Indian Folktales for Kids to Make the Summer Holidays Memorable


Folktales of India narrate stories of moralistic values. These are centered around religious and mythological themes and impart universal philosophy. The characters often have supernatural powers and teach lessons of honor and wisdom. Prominently set against the backdrop of the country’s history and culture, many of the popular folktales trace the lives of animals instead of human characters. 

The most abundant sources of folktales that offer to imbibe children with humanitarian values include those of the Panchatantra tales, the tales of Tenali Raman, the Buddhist fables of Jataka, Baital Pachisi, and the Hitopadesha collection. 

A cornucopia of stories that have been passed on orally for eons, the culture of Indian folktales and fables inspire and educate children. Here, we delve into a handful of them, to express the kind of tales one might expect to come upon. 

The people who saw the Judas Tree”, from Jataka Tales

The people who saw the Judas Tree", from Jataka Tales

This story from the Jataka collection of Buddhist folklore centers around the four sons of the King of Benaras, who wanted to see a Judas tree. The charioteer shows them each of the Judas tree, one at a time. For the first son, the tree was just sprouting buds from the stem. When the second one saw it, the leaves were green. The third saw the time of blossoming, and the fourth, when the tree was bearing fruit. When the brothers gather later to discuss, they are anxious as none of their observations match. To find the true nature of the Judas tree, they approach their father, who teaches them the important lesson of distinction. The boys did not care to ask the charioteer what the tree was like throughout the year, and there lay their mistake. One sees something during a specific time, but should also learn what it’s like in the wider picture to understand it in its absolute essence. 

“The Wise Minister’s Advice”, from the Panchatantra

"The Wise Minister's Advice", from the Panchatantra

When a gang of owls attacked some crows in the middle of the night, the King of the latter sought his wise minister’s advice. This tale from the Panchatantra narrates what a clever and deliberate feat it is to keep a closer eye on their enemies than one keeps on their friends. Few of the crows staged a pageant at the owls’ cave: one praised the owls’ bravado while the others struck him down. Thinking that this one crow was in their favor, the Owl King let him live alongside them. This allowed the crows to set fire and annihilate the owls’ cave one morning when the nocturnals were fast asleep. 

“The Blind Vulture”, from Hitopadesha

"The Blind Vulture", from Hitopadesha

The story of miscalculated trust offers a valuable piece of advice from the collection of Hitopadesha. The blind vulture, grateful for the other birds’ generosity towards him, decides to guard their fledglings while they go on the hunt.

It has not been long when a cunning cat arrives and manipulates the vulture into putting his trust in her. Although hesitant at first, the old vulture lets the cat stay, and the latter eats up the fledglings one by one. The story explores the importance of proper judgment when one comes upon a person they hardly know. Being kind stands apart from having blind faith towards a stranger. 

Baital Pachisi

Baital Pachisi

The stories of Vikram and Betal, collected as Baital Pachisi, are the oldest of vampire tales from India. When King Vikram goes to capture a ‘baital’ spirit to fulfill his promise to a tantric sorcerer, he is faced with the offer of an interesting deal and a string of riddles. Between the king and the vampirish spirit, it was decided that at the end of every puzzle, if Vikram was unable to answer correctly, the spirit would willingly be taken prisoner.

If Vikram knew the answer but remained silent, his head would explode into a thousand pieces. The wise king could answer each of the twenty-four questions correctly, and thus, as was decided in the deal, the baital was able to get away. The tales that formed the riddles of the baital explored the philosophies of life. However, when the king failed on his twenty-fifth riddle, the spirit kept his promise to be taken captive. Later on, the story reveals that the baital was the spirit of a prince sacrificed by the vicious sorcerer who wanted to attain immortality. 

“The Tortoise that Loved his Home too much”, from the Jataka Tale

"The Tortoise that Loved his Home too much", from the Jataka Tale

When the fish and tortoises knew that drought would encroach upon them, they swam to the adjoining river from the lake where they lived at a time when the water was still abundant. There was one tortoise, however, who was so stubborn to remain in his “home”, the lake, that it ended up dying under the unwitting stroke of Bodhisattva’s spade. The tale portrays how the tortoise clung so desperately to his possession that he ended up losing everything in the end. It is a tale that advises one to be wise and leave for the place where there will be life and eventual spiritual fulfillment instead of clinging to ignorant comfort.

“A Tale of Three Fish”, from the Panchatantra 

"A Tale of Three Fish", from the Panchatantra 

This is a story that portrays the importance of adapting according to change. Each of the titular fish is portrayed in a different shade of characterization. The first fish is intelligent, the second is resourceful, while the third is adamant. When they learn that the fishermen will arrive the next day, the first fish swims out of the lake. The second fish stays, but its confidence helps it escape capture. The third one, however, is so obstinate in going with the flow that even after it was caught, it did nothing to escape death. Thus, it is imperative for survival that one is quick on one foot and strong-willed to confront dire circumstances.

“Tenali Raman’s Dream”

"Tenali Raman's Dream"

Historically, Tenali Raman was a poet in the court of the 16th monarch Krishnadewaraya of the Vijayanagar Empire of southern India. He is known through these folktales for his quick wit and cleverness. This story explores the time when the king decided to jest with Raman in the court by narrating a dream. In the dream, the king saw himself jumping into a pit of honey while Raman tumbled into another pit of the cesspool. The next morning at the court, Raman narrated his peculiar dream that continued the king’s tale. Both of them had managed to escape out of the pits, but because of their filthy state, Raman decided that they should help each other clean up by licking off. While Raman got the honey, the king was faced with the waste from the cesspool. 

“The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts”, from the Jataka Tales

"The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts", from the Jataka Tales

The tale is set during a time when the Bodhisattva was living in the woods, having transformed himself into a lion. It explores how he saved the other animals who were impulsively driven to distress because of one hare’s foolish assumption that the earth was collapsing. The tale admonishes herd mentality as well as the detrimental consequences of jumping to conclusions. Before making a decision, one should always thoroughly regard and examine the situation. 

“The Wedding of the Mouse”, from the Panchatantra 

"The Wedding of the Mouse", from the Panchatantra 

When a mouse fell from a falcon’s beak, a sage hermit decided to turn her into a little human girl and took her in as his child. The time of her marriage came, and the hermit summoned the powerful Sun to be her suitor. The daughter refused because the Sun was too bright. The hermit then called upon the Cloud, but the daughter found him to be black and cold. Stronger forces like the Wind and the Mountain were called upon, but the daughter refused them all because none was at par with her. Finally, when the hermit summoned another mouse, the daughter realized how the animal was of her kind. The hermit transformed her back to a mouse so that they could marry. This tale from the Panchatantra depicts how power and grandeur do not ensure fulfillment. Every being that the hermit summoned for the daughter was glorious, yet too distant for her; except for the mouse, a being of her own kind. 

Akbar and Birbal

Akbar and Birbal

Birbal was one of the ‘navratnas’, or the nine jewels, in the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Both the king and his treasured minister were exceptional intellectuals and artists. Through delightful folktales, their clever interactions, repartees and the way Birbal outsmarts jealous courtiers have been preserved all across India. 

One of the most popular of these tales takes place when Akbar drew a line on the ground and asked his ministers to make the line smaller without erasing it. None could solve the puzzle despite racking their brains. However, Birbal stepped in and drew a longer line beside the one Akbar had drawn. In this way, the original line was made shorter. 

Often containing creation myths, folktales are an important means to preserve historical elements. Most of them impart lessons and values that are significant even in the changing political and social landscape of today. Kids should be acquainted with the folktales of India concerning modern times and life.

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