Kama Sutra

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KĀMA SŪTRA Composed by Vātsyāyana Mallanāga, the Kāma Sūtra is a treatise on erotic love, deemed one of the three spheres of worldly life in ancient India. The dates of the author are uncertain, but evidence suggests he lived sometime in the third or fourth century of the common era, just before the inception of the great Gupta empire. The Kāma Sūtra is the earliest surviving text of the quasi-scientific genre of writing on the subject of erotic love known as kāma shāstra (the science of erotics). Though earlier works on the subject are no longer available, this genre became abundant in later times. The Kāma Sūtra has a thirteenth-century commentary, called Jayamangala, written by one Yashodhara.

Long viewed as a sort of Hindu parallel to the Joy of Sex, recent research suggests that the Kāma Sūtra is actually better seen in the context of the courtly and urban culture that emerged during Gupta times. The Kāma Sūtra is divided into seven books, each comprising two or more chapters. The first book sets out the lifestyle of the "man about town," or nāgaraka, a figure to whom most of the text is seemingly addressed. Vātsyāyana gives details about his daily routine, social engagements, household, potential female partners, and a vast list of arts (kalās) that he was to master as part of a courtly education. The second book, on sex itself, begins by dividing women and men up into a sexual typology (named famously after animals), based on size, endurance, and temperament. In subsequent chapters the author treats a variety of subjects, including embracing, kissing, nail scratching, biting, positions in intercourse, and oral sex, in a highly technical, often dry style. The third book advises a young man how to obtain a virgin for marriage, noting both more and less respectable methods, depending on his circumstances. It also discusses the manner in which a bride was to be sexually approached and "won over" on the days following the marriage. The fourth book discusses the conduct appropriate for married women, a profoundly complex subject given the fact that polygyny was widespread among the elite classes in early India. Vātsyāyana discusses the delicate protocol of the harem (Sanskrit, antahpura), where the master of the household met his wives and concubines on a daily basis, the dynamics of which were often complex, dangerous, and consequential for the maintenance of stability in the household. The fifth book discusses sex with other men's wives, a practice Vātsyāyana warns against in all but the most desperate circumstances, when a man simply cannot control his desires. Here the use of intermediaries, as well as secret liaisons with women of the antahpura, are discussed. The sixth book is addressed to courtesans, instructing them on how to seduce, cajole, extract money from, and even dispose of, potential patrons. The last book sets out esoteric formulas (magical and medicinal) for those who, for various reasons, were unable to follow the policy laid out in previous chapters. These formulas are mostly aimed at controlling noncompliant lovers or enhancing one's sexual prowess.

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See alsoDevī ; Hinduism (Dharma)


Bhattacharya, Narendra Nath. History of Indian Erotic Literature. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1975.

Chakladar, H. C. Social Life in Ancient India: A Study of Vatsyayana's Kamasutra. 1929. Reprint, Kolkata: Susil Gupta, 1954.

Kamasutra. Translated by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002.

Roy, Kumkum. "Unravelling the Kamasutra." In A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India, edited by Mary E. John and Janaki Nair. Delhi: Kali for Women, 1998.