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Did you know where our folktales come from?

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the popular folktales we all love? From where did this reservoir of Indian stories travel to the world? Here we tell you a story of all these stories.

It feels very nice to know that Indian tales have been handed down to us by the oral tradition. These stories were compiled under various titles and passed on to the future generations. All ancient civilizations had their folktales, but it was only in India that story telling developed into an art. It was here that Persians learnt this art and passed it on to the Arabs. From the Middle East, they found their way to Constantinople and Venice. Finally, they appeared in England and France. Even as they changed hands and assumed different local colours, they did not lose the Indian touch.

Let us see how the Indian stories won their way into the literature of other nations.

  • The Brihat Katha and Katha Sarit Sagar

    These stories, told and retold in local dialects, were first compiled by Gunadhya in a local dialect titled Brihat Katha in the first century B C. The book did not survive the times. But later attempts were made in the 11th century to revive the treasure. Kashmiri Pundit Somdeva produced a large compilation in 1070 AD called the Katha Sarit Sagar. It consisted of 22,000 stanzas and 124 chapters. These stories spread in different languages. C H Tawney translated this Sanskrit text into English during 1880-84. Later, in 1927, these tales inspired another English work. N M Penzer came out with the gigantic ten volumes titled Ocean of Stories.

  • The Panchatantra

    The famous Panchatantra, of which Hitopadesha is a summary, is a collection of fables and tales written sometime in the 3rd century AD by an unknown author. These animal stories, in which animals represent humans, teach worldly wisdom. While the original Sanskrit version of these stories was lost, the text survived in its Arabic translation in 750 AD done by an Iranian. Panchatantra tales are available in Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, Latin, Greek (Aesop's Tales), Spanish, French, English, Italian, German and Danish.

  • The Arabian Nights and Sindbad

    The Arabian Nights is an Arabic work in a Persian setting. But this book is also not devoid of Indian influence. The famous story of Sindbad in this collection is derived from Syntipas, the name of an Indian philosopher who lived around 100 BC.

  • Parrot Tales

    This is another popular Indian work, in which a parrot tells 70 stories in order to prevent a woman from going on the wrong path. These chain stories, like the Arabian Nights, form the crux of the Indian storytelling tradition. An unknown author compiled it in the 6th century AD. It was later translated into Persian during Ala-ud-din Khilji's time (1296-1316). In this process, Muslim characters replaced the Hindu ones. Another version of the Sukasaptati  (Parrotspeak) was produced in Tutinama which was promoted during Emperor Akbar's times. Tutinama was illustrated with paintings of Akbar's court. It was later translated into Turkish, German and French. The English version titled Tales of A Parrot was brought out in 1978.

What does this history of our stories show? It shows how the whole world has shown interest in the Indian literary heritage. The next time you read or enjoy any ancient folktale or moral story, remember the pains taken by scholars all over the world to rediscover and preserve this bank of human wisdom.

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