Kama Sutra

From New World Encyclopedia

The Kama Sutra (properly called Kamasutram meaning "threads of pleasure"), is an ancient Indian text widely considered to be the standard work on love in Sanskrit literature. A portion of the work deals with human sexual behavior. The text is traditionally attributed to the authorship of Mallanaga Vatsyayana; however, the historian John Keay argues that the work is a compendium, which was redacted into its present form in the second century C.E.[1]

The Kama Sutra is the most notable example of a group of texts known generically as Kama Shastra (Sanskrit: Kāma Śāstra).[2] 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.[3]

Due to its association with sexual intimacy, many stereotypes about the text have developed in the western popular culture. However, Indra Sinha states, “The Kama Sutra is neither a sex-manual nor, as also commonly believed, a sacred or religious work. It is certainly not a tantric text. In opening with a discussion of the three aims of ancient Hindu life—dharma, artha and kama—Vatsyayana's purpose is to set kama, or enjoyment of the senses, in context. Thus dharma or virtuous living is the highest aim, artha, the amassing of wealth is next, and kama is the least of the three.”[4]


Kama (काम kāma) 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".[5] 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."[6]

Sutra (सूत्र sūtra) signifies a thread, or discourse threaded on a series of aphorisms or concise rules.[7] By definition a sutra is a brief, aphoristic statement.[8] 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.[9]


The Mallanaga Vatsyayana's Kama Sutra has 36 chapters, organized into seven parts.[10] Both according to Burton and Wendy Doniger translations, the contents of the book are structured into seven parts like the following:

1. Introductory
Chapters on contents of the book, three aims and priorities of life, the acquisition of knowledge, conduct of the well-bred townsman, reflections on intermediaries who assist the lover in his enterprises (five chapters).
2. On sexual union
Chapters on stimulation of desire, embraces types, caressing and kisses, marking with nails, biting and marking with teeth, on copulation (positions), slapping by hand and corresponding moaning, virile behavior in women, superior coition and oral sex, preludes and conclusions to the game of love. It describes 64 types of sexual acts (ten chapters).
3. About the acquisition of a wife
Chapters on forms of marriage, relaxing the girl, obtaining the girl, managing alone, union by marriage (five chapters).
4. About a wife
Chapters on conduct of the only wife and conduct of the chief wife and other wives (two chapters).
5. About the wives of other people
Chapters on behavior of woman and man, encounters to get acquainted, examination of sentiments, the task of go-between, the king's pleasures, behavior in the gynoecium (six chapters).
6. About courtesans
Chapters on advice of the assistants on the choice of lovers, looking for a steady lover, ways of making money, renewing friendship with a former lover, occasional profits, profits and losses (six chapters).
7. On the means of attracting others to one's self
Chapters on improving physical attractions, arousing a weakened sexual power (two chapters).

Pleasure and spirituality

Indian tradition includes following the "four main goals of life",[11][12] known as the purusharthas:[13]

1) Dharma: Virtuous living
2) Artha: Material prosperity
3) Kama: Aesthetic and erotic pleasure.[14][15]
4) Moksha: Liberation

Dharma, Artha and Kama are aims of everyday life, while Moksha is release from the cycle of death and rebirth. 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)[16]

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, but there are exceptions.

In childhood, Vātsyāyana 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.[17]

The Kama Sutra is sometimes wrongly thought of as a manual for tantric sex. While sexual practices do exist within the very wide tradition of Hindu tantra, the Kama Sutra is not a tantric text, and does not touch upon any of the sexual rites associated with some forms of tantric practice.


The most widely known English translation of the Kama Sutra was made by the famous traveler and author Sir Richard Francis Burton and compiled by his colleague Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot in 1883. Historian Burjor Avari has criticized Burton's translation as "inadequate," having had the result that the book gained a reputation in the West of being a pornographic work.[18]

A 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.[19]

Alain Daniélou 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. Their translation provides a psychoanalytic interpretation of the text.[20]


  1. Keay, pp. 81, 103.
  2. For Kama Sutra as the most notable of the kāma śāstra literature see: Flood, 1996, p. 65.
  3. For Nandi reporting the utterance see: Alain Daniélou, The Complete Kama Sutra: The First Unabridged Modern Translation of the Classic Indian Text (Inner Traditions: 1993, ISBN 0-89281-525-6), 3.
  4. Common misconceptions about Kama Sutra Retrieved March 2, 2008.
  5. Arthur Anthony Macdonell, A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, p. 66.
  6. Quotation from the translation by Richard Burton taken from Chapter II Retrieved March 2, 2008.
  7. Arthur Anthony Macdonell, A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, p. 357.
  8. For definition of sutra as a brief, aphoristic statement see: Ludo Rocher, "The Dharmaśāstras," in Flood, 2003, p. 104.
  9. Ludo Rocher, "The Dharmaśāstras," in Flood, 2003, p. 104.
  10. Book, see index pages by Wendy Doniger. Retrieved March 2, 2007.
  11. For the Dharma Śāstras as discussing the "four main goals of life" (dharma, artha, kāma, and moksha) see: Hopkins, p. 78.
  12. For dharma, artha, and kama as "brahmanic householder values" see: Flood, 1996, p. 17.
  13. For definition of the term पुरुष-अर्थ (puruṣa-artha) as "any of the four principal objects of human life, i.e. धर्म, अर्थ, काम, and मोक्ष" see: Apte, p. 626, middle column, compound #1.
  14. For kāma as one of the four goals of life (kāmārtha) see: Flood, 1996, p. 65.
  15. For definition of kāma as "erotic and aesthetic pleasure" see: Flood, 1996, p. 17.
  16. Quotation from the translation by Richard Burton taken from Chapter 2 Retrieved March 2, 2008.
  17. Book I, Chapter ii, Lines 2-4 Vatsyayana Kamasutram Electronic Sanskrit edition: Titus Texts, University of Frankfurt bālye vidyāgrahaṇādīn artʰān, kāmaṃ ca yauvane, stʰāvire dʰarmaṃ mokṣaṃ ca
  18. Avari, 2007, p. 171.
  19. Sinha, p. 33.
  20. Avari, 2007, p. 171.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Apte, Vaman Shivram. 1965. The Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. ISBN 81-208-0567-4
  • Avari, Burjor. 2007. India: The Ancient Past. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-35616-9
  • Daniélou, Alain. 1993. The Complete Kama Sutra: The First Unabridged Modern Translation of the Classic Indian Text. Inner Traditions. ISBN 0-89281-525-6
  • Flood, Gavin. 1996. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43878-0
  • Flood, Gavin (ed.). 2003. The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-4051-3251-5
  • Hopkins, Thomas J. 1971. The Hindu Religious Tradition. Cambridge: Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Keay, John. 2000. India: A History. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3797-0
  • Sinha, Indra. 1999. The Cybergypsies. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-60034-158-5
  • Sudhir Kakar and Wendy Doniger. 2003. Kamasutra (Oxford World's Classics). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283982-9

External links

All links retrieved October 4, 2022.


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