The world’s oldest and most widely read guide to the pleasures and
techniques of sex, the Kama Sutra was compiled in the fourth century A.D.
by a Brahmin and religious scholar named Vatsyayana, who worked from
texts dating back to the fourth century B.C. Until the present, the only
English translation of this Hindu love classic was that of the famous
English explorer Sir Richard Burton, published in 1883.
Unlike Burton’s version, Alain Danielou’s new translation preserves the
numbered verse divisions of the original and includes two essential commentaries: the Jayamangala
commentary, written in Sanskrit by Yashodhara
during the Middle Ages, and a modern Hindi commentary by Devadatta
Shastri. Whereas Burton’s Victorian reluctance to translate certain terms
obscured our understanding of the philosophy and techniques of the Kama
Sutra, Danielou has preserved the full explicitness of the original, dealing with
everything from the art of scratching to relations with the wives of others.
Realistic and pragmatic in its approach, the Kama Sutra deals without
ambiguity or hypocrisy with all aspects of sexual life-including marriage,
adultery, prostitution, group sex, sadomasochism, male and female homosexuality, and transvestism. The text paints a fascinating portrait of an India
whose openness to sexuality gave rise to a highly developed expression of
Alain Danielou, in a career spanning six decades, has elucidated for
thousands of readers the meaning of the art, music, and religious traditions of both East and West. His numerous books include The Myths and
Gods of India, Gods of Love and Ecstacy, and Virtue, Success, Pleasure, and Liberation.
The Aims of Life
Since very ancient times, sometimes going back as far as what we term
prehistory, Indian thinkers have asked themselves questions about the
nature of the world and the position of man in creation. They considered matter as being formed of atoms, cells constituted by energetic
elements, organized according to mathematical formulas that define the
various elements under relatively stable and permanent forms. Life
presents a different problem. Being based on formulas, codes defining
the peculiarities of the various species, it only exists by transmitting
itself through temporary links. The species is permanent, but each link
has only a limited existence. Once it has transmitted the code that
defines its nature, it is itself destroyed. During its brief existence, each
link needs, for its own subsistence and self-transmission, to consume
energy, to nourish and protect itself. Furthermore, existing only as a
species, beings form interdependent communities and must observe
rules of social behavior. They therefore possess obligations--ethics-
that form part of their nature. This is particularly important for the
Life thus necessitates three kinds of activity: to assure its survival,
its means of existence, and its nourishment; to realize its reproduction
according to forms of activity generally connected with sexuality; and,
lastly, to establish rules of behavior that allow different individuals to
perform their roles within the framework of the species. In human
society, this is represented as three necessities, three aims of life: material goods (artha) assure survival; erotic practice (kama) assures the
transmission of life; and rules of behavior, a moral nature (dharma),
assure the cohesion and duration of the species. An ethical or social
nature forms part of the genetic code of the species whose collective
consciousness functions as it does in the individual. The various organs
playa different, although coordinated, role. This can be easily observed
in animal society, and in particular among insects.
The various members of society have distinct roles, and the ethical
duties of individuals differ according to their function. This is what is
known as svadharma, the ethical duty peculiar to each individual. In
Hindu society, function is considered in most cases as being hereditary,
whence the caste institution. Cases do exist, however, in which a function is acquired. This problem is raised by Vatsyayana in connection
with the moral code, or dharma, as applied to prostitutes.
Vatsyayana considers that individual ethics, meaning the accomplishing of one's individual social duty, are essential for success in the
domain of prosperity and love. He mentions belief in a future life as a
kind of wager, whether as transmigration or heaven, but on the whole
sides with the materialists who, without denying the possibility, deem
it too problematical for consideration. The commentators, Yashodhara
and Devadatta Shastri, on the other hand, side with the believers.
A fourth aim-represents perception of the supernatural and the
continued existence of certain acquirements of the mind beyond life's
limits, and is called liberation (moksha). This aspect is contemplated by
what is called religion, but remains a separate domain, considered as
peculiar to mankind, even though a perception of the supernatural
probably exists among other species.
As far as the necessities of life are concerned, only the first three
aims are therefore considered.
These aims are mentioned in the most ancient texts, the Vedas, the
Puranas, the Laws of Manu, the Mahabharata, and so forth, but their
practical definition is mainly known through the codes established during
what is called the period of the Sutras which, according to Max Muller,
runs from the birth of Buddha (500 B.C.) to the accession of Ashoka
Writing disappeared in India during the second millennium before
our era, as a result of the Aryan invasions, and only reappeared toward
the eighth century B.C., in new forms-first Brahmi, which was of
Phoenician origin, followed in the seventh century by Kharoshti, of
Aramaean origin. Although their antiquity is unquestioned, the Vedas as
well as all the other forms of ancient knowledge were only put into
written form starting from this period. Knowledge, which had been
previously transmitted orally, was then codified in Sanskrit, which had
become the instrument of culture. It is not certain whether even Panini's
famous grammar was originally a written text. Thus it was that, starting
from the seventh century B.C., the basic texts concerning the aims of
life were transcribed in the Artha Shastra, Dharma Shastra, and Kama
The Predecessors of Vatsyayana
The first formulation of the Kama Shastra, or rules of love, is attributed
to Nandi, Shiva's companion.
During the eighth century B.C., Shvetaketu, son of Uddalaka, undertook the summary of Nandi's work. The date is known, since
Uddalaki and Shvetaketu are the protagonists of the Brihat Aranyaka
Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad, which are usually dated to this
period and contain important passages connected with erotic science.
A man of letters called Babhru, together with his sons or disciples,
known as the Babhravya, made an important written work, summarizing the too-vast work of Shvetaketu. The Babhravya came originally
from Panch ala, a region located between the Ganges and the Yamuna,
to the south of present-day Delhi, but most probably lived in the city
of Pataliputra, the great center of the kingdom of Chandragupta, which
resisted Alexander's invasion in the fourth century and became the seat
of the Ashoka empire a century later.
Between the third and first centuries B.C., several authors took up
parts of the Babhravya work in various treatises. The said authors are
Charayana, Suvarnanabha, Ghotakamukha, Gonardiya, Gonikaputra, and
more especially Dattaka who, with the aid of a famous courtesan of
Pataliputra, composed a work on courtesans which Vatsyayana reproduces almost entirely.
The text of Suvarnanabha must date from the first century B.C.,
since it mentions a king of Kuntala (to the south of Pataliputra), named
Shatakarni Shatavahana, who reigned at this time and who killed his
wife accidentally in the course of sadistic practices.
On the other hand, Yashodhara, at the beginning of his commentary, attributes the origin of erotic science to Mallanaga, the "prophet
of the Asuras" (the ancient gods), meaning to prehistoric times. Nandi,
Shiva's companion, is then said to have transcribed it for mankind
today. The attribution of the first name Mallanaga to Vatsyayana is due
to the confusion of his role as editor of the Kama Sutra with that of the
mythical creator of erotic science.
The Author of the Kama Sutra
Vatsyayana appears to have been a Brahman and a great man of letters,
residing in the city of Pataliputra around the fourth century A.D., at a
time of widespread cultural effervescence known as the Gupta period.
The fact that Varaha Mihira in his Brihad Samhita, dating from the
sixth century, draws his inspiration from the Kama Sutra, and the mention of King Shatakarni Shatavahana, who lived in the first century
B.C., determines the limits for the possible dates of the Kama Sutra.
According to Vatsyayana, the various works belonging to the Kama
Shastra had become difficult to access. For this reason, he undertook to
collect them and summarize them in his Kama Sutra, which thus became the classic work on the subject.
It was while staying in the city of Benares for purposes of religious
study that he managed to collect the works from which he drew his
inspiration and from which he quotes important passages. The Kama
Sutra thus describes the customs of the Maurya period (fourth century
B.C.), reviewed during the Gupta period (fourth century A.D.). The fact
that the Kama Sutra is a compilation of works of the Maurya period
explains the similarities in composition and style with the Artha Shastra
of Kautilya, the minister of Chandragupta, as well as the numerous
references to this work.
The Kama Sutra does not claim to be an original work, but a
compilation. Vatsyayana states, on the other hand, that he himself had
checked through personal experience the practices he describes.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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