Reading the Kama Sutra

So last Valentine’s Day, I received an interesting gift in the mail from an exe; it was a dog-eared copy of an old translation of the Kama Sutra, with a troll-face sticker on the inside of the cover. I have no idea why she thought doing this was funny, but it turned out that I found the book rather interesting (if a bit of a long read).

As you probably know, the Kama Sutra is an old series of texts written in ancient India by a philosopher known as Vātsyāyana. The book’s title apparently translates as “the binding thread of desire” and the contents is around Kama Sastra, which translates as “the science of desire”. Point is, it’s a manual that concerns maintaining good romantic relations and a healthy sexuality.

Kama is basically one of three goals in life that one should seek to attain during their existence in order to make the most of it. The other two are Dharma (following the commands of Hindu holy writ) and Artha (the acquisition of property, art, wealth, friends, and the like). These three areas are to be engaged in at separate points in life so that they harmonized rather than conflict with each other. Apparently it is recommended by some that one practices Artha and Kama during the youth and middle ages while following the path of Dharma later in life in order to achieve Moksha (release from the cycle of rebirth, which seems to me to be connected with Nirvana in Buddhism).

Incidentally, apparently one most also study arts such as dancing, singing, tattooing, painting, riddles and enigmatic conversation, cooking, acting, and other creative endeavors alongside the science of desire in order to enhance ones ability to woo and maintain the affections of another. A pity that I don’t know any good jokes about sapiophilia, but I can definitely buy into this. There is also an elaboration on the various categories of women that one should not

Of course, this is all from the introductory first part. Part II is about Sexual Union, and its first chapter is titled “Kinds of Sexual Unions According to Dimensions, Force of Desire or Passion, Time Kind of Union”. Obviously, this is where things get more into the nitty-gritty of Kama. For dimensions, we have the three categories of penis length and corresponding vagina depth and the ways in which they should or should not be paired together. Following that is a listing of the various kinds of passionate people that exist and the various heterosexual pairings they may form, as well as the pairings that should not form as they would not be happy unions. The next few chapters respectively concern the various aspects and types of embrace (touching, holding, etc.), the types of and places for kissing, marking and scratching, when and with who it is or is not appropriate to bite, the various positions for good congress, and more technical stuff that you can more-or-less find in any book that claims to be based off of this one.

With Part III, we leave behind the methods of physical pleasure and dive into the art of finding a wife. Due to cultural and temporal dissonance, I doubt that much of these is applicable to world societies at large, which is probably why modern publications that reference to Kama Sutra do not seem to include such a section (of course, it is more likely that they are just marketing it to people only interested for the sex tips). Still, I like the fact that there are bodies of text dedicated to the proper courtship of a women and of building trust and confidence in one’s spouse-to-be. It is for these purposes that all of those aforementioned (and some unmentioned) creative arts should be put to good use by the suitor. The second chapter of this section further elaborates on the practices necessary for a man to attract a woman, while also providing insight for woman on how they should go about attracting a man. Incidentally, for some of the man’s endeavors the aid of a female friend may be required. The endeavors of the girl, meanwhile, seem to have been a point of contention among the author and other scholars (something about there being no dignity for a girl who actively pursues or something). The perspective presented here deems it alright to show affection so long as it’s done in a seemingly demur fashion (by the way, I’m significantly oversimplifying most of the content here).

The following chapter concerns the forms of marriage, and the whos, whats, and hows of making them work. After that, we got the first chapter of the fourth section, a chapter which concerns the manners in which a woman behaves in order to be considered virtuous, and how a proper wife should behave when her husband is away. Besides the obvious, this includes avoiding the company of female beggars, “loose” women, and witches, as well as proper conduct when in public or private company. There’s also some stuff on when are for what to she should shop.

After this, we get elaborations on the conduct of widows, the divorced, and those who are getting remarried. This doesn’t seem to have to much to do with desire at first, but considering how the science of desire is what this book establishes as a fundamental part of married life, it is appropriate to include the methods of handling the end and restarting of such unions. Meanwhile, I would say that the inclusion of the conduct and manners of a king’s harem members is a no brainer.

Further into the book, we have elaboration on the ways to acquaint oneself with a desired woman, as well as the proper behavior to engage in for each of the different ways she might react to the man’s advances (the latter of which is written about in a chapter titled Examination’s of a Woman’s Mind”, which to my approval explains stuff like how one must not continue with pursuit if various signs of reciprocation are not observed). Apparently a go-between may be involved in the pursuit, possibly a female friend of the man who manages to gain the confidence of the woman in order to function in a manner similar to a shill (not so much a wingman). I suppose that help from a third party is an old tradition among the courting, especially when said courting involves those not too familiar with each other.

There’s also information on how royals of both sexes may maintain a harem, what sort of consequences there are for sneaking into one’s harem, and how a man should keep his wife from having one (some kings hire sentinels to keep the royal wives from taking lovers, a fact that I find kind of ironic). It is from here that the Kama Sutra moves on to the subject of courtesans and how they maintain sexual pleasure while also using it to further their goals and such. Apparently there are set standards one needs to meet—both physically and intellectually—in order to either be a courtesan or worthy of associating with one. There’s like six chapters in the part concerning the nature and proper conduct of a good courtesan; the next few chapters concerning making oneself more desirable to the opposite sex, plus “medicinal” methods of increasing pleasure during intercourse (not sure if they work or not).

There is much information in this collection of texts that concerns the natures and manners of the relations between men and woman as viewed by the old Hindus. The values are culture specific in multiple spots, but the practical information and basic concepts seem like they could be of almost universal usefulness. Really, how many other sources do you know that include in depth writings on how to form and maintain stable romantic relations as well as tips for better sex? As someone who has failed at romantic endeavors quite a few times over, I think there is much here that from which a considerate individual can learn.

At the very least, it provides a new way of looking at something that I feel is familiar to the point of being taken for granted in western culture these days.

By the way, anyone interested can purchase a similar translation to the one I own here

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