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IntroductiontotheKamasutra

by
LarsMartinFosse
TheKamasutraintheWest
ThefirsttranslationoftheKamasutraTheGuidetoSensualPleasureintoEnglishwaspublishedin
1883,allegedlymadebySirRichardFrancisBurton,butmostlytheproductoftwoIndianscholars,
BhagavanlalIndrajitandSivaramParashuramBhide,incooperationwithForsterFitzgerald
Arbuthnot.ArbuthnotsnameoccasionallyoccurswithBurtonsonthetitlepageinsomeeditions.It
isthistranslationthatmadetheKamasutrafamousinIndia,EuropeandAmerica.

Burtonstranslationwas,however,notalwaysreliable.Notonlydiditmixtheoriginaltextof
theKamasutrawithYashodharasmuchyoungercommentary,butitwasalsoadaptedtosuitthe
senseofproprietyprevalentinsocietyattheendofthenineteenthcentury.Afarmoreaccurate
translationwasproducedin1897bytheGermanscholarRichardSchmidtwhodealtwiththe
prejudicesofhisdaybytranslatingthemoreoffendingpartsintoLatin,alanguageatthattimestill
readbymostwelleducatedpeoplebutinaccessibletoordinaryreaders.LikeBurtons,Schmidts
translationappearedinaworldwhereprostitutionwasrampant,andwherepornographicpictures
andpublicationscirculatedfreelyunderthecounter.HischoiceofLatinforthemoredaringpartsof
theKamasutrasignalsthathisworkisnoordinarypornographicbookforthecasualreader.Latin
servestosanitizethetext.SchmidtwritesfortheSanskritscholarandtheeducatedintellectual.

BenGrant1hassuggestedthatBurtonsrenditionoftheKamasutraservedthedualpurpose
ofchallengingEnglishsexualmoralitywhiledepictingIndiaasanessentiallydifferent,Oriental,
culture.Around1900,politesocietyintheWesthadnoneutrallanguagefordiscussingmattersof
thebedroominpublic.Theywerestrictlytaboo.TheKamasutraofferedaloopholebetweenthe
obscenitiesofthepopulace,thehypocrisyofwellbredsocietyandthesterilevocabularyofmedical
Latin.Itrepresented,ostensibly,anewattitudetophysicallove.Nevertheless,itsooncametobe
regardedasapornographicworkbymostwesterners,whomainlyassociateditwiththeinfamous
positionsdescribedinpart2.

TheKamasutrais,infact,somethingverydifferent.Itis,foronething,ascholarlytext
writteninthedustdry,enigmaticstyleofscientificSanskrit.Itcontainssevenchaptersdealingwith
variousaspectsofsensualpleasurekama.Amongtheseareanarchaicsexology,mainlyfoundin
parts2and7,andabusinessmanualforcourtesansfoundinpart6.Inaddition,theworkteaches
elegantmanners,howtofindawife,andhowtodealwiththeoppositesexineroticmatters
generally.TheKamasutraisasurprisingwindowintoancientIndiassociallife.

TheKamasutraasakeytocourtliterature

TheKamasutrapresentsitselfasacompilationofseveralabridgedworksonerotics.Likemost
Sanskritworks,itisveryhardtodate,andnospecifictimeofcompositioncanbegiven.Scholars

Grant,B.(2005)."TranslatingTheKamaSutra."ThirdWorldQuarterly26(3):509516.

wouldtodaymostlikelydateittotheperiod200400CE,thatistothebeginningoftheclassical
periodofSanskritliteratureandroughlycoincidingwiththebeginningoftheGuptaEmpire(320to
550CE).TheKamasutrabecameapartoftheintellectualarsenalofamanofsocialstandingand
culture,thenagarakaorurbangallant,butalsoofcourtesansandupperclasswomen.Itsconcepts
andideasaboutsexualityandelegantlifepermeatetheliteratureoftheclassicalperiod.Thus,
knowledgeoftheKamasutraisessentialforthestudentofthispartofIndiasheritage.
ThestructureoftheKamasutra

Abridgedworks

TheKamasutrapresentsitselfasadigestofseveralolderworksoneroticswhichintheirturn
allegedlygobacktoalargeworkbyNandin,anattendantofthegodShiva.Suchdigestsare
commonplaceinIndianliterature,whereatextreceivesrecognitionduetothefactthatithasa
divineorfabulousorigin.Otherworksassumedtobeconstructedalongsuchlinesareforinstance
theSushrutasamhita,amedicaltext,andthefamousNatyashastra,whichdealswithliterary
aestheticsandthetheatre.Thus,theKamasutra,likemanyotheroldIndianworks,isalayeredtext,
somethingwhichwouldseemclearfromthevariousdiscussionsscatteredthroughoutitschapters.

TheauthorVatsyayana,then,isnotanoriginalwriter.Heostensiblyreorganizesandedits
theworkofothers,buthealsopresentshisownargumentsandviews.Thus,hepositshimselfasthe
finalauthorityonanumberofissues.Weknownothingabouthim.LikesomanyotherancientIndian
authors,hedisappearsintothemistofthepast,onlythenameremains,perhapslegendary.Butwe
know,roughly,wherehebelongsintheliterarylandscape.Hissutraissurprisinglypragmaticinits
approachtosexuality,andseeminglyamoral.Inthisrespect,Vatsyayanaisquitesimilartoanother
andolderfigure:Kautilya,theallegedauthoroftheArthashastra,Indiasancientmanualon
statecraft.Indeed,inthesecondchapterofthefirstpart,Vatsyayanamentionsthreeapparently
rationalisticschoolsofthought:thematerialists,thefatalistsandtheutilitarians.Hediscussesand
rejectssomeoftheirviews.Bydoingso,heplaceshimselfinanintellectuallandscapethatisbarely
visibletothemoderneye.

TheconnectionwiththeArthashastraisnotsurprising.Kamais,afterall,partofthetrivarga,
thegroupofthreeaimsthatmanstrivesfor.Dharma,arthaandkamareligion,prosperityand
pleasurearethesubjectofthefirstsutraofVatsyayanaswork.Butotherscreatedachaturvarga
byaddingafourthaim,moksha,liberation,whichexplicitlyorimplicitlyreducesthevalueofkama.
Theasceticmovementsoftheperiod,primarilyBuddhistsandJainas,whorejectsensualism,takeno
interestinkama.TheGreatEpic,theMahabharata,absorbstheshastrasofdharmaandartha
entirely,butneglectskamaalmostcompletely.ItisVatsyayanawhocomestothedefenseoferotics
anddiscreetlypokesfunattheascetics.

LoveiswartheKamasutraandthemanualonstatecraft

TheArthashastrainfluencedtheKamasutrabothwithrespecttothestructureofthework,itsstyle
andthewayargumentsarepresented.Insomeplaces,theKamasutraimitatestheArthashastra
almostwordbyword.Butmoreimportantly,theKamasutrareeksofthesameMachiavellancynicism
asthemanualonstatecraft.Infact,theKamasutraishardlyaboutromanticloveatall.Kama,if
anything,isanalternativewayofwar,theseventhchapterofthesecondpartdescribessensual
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pleasureashavingstrifeatitscore.Forthecourtesan,romanticloveisahighriskenterprise,likelyto
costheragreatdealofmoneyandpossiblybringhertoruin.Vatsyayanawarnsheragainstit.
ThroughtheKamasutrarunsacallous,calculatingundertone:womenaretheretobeused(andso
aremen).Vatsyayanateachesprudenceinsexualmatters.Thewiseplayerdoesnotengagein
deeperemotionsanddoesnotgetentangledinsituationsitisdifficulttogetoutof.

Theelegantmannersoftheglitteratiandtheirrealmoral

TheglitteratiofancientIndiawouldspendaconsiderableamountoftimegroomingtoappear
attractiveandbeautiful.Physicalbeautyandelegancemattered,asboththeliteratureandthewall
paintingsoftheperiodshowus.TheKamasutragivesadefinitionofkamainthesecondchapterof
thefirstpart:Sensualpleasuremeanstheapplicationofhearing,feeling,sight,taste,andsmellto
theirseparateobjectsaccordingtoone'swishes.Inpracticalterms,thismeantgoingtoconcerts,
theatreperformances,visitingsalons,engaginginelegantconversationwithothersandconsorting
withpublicwomen.Itwasalifeofeaseforthewealthywhowereabletodrawonapersonalfortune
wonthroughwarorbusiness.Ifthedharmasutrasandthedharmashastrasteachmoralideals,the
Kamasutrateachesrealmoral.Itisthemanualofthestreetsmart,justastheArthashastraisthe
manualofkingsandpoliticians.

Youngwomenareencouragedtostudythesixtyfourartsorskills.Notonlycourtesans,but
alsoprincessesanddaughtersofhighofficialshaveprofitedfromknowingthem,accordingto
Vatsyayana.Infact,theKamasutrapresentsuswithtwosetsofsixtyfourarts:theculturaland
practicalartsofthesalontaughtinthefirstpartandthesexualartstaughtinthesecondpart.But
theKamasutraisalsocalled"thesixtyfour",andthesutratellsuswhy:Thenumbersixtyfouris
partlyassociatedwiththesecondpartoftheKamasutrawhichdealswiththesixtyfoursexualarts
(seepartone,chapterthree),partlywiththeKamasutraasawhole,whichhassixtyfoursectionsor
subjects(socalledprakaranas);andpartlywiththeRigveda,whichalso,inonewayofcounting,has
sixtyfoursections.Byconferringanumbernameonthemanualoflove,aconnectionis
establishedbetweentheRigvedaandtheeroticmanualwhichenhancesthehonorofthelatter.The
Rigvedaisalsodividedintotenmandalas,orcircles,andisthereforecalledthe"tenpartedone",
anothernumbername;andfurthermore,boththeRigvedaandtheKamasutraareassociatedwith
theregionofPanchalathroughBabhravya,whoaccordingtotraditioncomposedsixtyfourhymnsof
theRigvedaaswellasabookonsex.2Thus,severalfactorsbringtheKamasutraandtheRigveda
togetherinthesameuniverseofassociations,afactthatcouldonlyincreasethestatusofthe
Kamasutra.Thiscloseconnectionbetweensacredtextsandritualwithsexualityshouldnotsurprise.
InVedicritual,ritualactsareexplicitlycomparedtosexualacts.AncientIndiansthoughtaboutsexin
amannerthatisfundamentallydifferentfromthewaymodernwesternersthink.

OneofthemorecuriousaspectsofVatsyayanastextistheassociationofdifferentsexual
temperamentsandpracticeswithgeographicalregions.Headvisesthatoneshouldapproacha

SeeVatsyayana,M.(2002).Kamasutra.Anew,completeEnglishtranslationoftheSanskrittextwith
excerptsfromtheSanskritJayamangalacommentaryofYashodharaIndrapada,theHindiJaya
commentaryofDevadattaShastri,andexplanatorynotesbythetranslatorsWendyDonigerand
SudhirKakar.Oxford,OxfordUniversityPress,page192.

womanaccordingtolocalcustom.Anumberofpracticesareonlydharmic,ormorallyacceptable,in
theirregionsoforigin.Weshouldnottakethisinformationtooliterally,anymorethanthetricks
allegedlyusedbyharemwomenindifferentregionstogetloversintotheharem.Butthefurther
awaywegetfromVatsyayanasownregion,probablyNorthWestIndiaorpossiblyPataliputrain
modernBihar,theworsefemalesexualpreferencesseemtoget.Thisindicatesthatalthough
Vatsyayanadescribesanumberofsexualpracticesinamatteroffactmanner,hedoesnot
necessarilyrecommendorcondonethem.TheKamasutradescribeswhatthereis,butitdoes
discreetlyencourageacriticalattitude.
Sexalefthandpractice

Thepursuitofkamaisdescribedasalefthandpractice,partofaperhapsmoreworldlykind
ofreligionwithlittlepatienceforthestrict,puritanrulesofthepriestlycaste.LiketheArthashastra,
theKamasutraisredolentoftheidealsandtastesofwarriorsandrichmerchants.Itisawork
steepedinthespiritofthemetropolis,farfromtheruralandagriculturalwaysthatinformedtheold
religionoftheritualtextsandupanishadicspeculation.Thereislittletalkofpriestsandreligiouslore
thelinkingoftheKamasutrawiththeRigvedaseemsquiteoutofplace.Yet,thegildedyouthand
partylionsofthesalons,thecourtsandtheupperclassmansionshadtheirownintellectualpursuits
inpoetry,wordgames,stories,theatreandmusic,oftencomplexanddemandingaswecanseefrom
whathascomedowntous.ItishardlysurprisingthattheKamasutrausestheatretermsforthemain
charactersinitseroticweb:nayakaandnayika,theleadingmanandtheleadinglady.Eroticlifewith
itspassions,roleplaying,seductionandemotionalupheavalsmirrorsthetheatre.
Sexualtechniqueandadvancedmethods:parts2and7
ThesecondpartoftheKamasutraisdevotedtosexualtechniquesandpractices.Itstartswiththe
famousclassificationofmenandwomenaccordingtothesizeoftheirgenitals.Thepointofthisisto
combinecouplesinamannerthatisidealforsexualpleasure.Butusingthisterminology,thesutra
canalsodescribetechniquesforovercomingthedisadvantagesoflessidealgenitalcombinations.
Small,mediumandbiggenitalsgotogetherindifferentunions.Goodcombinationsaresmall
withsmall,mediumwithmediumandbigwithbig.Bigwithonesizebiggerorsmallerishighorlow,
bigwithtwosizesbiggerorsmallerisveryhighorverylow.Theunionsofhareanddoe,bulland
mare,orstallionandelephantareequalunions.

Thegenitalsizesandtheircombinationsareshowninthistable:


Man

Hare
Bull
Stallion

Hare
Bull

Bull
Stallion

Hare
Stallion

Woman

Doe
Mare
ElephantCow

Mare
ElephantCow

Doe
Mare

ElephantCow
Doe

Combination

equal/best
equal/best
equal/best

low
low

high
high

verylow
veryhigh

TheKamasutrathenproceedstodiscussforeplay,suchasembraces,kisses,nailscratching,and
bitinguntilitgetstothecoitalpositions,anotherfamoussubject.Heregenitalsizesplayan
importantrole:thecoupleshouldchoosepositionsthatenablethemtohaveamaximumofsensual
pleasuregiventhesizeoftheirgenitals.Positionsthatworkwellforcoupleswithequalgenitalsmay
notbegoodforothercouples,andseveralpositionstrytoadjustforunequalgenitalsizebysecuring
close,tightcontactthroughothermeans,suchasusingthethighstoproduceagoodsqueeze.In
addition,thereareotherpositionsthatseemunrelatedtogenitalsizes.

Animalsex

TheKamasutrarecommendstheimitationofanimalcopulation.Itistemptingtoseethisinamagico
religiouscontext,evenifthesepositionsarewellknownoutsideIndiaaswell.InIndianmythology,
thecreatorgodPrajapatiinonemythcreateslivingbeingsthroughaseriesofincestuousliaisons
withhisdaughter,whofleesfromherfatherbyadoptingdifferentanimalforms.Prajapatiadoptsthe
sameforms,uniteswithhisdaughter,andallcreaturesofthatformarecreated.Inmagicalthinking,
imitationisbecoming,andbyimitatingthecreatorgodandhisdaughter,oneconnectswiththem
andisnourishedbytheirenergy.

AccordingtothePolishscholarLudwikSternbach,someofthescripturescondemn
intercoursewithaprostitutebycomparingitwithintercoursewithananimal,suchascattle,ashe
buffalo,ashecamel,asheass,afemalemonkeyorasow.3Bestialityisalsoportrayedontemple
friezes,anditispossiblethatmagicalpowerswereascribedtosuchpractices,howeverunorthodox.

Wefindacuriousexampleoftheanimalconnectioninchaptereightofthesecondpart.
Here,theloverisadvisedtomassagehervaginawithhishand,imitatinganelephant,untilitiswet."
Thenheistoldtoinserthistool.ThiscopiesthematingbehaviouroftheIndianelephant.The
Sanskritwordkarameanshand,butisalsousedtosignifythetrunkoftheelephant.Beforemating,
thebullelephantwillsampletheurineofthecowusinghistrunkandaspecialsensoryorganinhis
oralcavitytodecideifsheisreadyformating.Ifsheis,hewillmounther.Fortheancientobserver,
thepointaboutdeterminingifthecowelephantisinheat,wasprobablymissed.Whathesaw,was
thebullelephantstimulingthefemalewithhistrunk,theelephantshand,andthenmountingher.

Sternbach,L.(1951)."LegalPositionofProstitutesAccordingtoKautilya'sArthasastra."JAOS71(1):
2560,p.45.
3

Thus,itmaynotbesostrangethatQueenMayadreamtthatawhiteelephantwasenteringher
womb.Subsequently,shegavebirthtoanillustriousboy:GautamaBuddha.

Slapping

Attheheightofpassioncomesslapping.TheKamasutragivesdetailedinstructionsonhow
andwheretheloversshouldslapeachother.Likethebitingandthescratching,thisisalsomutual,
althoughVatsyayanawarnsagainstexcesses.Withtheslappingcomepassionatemoaningand
screamingonthepartofthewoman,alsodescribedinpedanticdetail.Thisuseofpainstimulishould
notbeassociatedwiththewesternconceptofsadomasochism,sincehumiliationdoesnotplaya
partinthepractice.Thepointwouldratherbetostimulatethebrain'sproductionofopiates
(endorphins)whicheventuallyproducesakickthatincreasessexualecstasy.Stimulationofbrain
opiatesiswellknownfromasceticpracticesandplaysaroleinreligiousecstasies,andIndiahasarich
traditionofasceticism.Experienceoftheeffectofpainstimuliisamorelikelyexplanationfortheir
useincoitalsituationsthantheindividualpsychologyofthelovers.Nevertheless,theKamasutra
squarelyseesthemanasnaturallyfieryandaggressive,whereasthewomanishelpless,proneto
painandphysicallyweak,aviewnotlimitedtoIndianculturethemaleisassociatedwithfireand
theheavens,thefemalewiththelongsufferingearthorwater.Earthistheprototypicalwoman,in
Sanskritsometimesreferredtoasksham,shewhosuffers.Thereisreasontobelievethatthe
roughtreatmentmetedoutduringsexwasharderonthewomenthanthemen,aswecanseefrom
Vatsyayanaswarningexamples.

Thethreegenders(trtiyaprakrti)

Interestingly,ancientIndia(andmodernNepal)knowsthreegenders.Weshould,however,be
carefulnottoconfusethethirdgenderwithmodernideasaboutsexuality.Thethirdgender,or
nature,wasacomplexconceptwhichapparentlycomprisedtranssexualandhomosexualmen,
bothdominantandsubmissive,aswellasothernonstandardsexualities.Thesemenengagedinoral
sex,andtheKamasutragivesavivid,althoughslightlystandoffish,impressionofgaymenslifein
ancientIndia.Gaysexisalsoportrayedontemplefriezes,butthemotifoflovebetweenmenis
otherwisecuriouslyabsent,incontrasttoancientGreece,wereitwashighlyvisiblebothinartand
literature.4Vatsyayanamentionsfellatioperformedbywomen,butrejectsitasunacceptable.
LesbianismseemscompletelyabsentfromVatsyayanasdiscussion,althoughhedescribessex
betweenwomeninharems.Butinthesesituations,womenstandinformen,sincemenarenot
available.Vatsyayanadoesnotmentionwomenwhoexplicitlypreferwomentomenwhentheyhave
achoice,nordoeshedescribesexualpracticesthatareexclusivetolesbians.Thisdoesnotmeanthat
lesbianlovewasunknowninancientIndia.Itdoesnot,however,seemtoplayaroleinthe

SeeWilhelm,A.D.(2005).TritiyaPrakriti:PeopleoftheThirdSex:UnderstandingHomosexuality,
TransgenderIdentity,AndIntersexConditionsThroughHinduism.Philadelphia,Xlibris,Corp.The
followingarticleisathoroughstudyofthesubjectandcontainsavaluablebibliography:Syed,R.
(2003)."Trtiyaprakrti:das"DritteGeschlecht"imaltenIndien."AsiatischeStudien:Zeitschriftder
SchweizerischenAsiengesellschaft=Etudesasiatiques:revuedelaSocitSuisseAsie57:63120.
4

Kamasutra.Membersofthethirdgenderweretosomeextentmarginalizedandlackedthelegal
rightsandprotectionthatordinarymembersofsocietyhad.TheLawsofManu(theManava
Dharmashastra)comesdownevenharderonlesbiansthanongaymen.

Magicalremediesandgenitalenhancement

Inpartseven,theKamasutrapresentsuswithanumberofadvancedorspecialmethodsto
overcomesexualshortcomingsorincreasepleasure.Thesolutions,mostlyointmentsandingested
mixtures,offeredinthefirstchapterwouldprimarilyseemtohavemagicalproperties,butsomeof
theingredientsmayhavehadmedicinalpropertiesaswell.Theproblemsaddressedarewhatwe
wouldexpect:gettingsomeoneinonespower,increasingvirility,treatingimpotence,gettingridof
unwantedlovers.

Thesecondchapterdealswithvariouskindsofsextools,suchasdildos,andmalegenital
enhancements.Theenhancementsareoftwokinds:theunpiercedandthepierced.Thepurposeof
theunpiercedenhancementswasclearlytoincreasethepleasureofthewoman.Thesamegoesfor
thepiercedenhancements,butthesemayinadditionhavehadaneffectonthemansexperience.

Theunpiercedenhancementsconsistedofdifferentobjectswrappedaroundthepenis,
whichwouldcompensateforasmallpenisinalargevagina.Thepiercingsallowedthemantoinsert
variousobjectsintothehole,whichwouldgivethewomananextrastimulus.Anothertreatmentof
thepenis,usinginsectbristles,wouldleaveitfullofbumps,givingittheeffectnowproducedby
specialrubbercondoms.Infact,thesextoolindustryseemstohavetakenmorethanafewhints
fromtheKamasutra.

TheKamasutraalsooffersaremedyforreducingthesizeofalargevaginaforanight.Such
remediesarestillproducedinAyurvedicmedicineandmostlyboughtbywomenwhohavegiven
birth.Thus,ancientIndiahadafulltoolboxofmeanstodealwithsexualproblems.Theefficiencyof
manyofthesemeansare,ofcourse,debatable.Manyofthemmustnodoubthavebeenfaithbased.
Courtingandmarriage:parts3and4
Thefirstchapterofpartthreestatesthatwithawomanofthesameclass,whohasnothadanother
manbefore,andwhohasbeenobtainedaccordingtoscripture,oneacquiresreligiousmerit,wealth,
sons,socialconnections,reinforcementofonesfactionandnormalsexualpleasure.Thestatement
isinterestingbecauseitsumsupthesocialfunctionofmarriage.Indirectly,italsotellsusthatsex
withcourtesanshadasomewhatdifferentcharacterandpurposethanmaritalsex.

Theageofmarriage

Themarriageageintheancientworldwaslowerthanitistoday,soalsoinIndia.Peoplemarriedfor
socialandeconomicreasons;lovewasoflittleimportance.AlthoughtheVedicliteraturedemanded
thatagirlshouldbephysicallymaturebeforeshemarried,theageofmarriagewasgradually
reducedintheclassicalperiod.AccordingtothedharmasutrasofBaudhayanaandVasishta,afather
whoallowedhisdaughtertoremainunmarrieduntilafterherfirstmenstruationwasconsidered
guiltyofthesinofabortiononeachmonthlyperiod.InIndianfemales,pubertysetsingenerallyafter
11years.ThismeansthatIndiangirlsweremarriedoffbeforetheywere12yearsold.Accordingto
Ghotakamukha,agirlwhohadfullyarrivedatpubertyshouldbeavoidedasawife.Suchalow
7

marriageagewasnormalintheByzantineempireaswell.Insocietieswithalowaveragelifespan,an
earlymarriageagecontributestokeepingthepopulationup,butitputsyounggirlsinadifficult
situation.InIndia,thelowmarriageage,whichwouldcomprisegirlsmuchyoungerthan12,wasone
ofthesocialissuesaddressedbyHindureformersinthe19thcentury.Lateinthe1860's,theIndian
PenalCodeprohibitedintercoursewithawifewhohadnotreachedtenyearsofage.

Thisexplainstheseeminglychildishpastimesinwhichamanisrecommendedtoengagein
ordertowinhisbridesconfidence.Thebridewasusuallyayounggirlnotyetoutofchildhood.The
manwantedtohaveareliablewifewhowouldnotrejectsexandwhowouldnotpreferothermen.
Hence,kindandconsideratetreatmentwasmeanttocreateasecureemotionalbasisforthe
marriage,andparticipatinginthegirlsnormalplayandactivitieswouldbeconducivetothis.

Marriagewasnormallyarranged,butancientIndiaknewseveralkindsofmarriage.An
alternativetothenormalmarriagewastheGandharva,orlovemarriage.Vatsyayanadescribeshow
amanmaytrickhiswayintoagirlsbedandthenforcetheinlawstoaccepttheunioninorderto
avoidpublicshaming.Orhemaysimplystealher,weaponsinhand,fromherguardians.Vatsyayana
preferstheGandharvamarriage:itischeap,anditbringshappiness.Itisalsoclearlyinharmonywith
thewarriorscodeofbehavior.Itisthereforehardlysurprisingthatheranksithigherthandoesthe
dharmashastraofManu.Thedharmaliteraturewascloselyassociatedwiththepriestlycaste,and
notnecessarilyrepresentativeofallothergroupsinIndiansociety.

Theroleofthewife:thesilentmanager

Thefirstchapterofpartfivegivesadetaileddescriptionofthewifesduties.Itclearlysuitsaladyof
themanormorethanapeasantwoman.Theupperclasswifewasnormallysecludedwithinthe
houseandwouldwearaveil,avagunthana,ontherareoccasionssheventuredoutinpublic.The
Kamasutradoesnotmentionveiling,butitseemsclearthatthewifewasmostlyconfinedtothe
house.Here,sheworkedasthemanagerofthehousehold,apparentlywithaconsiderableworkload.
Hersociallifewasrestrained,theKamasutraforbidshertoconsortwithwomenofdubious
backgrounds,suchasBuddhistnuns,femaleasceticsandmendicants,runawaywives,jugglers,
fortunetellersandrootwitches.Nuns,femaleasceticsandfemalemendicantsmightincidentally
havehadapastascourtesans.Forwaywardwives,suchpeoplecouldoffersanctuariesforillicit
liaisons.

Thewifeprovidesamanwithlegitimatechildren.Havingchildren,particularlysons,hasbeen
anextremelyimportantconcerninIndiaeversincetheVedas,andiswellcoveredinthedharma
literature.ItisthereforesurprisingthattheKamasutrahardlymentionschildrenatall.Ontheother
hand,theKamasutragivesusavividpictureofthepsychologicaldilemmasandintriguesofafamily
withmorethanonewife.
Extramaritalconnections:part5

Vatsyayanaoffersathoroughdiscussionofextramaritalaffairs,aswellasasectiononthe
lovelifeofrulersandtheconcernsoftheharem.Thechaptersonextramaritalaffairsgiveusavivid
impressionnotonlyofthesexualpeccadilloes,butalsoofthethirstforeverydaysuspenseofthe
period.Penetratinganothermansharemandhavingsexwithhiswiveswasfordaringmen.Itwas
dangerous,andVatsyayanawarnsagainstit,asitcouldhaveunpleasantconsequences.
8

Nevertheless,bothharemwomenandothermarriedwomenallegedlyhadmanywaystogetsexual
satisfactiononthesly.Thus,theIndianmanaristocrat,merchantorkinghadtoguardhiswomen
againsttheplotsofothermenaswellasagainsttheplotsofthewomenthemselves,andtheir
servants.Atthesametime,hemightengageinsimilaractivities,havingaffairswithmarriedwomen
himself.Suchaffairswerepopularsubjectsforentertainingstories,ofwhichagreatmanyhavecome
downtous.
Thebusinessofpleasure:part6
PartsixoftheKamasutraisabusinessmanualforcourtesansandcontainssomeofthemost
interestinginformationinthework.ItisanimportantsourceforancientIndiasculturalhistory.
CombinedwithinformationfromtheArthashastraandothersources,itgivesavividpictureofthe
sextradebothasabusinesspracticeandaneconomicfactor.TheKamasutraclassifiesvariouskinds
ofveshyas,orprostitutes,anditwouldseemthatthetermbothcoversoccasionalsexworkersand
fulltimeprofessionals.AsVatsyayanastextshowsus,nearlyallpublicwomencouldbeincludedin
thecategory.IntheArthashastra,theganikaisclassifiedasagovernmentservant,butthisisnotthe
caseintheKamasutra.Theancienttextsgiveusalargenumberoftermsforprostitute,andthey
wouldseemtoberankedamongthemselveswithganikas,orcourtesans,atthetop.Therankingin
theKamasutracomesoutinchapterfivewhenVatsyayanaexplainshowthevariouscategoriesof
prostitutesspendtheirmoney,andwhenheliststhedifferentcategoriesofveshyas.Theganika
wouldnotonlysellsex,butalsoculturalservices:shecoulddance,sing,playmusicandevenactasa
gamehostess.Shewastheultimatewomanofculture,freelyassociatingwithmeninassemblies,or
goinghuntingwiththem,comparabletothegreatFrenchcourtesansoftheseventeenthand
eighteenthcenturies.Therupajiva(whichIhavetranslatedasbeautyqueen),whosimplylivedoff
herlooks,wouldinmoderntermsbeseenasaluxuryprostitute,whereasthekumbhadasi,or
scullerymaid,representedtheordinary(oroccasional)sexworker.

Prostitutionwasverymuchapartoftheentertainmentindustryoftheday.Courtesanslived
inaspecialquarterofthecity,andcouldbefinancedbythekingorbeindependent.Although
courtesanswereroundlycondemnedbytheclergy,theywereimmenselypopularandadmiredjust
likemodernmoviestarsorprimaballerinas.Indiankings,liketheirmedievalEuropeancolleagues,
investedinandtaxedprostitutionwithexcellentreturns.Sinceprostituteswereaneconomicasset,
theyhadacertainamountoflegalprotection,althoughtheywereotherwiseregardedasbeing
beyondthepaleofrespectablesociety.Amongthemselves,theylivedinaworldofreversedvalues.
Inthebrothels,thewomenwerethemostimportantpersons,usuallybeingrunbyastonehard
olderwomanormotherwhocontrolledbusiness.Menhadnostatusandnoauthority.

PartsixoftheKamasutradiscusseshowtofindasuitableman,howtotreathim,howto
makehimpartwithhismoney,howtopropuptherelationshipifitisabouttocollapseprematurely,
andhowtogetridofhimwhenheisbroke.Indiancourtesanswerefamousfortheirmerciless
treatmentofpennilessmen.Tobeonthesafeside,Vatsyayanaalsooffersadviceonhowto
reestablishabrokenrelationshipifaformerlovershouldgetintomoneyagain.

Sexualexploitationofthepoor:sociallyinferiorwomenandtheirmasters

Vatsyayanamakesitclearthatanumberofpoorwomenwereexploitedsexuallybytheirmasters
andsocialsuperiors.Thisofcourseappliedtoallsortsoffemaleservants,butalsotodancersand
femaleartisans.Inthevillages,headmencouldapparentlydoastheypleasedwithwomenwhowere
9

theirsocialinferiors.TheproblemwasancientalreadybythetimeofVatsyayana.Womenofthe
servantcastewereoftenkeptasconcubinesbymenofthethreeuppercastes,accordingtoseveral
Vedictexts.Theywereapttorunaway.Eventoday,lowcastewomeninruralareasarevulnerableto
sexualharassmentandexploitationbyuppercastemen.Thus,theKamasutratestifiestosocial
conditionsthathavebeenpresentinIndiansocietyforthreethousandyearsormore.ToVatsyayana,
thisisnatural,hementionsitinamatteroffactway,withoutdiscussingthemoralimplications.

ThepsychologyoftheKamasutra

TheKamasutragivesafascinatingaccountofhumanpsychology.Inhisdiscussionofharemintrigues,
seductionandformingofliaisons,Vatsyayanabrilliantlyanalysesthevulnerabilitiesandfrailtiesof
themind.ThisiswheretheKamasutra,inspiteofitsamoralcynicism,getstrulyuniversal,sincethis
panoplyofpsychologicaltricksandtheireffectsareeasilyrecognizableanywhereintheworld.Thisis
alsowheretheKamasutrasfundamentallackofkindnessmostglaringlycomesout.Vatsyayanais
fullyawareoftrueemotions,butteacheshowtoexploitthem.Sensualpleasure,desireorlove:itis
notfortheweakhearted.TheupperclassIndianmalewouldontheonehandseemtobecaught
betweenawifehedidntreallylove,orprimarilyregardedasapracticalnecessity,andontheother,
afascinatingandelegant,butrapaciouswomanhecouldfallinlovewith,butneithermarrynor
keep.Forthewomen,thesituationwaspossiblyevenlessattractive.Muchhasbeenmadeofthe
freedomandindependenceofthecourtesan5,whocertainlyhadhermomentsofglory,butshe
riskedbeingharmedbyhercustomers,andshefacedanuncertainoldage.Themarriedwoman,
althoughrespectableandprotected,wascoopedupinherhomeandlivedunderallsortsof
restrictions.Thestrictpublicmoralityandsternsocialrulescombinedwitheconomicuncertainty
wouldgoalongwaytoexplainthelackofinnerdisciplineandthirstforrulebreakingselffulfillment
towhichtheKamasutraattests.

Themeaningofsex

Humanbeingsactandascribemeaningtotheiracts.Atonelevel,sexualbehavioriseasytoexplain:
sexualdesireisabasicbiologicalurgeseekingitsownsatisfaction.Butattheculturallevel,sexuality
isinscribedwithanumberofmeanings,sometimespositive,sometimesnegative,butusually
complexandoftencontradictory.TheKamasutra,Indiasancientworkonsexologyandelegantlife,
hardlymentionschildren,inspiteoftheimmenseimportanceofchildreninIndiansociety.Sowhatis
itallabout?Simplythesatisfactionofbasic,naturaldesires?TheKamasutraneitherposesnor
answersthequestion,ithasallthehallmarksofaHowTomanual.Yettheremaybethreecluesto
this:thefactthatmarriageoffersnormal(orunpolished,anupaskrita)sexualpleasure,thefact
thatthesexualactisalefthandpractice,andtheemphasisonvaginalfluids,orjuices.

TheKamasutraisnotaTantricwork.Tantraappearsacoupleofcenturieslaterthan
Vatsyayanaseroticsutra.Yettheanswertothequestionmaypossiblybeinferredfromlater

ForanexcellentdescriptionofancientIndianprostitution,seeShah,S.(2002)."IntheBusinessof
Kama:ProstitutioninClassicalSanskritLiteraturefromtheSeventhtotheThirteenthCenturies."The
MedievalHistoryJournal5(1):121156.
5

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practice.InKaulaTantricpractice6,femalegenitalfluidsareregardedasaprimevalsubstancebeing
filledwithsupernaturalenergies.TheTantricschoolsthatemphasizedritualizedsexprobablysprang
fromthesameintellectualsoilastheKamasutra.ItistemptingtoassumethatIndiansatthetimeof
thatworkalsoascribedmysticalpowertovaginalfluids.Afterall,Indianshadforcenturiesascribed
mysticalpowerstosemen,whichwasregardedasanelixirandequatedwiththedivinenectarsoma.
Butifvaginalfluidsweresopowerful,gettinglargequantitieswouldbebeneficial.Thismaypartly
explaintheobsessionwithsatisfyingwomensexuallyandproducingorgasmstowhichthe
Kamasutrabearswitness.Otherwise,itisdifficulttounderstandwhyIndianmenweresoconcerned
withthesexualresponseofcourtesans.Thecourtesansofferedrefinedsex,butalsothevaluable
vaginalfluidsthatTantricmeninalaterperiodwouldtrytosuckupthroughtheirurethraswhen
applyingthevajrolimudra.
Culturally,thereisanenormousdistancebetweenthemodernworldandtheworldofthe
Kamasutra.Inspiteofthepopularityoftheworkinpopularculture,theworkhaslittletoteachusin
practicalterms.ButtheKamasutrahas,inspiteofitscynicism,oneredeemingfeature:itascribesa
deeper,positivevaluetosexualacts.Theyarenottheresimplyforreproduction,sexualhappiness
matters,itisimportantformansphysicalandmentalhealth.Thefreewheeling,amoralsexualityof
theKamasutramayoccasionallybeasteptoofar,butwiththeapplicationofcommonsenseand
criticalintelligence,loversmaystillbenefitfromitsancientwisdom.
Notesonthetranslation

Vatsyayana'stextiswritteninthesutrastyle,whichinHinduismischaracterizedbyaahighly
condensed,almostinaccessiblelanguagedenudedofeveryunnecessarysyllable.Sutrameans
literallyathreadinthesenseofaclueoraguidethewordisetymologicallyrelatedtoEnglishsew.
Sutrasuseshort,aphoristicstatementscontainingaconsiderablenumberoftechnicalterms.The
languageoftheKamasutraischaracterizedbyextremebrevity,nominalstyleandtheuseof
optatives,averbalcategorythatexpresseswishes,commands,recommendations,orsimply
possibility.Thus,anoptativemaybetranslatedwithsuchauxiliaryverbsasshould,may,might,
could.Ihaverefrainedfromturningthemanyoptativesintoindicatives,thestraightformofthe
verbassometranslatorsdo.Forchoiceofauxiliaryverb,Ihavelookedatcontext.

Sutratextsweredesignedformemorization.Formoredetailedinterpretation,thestudent
reliedonaguru,oracommentary.Thepresenttranslationhasforsakenallattemptstoturnthe

ForKaulaTantra,seeWhite,D.G.(1998)."TransformationsintheArtofLove,KamakalaPracticesin
HinduTantricandKaulaTraditions."HistoryofReligions38(2):172198.

White,D.G.(2003).KissoftheYogini."TantricSex"initsSouthAsianContext.Chicago,The
UniversityofChicagoPress.

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unpalatablelanguageoftheKamasutraintoamoreflorid,readerfriendlystyle.Sinceitisprinted
withtheSanskrittext,thetranslationtriestostayasclosetothespiritoftheoriginalaspossible
withoutmakingthetextutterlyincomprehensible.

Yashodharascommentarywasprobablyproducedinthethirteenthcenturyandisalmosta
thousandyearsyoungerthanVatsyayanastext.Inevitably,itplaysaroleintheinterpretationofthe
Kamasutra,butwecannotrelyuponYashodharatoalwaysgiveacorrectorevenreasonable
interpretationoftheoriginaltext.Afterall,Indianculturewasneverasstaticassomepeopleseem
tothink,andinterpretationschangeastimepasses.Nevertheless,itistemptingtobringinformation
fromthecommentaryintoVatsyayana'stext.Ihavetriedtoavoidsuchpadding,although
sometimes,itisalmostimpossibletoavoid,justasitisimpossibletocopySanskritsfreewheeling
useofpronouns,whicharemarkedforgenderandgrammaticalcaseinamannerwhichcannotbe
copiedinEnglish.

Nevertheless,thetranslatorhopesthatthetranslationwillbeofsomeusebothtothe
generalreaderandtheSanskritist.

Acknowledgements

ThepresenttranslationhasprofitedfromthetranslationsofRichardSchmidt,KlausMylius,and
WendyDoniger&SudhirKakar.Theirinterpretationswerefrequentlyconsulted.Iwouldalsoliketo
thankLorettaandBrianAkers,whoconscientiouslyhavereadthroughmytranslation,correctedmy
Englishandgiveninnumerableusefulcomments.Withouttheirefforts,thistranslationwouldnot
havehappened.

Theillustrations

TheillustrationstothisversionoftheKamasutraarelargelyinspiredbythetextitselfandbythe
templesculpturesofancientIndia.EroticarthasalonghistoryinIndia,andseveralofthepositions
describedintheKamasutracanbefoundonthetemplewallsofKhajurahoinMadhyaPradeshand
KonarkinOrissaaswellasonotherIndiantemples.Thepublishersbelievethattheartisthas
managedtoelegantlycatchthespiritoftext.

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