Vishnu Sharma was an Indian scholar and author who is believed to have written the Panchantra collection of fables. The exact period of the composition of the Panchatantra is uncertain, and estimates vary from 1200 BCE to 300 CE. Some scholars place him in the 3rd century BCE.
Vishnu Sharma is one of the most widely translated secular authors in history. The Panchatantra was translated into Middle Persia in 570 CE by Borzuya and into Arabic Language in 750 CE by Persian people scholar Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa as Kalīlah wa Dimnah (“Arabic Language”: كليلة و دمنة ). In Baghdad, the translation commissioned by Al-Mansur, the second Abbasid Caliph, is claimed to have become "second only to the Qu'ran in popularity. "As early as the eleventh century this work reached Europe and before 1600 it existed in Greek Language “Greek Language”, “Latin”, “Spanish”, “Italian Language”” German”, “English”,” Old Church Slavonic”, “Czech”, and perhaps other “Slavic Languages”. Its range has extended from “Java” to “Iceland”." In France, "at least eleven Panchatantra tales are included in the work of “la Fontaine”."
According to the legend in story itself, Amarashakti, King of Mahilaropya in southern India, had three dull-headed young sons. After much deliberation, the King decided to hand over the three princes to Vishnu Sharma for 'awakening their intelligence'. Vishnu Sarma was already 80 years old but was known to be a savant in all the shastras and the theory of politics and diplomacy.
The king called Vishnu Sharma and declared that if he is able to make his sons into able administrators, he would gift him a hundred villages and gold without bound. Vishnu Sharma politely refused the gifts but said that he would train the princes within six months, or change his name.
Vishnu Sharma soon realized that it was more difficult than he had thought to teach his new dull-headed students through conventional means, and there was a need of a creative way of teaching. Therefore he composed many captivating & charming animal stories, each with a lesson, and tied them in 5 parts, called "tantras."
The five parts (tantras) are titled in Sanskrit as Mitrabhed, Mitrasamprapti, Sandhi, Vigraham and Apareekshitkarakam. They are five principles or strategic themes one needs to keep in view for intelligent living. The English equivalents are:
- Part-1: The Loss of Friends
- Part-2: The Winning of Friends
- Part-3: Crows & Owls (Peace & War)
- Part-4: Loss of Gains
- Part-5: Ill-Considered Action
After listening and understanding these stories, the three princes became highly knowledgeable in politics and able administrators. The first line of Panchatantra says that the stories compress the worldly wisdom contained in all books in the world.