France Sri Lanka Cultural Exchanges - Suriyakantha

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Le site bilingue consacré à la vie culturelle au Sri Lanka et en France

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Fascination of the body

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Pigeon houses in Quercy






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Miniatures of Kangra, India


Fables of Bidpai in Sinhala

    The oldest literary genre called 'fable' has created a lasting interest in all nations down the centuries. Most fables have been transmitted orally and at a particular moment had come to be written and printed in the form of collections for readers of all ages. A fable is explained as a short allegorical or naturalistic tale conveying a moral or a particular principle of behaviour. It is found that one comes across characters of animals and humans as well as super humans and apparitions, depending upon the context in which it is created or woven. Often at the end of most fables, a moral is appended in the form of a proverb, and as folklorists say, the fable itself might be called an acted out proverb. Most religious leaders like the Buddha, and Jesus Christ made use of fables, parables and similes to explain the state of good living and achieve a better climate of purified life. As such parables as utilized by great religious leaders tend to transmit from one generation to the other as a unique form of human communication . It may have been easier perhaps for a priest or a sage to pass on a particular message creatively by way of a fable, and today one has to study the essential elements in creative communication in order to gauge the strength of a message.

I read the collection 'fables of Bidpai' translated into Sinhala by the well-known folklorist Chandrasiri Ranasinghe as Bidpaige Upamakata and published by Godage publishers.
The most striking point about this collection is the space devoted by the translator cum compiler to the tracing of the evolution of the Oriental are Occidental fables quoting several significant sources. He attempts to help the modern reader that some of age old fables posses quite a fine layer of modernity, if examined seriously. As regards the originator of fables named 'Bidpai' he brings in at least near evidence, to prove that it could be surmised as a great sage named Vidyapathi or Buddha, as the most ancient source of fables that encompass as 'Bidpai fables' go back to pre Buddhistic era, and then later translated or adapted into an old Persian language and various other languages such as Sanskrit and Pahlevi.
Perhaps the fables of Bidapai may be interpreted as 'Fables of Bidpai' where the reference to Bidpai may be to Buddha, as the Buddhistic sermons centre round fables as a frame story to enrich and explain the doctrinal messages. The author Ranasinghe also refers to the translation of an Italian collection of Bidpai fables, from whence an English translation has been produced by an English scholar, one Sir Thomas North. Later on the well-known compiler of legends, parables, fables and fairy tales of varying types, named Joseph Jacobs, came to compile a fresh anthology of Bidpai fables, titled 'The fables of Bidpai'.
In one of my journeys to India, I found a book by Jacobs titled 'Indian Fairy Tales' (Wilco 1960) where the preface as well as the explanatory notes cite the value of Bidpai fables. Jacobs says, 'I have edited Sir Thomas North's English version of an Italian adaptation of a Spanish translation of a Latin version of a Hebrew translation of an Arabic adaptation of the Pehlavi version of the Indian original.' (Fable of Bidpai, London, D Nutt, Bibilothique de Carabus 1888) Like the genealogical table as provided by Jacob to trace the evolution of the oriental tale, our compiler Ranasinghe too takes the pains to present a more elaborate fable as an appendix presumably a good research factor unseen nowadays even in so called learned books.
Ranasinghe like his counterparts North and Jacobs, attempts to trace the sources of the evolution, which may help the student of cross cultural folklore studies, embraced in socio literary and socio communication studies. I see that Jacobs is much specific on the authenticity of Bidpai fables than Ranasinghe, for the former says 'when the Hindu reactions against Buddhism came, the Brahmins adapted these (referred to Jataka tales) with the omission of Buddha as the central figure. (As such) there is scarcely any doubt that the so called fables of Bidpai were those derived from Buddhistic sources.' Ranasinghe's long introduction supplements the division of the compilation into four units and three appendices.
Most fables in this compilation, commence with 'once upon a time' type, and presented in the simplest and clearest possible use of language, returning the age old story telling technique. As in most Jatakas, Panchatantra and Aesopian fables, the reader meets all types of humans and animals, Gods and devils enhancing to visualize the modernity in ancient creative sources

Prof. Sunanda Mahendra (Daily News, 25 August 2004)

Jean de La Fontaine (1621 - 1695)

"This is a second book of fables that I present to the public…I have to acknowledge that the greatest part is inspired from Pilpay, an Indian Sage…"

India and La Fontaine : Pilpay - La Fontaine,
a meeting between East and West.

"Always East and West go looking for each other: they will finally arrive to meet."

With Rabindranath Tagore, we invite you to go back, three Centuries ago, about the year 1765.

In Sri Lanka, Dutch have just driven Portuguese out of the island of Ceylon and failed in their attempts to control the central hill capital of Kandy…

In France, in Paris or more precisely in Versailles, the young Louis XIV manifests his powerfulness. The "Sun-King" is forever imposing his absolute power to his subjects; the art is a privileged field that he wants completely devoted to the cult of his person and his reign. Any philosopher or artist, one way or another, must be submitted to the exigencies of the absolute monarch...

Nevertheless, no totalitarianism can stop the expression, more or less openly, of the voice of poets.

And there, in this last quarter of the French 17th Century, begins the secret work that, one Century later will collapse the heavy walls of the Bastille.

The Salon of Madame de La Sablière is the most brilliant place of intelligence and charm in Paris and also a seat of resistance.

Dr Francois Bernier is among her invitees. This medical doctor and philosopher is coming back from India where he has been, during the last twelve years, at the service of Shah Jahan, and his son Aurangzeb, Moghol Emperor...

There is also, coming from the provinces, a person who strike up a close friendship with Francois Bernier. This invitee is already open to eastern traditions, since he knows, as soon as 1644, the Pilpay's fables in a French translation which has been published under the title of "Le livre des Lumières" ("The Book of Lights")...

Poet, dreamer, distracted, a tiny bit of spirits of revolt, he is known through a book which has been published in 1668. Using the apparently innocent form of fables, mainly presenting animal stories, he doesn't hesitate to castigate the practices of his fellow-countrymen, including people in power.

His name, Jean de La Fontaine.

He is prepared to publish a collection of fables in which he aknowledges that many ideas are coming from Pilpay, an Indian Sage…

And what a marvelous story that the surprising migration of fables, and quoting Pr Ananda Kulasuriya, "the most fascinating chapter in the history of literacy." It is a particular moment, which marks the meeting of two cultures : the prestigious literacy tradition of India and its two jewels Jataka and Panchatantra, and the brilliant activity of the great French poet of the 17th Century, Jean de La Fontaine.

Therefore, the milk-woman of La Fontaine said hello to the Brahman who is covered with flour in Pilpay,

the turtle and the two swans of the Indian tradition - some centuries later - go across the sky of France,

and the same protagonists, heron, cormorant, fishes and crayfishes are involved in a quite sinister scenario, along the Ganga or Seine…

                  EXHIBITION "Les Indes de La Fontaine", December 1997, Alliance Française de Kandy, Sri Lanka.


La Grenouille qui veut se faire aussi grosse que le Boeuf

Une grenouille vit un boeuf
Qui lui sembla de belle taille.
Elle qui n'était pas grosse en tout comme un oeuf,
Envieuse, s'étend, et s'enfle, et se travaille,
Pour égaler l'animal en grosseur,
Disant : "Regardez-bien, ma soeur;
Est-ce assez? Dites-moi; n'y suis-je point encore?
Nenni. - M'y voici donc? - Point du tout. - M'y voilà?
- Vous n'en approchez point." La chétive pécore
S'enfla si bien qu'elle creva.
Le monde est plein de gens qui ne sont pas plus sages :
Tout bourgeois veut bâtir comme les grands seigneurs;
Tout petit prince a des ambassadeurs,
Tout marquis veut avoir des pages.

(Jean de La Fontaine, Fables I, 3)

Is this theme found in the Eastern tradition?
Thanks for your responses and comments