Most people think of the Kama Sutra as a book full of different sex positions, however the Kama Sutra is much more than that. The reason why we (in the western part of the world) think of it as a sex book is because of the Englishman Richard Burton. He stumbled upon the book during his travels in the 19th century and translated the ancient book in a way where the main focus was on the different sex positions. This translation is however not at all what the book is about! So, what is the Kama Sutra then you ask? Well, continue reading and you’ll find out!
The original Kama Sutra
The original Kama Sutra is an ancient Indian Sanskrit text based on sexuality, eroticism and emotional fulfilment in life. It has 1250 verses, distributed over 36 chapters in 64 sections, organised into 7 books. It was written by Vātsyāyana, an ancient Indian philosopher. He wrote the books mainly as a guide to the art of living well, the nature of finding love, finding a life partner, maintaining one’s love life and other aspects that were pleasure-oriented parts of human life. Sex as described by Vatsayana is ‘mannered, moral, social, and above all civilised’.
The Kama Sutra is the oldest surviving Hindu text on erotic love. The book mentions topics such as desire, sexuality and emotional fulfilment as one of the proper goals of life. He teaches about the methods for courtship, training in the arts to be socially engaging, finding a partner, flirting, maintaining power in a married life, sexual positions, but also many other non-sexual topics. The majority of the book is about the philosophy and theory of love, what triggers desire, what sustains it, and how and when it is good or bad.
What does Kama Sutra mean?
In most world religions, sexual desire is considered taboo, however in Hinduism it is considered part of human life. Hinduism teaches about the Four Goals of Hindu Life, which are Dharma (Virtue, Truth), Artha (Abundance, Success), Moksha (Release) and Kama (Desire).
The word “Kama” in Sanskrit means “desire” in both a sensual and aesthetic way. However, in regard to the Kama Sutra, the focus is on sensual desire. The word “Sutra” in Sanskrit means “thread” referring to the thread of verses that form a manual.
So, the Kama Sutra should be looked upon as a manual to the art of love and living virtuously and not a vulgar sex book.
What happened during translation?
Vātsyāyana wrote the Kama Sutra as a quite complex and difficult to understand form of Sanskrit. Even when translated into English, the ideas are a bit abstract to the modern reader. This is probably why Richard Burton’s version of the text was so far off from the original. It was simply to difficult to understand and therefore completely misread during translation.
The Kama Sutra as we know it!
In the 15th century a kind of updated version of the Kama Sutra was written, the Ananga Ranga. This book is more like the one as we now know it to be. It provides us with an easier to understand text about the human sexual pleasure. You can read the full Ananga Ranga text here.
What do you think of the Kamasutra? Did you know about the origin and its translation? Let me know in the comments!