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Mitrabheda And Mitra-Prāpti From The Pañcatantra: Being And Becoming Friends


The aim of this paper is to unearth the wisdom frameworks on friendship given in Mitrabheda and Mitra-prāpti sections of the Pañcatantra through a review. Stories from the Pañcatantra are an important part of childhood in India. Pañcatantra stories, especially those with unusual animal friends, are inclusive in spirit and depict friendship as a voluntary relationship transcending differences of human-nonhuman species, generation, caste, class and gender. Mitrabheda illustrates good conduct in interpersonal relationships with friends and enemies, Nítiśastra, critical thought, strategy building and the Dharma of a friend and Mitra-prāpti explains how friendship among even natural enemies has to be based on the principles of Dharma. The paper discusses the significance of these overarching wisdom frameworks from Pañcatantra in relation to experiences of real and virtual friendships for children in contemporary times. From an applied perspective, the paper suggests how Pañcatantra stories can be used to design reflective workshops for children of different ages.


In recent news, a young girl asked Alexa for a challenge. Alexa asked her to touch a charger half inserted into an electric socket with a coin. Would it be wise to allow devices with artificial intelligence to take over the role of friends? Or would we need the guidance of a friend in the way the jackal helped the crow couple save their babies from a serpent and thereby saving their family (Refer to Appendix 1)?

The role of friends is invaluable in times of happiness and crisis. Only those who stand by you in times of distress are considered friends (Jha & Anjana, 2021). In the Mahābhārat, there are many examples of friendship, apart from Arjuna- Krishna like Karna- Duryodhana, Duryodhana- Ashwatthama, Takshaka- Indra and Chitrasena- Arjuna (Menon, 2009). In the Bhagwad Gita, Lord Krishna mentions the role of a friend to shield one from all vices, temptations and prays for one’s wellbeing and spiritual growth (Debroy, 2019). Lord Krishna as a friend of the Gopikas, Sudama, Arjuna and the Pandavas is an epitome of friendship.

The Ramayana too depicts many friendships which serve as pillars of strength in times of uncertainty and dilemmas (Jha & Anjana, 2021). For example, Ravana had many friends like Kalanemi and Maricha who sacrificed their lives for the sake of friendship. Ramayana has instances of within kith friendships like Sugriva and Hanuman and inter- kith friendships like Rama- Sugriva and Rama- Vibhishana.

With only love and commitment as a prerequisite, friendship is a voluntary relationship with no stipulated end time (Parekh, 2008). Although voluntary, once a deep friendship is established, betraying a friend is considered a great sin (Jha & Anjana, 2021). In both the epics Karna and Maricha knew their end was near as they sided with adharma, but betraying a friend was a greater sin in their eyes.

Many other classical texts like Pañcatantra, the Jātaka tales and the Hitopadesa have stories and parts of books dedicated to friendships which can be understood by children due to the simplicity of the message it conveys.

Friendship from a Developmental Perspective

Friends, being part of a child’s microsystem have direct and indirect impact on behaviour and personality. Friendships in the real and virtual world are dynamic and influenced by macro factors like globalization and migration. Traditional stories, provide a bridge between continuing cultural values and living in the contemporary world. In this light, stories of friendship from the Pañcatantra need to be understood from an Indic perspective. For this purpose, a review and content analysis of Mitrabheda and Mitra-prāpti of the Pañcatantra by Jha & Anjana (2021) was done to gain insight into the basis of different friendships.

Friendships are an important source of teaching children pro-social behaviour (Berndt, 2002). As opportunities to bond through the internet and social media increase, the concern about reduced ability to maintain quality relationships grows (Hertlain & Webster, 2008).

Mildred Parten, found the first observable characteristic of friendship to be play. Children can have peers from as early as infancy. By the end of first year, a significant shift from solitary to joint activities is observed in children from day care settings. Children as early as six years of age, tend to show belongingness to peer groups (Gillibrand, Lam & O’Donnell, 2016). Similarly, friendship in childhood progresses from simply playing together to deep interactions and growing intimacy in adolescence. Kim, Parker & Marciano (2017) observe that secure friendships in childhood lead to emotional stability in adulthood. Poor self- esteem causes individuals to be more insecure and exhibit jealousy as they grow up.

The quality of friendships has a great influence on how children develop socially. Good friendships have positive correlations with prosocial behaviour and those characterized by aggression and indiscipline result in replication or modelling or mental disturbances (Berndt, 2002). Adults who have less favourable friendships in their childhood are more likely to face depression and adult aggression (King, Russell & Veith, 2016).

News articles point out how Indian people can have at least six best friends (Snapchat, 2019), they can make friends with anyone in the world and that friendship is based on love (The New Indian Express, 2019). As friendships now move online by sending and accepting requests, young people find it difficult to define what friendship is for them. Online friendships may last for shorter time periods and may not be very deep (Amichai- Hamburger, Kingsbury & Schneider, 2013).

In a culture where relationships are central and reiterated through beliefs like ekoahambahuswaami (Sinha, 2014) and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, moving towards an online world without fully experiencing in-person relationships may leave individuals perplexed about many facets of friendship. There is thus a need to understand the core beliefs about friendships and nurture them in a dynamic new context. Referring to the Pañcatantra, may be a promising way to revisit foundations of friendship and interpret them in new light, giving important insights to parents, teachers and children themselves. The next section presents some important principles of friendships as explained by the characters of Pañcatantra.

Friendship in the Pañcatantra

The Pañcatantra was written with the motive to teach young princes the art of governing a kingdom, focusing on Nítiśastra and the dharma of a king. Under this wide umbrella, the text includes many sub themes imparting valuable lessons on character building, strategizing, building good and trustworthy relationships. Friendships are an integral part of a king’s life. A king needs guidance from trustworthy people and there is a need to discern wise farsighted people from short-sighted and selfish ones (Srinivasan, 2018). Failure to do so would result in endangering the security of the kingdom. The Pañcatantra teaches allies are able to accomplish what individuals alone cannot (Olivelle, 2009). The result of having selfish advisors is evident in the Mitrabheda when Piṅgalaka’s advisors selfishly destroy a friendship that could have transformed into an alliance between herbivores and carnivores. This section explains the foundations of friendships in the Mitrabheda and Mitra-prāpti.

Secrecy, Trust and Stability

The Pañcatantra considers only those people to be true friends who complete a task in utmost secrecy (Jha & Anjana, 2021). Research studies (Roberts-Griffin, 2011) mention trust and the ability to depend on a friend as important features of friendship. Having faith in a friend’s goodness is essential as friendship is a private relation (Jha & Anjana, 2021). Any imbalance in this would cause mental distress. Sañjîvaka and Piṅgalaka had daily consultations in private, they trusted each other with their life. When Damanaka entered and sowed seeds of mistrust, their relationship soured and led to Sañjîvaka’s death.

Desired Qualities in Friends

Mitrabheda, the first tantra of the Panchtantra provides examples of friendships that are not lasting in nature as they lack basic qualities required to sustain friendship. Friendship should be devoid of greed and selfish interest. Once two friends Pāpabuddhi and Dharmabuddhi set out to seek fortune, amassed wealth, hid it in the forest and returned to their village. Being greedy, Pāpabuddhi dug out the rest of the wealth and falsely accused Dharmabuddhi. In what followed, Pāpabuddhi was found out and punished (Refer Appendix 1). One of the verses in this story mentions that it is not wise to show wealth to others as it invokes jealousy and greed. In this story the implications extend to having fake and greedy friends like Pāpabuddhi too.

People like Pāpabuddhi teach us to be alert while selecting friends. Hiraṇyaka the mouse in Mitra-prāpti, the second tantra of Pañcatantra is extremely cautious of befriending Laghupatanaka, the crow. He argues against it but when Laghupatanaka manages to convince him, Hiraṇyaka mentions his conditions of friendship. Later due to extreme commitment and trust, both of them become bosom friends (Refer Appendix 1).

Exchanges and Sacrifices

One can become a bosom friend by offering services and making sacrifices for each other in terms of their time, energy and sometimes even life (Parekh, 2008).In case of the friendship between Sañjîvaka and Piṅgalaka where the relationship continued until they believed that both were contributing to the bond by exchanging affection. When doubt clouded their mind about the other’s intention, the relationship collapsed.

Hiraṇyaka, the mouse throws light on this in Mitra-prāpti. He mentions that there must be a give and take of secrets and meals in friendship. It cannot survive without exchange. Simple oaths do not mean much as Indra promised friendship with Vritra and killed him later (Jha & Anjana, 2021). Laghupatanaka and Hiraṇyaka share extensive dialogues and choiciest of meals with each other. When drought strikes the land, Laghupatanaka leaves the forest and Hiraṇyaka cannot imagine his life without his friend and accompanies him.

Support in Distressful Times

The Pañcatantra shares the wisdom that true friends remain with us through thick and thin, happiness and distress (Jha & Anjana, 2021). With the assurance that there is someone to protect in times of duress, the mental condition remains calm even in tough situations (King, Russell & Veith, 2016). In the new forest, Laghupatanaka and Hiraṇyaka make friends with Mantharaka and Citāraṅga. As Citāraṅga falls into a trap, he is happy his friends are by his side as by beholding them, he can die peacefully. However, wise friends are invaluable, and putting their own lives in danger, they save him. When one friend shows affection, it is but natural that the other friend returns it just like Karna and Duryodhana did with each other (Parekh, 2008). Karna did not leave Duryodhana in his worst hour just like Mantharaka, the tortoise could not leave Citāraṅga despite knowing the danger lurking in the form of the hunter. Following Hiraṇyaka’s advice, everyone is safe at the end. Failing to follow a friend’s advice leads to the fate of the talkative tortoise.

Friendships beyond Barriers

The Pañcatantra presents classic examples of unconventional friendships. Unconventional friendships are those which deviate from the norm, wherein friends may not belong to the same group or species. Hiraṇyaka gives a list of natural enemies, who cannot be friends. He says friendship is possible between two individuals who are equal in wealth, power and status (Jha & Anjana, 2021). In a story from the Mahābhārat (Refer to Appendix 3), Palita a rat saves his enemy Lomasha the cat to protect himself from the mongoose and the owl. Lomasha, by just ebbing around keeps the other animals away. Later, Lomasha wishes to be his friend but Palita refuses (Naik, 2020). A friendship that stems for reasons other than mutual benevolence and affection stays for a short period (Jha & Anjana, 2021).

In Mitrabheda, an unconventional friendship between a lion and a bull has a tragic end. A story within the tantra also talks about a friendship between a carnivore and herbivore to be futile just like the camel who met his end by being friends with a panther, leopard, crow and lion (Refer to Appendix 1). Friendships demand sacrifices for each other (Parekh, 2008) but in this situation, they took the life of their friend.

In Mitra-prāpti, an unconventional friendship between a crow and a mouse lasts and has a positive message. Although in studies conducted on friendship, most friendships are same sex, there are chances of having friends from the other sex and even a non- binary gender (Anderson & Fowers, 2019). A friendship between opulent and impoverished is also not common. Friendships in Indian itihasa like Krishna- Sudama, Karna- Duryodhana prove that friendship does not require the two individuals to be of the same caste and class. Friends should be virtuous and dependable (Anderson & Fowers, 2019).

Friendships about Harmony

One who walks the saptapadi, or the seven steps together can be counted as a friend (Jha & Anjana, 2021). Thus, friendship is an important element of the marital relationship as well. Children learn societal expectations as they practice what is taught in these relations. Friendship in non-kin peers become more prevalent in situations where children move out of their homes. In places where younger siblings are not entrusted to older ones, non- kin friendships are possible (Borner, Hall & Gayes, 2017). Both Laghupatanaka and Hiraṇyaka lived alone. Laghupatanaka preferred solitude while Hiraṇyaka had been shunned as he was unable to feed his kinsmen lived alone. So, even as Chitragriva, the king of pigeons had a longer association with Hiraṇyaka, he made friends with a crow, a non-kinsman who was said to be a natural enemy of mice.

Parallels of Friendship in other texts

The Jātaka tales and stories from the Hitopadesa portray friendship as one of the important themes. A major part of the Hitopadesa is drawn from the Pañcatantra and presented in a simplified form. In the lessons from the Boddhisatva’s reincarnations as various animals, he shows the importance of love, affection, honesty, justice and friendships (Shaw, 2006). This section draws parallels on the principles of friendship between the Jātakas, Hitopadesa and the Pañcatantra.

The Importance of Friends

In the Mitra-prāpti, Hiraṇyaka lays stress on friends being there for one another in times of distress on many occasions. A story in the Pañcatantra, where a he-pewit wishes to teach the sea a lesson for swallowing his eggs, the she-pewit asked him to make some friends before challenging the sea (Jha & Anjana, 2021). In the Bird stories of Jātaka Tales, when a hawk couple got married, the she-hawk asked the he-hawk to make some friends. Though the he-hawk did not understand the importance of friends that time he obeyed his wife. Later as hunters climbed their tree to kill their fledglings, the he-hawk sought help from each of his friends (Pai, 1994). Leaving a friend in their worst hour is a sin as explained by Hiraṇyaka (Jha & Anjana, 2021). Aushadha Kumar, the incarnation of Bodhisattva always stood by his king Vaideha and despite the mistrust King Vaideha showed towards Aushadha Kumar on certain occasions (Sharma, 2005).

Friendship Based on Selfless Intentions and Trust

Amar Chitra Katha’s “True Friends” from the Jātaka (Pai, 1997) reiterates that true friends never wrong each other in anyway. At an opportune moment, Shakha Kumar got his friend Pottik beaten up as he felt Pottik could have changed his destiny by making him a king instead of Nigrodha Kumar. Such behaviour was not appreciated by King Nigrodha Kumar and Shakha Kumar was dismissed from his services. Another story about Kalakanni, the one believed to be unlucky by all except his childhood friend Seth Ananthapindaka, ends with everyone respecting Kalakanni because he is a true friend (Sastry, 1997).

Friendship is only based on purity of intention and sacrifice for one another (Vadrayan, 2011). In the Hitopadesa, a jackal befriends a deer to eat him and makes a plan to get him trapped. Later on, it was he who died (Refer to Appendix 2). Making friends with innocent animals and leading them to their end and rejoicing on their suffering is a mitra dosha or a friend with bad qualities (Vadrayan, 2011). The Hitopadesa tells another story of a blind, old vulture who was trapped by a cat. The vulture is killed by the birds as they believe he ate their chicks (Refer to Appendix 2). Thereby making friends with the wrong people can be dangerous and fatal.

Unconventional Friendships Across the Texts

Obeyesekere (2017) provides examples of stories that transcend caste and hierarchy in the Jātaka tales. The story of Seth Ananthapindaka and Kalakanni and the elephant and dog who cannot eat without each other prove how friendships can be so devoted, intense and loyal and beyond conventional boundaries. The ability to trust undercuts all these stories, and clearly stands out as the most important value in any friendship (Obeyesekere, 2017).

Implications of the study

A study in a recent article in Times of India showed that parental masking in the Covid pandemic has delayed children’s social smiling due to the absence of seeing the facial gestures (Tere, 2021). As children are being socialised into an online world, they are missing out on important values mentioned in some of the studies mentioned in this paper. If they are unable to form that bond, interaction, trust and dependability with others, implications on social development can be very serious.

In the modern world, where everyone is connected by technology, relationships seem to be growing distant (Hertlain & Webster, 2008). In a world without friendships, it would be difficult to practice prosocial behaviour and make the world come together as a family. With robots like Siri and Alexa, the need for human contact may not seem obvious. The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam may become alien in the future. To prevent this from happening, there is a need to re-socialise young children to realise the importance of friendship. One of the ways to do so is to narrate stories from Mitrabheda and Mitra-prāpti, the Jātaka’s and Hitopadesa because animal characters who can convey even complex messages and are loved by children (Creany, 2013).

Human beings transfer wisdom through stories, they build the imagination and critical thought process at an early age (Prakash, 2016). Friendship workshops can begin at the story space itself, where children who are strangers, come together and listen to a storyteller. They may be given activities or discussions post the story sessions and, new relationships can be kindled. For children to live in harmony or appreciate the sentiment of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, stories are a wonderful way to encourage the practice of appropriate social behaviour, learn to accept divergent views and respect each other. Stories can sow seeds of hope for the future.


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Appendix 1: Stories from the Pañcatantra

The Crows and the Serpent

Once on a large banyan tree lived a crow couple. As soon as they gave birth, a black serpent would eat their fledglings who could not fly. Both of them, upset reached out to their dear friend, a jackal. They told him of their problem and asked for a solution to protect their offsprings. The jackal said that the serpent can definitely be killed. The jackal assured the crow couple that being physically weak does not mean one cannot protect themselves. The crows’ hopes were lifted and the jackal continued to guide them. He asked them to take a gold necklace from a king’s minister, fly off with it and drop it in the snake hole. The snake will be killed. The female crow went to a pond where queens were bathing and flew off with a chain. The guards noticed her and ran behind her. The she crow dropped the necklace in the hole and watched from a distance. The guards saw the snake with its enlarged hood, killed it and recovered the necklace. The crow couple lived happily ever after.

The Story of Pāpabuddhi and Dharmabuddhi

When two friends Pāpabuddhi and Dharmabuddhi set out to seek fortune, both amassed wealth and returned to their village. They hid their wealth in the forest bordering the village taking only little with them. Greed got the better of Pāpabuddhi and he dug out the rest of the wealth. When both the friends went to get more wealth, they found it missing. Pāpabuddhi falsely accused Dharmabuddhi and both took the matter to court. Pāpabuddhi ordered his old father to accuse Dharmabuddhi by hiding in the tree. Dharmabuddhi, convinced that the foul deed was committed by Pāpabuddhi, cleverly outwitted him by pretending to burn the tree. Pāpabuddhi’s father rushed out and Pāpabuddhi was punished.

The Framework of Mitra-prāpti– the Crow, the Mouse, the Deer and the Tortoise

Laghupatanaka, a crow preferred his own company. One day, he saw a hunter laying a trap under the tree, his home lay. A band of pigeons settled to eat the grains under the net despite warnings from their king. As soon as they began to peck, the net fell on them. Dismayed, they began to fight amongst themselves when the king decided to fly united to his friend Hiraṇyaka the mouse. Hiraṇyaka is delighted to see his friend and frees the band and then the king. After all the indebted pigeons leave, Laghupatanaka who had followed them asks to be friends with Hiraṇyaka. After initial hesitation of being natural enemies Laghupatanaka convinces him, the mouse relents. The crow and mouse become inseparable. As they continue their friendship, a drought falls upon the land and Laghupatanaka decides to leave. Hiraṇyaka, who cannot live without Laghupatanaka also leaves with him and goes to another forest and live with Mantharaka the tortoise.

One day, they hide a deer called Citāraṅga from a hunter and he becomes a part of their circle. Once again Citāraṅga is caught by a hunter and Hiraṇyaka thinks of a plan to save him. Hiraṇyaka cuts the net but the hunter catches Mantharaka who has arrived on the scene. Hiraṇyaka once again saves both the friends and all of them spend their days peacefully.

The Lion, Panther, Leopard and Crow

Once, a lion had a few followers- a crow, a leopard and a panther. The crow took the lion to the desert in search of camel meat. As they got lost in the scorching sun, hungry, thirsty and tired, a camel helped them find their way out. The lion invited the camel to live with him. When water and food was scarce the lion’s followers made plans to kill the lion.

Appendix 2: Stories from the Hitopadesa

The Crow, the Deer and the Jackal

Once, a crow and deer were fast friends. A jackal noticed the deer and wished to eat it. He made friends with the deer and despite warnings from the crow, the deer empathised with the lonely jackal. One day, the jackal led the deer into a trap and went to rejoice at his suffering. Later the crow found the deer and saved him and the farmer angry at losing his prey, hurled his club that hit the jackal and killed him.

The Vulture, the Birds and the Cat

The Hitopadesa tells another story of a blind, old vulture who used to take care of all the fledglings of the birds in the tree as the birds got him food. A cat upon noticing the fledglings made friends with the vulture and began to devour the fledglings in the vulture’s hole. Once all the fledglings had been eaten, the cat ran off, the angry birds saw the vulture’s hole full of skeletons and killed it.

Appendix 3: Tales from the Mahābhārat

Friends and Foes

Once upon a time Lomasha a cat hunted for birds and rats. Palita the rat kept a distance from him. One day Lomasha got caught in a hunter’s net and Palita was happy and began to dance. Later Palita noticed his other enemies, the owl and the mongoose who stayed away because of Lomasha’s presence.

Palita approached Lomasha and offered to help him. Palita cut the net very slowly to free Lomasha only when the hunter was a few paces away. Lomasha extended friendship with Palita, but Palita refused as their friendship was only for the sake of protecting each other for a stipulated period of time.

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