The Ass in the Lion’s Skin – Ancient India
The Ass in the Lion’s Skin – Sanskrit is the classical language of the Hindus of ancient India. Practically the whole of that extraordinary literature which began with the Vedas and culminated some time before the close of the Middle Ages, was written in Sanskrit.
Our knowledge of the earliest period is vague. The Vedas were composed perhaps before the days of Homer. Beginning perhaps about 500 B.C. and extending to about the time of Christ, is the period of the epics; during which the Mahabharata and Ramayana were probably written. Both these monumental poems are full of episodes containing at least the material for short stories.
But for the purpose of this volume, the outstanding contribution of the ancient Hindus were the fables and tales; most of which are found in large collections. The earliest of these is doubtless the Jataka, or Buddhist “birth-stories,” which were in existence at least as early as the Fourth Century B.C. The Panchatantra may be as old as the Jataka stories; both are rooted in a common source. Many centuries later an unknown author revised certain parts of the Panchatantra and produced the book known as the Hitopadesa, which may be as recent as the Fourteenth Century A.D.
The tales in the Panchatantra
The Ass in the Lion’s Skin – Most of these stories are directly didactic, but for the historian in search of the origin of certain types. The question of the fable and its Indian or Greek origin. It is one of the most fascinating in all literature. There are those who claim that the tales in the Panchatantra and the Jataka stories are the source of all the fables in the Occident, and others who believe that it was the Hindus who took the fable form from the ancient Greeks.
Of the other collections of stories the most varied is the famous Katha-sarit-Sagara; or Ocean of Streams of Stories, written about 1070 A.D. by Somadeva. This was based upon a much earlier collection, which is now lost.
The influence of the Sanskrit tales on the art of the story is almost impossible to estimate; translations and revisions of Sanskrit tales and fables were made as early as the Sixth Century B.C. And modern research is demonstrating beyond any doubt the fact that the Ancient Hindus have furnished ideas and literary forms to other nations ever since the dawn of history.