The Kama Sutra (Kamasutram), is the earliest surviving example of a written Hindu love-manual. It was compiled by the Indian sage Vatsyayana sometime between the second and fourth centuries A.C.E. His work was based on earlier Kama Shastras or “Rules of Love” going back to at least the seventh century B.C.E., and is a compendium of the social norms and love-customs of patriarchal Northern India around the time he lived.

The Kama Sutra is most notable of a group of texts known generically as Kama Shastra (Sanskrit: Kama Sastra). Traditionally, the first transmission of Kama Shastra or “Discipline of Kama” is attributed to Nandi the sacred bull, Shiva’s doorkeeper, who was moved to sacred utterance by overhearing the lovemaking of the god and his wife Parvati and later recorded his utterances for the benefit of mankind.

The Kama Sutra was written for the wealthy male city-dweller. It is not, and was never intended to be, a lover’s guide for the masses, nor is it a “Tantric love-manual.” About three hundred years after the Kama Sutra became popular, some of the love-making positions described in it were reinterpreted in a Tantric way. Since Tantra is an all-encompassing sensual science, love-making positions are relevant to spiritual practice.

Etymology

  • Sutra signifies a thread, or discourse threaded on a series of aphorisms or concise rules. By definition a sutra is a brief, aphoristic statement.[5] Sutra was a standard term for a technical text, thus also the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ludo Rocher categorizes the Kama Sutra as a typical example of a work written in sutra style.
  • Kama is a Sanskrit word that has the general meanings of “wish”, “desire”, and “intention” in addition to the specific meanings of “pleasure” and “(sexual) love”. Used as a proper name it refers to Kama, the Hindu god of Love. The following definition of Kama is given in chapter two of the Kama Sutra, as translated by Richard Burton:

“Kama is the enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling, 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 that contact is called Kama.”

Content

Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra is divided into seven parts; general remarks, amorous advances, acquiring a wife, duties and privileges of a wife, relations with other men’s wives, and a section about courtesans and occult means. The seventh and last part of the Kama Sutra is an appendix to the main work. It includes detailed formulations of substances familiar to Ayurvedic (Indian indigenous) medicine, with the emphasis on virilifics and aphrodisiacs. Some magical procedures of a type that in later times would be described as Tantric, are also found in the last chapter of the Kama Sutra.

Terminology

The terminology used by Vatsyayana is context specific. For example, when he uses the word Yoga he is referring to sexual intercourse, the word Tantra means to him “method,” “technique,” or “mechanics,” and he uses the word Yantra to mean the sexual organ “utilized as an instrument,” or to mean a dildo or “artificial love device.” Lingam specifically refers to the male sex organ, while Yoni refers to the female sex organ.

Spiritual goals and pleasure

Indian tradition includes the following “four main goals of life”, known as the purusharthas:

  1. Dharma: Virtuous living.
  2. Artha: Material prosperity.
  3. Kama: Aesthetic and erotic pleasure.
  4. Moksha: Liberation.

Dharma, Artha and Kama are aims of everyday life, while Moksha is release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Of the first three, virtue is the highest goal, a secure life the second and pleasure the least important. When motives conflict, the higher ideal is to be followed. Thus, in making money virtue must not be compromised, but earning a living should take precedence over pleasure. There are exceptions. The Kama Sutra (Burton translation) says:

“Dharma is better than Artha, and Artha is better than Kama. But Artha should always be first practised by the king for the livelihood of men is to be obtained from it only. Again, Kama being the occupation of public women, they should prefer it to the other two, and these are exceptions to the general rule.” (Kama Sutra 1.2.14)

Kama Sutra is thus less about the pursuit of pleasure than about how to enjoy sensory pleasures in the context of a virtuous and rewarding life. In childhood, Vatsyayana says, a person should learn how to make a living, youth is the time for pleasure, as years pass one should concentrate on living virtuously and hope to escape the cycle of rebirth.

Kama Sutra and tantra

The Kama Sutra is sometimes wrongly thought of as a manual for tantric sex , but it has hardly any resemblance to any known Tantra, nor do any Tantras resemble it, except in their common inclusion of brief descriptions of love postures. Nevertheless, the Kama Sutra is the earliest surviving sexual “how-to” and set the stage for many others, including those in which sexual techniques, postures, potions, charms and superstitions were promoted over the centuries.

Enlarge Kama Sutra On Jain Temple

Translations

The most widely known English translation of the Kama Sutra was popularized by the famous traveler and author Sir Richard Francis Burton and compiled by his colleague Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot in 1883. The bulk of the translation was produced by two often overlooked Indian scholars, Bhagavanlal Indrajit and Shivaram Parashuram Bhide. An influential recent translation is that of Indra Sinha, published in 1980. In the early 1990s its chapter on lovemaking positions began circulating on the internet as an independent text and today is often assumed to be the whole of the Kama Sutra. Alain DaniƩlou contributed a translation called The Complete Kama Sutra in 1994. This translation featured the original text attributed to Vatsayana, along with a medieval and modern commentary. It was translated again in 2002 by Wendy Doniger, the professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, and Sudhir Kakar, the Indian psychoanalyst and senior fellow at Center for Study of World Religions at Harvard University.

Sources: Tantraworks, wikipedia

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