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The source of Arabian Nights

Vinod Kumar:


The World Book encyclopedia says:

"'Arabian Nights, a collection of 200 stories, is probably the most famous piece of Arabian literature to the Western world. The collection includes the adventures of such well-known characters like Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad.

The Arabian Nights also called The Thousand and One Nights, begin with the story of King Shahariyar, who has learnt that his wife has been unfaithful."

It goes on to say:

"The stories of Arabian Nights are folk tales from Arabia, Egypt, India, Persia and other countries. The work in its present form was written in Arabic during the early 1500's. Jean Antoine Galland translated the Arabian Nights into French. John Payne and Sir Richard Francis Burton wrote English translations in the 1880's."

Edward C Sachau, an Arabic scholar and translator of Alberuni's Indica has the following to say on Arabic literature and Arabian nights relevant to Arabian Nights and Arabian literature -- taken from the preface of the translation written on August 4, 1888:

"The foundation of Arabic literature was laid between A.D. 750 and 850. It  is only the tradition relating to their religion and prophet and poetry that is peculiar to the Arabs; everything else is of foreign descent. The development of a large literature, with numerous ramifications, is chiefly the work of foreigners, carried out with foreign materials, as in Rome the origines of the national literature mostly point to Greek sources. Greece, Persia and India were taxed to help the sterility of the Arab mind."

"The bulk of the narrative literature, tales, legends, novels, came to the Arabs in translations from the Persian e.g. the "Thousand and One Nights," the stories told by by the mouth of animals, like Kalila and Dimna, probably all of Buddhistic origin, portions of the national lore of Eran, taken from the Khudainama, or Lord's Book., and afterwards immortalized by Firdausi; butmore than anything else love-stories. All of this was the fashion under the Abbaside Khalifs, and is said to have attained the height of popularity during the rule ofAirnuktadir, AD 908-932. Besides, much favour was apparently bestowed upon didactic, paraenetic compositions, mostly clothed in the garb of a testament of this or that Sasanian king or sage, e.g. Anushirvim and his Minister Buzurju-mihr, likewise upon collections of moralisitic apothegems.

All this was translated from Persian, or pretended to be so. Books on the science of war, the knowledge of weapons, the veterinary art, falconery, and trhe various methods of divination, and some books n medicine and de rebus venereis were likewise borrowed from the Persians.... It is noteworthy that, on the other hand there are very few traces of exact sciences, such as mathematics and astronomy, among the Sasanian Persians. Either they had only little of this kind, or the Arabs did not choose to get translated."

"What India has contributed reached Baghdad by two different roads. Part has come directly in translations from the Sanskrit, part has travelled through Eran, having originally been translated from Sanskrit (Pali ? Prakrit ?) into Persian, and farther from Persian into Arabic. In this way, e.g. the fables of Kalila and Dimna have been communicated to the Arabs, and book on medicine, probably the famous Caraka."

"Besides books on astronomy, mathematics, astrology, chiefly jatakas, on medicine and pharmacology, the Arabs translated Indian works on snakes (sarpvidya) , on poison (vishvidya), on all kinds of auguring, on talismans, on the veterinary art, de arte de amndi, numerous tales, a life of Buddha, books on logic and philosophy in general, on ethcs, politics, and on the science of war."

""Many Arab authors took up the subjects communicated to them by the Hindus and worked them out in original compositions (which today would be called 'plagiarism' -- comments mine), commentaries and extracts. A favourite subject of theirs was Indian mathematics, the knowledge of which became far spread by the publications of Alkindi and many others."

Some of the books that had been translated under the first Abbasid Khalifs were extant in the library of Alberuni when he wrote the 'Indika, the Brahmasiddhanta or Sindhind, and the Khandakhadyaka or Arkand in the editions of Alfazari and of Yakub ibn Tarik, the Caraka in the edition of 'Ali ibn Zain, and the Pancatantra or Kalila and Dimna.  He also used an Arabic translation of theKaranasara by Vittesvara (ii 55), but we do not learn from him whether this was an old translation or a modern one made in Alberuni's time. These books offered to Alberuni --complains of it repeatedly the same difficulties as to us, viz. besides the fault of translators, a considerable corruption of the text by the negligence of copyists, more particularly as regards the proper names."




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