The Story as Good Counsel
The Hitopdesa is another work of niti like the Panchatantra, written in Sanskrit by Narayana. The author was a poet or preceptor in the court of Dhawal Chandra, a prince or satrap of eastern India who is said to have commissioned it. It is believed to be a thousand years old, written between the ninth and fourteenth century AD. The earliest known manuscript discovered in Nepal bears a date corresponding to 1373 A.D. It has a structure similar to the Panchatantra and contains four books, which have stories from the Panchatantra with others added to them. Before the discovery of that manuscript this work was attributed to Vishnusharma who is the narrator of the work. But when it was being studied the names of Narayana and his patron were discovered in the last two verses. Some of the matter and quotations used establish it as having been composed in the eastern part of the country.
While Narayana mentions the Panchatantra as his source he has drawn from other works as well. The order of the first book of the Panchatantra has been reversed and the third divided into two. The fourth book has mostly been omitted and a large number of verses exist within the stories. These have been sourced mostly from the verse composition Nitisara of Kamandaki. Some have been taken from the play Venisamhara by Bhattanarayana which, like the other work, dates to the eighth century. Niti verses from other important works have been included like the Vrdhha or Laghu Chanakya, the Chanakya Sara Sangraha and the Chankaya Raja Niti Shastra, the Garuda Purana and the Nitisataka of Bharatrihari. It has used the two epics as sources apart from the Puranas, the poetic, dramatic work of Magha Sisupalavadha, the Kiratarjun of Bhandavi and Mrichhakatika of Sudraka. Some stories overlap with the Sukasaptati and the Vetal Panchvimsaptika. However, Narayana has added his own lively touch to his source material and heightened its impact by the manner in which he rearranged it.
It is worth noting that the Hitopdesa was the second Sanskrit work to be translated directly into English after the Bhagavat Gita. Charles Wilkins of the East India Company translated it in 1787. It was first published in Serampore in 1804. Many other translations were made including one by Sir Edwin Arnold in 1861 that appeared under the title The Book of Good Counsels. In India it has been translated into Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Newari, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu, according to Indologist Johannes Hertel. Contemporary translations listed by the US Library of Congress include Burmese, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Khmer, Russian, Spanish and Thai.