Hitopadesha (Sanskrit:हितोपदेशः Hitopadeśa) is a collection of Sanskrit fables in prose and verse written in the 12th century. It is an independent treatment of the Panchatantra. It is meant as an exposition on statecraft (including the conduct of war and peace and the development of allies) but was produced in a format easily digestible for young princes.
Hitopadesha has been derived from two words, hita (हित) and upadesha (उपदेश). It basically means to counsel or advice with benevolence.
The only clue to the identity of the author of Hitopadesha is found in the concluding verses of the work, which gives us the name Narayan (Hindi:नारायण), and which mention the patronage of a king called Dhavalachandra. As no other work by this author is known, and since the ruler mentioned has not been traced in other sources, we know almost nothing of either of them. It seems likely that Narayana was a pandit and preceptor employed in Dhavalachandra’s court. Since the invocatory and final verses evoke the god Shiva, he was most probably a Shaivite. Originally written in Sanskrit, the stories of his book have traveled to several parts of the world.
The author of Hitopadesha, Narayana, says that the main purpose of creating the Hitopadesha is to instruct young minds in a way that they learn the philosophy of life and are able to grow into responsible adults.
The book has many fables in common with the Panchatantra (3rd century BC).
Originally compiled in Sanskrit, the Panchatantra was rendered, by order of Persian Sassanid king Anushiravan (Khosrau I), in the 6th century, AD, into Persian. From the Persian it passed, in 850, into Arabic. It is believed that the author Narayana loved the Panchatantra so much that he rewrote it, improving the flow and adding stories of his own. The Hitopadesha—although similar in content and structure to the Panchatantra—is more copious.
Hitopadesha has been translated into most of the major languages and has been circulated all around the world. The Emperor Akbar (1542–1605) commended the work of translating it to his own minister Abul Fazl. He accordingly put the book into a familiar style, and published it with explanations, under the title of the Criterion of Wisdom. He followed the Emperor's suggestion that the incantions which often interrupt the narrative be abridged.
After Sir William Jones, who had encountered it in 1786, announced his "discovery", it was translated into English by Charles Wilkins, who had made the earliest English translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Jones himself also made a translation shortly thereafter. An English translation by Sir Edwin Arnold, then Principal of Puna College, Pune, India, was published in London in 1861.
One of the most widely read Sanskrit books in India, Hitopadesha tales are short stories that have the priceless treasure of morality and knowledge. After Bhagavad Gita, Hitopadesha is considered to be the most sold religious text in India. The tales from Hitopadesha are written in a very logical and clear way and one does not have to make much effort to figure out what moral a particular story is implying. The stories feature animals and birds as main characters.
The stories are very interesting and youngsters not only find it interesting, but also accept it easily.
It is very popular in many countries and is one of the most widely read children's book. Even in today's world, it continues to amaze people with its simple but meaningful stories and many people are still inspired by the tales of Hitopadesha. Its simplicity and logic is what makes it a favorite among children and their parents.
To this day, in India, the Hitopadesa, under other names (as the Anvári Suhaili), retains the delighted attention of young and old, and has some representative in all the Indian vernaculars.
- Judit Törzsök (2007), “Friendly Advice” and “King Víkrama’s Adventures”, facing translation as part of the Clay Sanskrit Library series. (The translation of the Hitopadesha is "Friendly Advice", the first part of the book)