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Prevarication In Panchatantra: As Seen Through A Linguistic Lens


One of the design features of human language derived by Charles F. Hockett along with anthropologist Stuart A. Altmann is ‘Prevarication’ where a speaker can produce falsehoods, lies, and meaningless statements. This feature is remarkably abundant in storytelling, particularly in folk literature. In fact, it can be argued that this power to lie is the backbone of the narration of folklore.

Among the six functions of language defined by Roman Jakobson, ‘Poetic Function’ focuses on ‘the message for its own sake’. He points out that is the operative function in poetry or stories. The poetic function forces readers or listeners more than other linguistic functions to attend to the signifiers. Folklores and folktales are the cultural bridging elements between the addresser and the addressee. Folklores contain several morals and cultural values of society. Therefore folklore and folktales are frequently investigated in sociolinguistic studies. This paper discusses how Indian folk tales ‘Panchatantra’ employs prevarication in its narrative strategy. As mentioned in the book itself, Vishnu Sharma wrote ‘Panchatantra’ for the purpose of teaching morals to three inexperienced princes of a Deccan King. The book being composed of five Tantras or morals was called Panchatantra. Each Tantra has a number of short stories attached to it. As it was written for moral learning, the book clearly had a deep impact on larger society crossing all boundaries of caste and creed. By analyzing the interconnection between various sociolinguistic factors as per previous research and evidence from the script itself Panchatantra can be redefined as a social literature. In this paper we will note such interactions to discuss how the imaginary stories of ‘Panchatantra’ diversely contain ‘poetic functional prevarication’.

Justification of title of the article

It is rightly said that great artforms like folklore and folktales always transcend theories and yet it is also true that we can study art of literature better in the light of various theories. The title of the thesis is ‘The Reflections of The Panchatantra’ in Indian folk tradition and a converted classic literature in the view of linguistics. The researcher was in a dilemma regarding the choice between the two terms folk tradition and classics and whether the title should be ‘Panchatantra: A Journey from Folk to Classic’. In the process of making the right choice, a researcher always feels the need to probe into the meanings, definitions and different connotations of the culture and social concepts.


Charles F. Hockett proposed that linguistics can be seen as ‘a game and as a science’ in the paper ‘A Note on Structure’ [1]. Every language is an open system. It allows us to express things we haven’t seen before. Hockett derived three important design features of human language in 1968 with anthropologist and scientist Stuart A. Altmann. One of them is ‘prevarication’. We can produce potentially an infinite number of different messages by combining the elements of language differently. In background to this, one of the major features of language is called prevarication. This can be described by the field of linguistics. Linguistic messages can be false, deceptive, or meaningless. Prevarication comes with the idea that it is not mandatory to tell the truth, rather this is our ability to lie[2]. We can relate this feature with storytelling. This power to lie is the backbone of the narration of folklore. Folklore contains several morals and cultures of society. Thus it is a cornerstone of sociolinguistics. Thomas Callan Hodson first used the term.

‘Sociolinguistics’ in the title of his article ‘Sociolinguistics in India’ (1939) published in Man in India [3]. An element of linguistics, ‘poetic function’ focuses on ‘the message for its own sake’ and is the operative function in poetry or stories. According to Jakobson, the poetic function forces the readers or listeners more than other linguistic functions to attend to the signifiers in linguistic signs, away from the signifieds. Also folklores and folktales are the cultural bridging element between the addresser and the addressee. Considering the storytelling process as a function of language, it is potentially an example of Jakobson’s ‘poetic function’.

Indian folk tales ’Panchatantra’ is a perfect example of sociolinguistic prevarication. As written in the book, Vishnu Sharma wrote ‘Panchatantra’ for the purpose of teaching morals to three inexperienced sons of Amarshakti, the king of the Mahilaropya Nagar of the Deccan. As it was written for moral learning, clearly the book has a deep impact on society. The book being composed of five Tantras or morals was called Panchatantra. The five Tantras are: ’Mitrabheda’, ‘Mitraprapti’, ‘Kakolookiyam’, ‘Labdhapranasha’, ‘Aprikshitakarakam’. Each Tantra has a number of short stories attached to it. The imaginary stories are diversely written in simple language and they fully contain poetic functional prevarication.

On the reflections of Panchatantra as folklore in Indian literature it is necessary to refer to the study of linguistics where subjective terms keep recurring. The researcher had to examine the meanings of the terms and their applications, in relation to the study of sociolinguistics. It appeared necessary to consider literary theories like prevarication and poetic function.

The tradition of folk-culture and folk-literature

The subject of oral folklore in literature is unusually diverse, with many genres and types of folklore. All of these were formed gradually, over a period of hundreds of years as a result of human life and creative activity. At present there are certain types of folk tales in literature. Oral folk art is the unique level of knowledge on the basis of which thousands of classical works were created. The word ‘folk culture’ is a combination of two different words ‘folk’ and ‘culture’. ‘Folk ’ means ‘people’ or ‘folk’-and-‘culture’ is the excellence of civilization. This excellence is the way of life of the people [4]. That is to say, ‘folk culture’ is so that it reflects the civilized excellence of the folk society and reveals the way of life. We know that literature is one of the main components of any society and culture. According to Rabindranath Tagore, the word ‘literature’ originates from the word ‘sahit’; that is, there is a sense of harmony in the word ‘literature’. Literature is not only a combination of ideas, language or texts, but also of human beings with human beings, present with past, near and far. So, literature is the medium that connects folk-life. Apparently dance-song-drama-acting art is called ‘culture’, but these are just different parts of culture. In fact, ‘culture’ is a superstructure on the social and economic basis of a society or a state. In short, the definition of high culture and folk culture is determined by the differences in the general aristocracy of the society. Folk culture is the creation of high culture on the basis of individual consciousness, on the other hand, it is the overall life-sustaining creation of the society as a whole. Folk culture originates and develops from the folk stream.

Literature is the main and authentic carrier of culture. In many cases it can be seen that folk literature has evolved into classical literature. That is why the two genres of folklore and etiquette flow side by side. As in the history of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata epics also contain many myths, folktales, legends and proverbs of Indian folk life. Folklore is a part of folk culture. The main branches of folklore are rhyme, proverb, riddle, folk music, folklore, lyric and folk drama [5]. The continuous features of the rhyme are — continuity of style in the rhyme, lack of storytelling; the rhyme is phonetic and breathtaking, it has pictures but no advice, its language is light and the flavour is cherishable. Folktales are basically an important part of our society. The fables, legends, myths, animal stories, parables, humorous stories, all occupy a prominent place in folklore. William Thomas is the inventor of the word ’folklore’. The first Folklore Society was established in London in 1848. Various scholars are reluctant to accept the word ‘folklore’ as a synonym for the word folk cultural literature. The English word folklore is used in a broad sense. As a result, they feel comfortable using words like folk science, folk tales, folk poetries, etc., instead of folklore. In this paper, we will explain about Panchatantra and its aspects in the field of folk-culture and folk-literature.

Aspects of linguistics on Panchatantra

The position of fiction covers a large part of Sanskrit literature. In fiction the narrator incarnates a principle sentence by narrating the story. There is a linguistic connection between the narrator and the audience. The prevarication of the story is making differences in the thought of a listener. From ancient times people have had a natural fascination for stories. This helps the imagination to be a kind of ‘truth’ in our society. A connection of thought is being carried by the stories. This section includes Buddhist births and contributions, Jain narratives, etc. The origin and development of Sanskrit fiction or any other fiction dates back to BC. The Rig Veda has ‘deksukta’ but ‘veksukta’ is not narrative. Although there is no story of animals in Vedic literature, it is not completely separate from animals or people [6]. By the way, Sanskrit literature is an invaluable source of fiction. Literature can never be confined within the boundaries of religion. Nevertheless, storytelling in Pali and Prakrit languages is considered to belong to Buddhism and Jainism, respectively, and storytelling in Sanskrit belongs to Hinduism. Whether the story is written in Sanskrit, Pali or Prakrit, the fiction of every language is full of diversity; Rasottirna in terms of storytelling and speech. The fiction written in Sanskrit language in the combination of real and imagined demands a little special mention. However, some features of modern short stories have also been revealed in Sanskrit stories, but this can be said without hesitation. Panchatantra is the oldest story book in Sanskrit literature. Panchatantra belongs to Padmanad in ancient Indian fiction. The use of language and use of the properties of various language segments can be followed in the stories of ‘Panchatantra’. The segments are ‘prevarication’, ‘poetic function’ and ‘sociolinguistic effect’.

Prevarication of Panchatantra as a ‘folktale’

Once Darwin defined human evolution as ‘descent with modification,’ the idea that species change over time, gives rise to new species, and share a common ancestor [7]. Darwin argued forcefully that all creatures were subject to the same natural laws, and that humans had evolved over countless eons, just as other animals had. He said that humans have the special ability to create story over imagination. So basically, since those times, imagination and power to lie were specialties of humanbeings. Everyone, young and old, love to tell stories. Storytelling is one of the ways to relax. People talk to friends for the purpose of calming the burdened mind. Above all, stories are needed to attract children. Even at a tender age, there is a natural appeal of storytelling to a child’s mind. Storytellers are engaged in writing fiction about these aspects of human instinct. As a result, one of the reasons behind the creation of fiction is leisure, recreation, children’s education and moral education. With a universal appeal, the storyteller creates an enchanting atmosphere and appears at the doorstep of children’s minds with a flurry of fairy tales [8]. As a result, the storyteller enjoys an extreme freedom in character creation. Princes of imaginary countries, princesses, golden sticks, silver sticks, parody, flying horse, one-eyed creatures, dark cave etc. are helpful for creating a mysterious environment in the story literature. In addition to humans, creatures such as vultures, crocodiles, monkeys, jackals, dogs, etc. have also been able to come up with the character of the story. By weaving the web of words, the storyteller can take the human mind of all levels to a mysterious magical environment. The storyteller is in fact a real social educator, serving the twists and turns of life’s useful principles and ideals [shown in Fig.1].

(Fig.1: The stories are basically imagination and that doesn’t exist on earth. So these are the examples of prevarication)

There are two main reasons behind writing prose stories:

  1. Recreation.
  2. Leisure.

Entering the world of fiction, people are reminded of the restlessness of life and restlessness of punishment. The mind is then cheerful. And spending time reading and listening to the story is a pleasant experience. Fiction is roughly divided into two parts.

  1. Human stories.
  2. Animal stories.

It has not always been possible to adhere to clear boundaries in fiction. Or it could be said that this boundary was not maintained everywhere. Some people even favour one-third of the fiction called popular folklore. In the case of animal stories, in the light of significant experience, people have noticed the tiger’s ferocity, the fox’s cunningness, the donkey’s stupidity, the snake’s cruelty, the crow’s crookedness, the dog’s dominance, the monkey’s agility, etc. All these qualities are objects of analogy in the human world. But the story can’t be true. We’re lying to make a person analyze human character morals. All these features of human beings have been embodied in the form of animals and birds in many false imaginary cases. Panchatantra previously was oral folktales, with ideological depth, highly artistic qualities, and included artistic creation, along with all poetic, prose genres, rituals, and themes. The features are usually,

  1. The song of labor – formed in the process of work.
  2. They present different accents, signals, melodies, individual words, songs.
  3. Conspiracy, evil concepts.
  4. Marriage folk tales.
  5. Funeral mourning, recruitment mourning.
  6. Oral prose – legends, legends, stories and tales.
  7. Formal short folklore style, proverbs, fairy tales, law and discourse.
  8. Epic or songs like historical and spiritual sectors.
  9. Artistic creativity- magic, everyday stories and fairy tales about animals, balls, kids.

The historical significance of Amarshakti and Vishnu Sharma, the kings of the feminine city, is still unknown. Since the feminine city is located in the Deccan, it is possible that the place of composition of Panchatantra was South India. Hartl, Benfet, Willkill Agenton, and many other Western scholars have studied the Panchatantra. According to Hartel, the Panchatantra was composed after the second century BC [9]. Since Panchatantra is familiar with the Mahabharata and mentions the word ‘dinar’ in it, the influence of Kautilya’s Arthashastra is noticeable [10]. So here we can say a totally imaginary set of stories has been accepted by us. This is what we call prevarication and one can say that ‘Panchatantra’ is a ‘prevaricational folklore’.

Cause of vivid acceptance of Panchatantra: Poetic function

In Jakobson’s model of linguistic communication, a key linguistic or communicative function which foregrounds textual features is poetic function [11]. Within the model of Jacobson, this function is oriented towards the message or focused on the message for its own sake. That means the function is basically a message-oriented communication. In utterances, in literary texts, the poetic function is dominant. The language tends to be more ‘opaque’ than conventional prose in emphasizing the signifier and medium and their materiality, or the form, style, or code at least as much as any signified, content, message, or referential meaning [12]. We can say that ‘folklore’ is a special form of oral folk art, which gives a general idea of the structure of the world and human community in oral images. Literary writing is perceived as an art form and is reflected in a person’s inner world in the system of social relations developed within a certain historical period. This whole thing is dependent on the poetic function [shown in Fig. 2].

(Fig.2: The rule of Jacobson says that, the poetic function is orientation toward ’message’ and ‘the focus on the message for its own sake’. The morals delivered by the stories are effectively taken by our senses through this poetic function)

Words have their own special artistic abilities; facial expressions, gestures, voices, tendencies, and other ways that literature cannot or does not need to use.

Folk literature originated from the beginning of language creation. This literature has been cherished unnoticed by people for ages. Though it has no place in the educated society, folklore occupies all the place in the heart of the people of rural Bengal. Traditional folk songs, stories, ballads, rhymes, proverbs, riddles, etc. have enriched the repertoire of folklore. The subtleties of nature are also expressed in folklore. Panchatantra is beautiful because of the simplicity of the originality of the imagination and the liveliness of the characters. People can easily sense the flavor and inner meaning of the stories. Apart from propagating the ideals of religion such as justice, the animals and birds have been indirectly engaged in human virtues, hypocrisy, deceit, heartlessness and so on. After the Bible, Panchatantra is the most widely circulated storybook in the world as the stories are enriched with the poetic function of language. According to Johannes Hartl’s research, more than fifty stories have been edited in more than fifty languages throughout India and outside India, from Java to Iceland, and three-quarters of them have been translated into non-Indian languages. Panchatantra is thus one of the greatest contributions of India to the world of literature.

Sociolinguistic features and relevance of Panchatantra

The collection of folk art is, first of all, a community of generations, which manifests itself at different levels. Joseph Campbell said that humans live in the world of myth. Myth was one of the first ingredients of story making. Literature is the mirror of human life. Everything in society, nature or the human world is reflected in literature. From the auspiciousness of the creation of literature in ancient times, the interest to see his life in literature was born in man. In the Vedic age, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, when it was created, also contained a larger human and social philosophy. Human relations or its traditional values, ideals, reforms, customs, etc., are all reflected there. Friendship as a human relationship has also entered into two ancient epics like Ramayana or Mahabharata. We expect a healthy value from the various relationships bound up in human life where there will be streams of heart, purity, support, sympathy, etc. The name Panchatantra is one of the most notable names in ancient Indian fiction. Panchatantra is not only the most notable, it is also the greatest [13]. There is no other widely circulated book in the world but the Bible. More than two hundred versions of Panchatantra have been published in about fifty languages. Some have suggested that the teaching of princes was one of the reasons behind the creation of fiction which is the cause of creating Panchatantra. It is said in the Kathamukhsutra that Vishnu Sharma wrote this book in order to develop the wisdom and realism of the three Jarabi sons named Basushakti, Ugnashakti and Anekshakti of Amarshakti. The nature and characteristics of the book have been stated in the book itself,


Brahmin scholars were appointed to the royal court for the purpose of teaching ethics to the princes. So that the complex theories of politics or economics could be easily grasped by the Komalmati princes, so that they could take root in their minds, the Brahmin scholars chose the story as a medium. The selection of the story as a vehicle for policy education is undoubtedly a great achievement of the scholars [14]. As a result, ethics also became closely associated with fiction. By choosing animals as the characters in the story, the children’s teachers planned to introduce the children to the larger nature. Their efforts were largely successful. This has been mentioned before. One thing is particularly memorable in this context. In the stories of animals, birds and people, social customs and life experiences have penetrated so easily and beautifully that they leave a deep imprint on the hearts of tender boys and girls [15]. The principles of realism, religion, money, etc., are like a gem.

A common feature of Panchatantra is that the stories are self-contained and not monotonous, but varied. The love-advice is expressed in captivating verses. Referring to the verse in support of his statement, the incarnation of another story such as Mitrabheda Tantra may be incapable and capable of suppression – in support of this statement,

“উপােয়নিহয  কংনত কংপরা ৈমঃ।কাকাকনকসূেণকৃ     সেপািনপািততঃ॥”

This is how Vishnu Sharma weaves the web of story. The language of Panchatantra is simple, straightforward and clear. Vishnu Sharma did not burden the language. In the language of conversation, the author also introduces a sense of wonder. Vishnu Sharma’s skill in composing short but concise dialogues is astonishing. Vishnu Sharma, a successful rhetorician who has been portrayed as an ideal teacher of ethics, is expressed in every verse of Panchatantra. Another great achievement of Vishnu Sharma is that he has brought to life the non-objective emotions in the form of animals. The literary piece has found a place in the course of human life. Many of the characters in the story are forest animals and birds. The author has given great advice on how to survive in human life through them. There are various social issues such as which path to take in life, which path to avoid, right-wrong or true-false feeling, to have or not to have a relationship with man according to his characteristics, establishment of religion, destruction of iniquity etc. The Pancha-tantra or proverbs contains valuable advice on friendship. Such a simple, straightforward and delicate book is really rare for moral education. If the literature in question is carefully considered, its features and variety of elements can be noticed. The serious issues of religion, politics or sociology are not only presented here in common sense, in simple and easy language; minor issues have also been edited. Here the reader finds sharp satire and fluid humor alongside policy advice, becoming acquainted with a myriad of varied characters. The question of how far the stories of Sanskrit literature have passed by the standards of modern criticism is irrelevant here.

Five Tantras (fragments) of Panchatantra have been mentioned earlier. Tantras were introduced:

  1. Mitrabheda (broken friendship)
  2. Mitraprapti (friendship)
  3. Kakolukiya (eternal enmity)
  4. Labdhapranash (getting lost)
  5. Apariksitakarakam (indiscretion, recklessness, ill considered action):

In the stories, the folk life and folk elements are stated in sincere and witty editing. Whatever the period of its composition, its purpose is clear in the name of ‘Tantra’. With general ethics there is the issue of sociology and politics. There are a total of seventy-four stories in five systems. It is not that there are inconsistencies in some of the stories. Some of the stories are repeated. It is natural to assume that in all these cases the scribe would have inserted his crude composition while copying the manuscript. Karen Armstrong said, “Rituals were designed to replenish this power lest it exhaust itself.” [16]. As a folktale collection, Panchatantra carries these socio-cultural rituals, which is even relevant in now-a-day society. In the book “Myth and Meaning” we can know that ever since the rise of science and the scientific method in the seventeenth century, we have rejected mythology as the product of superstitious and primitive minds. Only now are we coming to a fuller appreciation of the nature and role of myth in human history. If we take morals as myth, these definitely have great aspects on all over the society. There is no time constraint in folklore. Its tradition is thousands of years old. Folklore is not the creation of any individual, it is a symbol of the creativity of ordinary people in society. Folk literature, created from the world and life, gradually finds new forms in the creations of the people. Panchatantra was relevant to that time, also relevant to this age. The moral containing stories are called classic literature as they are useful and relevant to all ages [shown in Fig. 3].

(Fig.3: Folk cultural stories become relevant to all ages because of the morals)

Various Scenarios:

Scenario 1: Story is itself a creation of human imagination. The imagination gives us the power to create faithful lies. These lies become a part of our life. We all accept the feature of language ‘prevarication’ as our daily important way of living.

Scenario 2: Poetic function not only helps us to conceive imagination as truth but also to sense the main motive of folklore and folktales. Basically the creation of folk stories is for teaching people the proper way of life.

Scenario 3: Folk cultural stories were centered around myth with a basic premise of teaching moral values in simple understandable manner.  These core human values are as relevant today as they were when these stories were conceived.  These folklore and folktales also serves as a window to familiarize ourselves with different cultures of society.

Scenario 4:  Delving further into how Indian folk literature became classical literature in terms of social acceptance should be the subject of our next research.

Folklores are the result of an integrated creative process where authorship is impossible to establish. Literature brings together works whose authors are faithfully known.


The Panchatantra which is immensely popular all over the world, is no longer existing in its original form. The original Panchatantra is completely extinct. It was translated into Pahlavi in the early part of the 6th century AD [17]. But the original Sanskrit manuscript from which it was translated, the Pahlavi translation, is also extinct today. A serialized version of the Panchatantra was published in 570 AD, and an Arabic version was published in 650 AD. In 1199 AD,

Shwetambar, a disciple of Jinpat Suri, published a version of Panchatantra called Purvabhadra Panchkalyanak, a Jain monk. Several new stories were added to this edition. Not long ago, there was another version of Panchatantra called Tantrakhyayika. Scholars believe that the language of the original Panchatantra has been followed here, but not in other versions of the Panchatantra. A South Indian version of the Panchatantra, written after Verbi, was also published. The addition of this version to the South Indian version of the original Panchatantra is even more intimate than that of the Tantra. North-West India based its version of Panchatantra on Kshemendra’s Brihattatthamanjari and Somdev’s Kathasaritsagar. Panchatantra is a literary resource in which the content was relevant at that time and is still relevant today. Despite the ups and downs of the social system year after year, Panchatantra has been adopted equally in all societies. All we can say is that the folktale ‘Panchatantra’ has become a classical literature for its sociolinguistic aspects for centuries and contains prevaricational poetic function.


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I would like to express my gratitude to my supervisor, Dr. Samir Karmakar [Jadavpur University, School of Language and Linguistics], who guided me throughout this project. I wish to extend my special thanks to Akash Mukherjee.

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