Lalita's Kamasutra Page


Undertake any project that might achieve the three aims of life, or two, or even one, but not one that achieves one at the cost of the other two.-- Doniger-Kakar pg 13 Vatsyayana Kamasutra

The Kama Sutra is not the first text on love and sexuality, but it is arguably the most famous. But what is it? Who wrote it and why? Why is it so popular? And what can we learn about the culture in which it was written? Can a text so old still be relevant today? These are but some of the questions I hope to answer.

In Sanskrit the word Kama means Love/Pleasure/Sensuality and Sutra means Lesson. So the Kama Sutra is clearly a text on pleasure, but also on marriage and life in general. To understand this we must take a brief glimpse into the ancient Hindu mindset. There is one goal in life and three stages that must be mastered in order to accomplish it. The goal is called Moksha (freedom) and the steps that must be taken are Kama (pleasure), Artha (prosperity) and Dharma (virtue). Hindus believe in reincarnation throughout eternity, one life’s deeds balancing the misdeeds of the previous life. The only way to attain freedom from this eternal wheel of rebirth is through mastery of pleasure, prosperity and virtue. Texts were written by many great sages on each of these three topics to guide others in their quest. For each must be learned from a master.

To master kama one need not divorce oneself from it, but embrace it, know it, submerse yourself in it. Studying texts such as the Kama Sutra is not enough, once the text is known it must then be applied. Women must be seduced, or in their turn do the seducing. Spouses must be wooed, committed to, and then cheated on. Courtesans must be engaged and then left once all joy and knowledge has been shared. One must know the thrill of new love, the anguish of lovelessness, the burn of desire and the confines of celibacy.

It was written by Mallanaga Vatsyayana sometime in the 4th century C.E. in the city of Patalaputra in north east India. At that time the Gupta dynasty had inaugurated a golden age of poetry, literature, art, and theatre and it was all based in the capital city of Patalaputra on the shores of the Ganges. Little is known about Vatsyayana, he says little about himself save that he was a Brahmin in the golden years of his life and wrote the Kama Sutra in a state of celibacy but had performed all the deeds written therein. We can guess from the text that he was wealthy and had been gently reared, he takes for granted the availability of servants, sumptuous feasts, lavish entertainments and proliferate gifts.

Vatsyayana says that he wrote it because people needed a code of conduct, a guide for what was appropriate and what was not. He was ashamed of the behavior he saw among the young and set forth standards to which they should adhere. Many of these behavioral codes were not new at all, many come from the ancient teachings of the Vedas, but had been forgotten and passed over by the new generation. This rewriting of texts is not unusual for the culture, sages were quoted time and again, their works worked over by admiring students. When quoting a specific sage a person would say "Vatsyayana tells us," or "Jayadeva advises"; yet if they wanted to say something of their own, something original, they would say "the sages tell us". Yoshidara, Vatsyayana’s pupil, was the first to rewrite the Kama Sutra and is very clear on which ideas were the great sage’s and which had been passed down from texts such as the Kamashastra, the Lalita Vistara and the Upanishads.

Now we know why it was written, but who read it? Almost everyone. Men read it, boys studied it with courtesans, girls studied it from their aunts or older sisters, wives read it with the permission of their husbands, courtesans read it, and so did the kliba (third gender). That’s right, there was a third gender and it included gays, lesbians, eunuchs, men with abnormally small penises, impotence, transvestites, hermaphrodites, anyone with scarred or damaged genitalia and men with only daughters. There was no social stigma to being a kliba and many jobs that could only be had by them. There were lesbian goddesses, transvestites deities, and a god of eunuchs. There were villages/retreats just for klibas as well as marriage for both lesbians and gays. It was a very popular text, especially once it became illustrated a couple centuries later.

The Kama Sutra has been translated by many different people throughout the ages. I’m not going to list all of them here. The first was Yoshidara, the most famous was the Victorian scoundrel Sir Richard Burton. My favorites are the team of Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar and Alain Danielou. Neither version is illustrated, but if you want a pretty copy visit your local Borders or Barnes and Noble and find the wall of Kama Sutras. There are always plenty to chose from. But for purity of text and helpful insights into the culture I prefer the two translators listed above. See the bibliography for more about them.

I mentioned previously the three steps towards Moksha; Kama, Artha, and Dharma. I will now briefly return to them. As I said, each must be learned from an expert. And each must be studied at the correct point in one’s life. Pleasure should be studied between the ages of 16 and 29, wealth should be sought after from the age of 30-49, and spiritual virtue should be contemplated from age 50 until death (usually during hermitage out in the wilds). As a youth studies the arts of pleasure it behooves him or her to learn as many of the 64 Kalas (arts) as possible.

These arts are not the ones which immediately spring to mind when one thinks of the Kama Sutra. They are not erotic in nature. Unless of course you really enjoy irrigation systems or slight of hand. The 64 Kalas were the ancient version of a liberal arts education and they were to be studied by all people of breeding, both men, women, kliba and courtesans. Why? So you would appear intelligent and well spoken at social events. Some examples of the 64 Arts are dancing, painting, arranging flowers, applying cosmetics, preparing beds, making garlands, practicing fortune telling, preparing beverages, woodworking, needlework, hairdressing, poetry, gambling, massage and etiquette. Vatsayana does not attempt to teach each of these, simply mentions all that one should learn. And that each topic should be studied from a master of it before one begins to learn the lessons of the Kama Sutra.

Lessons such the Bachelor and His Pad, Virgins and the Seduction Thereof, How to Marry a Nice Girl and then a Few More, Cheating on Your Wife with the Wives of Your Friends, Sex is Better When You Pay for It, Recipes for Success, and the world reknown Positions that Make The Heavens Shake. Yes, I came up with those chapter names all on my own, no they are not originally titled that but I’m sure you get the point. While the first chapter that Vatsayana covers is that which is most famous, I will save that for later. After all, I want you to read all of this before you get to the good stuff.

Conclusion

The Kama Sutra is a text written a millennium and a half in the past, yet its teachings are as useful and informative today as they were when Vatsyayana first picked up his pen. Everyone can learn something from the Kama Sutra; whether it be the conduct of a good wife, the ways to seduce a lover, pleasing many women, or how to have sex while standing on your head. The lessons held within are timeless