Week 5: Hitopadesa (Hitopadesha)

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FRAMETALE: The Rajah and The Young Princes

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

In the frametale, we meet King Sudarsana who has some sons who need an education. He realizes that without an education, his sons are useless. He finds the learned man Vishnu-Sarma, whom he compares to Vrihaspati, legendary wise man. When Vishnu-Sarma begins to teach the boys, he decides to use animal fables, and the first story he chooses is one that you are already familiar with: the friendship of the deer, the mouse, the bird, and the turtle.

On the banks of a river Bhageerathee (Ganges) there is a remarkable city called Pataneeputra (modern Patna), where there was formerly a Rajah, endued with every noble quality, whose name was Sudarsana. One day he heard the two following verses, as they were repeated by some one:

He who is not possessed of such a book as will dispel many doubts, point out hidden treasures, and is, as it were, a mirror of all things, is even an ignorant man.

The Rajah had no sooner heard these lines than he began to consider, with an afflicted heart, the situation of his sons, who were yet unacquainted with books, and wandering in the paths of error.

"What benefit is there in a son who is neither learned nor virtuous! Or, of what use is a sightless eye? Such an eye is but pain!

"Again: Of the child unborn, the dead, and the fool, the two first, and not the last, are the least to be lamented; for the two first cause but a transient sorrow, while the last is an eternal plague.

"Then how shall these my sons be now rendered accomplished?

"As the chariot will not move upon a single wheel; even so fate succeedeth not without human exertion.

"As the potter formeth the lump of clay into whatever shape he liketh, even so may a man regulate his own actions.

"That mother is an enemy, and that father a foe, by whom not having been instructed, their son shineth not in the assembly; but appeareth there, like a booby among geese.

"A fool, too may shine in the assembly, dressed in fine garments, but the fool shineth no longer than he holdeth his tongue."

The Rajah having thus meditated for a while, convened a council of Pandits, whom he addressed in the following words: "Ye learned men, attend! Is there a man to be found who shall, by precepts drawn from Neeti-Sastras, be able to perfect the birth of my sons, who are yet uninformed, and constantly wandering in the paths of error?"

Of this assembly there was a great Pandit by name of Vishnu-Sarma, well versed in the principles of all the Neeti-Sastras, as it were another Vrihaspati, who replied: "These young princes, O might Rajah! being the offsprings of an illustrious race, are capable of being instructed in the Neeti-Sastras. Wherefore, I will engage, that in the space of six months, I will render thy sons well acquainted with the doctrines of the Neeti-Sastras."

The Rajah then respectfully said: "Then be though an example to these, my sons, for the acquisition of virtue."

Having said this, he respectfully delivered his sons into the charge of Vishnu-Sarma; and that learned Pandit, soon after, seized the opportunity, when they were, for amusement, sitting together upon the terrace of their father's palace, to introduce his advice to the young princes in the following lines:

"Learning to a man is a name superior to beauty; learning is better than hidden treasure. Learning is a companion on a journey in a strange country; learning is strength inexhaustible.

"Learning is the source of renown, and the fountain of victory in the senate. Learning is a superior sight; learning is a livelihood; and a man in this world without learning is like a beast of the field.

"Wise men pass their time in amusements drawn from the poets; whilst fools squander theirs in useless pursuits, sloth, or riot.

"For your amusement, therefore," said he, "I am going to relate some curious stories of a crow, a tortoise, and other animals."

Vishnu-Sarma then told the young princes to attend, and said, "The present subject to be discussed is 'The Acquisition of a Friend,' to which these following lines are an introduction:

"Wise and sincere friends, although poor and destitute of implements, may speedily effect our purposes; as in the instances of the crow, the tortoise, the deer, and the mouse."

The young princes demanded how this was; and Vishnu-Sarma related as follows:

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • where did King Sudarsana live?
  • what did the King decide that his sons needed, and why?
  • what did Vishnu-Sarma do when he met with the young princes?

Source: Fables and Proverbs from the Sanskrit, Being the Hitopadesa. Charles Wilkins (1787), with an introduction to the second edition by Henry Morley (1886). Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing (www.kessinger.net). There is no online edition of this text. IMPORTANT NOTE: The text has been substantially abridged. Where you see one or two proverbs in the text here, there are frequently four or five or more proverbs in the original edition.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM