The Kama in Kama Sutra

Image retrieved from here on 2 November 2016.

Image retrieved from here on 2 November 2016.

⚠ Warning: This post contains some explicit content. Proceed with caution. ⚠

Introduction

What most people know about this text is that it has instructions and depictions on various sexual positions - some that only the most flexible of people can perform. They are not wrong since the Kama Sutra is said to be the world’s most ancient book on sexual lifestyles (Hardgrove, 2008). However, not many know that it is more than just a tool to satiate sexual desires. But, I know you people know that because it was mentioned in class (ahem, people sleeping in class!). According to historian Hardgrove (2008), the Kama Sutra, among other things, is a descriptive manual for

  1. Men on how to court a woman, even if she is the spouse of another man.

  2. Women on how to attract a man.

  3. Intermediaries regarding their responsibilities in the relationship.

Additionally, it gives readers an insight to how a woman’s mind works, eg. Why would a woman reject a man’s sexual approaches?

[The Kama Sutra is an] ancient manual of deep and spiritual erotical life educare.
— (Himavanti Brotherhood, 2011)

Some of the basics…

The author is Vatsyayana. He was a monk… This was written during the reign of the Gupta Empire which lasted from c. 320 to 550 CE. Some of the religions which existed during this time in India were Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Then, Sanskrit was the commonly used language. Now, Sanskrit is only spoken in hymns (RC, 2015).

As cited by Frances Wilson (2007), James McConnachie translated Vatsyayana’s definition of sex as

“mannered, moral, social, and above all civilised”

Kama Sutra was first published in English in 1883 by Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (BBC, 2014).

Purusharthas

Some Indian philosophies follow Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, as the 4 main goals of life.

According to Prof Bennet’s slides in Class 10: Early India, Hinduism & Buddhism, Dharma refers to “the codification of duty”. Indians perceive Dharma as a set of rules to follow and obey. Examples of such include religious teachings and civil rights. On the other hand, Artha refers to material things that people aim to own. Acquiring possessions such as land, cattle and gold would mean to fulfil Artha (Himavanti Brotherhood, 2011). Kama, as written by McConnachie (2007), is sexual desire. It is the urge that brought about the creation of humans.

I hope that you recall Prof Bennett introducing us to the Upanishads (literally translated: “To sit down near”). They are a serious of religious and philosophical texts written between c. 800 BCE and 500 BCE (Violatti, 2014). Liberation or Karma releases the atman from the eternal cycle of death and rebirth or samsara back to the source of it all - the Brahman (Violatti, 2014).

People’s Mindset Then

The ama Sutra shows us the mindset of the people in the ancient days, when they revered the word of those who were educated or had positions of power or influence in religious or educational positions. It has to be repeatedly emphasised that the ama Sutra is not a guide to having the best coitus possible, for that is merely one part of the entire ama Sutra. The ama Sutra, in its entirety, is a guide to how one should live with the manners and sophistication that is expected of a cultured person, combined with aspects of love, family and pleasurable activities of daily life. Jacob Levy (2010) noted in his book Kama Sense Marketing that the ama Sutra is about the philosophy and theory of love, what triggers desire, what sustains it, and how and when it is good or bad.

The ama Sutra was unique in its time because it offered relatively modern views on women’s place in society. The Laws of Manu (c. 200 BCE - 200 CE), which preceded the ama Sutra, codified women’s roles and privileges in society, excluding them from religious education and restricting them for the most part to the home (and even there they are restricted). To get an idea of how restrictive the Laws of Manu were to women, here are some choice quotes:

“In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, and when her lord is dead, to her sons; a woman must never be independent.”
“A husband should be worshiped as a God.”
“Women, shudra (or sudra, lowest of four castes), dog and crow embody untruth, sin and darkness.”

You get the idea.

The Kamasutra, on the other hand, supported female education, financial independence, and sexual pleasure. (Note: Links to the following sources are all related to the works of American Indologist, Wendy Doniger, of the University of Chicago.)

Vatsyayana believed that women should study the Kamasutra either by reading it or learning it from other women who can read, and that this method of learning should continue into other aspects of their lives:

“A woman should study the Kamasutra and its subsidiary arts before she reaches the prime of her youth, and she should continue when she has been given away, if her husband wishes it. Scholars say:

Since females cannot grasp texts, it is useless to teach women this text.

 

Vatsyayana says: But women understand the practice, and the practice is based on the text. This applies beyond this specific subject of the Kamasutra, for throughout the world, in all subjects, there are only a few people who know the text, but the practice is within the range of everyone. And a text, however far removed, is the ultimate source of the practice.”

He believed that women should hold absolute power in running the household’s finances, compared to Manu, who said that women “should not have too free a hand in spending”.

He was also supportive of women’s sexual pleasure, pointing out that one of the things that make sex for human beings different from sex for animals is that human women, unlike animals, have sex even when they are not in their fertile period. The accepted school of thought up till then according to Manu, however, was that the sole purpose of sex – also part of a woman’s dharma – was the production of babies.

When it came down to it, Vatsyayana prioritized the female orgasm: “the woman should be treated in such a way that she achieves her sexual climax first”. He also provided a graphic, detailed description of what we now know as the G-spot, and the outward physical expression of a female orgasm, presumably meant for men to understand what a female orgasm looked like (or for women to learn to fake one).

Conclusion

The topic of love and lust can be abit blurry. Kama Sutra is more than a sex manual that contains sexual positions. In so many non-sexual ways, Kama Sutra is more than a love or sex manual. Most importantly, it empowers women, and it gives them the right to express themselves. There is a fine line between love and lust. Novelguide mentioned:

[...] Vatsyayana thinks that a woman should be judged by conduct, outward expression of thought, and movements of the body

Love is more than looking at women’s physique or facial features. However, it is common today for people to think that they are in love just by looking at a woman’s face and not the way she behaves or thinks. This is called lust - a strong sexual desire (based on looks).

People nowadays have a hard time differentiating between the two - love and lust. Zareena, for example, falls in love with cute guys on the train every day, even if it is just for five minutes. This obviously is not true love, it could just be lust. This is just a vestige of what the Kama Sutra said.

The Kama Sutra elevates the importance of sexual pleasure from being just bodily to being holy.
— (Kaur, 2016)

With reference to the above quote, Thern Yang believes that the Kama Sutra can be used to help attain Moksha. Reason being, the Kama Sutra “elevates the importance of sexual pleasure from… bodily to being holy”, which when derived from its Sanskrit meaning to be liberated or let go. By elevating sexual pleasure from a bodily to a holy level, it brings sexual intercourse to a whole new level beyond that of physical and or emotional pleasure between the parties involved.

Links and resources:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/non_fictionreviews/3667561/Tied-in-knots-by-the-Kamasutra.html

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/relationships/man-woman/Why-Kamasutra-is-not-all-about-sex/articleshow/6129753.cms

http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/TWR-05.html

http://www.jstor.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/stable/pdf/4338414.pdf

https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=nNsXZkdHvXUC&pg=PA327&lpg=PA327&dq=kama+sutra+women+finances&source=bl&ots=pcIBfogNkr&sig=17qx8JOqr9kZVMxvMyLSA4djIn8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjQ_-KrjIXQAhXMpI8KHee3DF0Q6AEIKDAC#v=onepage&q=kama%20sutra%20women%20finances&f=false

http://www.hindustantimes.com/books/sex-and-ancient-indian-women-excerpts-from-wendy-doniger-s-book/story-mc841biatvNQ23mwcWOs2M.html

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-33685043

https://www.bustle.com/articles/148429-4-ways-the-kama-sutra-is-surprisingly-feminist

https://divinity.uchicago.edu/wendy-doniger

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