Hitopadesha

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Nepalese manuscript of the Hitopadesha, c.1800

Hitopadesha (Devanagari: हितोपदेशः Hitopadeśa) is a collection of Sanskrit fables in prose and verse.

Quotes[edit]

  • मनस्वी म्रियते कामं कार्पण्यं न तु गच्छति ।
    अपि निर्वाणमायाति नानलो याति शीतताम् ॥
    • The high-spirited man may indeed die, but he will not stoop to meanness.
      Fire, though it may be quenched, will not become cool. [1]
      • Book I
  • Thus, in contemporary India, countless public speakers, both political and religious, pompously claim as the core of India’s heritage the motto: Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, “The whole world is one family.”.. In the Hitopadesha, a jackal is trying to befriend a gullible deer in order ultimately to devour it, but a crow warns the deer, telling it about what happened to animals past who took strangers into confidence without checking out their true intentions. When the crow is about to dissuade the deer from going out with the jackal, the jackal interrupts him with a sardonic appeal to the oft-cited phrase: “‘Beware of strangers’, such is the talk of narrow-minded people. To magnanimous people, by contrast, the whole world is one family.” The deer then rejects the crow’s warnings, invites the jackal, and later on gets attacked by the jackal, only to be saved by the crow’s intervention. Sarcastic lesson: the one who believes that “the world is one family”, is a fool bound to get into trouble; the one who disbelieves it, is wise; and the one who propagates it, is a knave whom you should avoid like the plague.
    • Koenraad Elst, The Argumentative Hindu (2012), Chapter: Humour in Hinduism
  • Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, “the whole world is one family”, is a very oft-quoted verse, and very much taken out of context. It nowadays functions as the creed of Hinduism, at least for public consumption. Hindus often think it has been taken from the Vedas or from the Bhagavad Gītā, but it comes from a fable collection, the Hitopadeśa. And there, its meaning is not that positive. When a jackal targets a deer for his meal and cleverly wins its trust, a crow gets alerted by the sinister sight of this sudden interloper. However, the jackal protests that suspicion is misplaced: vasudhaiva kutumbakam! The crow has to bow out, but remains vigilant from a distance. When the jackal finally tries to strike, the deer is saved by the crow’s intervention. Moral of the story: only a knave would assert, and a fool believe, that “the whole world is one family”. Fortunately there are still a few clever skeptics who don’t let down their guard, and who see through this unrealistic maxim. I wonder what it says about modern Hindus that they all run away with this saying and even advertise it as the essence of their worldview.
    • Elst, Koenraad. Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars. (2019). New Delhi : Rupa.

External links[edit]

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