The first page of oldest surviving Panchatantra text in Sanskrit.
An 18th century Pancatantra manuscript page in Braj dialect of Hindi (The Talkative Turtle).
The Panchatantra (IAST: Pañcatantra, Sanskrit: पञ्चतन्त्र, "Five Treatises") is an ancient Indian work of political philosophy, in the form of a collection of interrelated animal fables in Sanskrit verse and prose, arranged within a frame story. The surviving work is dated to about 300 BCE, but the fables are likely much more ancient. The text's author is unknown, but has been attributed to Vishnu Sharma in some recensions and Vasubhaga in others, both of which may be fictitious pen names. It is likely a Hindu text, and based on older oral traditions with "animal fables that are as old as we are able to imagine".
It is "certainly the most frequently translated literary product of India", and these stories are among the most widely known in the world. It goes by many names in many cultures. There is a version of Panchatantra in nearly every major language of India, and in addition there are 200 versions of the text in more than 50 languages around the world. One version reached Europe in the 11th-century. To quote Edgerton (1924):
...before 1600 it existed in Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, German, English, Old Slavonic, Czech, and perhaps other Slavonic languages. Its range has extended from Java to Iceland... [In India,] it has been worked over and over again, expanded, abstracted, turned into verse, retold in prose, translated into medieval and modern vernaculars, and retranslated into Sanskrit. And most of the stories contained in it have "gone down" into the folklore of the story-loving Hindus, whence they reappear in the collections of oral tales gathered by modern students of folk-stories.
The earliest known translation into a non-Indian language is in Middle Persian (Pahlavi, 550 CE) by Burzoe. This became the basis for a Syriac translation as Kalilag and Damnag and a translation into Arabic in 750 CE by Persian scholar Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa as Kalīlah wa Dimnah (Arabic: كليلة ودمنة). A New Persian version by Rudaki in the 12th century became known as Kalīleh o Demneh (Persian: کلیله و دمنه) and this was the basis of Kashefi's 15th century Anvār-i Suhaylī or Anvār-e Soheylī (Persian: انوار سهیلی, 'The Lights of Canopus'), which in turn was translated into Humayun-namah in Turkish. The book is also known as The Fables of Bidpai (or Pilpai in various European languages, Vidyapati in Sanskrit) or The Morall Philosophie of Doni (English, 1570). Most European versions of the text are derivative works of the 12th-century Hebrew version of Panchatantra by Rabbi Joel. In Germany, its translation in 1480 by Anton von Pforr has been widely read. Several versions of the text are also found in Indonesia, where it is titled as Tantri Kamandaka, Tantravakya or Candapingala and consists of 360 fables. In Laos, a version is called Nandaka-prakarana, while in Thailand it has been referred to as Nang Tantrai.