Hitopadesha (Sanskrit: हितोपदेश) meaning “Beneficial Advice” ) is an Indian text in Sanskrit language consisting of enjoyable stories with animal and human characters. It incorporates maxims, worldly wisdom and morals on political affairs in a simple and elegant language. This Hindu text has been very popular, widely translated into many Indian languages, as well as languages found in Southeast Asia, Middle East and Europe.
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Little is known about the origin of Hitopadesha. The surviving text is believed to be from the 12th-century. Its oldest manuscript found in Nepal has been dated to the 14th-century, and its content and style has been traced to the ancient Sanskrit treatise called Panchatantra from 100 BCE to 500 CE. Dating this ancient work has been very problematic.
The purpose of creating Hitopadesha has been to encourage proficiency in Sanskrit language, and knowledge of wise behaviour in life. This is done through the telling of moral stories, in which we see birds, beasts and humans interacting in the body of the stories. Interest is maintained through the device of enclosed narratives in which a story is interrupted by an illustrative tale before resuming the story once again.
The Hitopadesha is quite similar to the ancient classic Sanskrit text Panchatantra, another widely popular collection of fables with morals. Many scholars consider Hitopadesha to be a version or derivative work of the Panchatantra.
The Hitopadesha is organized into four books, with a preface section called Prastavika. The opening verse expresses reverence to the Hindu God Ganesha and Goddess of Learning Saraswati. There are several versions of the text available today, though the versions are quite similar unlike the other ancient and medieval period Hindu texts, wherein the versions vary significantly. The shortest version has 655 verses, while the longest has 749 verses.
In his own introductory verses, Narayana, who is believed by many to be the author of Hitopadesha, acknowledges and attributes his work to the older text Panchatantra. In his ninth verse, he states that he is indebted to the Panchatantra and ‘Another Work’. The latter is unknown but possibly it’s Hindu Dharmasastras
Hitopadesha differs by having only four divisions to the Panchatantra‘s five.
Hitopadesha, as we all know, was originally written in Sanskrit. Some of us may love to have a look at the original Sanskrit version of Hitopadesha as well.
A few quotes from Hitopadesha :