August 4, 2011
Today we commence a series of Full Frontal Nerdity pieces on the Kama Sutra. This is a very well known work, though mostly for the illustrated or photographic editions.
The Kama Sutra is a treatise (or really collection of) largely authored or collected in the fourth century AD by a man called Vatsyayana. Elements of the collected texts date as far back as fourth century BC. (Though the original formulation of these “rules of love” are traditionally attributed to Nandi, Shiva’s companion)
The compilation which is now recognised as the Kama Sutra isn’t pornographic. The texts provide guidance in the “Erotic Arts” for an educated man (and also suggests women study these in secret) and constantly makes references to other contemporary treatise on political and economic life.
In the Kama Sutra, pleasure is seen as a continuity, so a line that can be drawn from kissing and caressing through to the goal. In earlier treatise, this goal was the emission of sperm, but in the 8th Century compilation updates this goal to procreation. Stipulating it is both one’s duty and bliss to produce sons.
Although the text is reflective of a culture where men are the socially superior gender, there are many chapters dedicated to the seduction and gifting of pleasure to a woman – which is seen to indicate that girls at the time had a choice in both marriage and lifestyle.
The Kama Sutra is divided into seven parts, the First being “General Remarks”. This sets out the structure of the book which we will delve further into over our next three posts.
Part One – General Remarks
Part Two – Amorous Advances
Part Three – Acquiring a Wife
Part Four – Duties and Privileges of the Wife
Part Five – Other Men’s Wives
Part Six – About Courtesans
Part Seven – Occult Practices
The Kama Sutra was presented as a sacred text, and men were encouraged to learn the sixty four positions of copulation prior to marriage as “following own fantasy will not bring success, happiness or supreme bliss.” It also includes guidance on washing every morning before taking breakfast, how often to oil your skin and even the “art of scratching” (don’t worry – we’ll get to that!)
Homosexuality, transvestites and even bestiality are covered in the text, and no variations of sexuality were persecuted in the India that Vatsyayana knew. It seems the Western influence especially English education during Victorian times has led to more modern laws. For example, Mahatma Gandhi called on his disciples to smash the erotic decorations on temples.
The next three Full Frontal Nerdity posts will explore the Kama Sutra’s lesser known (i.e. not the images) aspects and lessons commencing with Amorous Advances and Acquiring a Wife; and yes we will get into those sixty four positions…
For your information, the translation by Alain Danielou will be the principle reference for this series.