Arabic Literature: Kalila and Dimna

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“A page from the Arabic version of Kalila wa dimna, dated 1210 CE, illustrating the King of the Crows conferring with his political advisors.”


Kalila and Dimna is a very popular book that almost every Arab child knows. Kalila and Dimna is of Indian origins but it was translated into Arabic in 750CE by the Persian scholar Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa. The original Indian book “Panchatantra” is a collection of Indian animal fables within a frame story, it was translated into many languages including Arabic, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, German, English, Old Slavonic, Czech and many others.

The book and the stories within it were so interesting that the endless ocean of Arabic translators that translated it changed, transformed, refined, disfigured and enhanced it many times that it’s almost not the same book anymore. The overall concept and frame story of the book are almost the same but at the same time different and unique. The Arab translators broke the chains which tied them to the original book and created an arguably better version of the original book known as Kalila wa Dimna (Kalila and Dimna).

Parents have always loved to read the stories of Kalila and Dimna to their children, as the stories narrated in the tongues of animals hold a lot of moral value and irony that attract readers whether they are adults or children like iron to magnet. The gem of Kalila and Dimna is that in most of the stories it teaches us that no matter how insignificant and how weak someone may look they may be more important and stronger than you are. It also teaches us not to ignore the problems of other people especially when they come to us for help because as they might affect us later.

In my humble opinion, I think Kalila and Dimna definitely surpassed its Indian original Panchatantra which has been a best-selling book for almost 2 thousand years. It definitely deserves to be called a masterpiece and to be a book of its own as it’s not a simple translation but a complex enhancement and refinement of the original.


By: Osama Waheib

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