Kamasutra- An Indian epic on love is more than just a sex manual.

The ancient Indian authors were known for their ability to write and express their thoughts on a great variety of subjects which included religion, astrology, logic, science, mathematics, philosophy, military science, politics, geography, administration and what not.Their quality of thoughts in their legendary works are still appreciated by the people every where in the world. One such work which attracted the attention of people towards ancient India's great literary treasure is Kamasutra.

 A treatise which was written centuries ago by ancient Indians about the 'Kama' i.e the desire of sensory enjoyment, emotional attraction and aesthetic pleasure. The treatise was purely written with a view to successfully fulfill the duty of a human being towards his carnal desires. 

The Concept of Kama is an important pillar of research in the ancient Indian philosophy of materialism popularly known as Lokayata. The three pillar of research in Lokayata studies are Dharma, Artha and Kama.Considering the time period of its conception which appears to be not later than 2nd-3rd CE, the text seems to be of very high quality literature. Unfortunately today due to the misconceptions and propaganda of the media, many people in India relate it with porn and obscenity. However in this article we have tried to find the various other important aspects of Kama sutra which most people have no idea about.

Kamasutra book cover (courtesy-Oxford classics)

To begin with Let's first start from the basic question what was the need of writing a text on Sensory pleasure?

In ancient Hindu philosophy one question which is commonly dealt by all the schools of thought is that what is the purpose of life? and what happens after death? Almost all schools believe that the final aim of human life is to achieve Moksha. Some schools believe worship of god is necessary while some don't even believe in god and prefer transcending oneself through various means to achieve moksha. 

The Lokayata is one such philosophy of ancient Hindu culture which was propounded by Charvaka who believed that materialism is the true essence of human life and there is no after life.Therefore one must put all his senseS to work towards achieving the materialistic pleasure in order to reach the stage of  Moksha.While Moksha is the ultimate aim, Kamasutra in its initial chapters also mentions about the other three goals of human life.

First one is Dharma that means by doing righteous things in life, dharma here means following the laws and teachings ascribed in shastras though some interpret it as doing duties honestly and working according to one's inner conscience. The dharma should be learnt from the Shruti(Vedas) most preferably from the learned people who have a mastery over its content.

The second aspect is Artha which means acquisition of arts,land,gold,cattle,wealth,equipages and Friends . It is further divided into three parts the first one is Acquiring wealth  the second part says the protection of what has been acquired and the third part says increasing the wealth that has been protected. Artha should be learnt from the King (Government officials) and the merchants (Bankers/economists).

Now comes Kama the third aspect of Hindu materialism which means enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses assisted by the mind together with the soul.The ingredient in this is a peculiar contact between the organ of sense and its object,and the consciousness of pleasure which arises from the contact is called Kama. The Kama should be learnt from Kamasutra (Aphorisms on love) and by observing the practices and habits of people in the society. (That''s why it was compiled as a text- to teach people about kama)

When all three viz. Dharma,Artha,Kama come together(Clash), the former is always better than the later one. That means a man must give priority to Dharma i.e Righteous living , Then he should go for acquiring wealth and Finally when he has earned wealth he deserves to indulge into sensory pleasure. If anytime the order is not fulfilled by a man/woman that man/woman wont be able to enjoy the benefits of any of these. 

Some More facts about Kama sutra.


1.Vatsyayana is not the name of writer of Kamasutra.

The work is initially credited to Nandi who compiled 1000 chapters on this subject which by the later writers was finally reduced to this present text which has 1250 verses, distributed over 36 chapters in 64 sections, organized into 7 books. It’s a combined work of many writers Vatsyayana is a family name of writer whose real name is Mallinaga or Mrillana. These seven books were further expounded by some more writers and later in medieval times two more commentaries were written about it.

2. Kamasutra is not just about sexual positions as general perception goes.

Contrary to common perception sexual positions is just a small chapter that too without any pictorial representation where as maximum stress is given on topics like, methods for courtship, training in the arts to be socially engaging, finding a partner, flirting, maintaining power in a married life, when and how to commit adultery, etc. all of which seems acceptable during the ancient times when text was first compiled.

The authors of  Kamasutra in their very first address mentions that a Human being is different from the brute creation of nature(animals) who indulges in intercourse only for the sake of reproduction. A human on the other hand has the ability to practice restrain. The essence of this text is to teach men and women how to enjoy the process of making his/her object of love to fall for him/her through various methods and that should finally culminates into the union of two souls.

3. Kamasutra encourages a man and a woman  to first become worthy of  getting a partner.

The Kamasutra talks about 64 arts a man/woman should master in order to get attention of other sex. According to Kamasutra a man/woman who possess these 64 arts can get any partner of their choice and when exiled out of their country or in case a famine affects their country and they have to go somewhere else to survive,even then these kind of men/women can survive purely based on the knowledge of their arts.Therefore the authors recommend to the young men and women to learn these 64 arts from their respective masters.
These 64 arts are :

1. Singing
2. Playing a musical instrument
3. Dancing
4. A combination of singing, using musical instruments and dancing
5. Writing and drawing
6.The Art of Tattooing
7.Adorning an idol with flowers
8. The art of spreading flowers on a bed or on the ground
9. Coloring fabrics, nail and body with colors from plants
10. The art of making a bed
11.Fixing colored glass tiles on floor.
12.Producing music by striking glasses of water
13. The art of storing water in reservoirs
14. The art of picture making and decorating
15. Making rosaries, necklaces, garlands
16. Tying turbans
17. Stage playing
18. The art of making ear ornaments
19. The art of making perfumes
20. Proper care of jewels, decorations and ornaments
21. Magic (sorcery)
22. Manual skills
23. Cooking (culinary skills)
24. Making combination drinks and flavored drinks
25. Tailoring and sewing
26. Making handicrafts like parrots, flowers etc. from thread/wool
27. Skills to solve riddles, puzzles and covert speeches
28. The skill of a singing game where one must start with the letter with which other person’s song ended.
29. The skill of imitating natural sounds
30. Reading, chanting and intoning
31. Mastering tongue twisters
32. Skills at martial arts (the skills to use sword, stick, bow and arrow)
33. Skill to reach logical conclusions based on given facts
34. Carpentry
35. Architecture
36. Knowledge about gold, silver and gems
37. Chemistry (knowledge of properties of materials)
38. The art of coloring jewels or beads
39. Knowledge of mines
40. Gardening
41.The art of cock fighting ,getting cocks, quail or rams to fight .
42.Teaching parrots or starlings to talk
43.Applying perfumes on body and hair
44. Understanding of code language
45. Spoonerism (purposefully interchanging position of letters of words while speaking)
46. Knowledge of languages
47. Knowledge of making flower chariots
48. Knowledge of making mystical graphics, spells and charms and ways to avoid spells
49.Mental exercises
50. Composing poems
51. Knowledge of dictionaries and vocabulary
52. The art of impersonation
53. Impersonation of materials like make common things appear fine rare substances (make cotton appear to be silk).
54. Knowledge of gambling
55. Using mantras to take away others’ possession
56. Skills in sports and games
57.The art of social conduct, paying respect and sending compliments
58. Knowledge of war, arms and army deployment
59. Knowledge of gymnastics
60. The skills of knowing a person’s real character from his conduct.
61. The skill of reading and composing verses
62. The skills of enjoying arithmetic puzzles
63. Making artificial flowers
64. Making images with clay

4. Kamasutra talks about three classes of men/women that exist. 

A Man is divided into three classes, viz. the hare man, the bull man, and the horse man, according to the force of his passion. Where Hare has minimum, Bull has middle, while Horse has maximum passion.
Woman also, according to their passionate desires, is either a female deer, a mare, or a female elephant. Where a deer has minimum passion,mare has middle level and Elephant woman has maximum passion.
There are thus three equal unions between persons of corresponding dimensions, and there are six unequal unions, when the dimensions do not correspond, or nine in all, as the following table shows:

MEN - Hare with WOMEN - Deer
MEN - Bull with WOMEN - Mare
MEN - Horse with WOMEN - Elephant
MEN - Hare with WOMEN - Mare
MEN - Hare with WOMEN - Elephant
MEN - Bull with WOMEN - Deer
MEN - Bull with WOMEN - Elephant
MEN - Horse with WOMEN - Deer
MEN - Horse with WOMEN - Mare

There is also a verse on this subject as follows:

'Men and women, being of the same nature(same passion), feel the same kind of pleasure, and therefore a man should marry such a woman as will love him ever afterwards.'

5. The amusement activities to be done before the Union (Courtship)

The Kamasutra recommends that before going for a Union a man should make a woman feel comfortable.They should both try to spend time with each other the following activities have been suggested by the authors that a couple should enjoy together before indulging in union.
  • Holding festivals in honor of different deities.
  • Social gathering of both sexes.
  • Drinking parties (not necessarily an intoxicant)
  • Picnics
  • Other social diversions(playing with dice,Training parrot, plucking mangoes together,decorating each other with flowers,watching birds etc.)

6. The art of identifying the man/woman who is in love with you.

The Kamasutra authors seems to have an immense mastery over the psychology of human mind in love.They have explained various ways by which a man/woman who is smitten by the object of his/her love would behave and express it with his/her gestures. For eg. The Author says that a women who likes a man will keep appearing at the place where he regularly visits. This should alert that man about women's intention.

7. Region wise traits of Women and Men in India how they behave during coitus.

The Kamasutra authors seems to be well acquainted with a the whole of the India and the behaviours of people of various regions. At various places the how women behave while having sexual union what kind of gestures they make and how aggressive men of each region are etc. are all mentioned with little details. For eg. in a passage the author talks about the Violent methods used by the southern people during the intercourse.

8. It's almost like a dating coach telling men/women how to approach their love interests.Imagine a dating guide written in India several centuries ago.

To begin with it talks about various signs a man/woman shows to his love interests and how to identify them. Then what to do and what not to do during courtship.An interesting fact here is that the author did not restricted his courtship lessons to the love affairs only. He infact advised to the newly wed couples that for a successful sexual union they should first achieve a certain comfortable level before trying for the union.

According to author a man should not become aggressive with his newly wed wife he should begin with winning her confidence and avoid forcing himself on her. A man should keep gauging her interest level and act according to it.He should greet her,bring her presents,offer betel leaf to her,help her in household works etc.The he should begin with slight touches and only go forward if women shows no sign of hesitation.

This is how a proper training is given through Kamasutra to the newly wed couples to enjoy the process of love making rather than plunging directly into the action on the very first night.

9.Importance of foreplay in love making.

According to the author a successful union demands intimacy which cannot be learnt that easily and if not taught in advance the first experience may result in disaster.So there are special chapters on Touching,pressing, biting Kissing where various types of kisses are mentioned and according to them the level of  passion among  couples can be judged to further move ahead with other passionate activities.

Second thing is embracing which is also highlighted as it helps in creating trust and raising passion. Then there are other high level activities like striking hard each other the body parts to be hit are all described with great details infact the kind of voices that the partner would make after getting hit are also mentioned along with their explanation .

10. Does it promotes adultery ?

Well it seems yes there is a special chapter on how to seduce the wife of another man. However the context says that one should only do this if he's facing a danger of his life from woman's husband, thus only to take revenge from husband he should indulge in such act. The author talks about the tips that a man should follow in order to get the love of a married woman.

But then in the concluding remark of this chapter the author cautions the users to avoid seducing the wives of other as its leads to disaster and destruction of Dharma and Artha which is entirely against the basic teachings of Kama shashtra.

11. Kamasutra promotes immoral stuff  ?

It depends what defines an immoral act? I think it depends upon the moral values defined by the law makers of the contemporary society what might look immoral today might not be immoral in those times. Those days women would walk bare chest  and nobody questioned them but today people might not find it appropriate because we have been accustomed to live in a setup where Woman or even a man walking with bare chest is not considered appropriate.

12. Is it a religious text?

Well if you consider Hinduism as religion then it is a indeed a religious text coz it talks about the 4 Purusharthas which a man should strive for Kama being one of them. But if you consider Hinduism as a culture than its not a religious text because then its just a philosophy that has originated in a certain culture. Hinduism itself is an umbrella of several small religions that existed in this land.The point is with the ample number arguments that are available on both sides(religious text or not religious text) it can be debated at length.

13.What Historical details it divulge?

I was quite surprised that in the past i have'nt found its mention as a source in the works of many historians.Specially when the period it belongs to has very few accounts available as compared to the other periods of Indian History in such scenario it becomes an important text for the extraction of historical information related to that period. It indeed gives a vague account of 2nd-3rd CE India.

First the names of various regions it mentions within the Indian Subcontinent

While providing the account of Sexual behavior of people the Kamasutra author has mentioned each region within Indian subcontinent with its ancient name that must have been popular during those days.This information can be used to cross check the facts that has been made available through other sources. For eg. The texts mentions about sexual behaviour of women from Abhira,Stri rajya, Kaushal,G etc.

Secondly details about Kings and their Kingdoms 

The text talks about a few Kings of ancient India and the story of their intimacies with their queens this can help in restructuring the timeline of that period. For eg it mentions the name of King Satakarni Satvahana and his Kingdom Kuntal and another a Chalukyan King Visaldeva.

Thirdly about the social life-   

The Text puts a lot of  light on the social life of people in that era.The information we can get from text is about the kind of social classes we had during those days. The system of manu was prevalent. i.e Society was divided into four Varnas. In some chapters the author advises men/women of upper classes to avoid marrying men/women from lower classes. 

A brief mention of kind of festivals that were celebrated during those times. Apart from that entertainment like game of dice,Cock fighting, Parrot Training ,antakshari,making handicrafts,drinking parties,social gatherings,picnics were enjoyed by the people of those times. Slavery was practiced, there are mentions of slave girls which means it existed as a normal thing during those times. Prostitution was a respectable profession where the Ganikas and Nayikas were celebrated for their various talents . The courtesans had good terms with King and his nobles a hint towards their exalted status. The clothing of women was scanty most probably they lived bare chested as there are passages where the authors of Kamasutra says that "when a stranger from a distance see a woman with nails and biting marks on her breast their respect for her increases manifolds". 

A stranger from a distance cannot see nail marks on women's breasts unless they are are uncovered.The society of that time appears to be much more frank and open than the later periods. The author seems to have great knowledge about the psychology of both men and women and he has advised many times both sexes to act in accordance to the teachings of kamshastra,when they notice subtle signs of interest from person of other sex. 

The women it seems enjoyed equal status in the society because a number of times authors have repeated this line that the way a man behave his partner should behave similar to that. Adultery and homosexuality among women is also mentioned even in side a king's harem which means it did exist during those times.It seems the people of that time focused a lot on physical appearance. The author has given several ways by which a man/woman can attract the attention object of his/her affection.

14. The Last chapters on Kamasutra

The last few chapters seems to be written in later stages as it involves a lot of magical charms and use of various herbs with animal bones to create medicine for the strength required to perform continuous sexual unions.Most of them appears to be impractical however I'm saying this purely based on my education,value system and background but some may find them to be of some significance it just depends. Why i said that it seems to be an addition of later ages is because these kind of spells and charms were also seen added in Atharva veda during later stages,6th-8th CE. to be precise.So its just an observation that magic charms culture,including Tantra,mantra,jantra became more prevalent during these times.

Relevance of Kamasutra in today's World 

The teachings of Kamasutra are quite practical and most of them are relevant even in today's world. Reading the seven volumes of Kamasutra was an eye opener unlike the common  perception its not a cheap erotic literature which people shy to talk about. Infact it's a treatise which teaches men and women to cultivate love and affection for each other and make sexual union possible not just for reproduction but also for their mental as well as physical well being. 

My initial aim for reading this book was to find its historical significance as before reading this I had no idea about the time period of its compilation and even though the text lacks in historical details but i assure you that the writers of Kamasutra appears to be the masters of their subject and very straightforward writers.They have not ornamented their words like most romantic/love authors do to create an impact instead they wrote it in a very simple and straight language which keeps a reader interested from beginning to the end of the book. 

To me it seems to be a very underrated work which needs to be presented in a more respectable form than it is presented in today's era. The responsibility lies with us to make people aware about its noble views on a man and woman's relation and the ancient Indian customs that reflect through its chapters emanating an aura of intellectualism and civility in the times when people all around the world were busy fighting for their empires. India has literally forgotten its own gift to the world and its prolific and legendary writers but the text in the end itself speaks about the immortality of the genius of its writers in the last page of this amazing compilation.
There may be disputes and discussions about the immortality of the body or the soul,nobody can deny the immortality of genius which ever remains as a bright and guiding star to the struggling humanities of succeeding ages. This work, then, which has stood the test of centuries has placed Vatsyayana among the immortals, and on this, and on him no better elegy or eulogy can be written than the following lines :  
''So long as the lips shall kiss,and eyes shall see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee''

Tags- Kamasutra book summary, Kamasutra knowledge, Kamasutra vatsyayana,

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