CAUTION! *This post contains an explicit image*.
When you hear the word "Kamasutra"
BUT IS THAT WHAT THE KAMASUTRA IS TRULY ABOUT?
Have you ever wondered what the Kamasutra literally stands for? Kama stands for desire or pleasure, and sutra refers to rule or aphorism in Sanskrit literature. Kama was considered one of the four ultimate human goals “along with dharma (law, duty, and morality), artha (meaning here power and wealth), and mokṣa (spiritual liberation)”. The Kamasutra was originally written in Sanskrit by Vatsyayana around the 3rd Century CE in North India. It is frequently perceived as “the paradigmatic textbook for sex” or guidelines of sex for the masses. However, this is not a completely accurate way of putting it and we will elaborate more on this as we continue.
The various translations of the book shifted the focus of the Kamasutra to mainly sexual intercourse or sexual positions. The Kamasutra was not just a book about sexual positions - it advocated the importance of active involvement from both sexes in order to achieve a healthy functioning relationship (both mental and physical aspects). In this post, we will discuss the commonly perceived notion of this book and explore other sides to this topic.
Western interpretations The Kamasutra has been translated multiple times over the years and this has contributed to some deeply-rooted misunderstandings. It is widely known as a sex manual, or a book that only teaches sex techniques and sexual positions to people - a view held by many Westerners. However, let's not kid ourselves, most of us are guilty of it too ;)
To many Indians, the Kamasutra is taboo, something that they should not be seen carrying around, reading or conversing about. This may be due to misconceptions that people have of the Kamasutra, which could be largely attributed to the notable English translation done by Richard Burton. Wendy Doniger, an American Indologist, argues that in addition to his translations, Burton added in his own words as well as his own interpretations of the original text. In doing so, Burton altered the true intentions and meaning of the book thus rendering part of his translation to be inaccurate. This possibly led to misinterpretations of the original version (written in Sankrit) by people who read his translated copy. More specifically, he was inaccurate in some of his translations with regards to the sexual aspects mentioned in the Kamasutra. For example, Burton placed more focus on the male's attainment of sexual pleasure rather than the females.
Doniger stated that ''It was Burton who gave numbers to some sexual acts, when there were no numbers to begin with. He over-emphasised the mechanical in a very non-sexy, superficial way." Burton's understanding and translation of the text could be influenced by the setting he was in - the Victorian Era, where people embraced and were open about their sexual desires (in other words, they had lustful thoughts and were simply horny).
So what else is the Kamasutra about?
GENDER Contrary to other ancient texts, the Kamasutra did not only focus on the pleasures of men, but also to that of women. It taught men ways to please women (not just sexually). Instead of sticking to the missionary position, where women were usually the “passive receivers”, the book proposed several other positions where both the male and female put in equal effort in the lovemaking process for the pleasure of both parties. On numerous occasions, the Kamasutra even showed a certain bias towards women. Additionally, men were also advised to listen to women. The idea of gender roles in the Kamasutra was and is still a much debated topic. We would not delve into it as there are varying claims made by different sources.
BEAUTY AND FITNESS The Kamasutra even emphasized the importance of beauty and fitness for women, which is contrary to popular conceptions that it is solely about the physical act of sex. It was mentioned how a portion of the Kamasutra was dedicated to the maintaining of one’s physical appearance (hair, skin, body etc). Moreover, those women in the past (during Vatsyayana’s times) took special care of their outward presence and spent most of their time engaging in “beauty and fitness regimens”.
RELATIONSHIPS The Kamasutra also served mainly as a guide for couples to cultivate a psychologically and emotionally strong relationship with each other - not merely about the physical act of sex. The display of small physical affection was said to hold a vital role in a couple’s daily life regardless of whether it led to sexual intercourse. It was a way of displaying your feelings towards the other party and it was mentioned that this method could be beneficial for any couple’s relationship.
Our verdict The Kamasutra still remains a highly debatable topic with many still having preconceived notions about it. However, it is undeniable that we could gain some insights from the book other than pure sexual intercourse and positions. Through this post, we would like to encourage people to view this topic in a different light. It is also important to keep in mind the context that the authors and readers are situated in, as this would affect how the Kamasutra is translated and interpreted respectively. Therefore, we have to keep in mind our own biases, as we are not reading the original Sanskrit version of the Kamasutra (that is, if we ever have the opportunity to read it).