The History of Kamasutra: What is it?

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Some people mistakenly believe that the term Kamasutra refers to a sex manual with various images of sexual antics and intimate positions. These people are oblivious that the book only composed of 20% text about sex positions, and the remaining 80% describes the different philosophy to achieve and sustain the pleasures of life, love, and family relationship.

The Kamasutra or Kama Sutra is the oldest existent Indian Sanskrit textbook that elaborates the fundamental laws of human nature and love. In English, kama, one of the four goals of Hindu life, translates to “pleasure” or “desire,” while sutra means “treatise.” According to the legend, the sacred bull Nandi, the protector of the Indian God, presented the Kamasutra to man after it heard the lovemaking of Shiva and Parvati. Nandikeshvara wrote the original text and compiled 1,000 chapters, but Shvetaketu and Babhravya summarized the previous parts and consolidated it into 500 and 150 divisions, respectively.

Seven different authors namely Dattaka, Suvarnanabhak, Ghotakamukha, Gonardiya, Gonikaputra, Charayana, and Kuchumara divided the 150 chapters into seven parts and elaborated the text. Meanwhile, VatsyayanaMallanaga, a philosopher, compiled and systematized the book from various authors in the later part of the third century when he was in North India. Richard Burton, a Welsh actor, introduced the first English translation of the Kamasutra to the West in 1883 in Britain.

The book consists of 36 chapters and 1,250 verses divided into seven parts with various themes — Sadharana (Introduction), Samprayogika (Sexual Union), KanyaSamprayuktaka (Acquisition of Wife), Bharyadhikarika (Duties, Responsibilities, and Privileges of a Wife), Paradika (Seduction of Other People’s Wife), Vaisika (About Prostitutes), and Aupamishadika (Occult Practices).

The introductory part of the book contains five chapters with an overview of the three accomplishments of Virtue, Wealth, and Love, classification of man and woman and their genitals, arrangements of the household and daily life of the citizens. The second part, the sexual union, is a ten-chapter bit that explains 64 acts of sexual approaches such as petting, biting with teeth, marking with nails, oral sex, and sexual intercourse. Chapter three and four describes wives and their acquisition, while chapter five has six sections that dwell with the wives of other people. Dattaka expounded the sixth chapter about prostitutes, reunion with a former and steady lover, and various kinds of gains and losses at the request of the women from Pataliputra (Patna). The last section is a two-chapter part on improving physical attraction for both genders with the art of seduction and tonic medicines or aphrodisiacs to arouse the sexual power between them. 

Hindi philosophers believed that man needs to practice three of the four essential goals of the Hindu life — the Artha (prosperity), Dharma (virtue), and Kama (desire). The other purpose is the Moksha (Liberation) which a man shall attain on his death and reincarnation. There exists a hierarchy of these goals with Dharma at the top of the pyramid, followed by Artha and Kama at the bottom. In the second chapter of Kamasutra, Vatsyayana elaborated that these permissible goals should correspond together to avoid conflicts. Youth is the time to practice Artha and Kama, while a man should acquire Dharma in his old age to attain Moksha.

The Kamasutra recognizes that the five sensing abilities of a person can bring harm on oneself especially if the two lovers are too centered and concealed by sexual passion. Although there are several misconceptions about the Kamasutra, in profound thought, the textbook provides knowledge of the nature of human and love between man and woman.

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