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Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love and lust.
Kama shastra is a collection of Indian texts about the aspects of love, sex, and pleasure. The texts were used as guidelines for both men and
women on how to achieve a fulfilling sensual life (Neelkanth, 2007). In Sanskrit, “Kama” means love, and “shastra” (sastra) literally means disciplines. “Kama” is also derived from Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love and lust (Neelkanth, 2007).
Origin and translation
Although no exact date can be pinpointed, the Kamashastra was written between the 2nd and 3rd century by many different authors. Mallanaga Vatsyayana, an Indian sage, wrote the Kama sutra, which is the oldest surviving text in the Kamashastra (Hardgrove, 2008). The earliest European interpretations of the Kamashastra were done by Victorian Orientalist translators Sir Robert Burton and Foster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot. They first translated the
, which were originally intended to be for “private circulation” only in the Hindoo Kama Shastra Society (Ali, 2011). This was done to take advantage of a loophole in the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. Once more texts were translated, scholars divided the Kamashastra into different volumes (Grant, 2005).
The three objectives of life
The Kamashastra was written as a manual for humans to help them reach meaning and fulfillment in life. In Hinduism, humans have three goals in order to live a fulfilling life: Dharma, Artha, and Kama. Dharma is religion, Artha is luxuries or wealth, and Kama is love and desire (Burton, 1883). It is believed that people cannot achieve other physical comforts without proper understanding of Kama. For example, the purpose of marriage is to experience carnal pleasures. A marriage is therefore pointless, and maybe even dysfunctional, if either person is not knowledgeable about Kama. The Indian people in ancient times took the objectives very seriously and looked to the Kamashastra for guidance. It communicated the norms and disciplined actions that aided them in areas such as marriage and sex (Neelkanth, 2007).
Tile depicting a "woman-on-top" sex position of the Kama sutra.
Perhaps the m
ost widely known and studied text in the Kamashastra is the Kama sutra. It explicitly addressed sex and relationships and illustrated different sex positions that were believed to enhance sexual and carnal experiences. Topics that were discussed in the text are how to acquire a wife, how a wife should be, other men’s wives, courtesans, an
d how to attract people to one’s self. It also talked about kissing, embracing, oral sex, and sexual intercourse in detail. An updated and revised version of the Kama sutra is the Ananga Ranga, which was written in the 15th century. It kept the basic tenets of the Kama sutra but was written in a more accessible form of Sanskrit (Hardgrove, 2008).
In education and research
Today, the Kama sutra and other texts from the Kamashastra are used by researchers and historians to learn more about the social mores in ancient Indian societies, especially those concerning sex and sexuality. They also provided people a way to evaluate the status of women in Indian societies. Upon its introduction to the West, the Kamashastra has instrumental in breaking down sexual barriers. The first translations and circulation of the texts challenged Victorian ideas and social mores, which emphasized sexual restraint and stifle (Ali, 2011).
The Joy of Sex book cover.
Influence on modern sexuality
Texts in the Kamashastra, particularly the Kama sutra, have influenced the production of sex “how to” books. The most successful one of these books is The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Love Making by Dr. Alex Comfort, which was first published in 1972. Since then, it has sold millions of copies. He also followed up with The New Joy of Sex and More Joy of Sex. Comfort emphasized how Indian and other non-Western countries had “rich and refined” erotic cultures while Western societies did not. He also aimed to break down fear of sexuality and “give people permission” to explore their sexuality (Douglas, 1996).
Ali, D. (2011). Rethinking the history of the Kama world in early India.
Journal of Indian Philosophy
Burton, R. (1883).
The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana
. London: Hindoo Kama Shastra Society.
Douglas, N. (1996).
Spritiual Sex: Secrets of Tantra from the Ice Age to the New Millenium.
New York: Pocket.
Grant, Ben. (2005). Translating/ ‘the’ Kama Sutra.
Third World Quarterly, 26(3),
Hardgrove, A. (2008, May 27). A Brief History of the Kama Sutra.
Joy Of Sex image. Retrieved April 9, 2011 from
Kamadeva image. Retrieved April 9, 2011 from
Kamasutra sex position image. Retrieved April 9, 2011 from
Neelkanth Dham Temple. (2007).
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