Sanskrit is the classical language of the Hindus of ancient India. Practically the whole of that extraordinary literature which began with the Vedas and culminated some time before the close of the Middle Ages, was written in Sanskrit.
Our knowledge of the earliest period is vague. The Vedas were composed perhaps before the days of Homer. Beginning perhaps about 500 B.C. and extending to about the time of Christ, is the period of the epics, during which the Mahabharata and Ramayana were probably written. Both these monumental poems are full of episodes containing at least the material for short stories.
But for the purpose of this volume, the outstanding contribution of the ancient Hindus were the fables and tales, most of which are found in large collections. The earliest of these is doubtless the Jataka, or Buddhist “birth-stories,” which were in existence at least as early as the Fourth Century B.C. The Panchatantra may be as old