Rather than throwing together loosely connected stories in a heap, the Panchatantra often connects them together. This allows us to see how lessons build on one another.

For instance, in the Mitra-bheda, the first book, the tales are all connected by a single story. It follows Damanaka, a jackal who lives under a lion king. Through the book, Damanaka (along with his friend Karataka) go about trying to sow disunity in the kingdom.

And the collection does not only provide unity within each book, but between them. After the conniving tales from the Mitra-bheda, we get the Mitra-lābha. In these stories, four heroes go about building meaningful friendships. There is a crow, a deer, a turtle, and a mouse, each with their own attributes. So while one book shows friendship torn apart, the next book reminds us of the importance that friendship plays in our lives.

The next book pulls away to include a much more sweeping tale. In Kākolūkīyam, there is a war between the crows and the white owls. The crows are not as large as the owls, but they have intelligence on their side. Throughout the war, it is the crows who listen to wise counsel and manage to attain victory at the end. It is a satisfying tale that goes beyond good versus evil (although there is plenty of that). It adds to that classic narrative with a lesson about the superiority of wits and the ability to listen with an open mind — virtues that can overcome pure physical strength.

By the fourth book, Labdhapraṇāśam, we move to more intimate narratives. Here we enjoy smaller, more contained situations that provide a counterbalance to the grandness of the third book. In the fourth book, the reader is given cautionary tales that warn the reader about what not to do.

Panchatantram (Aparikshitkarakam)

Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ, the fifth and final book, is similar to the previous one. But while the fourth book focuses on how wrong action can bring about loss, the fifth focuses on teaching us not to be too hasty.

The rhythm in the structure of the Panchatantra reveals a long process of telling and retelling these tales. How long did they exist in the oral tradition before being written? Likely hundreds and in some cases thousands of years.

The stories have been boiled down to their essence, becoming potent pearls of wisdom that are as beautiful and fun as they are educational.

Moral Stories and Thirukkural

Among the Tamil in the southern tip of India comes one of the grandest works in wisdom: the Thirukkural, or simply the Kural. It is a massive collection of philosophical insights by the great sage Saint Valluvar. It may have been written around 300 BCE, though it’s exact age can’t be certain.

Stories Based On Thirukkural From 21st to 40th Kural (Tamil)

The Kural is broken into three sections, or books:

Aṟam: This book discusses morality for individual people.

Poruḷ: Getting more broad, this book handles political and social morality.

Inbam: Becoming more intimate again, this book tackles love.

The Kural has been praised the world over for its breadth. Spread out over 1,330 couplets, the work explores almost every major topic in human life: honor, love, duty, justice, kindness, and even vegetarianism, among so many others.

As great as the wisdom is in this book, the writer’s main intent was to write down the truths of life and existence.

Moral stories based on Thirukkural give us parables that connect the ideas from this classic Tamil tome to our everyday lives. It’s an incredible gift to the world, making the Kural accessible to children and adults alike.

Parable as a Source of Wisdom

If you believe the tradition of Hindu moral stories only belongs to the ancients, think again. Great spiritual thinkers are still framing their beliefs into well-formed parables.

As an example, Brahmalina Sri Jayadayal Goyandka has published moral stories as a way to educate readers while avoiding dogmatic preaching.

Moral Stories

It seems that the parable is one of the best ways to impart wisdom. The truth at its heart is revealed through action, and as we hear the stories, we are allowed to wonder to ourselves about the big truths that underlie the tales.

There is no other form of teaching that gives the learner so much respect. After all, it’s a complicated thing that happens in the mind of someone listening to a parable. They have to grasp the central ideas, but only as these relate to the story being told. The events of the narrative help us remember the lesson, but they also give us a chance to learn the lesson as it applies to us.

A parable gives with an open hand, not trying to brow beat us into submission to an idea. Instead, it provides us with an experience, in the form of a story, that we can learn from.

For children, this can be especially important. The main thing that we lack in youth is direct life experience, and parables are a way to impart that.

The Hindu moral story stands as the greatest tradition in the practice of teaching through parables. These stories have given countless generations the advice and guidance they need to become moral adults. It’s a tradition worth maintaining, enjoying, and sending along to the young.

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