Kalīla and Dimna has been one of the most widespread and influential books in the history of humanity. A collection of tales teaching political wisdom. This is just one of the many “nested” stories from the tales of Kalila wa Dimna, adapted and translated into Arabic from the Pahlavi in the eighth century by Ibn. Kalila wa Dimna. An originally Indian allegory narrated by two jackals who tell stories aimed to guide humanity to ethical and moral ways of dealing with a wide .

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One of the most popular books ever written is the book the Arabs know as Kalila wa-Dimna, a bestseller for almost two thousand years, and a book still read with pleasure all over the world.

It has been translated at least times into 50 different languages. In this article, Paul Lunde biefly presents Kalila wa-Dimna origins and characterizes its content.

This article was published first in the print edition of Saudi Aramco Worldvol. We republish it with new illustrations and further readings. One of the most popular books ever written is the book the Arabs know as Kalila wa Dimnaa bestseller for almost two thousand years, and a book still read with pleasure all over the Arab world.

Manuscript dated circa CE, Syria.

Kalila and Dimna was originally written in Sanskrit, probably in Kashmir, some time in the fourth century CE. In Sanskrit it was called the Panchatantraklila “Five Discourses.

Afraid to entrust his kingdom to sons unable to master the most elementary lessons, the king turned over the problem to his wise wazir, and the wazir wrote the Panchatantrawhich kalilx great fimna wisdom in the easily digestible form of animal fables. Six months later the princes were on the road to wisdom and later ruled judiciously.

Two hundred years after that, a Persian shah sent his personal physician, Burzoe, to India to find a certain herb rumored to bestow eternal life upon him who partook of it.

Kalila wa Dimna

Burzoe returned with a copy of the Panchatantra instead, which he claimed was just as good as the miraculous herb, for it would bestow great wisdom on the reader.

The shah had Burzoe translate it into Pehlavi, a form of Old Persian, and liked it so much that he enshrined the translation in a special room of his palace. Three hundred years later, after the Muslim conquest of Persia and the Near East, a Persian convert to Islam named Ibn al-Mukaffa’ chanced upon Burzoe’s Pehlavi version and translated it into Arabic in a style so lucid it is still considered a model of Arabic prose.

Called Kalila and Dimnaafter the two jackals who are the main characters, the book was written mainly for the instruction of civil servants. It was so entertaining, however, that it proved popular with all classes, entered lalila folklore of the Muslim world, and was carried by the Arabs to Spain. There it was translated into Old Spanish in the 13th century.


In Italy it was one of aa first books to appear after the invention of printing. Later it was also translated into Greek and then that version into Latin, Old Church Slavic, German and other languages.

In the 19th century it was translated into Hindustani, thus completing dimnx circle begun 1, years before in Kashmir. Not all versions were simple translations. The book was expanded, abridged, versified, disfigured and enhanced by a seemingly endless series of translators—to which I now add one more: The story I have selected is not included in the original Sanskrit version, nor in most Arabic manuscripts of Ibn al-Mukaffa’, but it is of interest because it has entered European folklore as the story known as “Belling the Cats,” which can be found in the Brothers Grimm and dimns other places.

The difference is that the Arab mice solve their problem much more subtly than their western cousins In the middle of the swamp was a city called Aydazinun. The city enjoyed many natural advantages and its people were prosperous and could afford to enjoy themselves however they liked. kalilaa

Now there was a mouse in that city called Mahraz, and he ruled over all the other mice in the city and in the surrounding countryside. He had three wazirs to advise him in his affairs. One day all the wazirs were gathered in the presence of the king of the mice discussing various things, when the king said: Although we have many comforts and good things in our lives, our fear of the cats has taken the savor out of everything.

I wish all three of you would give me the benefit of your advice about how to solve this problem. What do you think we ought to do? Then the king turned to the wq wazir and said, “What do you think about your colleague’s advice?

In my opinion, we should emigrate from the city and dwell in the country for a year until the people of the city think that they can dispense with the cats who are eating them out of dimmna and home.

Then they’ll kick them out, or kill them, and the ones that escape will scatter in all directions into the country and become wild and no longer suitable for house cats. Then we ,alila safely return to the city and live forever without worrying about cats. This book of animal fables with a moral and a political message became, and still is, immensely popular, and was a landmark in the development of Arabic literary prose in the Golden Age of Islam.

And what about the difficulties we will experience? The wilderness is full of wild animals that like to eat mice, and they will do us a lot more harm than do the cats. The king should summon all the mice in the city and in the suburbs and order them to construct a tunnel in the house of the richest man in the city, and to store up enough food for ten days.

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Kalila wa-Dimna | Muslim Heritage

Have them make doors in the tunnel that lead to every room in the house. Then we will all get inside the tunnel, but we will not touch any of the man’s food. Instead, we will concentrate on damaging his clothes, beds, and carpets.

And he will go get another cat. When he has done that, we will increase the amount of damage that we do, really tearing his clothes to pieces. Again he will decide to get another cat. And then we will increase the damage threefold. That should make him stop and think. He’ll say to himself: The more cats I get, the more mice fimna seem to he. Three illustrations from the tradition of Kalila wa-Dimna in manuscripts deposited in the Bodleian Library in London: Jacob ben Eleazar’s Hebrew translation from the Arabic, with a drawing of a jackal 15th century ; c.

So then he will try an experiment. He will get rid of one of the cats. Immediately, we will lessen the amount of damage that we do by a third. And he will get rid of another cat. And we will again decrease the amount of damage by a third. Then the light will dawn on him. When he gets rid of the third cat, we will stop our destruction completely. Then the man will think that he has made a great discovery.

Kalila visits the captive Dimna folio 56a ; b. Lion attacking a Bull folio 46b. So the king followed the advice of the third wazir and before very long not a cat remained in the city. Holsteiniano prodit, cum versione nova Latina. Resources and further readings Editions And Translations Thomas North, The morall philosophie of Doni drawne out of the auncient writers.

A worke first compiled in the Indian tongue, and afterwardes reduced into diuers other languages: Published by Henry Denham in London, PenzerThe ocean of story, being C. Tawney’s translation of Somadeva’s Katha sarit sagara or Ocean ww streams of story: Volume V of X, Appendix I: Ranelagh, The Past We Share. Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights. A search of Morocco through its stories and storytellersDoubleday, New York, Abdallah Ibn al-Muqaffa, Kalilah et Dimnah.

Imprimerie Kqlila,3rd edition. El libro de Calila e Digna. Madrid Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Julia Ashtiany, et al. Cambridge University Press,pp. Las traducciones del “Calila e Dimna”. Manuscript of King Faysal of Kalila wa-Dimna. Atil, Esin, Kalila wa Dimna: Fables from a Fourteenth Kalla Arabic Manuscript.

Smithsonian Institution Press, Royal Asiatic Society, For Students of Arabic. London and New York, I. Grube, Bombay,pp.