In the West, “Kama Sutra” seems to be synonymous with contortionist sex positions — ones that combine acrobatics, yoga, and perhaps primeval pornography.
Well, this is only partially true.
Actually, the Kama Sutra covers a lot more than meets the Western eye, and to call the Kama Sutra a book of spicy sex positions is doing this sacred, ancient Hindu text a huge disservice.
Here’s why: It’s not fancy positions that turn everyday sex into tantric, sacred, lovemaking — that’s only really about 20% of it. True, sacred lovemaking is mostly about spirit and connection, which is precisely why the sexual positions only make up about 20% of the Kama Sutra.
The rest of this sacred text is a guide on the Art of Love and Living Virtuously; including, but certainly not limited to:
- The philosophy and nature of love
- Family life
- What triggers desire (and what sustains it)
- Proper grooming
- The practice of various arts, such as perfume mixing, poetry, and cooking
- Balancing feminine and masculine energies (in oneself and within a partnership)
- Many other faculties of (non-sexual) pleasure-oriented facets of life
What Is Kamasutra?
So, exactly what is Kamasutra?
The word “Kamasutra” comes from two different Sanskrit words — “kama” and “sutra”. Each word has a definite meaning. Combined, the two meanings make up the premise of the book.
The etymology of Kama Sutra: The most thrilling way to dissect words to gather meaning!
The word “kama” in Sanskrit means desire and is made up of both sensual and aesthetic desires. However, in regard to the Kamasutra, an emphasis is placed on sensual desire.
The word kama in Sanskrit can mean “love,” “desire,” or “pleasure.” This pleasure is not limited to sexual desire, but rather a broad term encompassing all the pleasures of life.
In most world religions, sexual desire is considered taboo.
However, Hinduism holds “kama” as one of the Four Goals of Hindu Life. In their goals of life, “kama” is followed by “artha” (abundance, success), “dharma” (virtue, truth), and “moksha” (release).
“Sutra” in Sanskrit means line or thread. It is the same root as the English word suture, the strands of a line that are used in medicine to seal wounds. However, Sutra here refers to a thread of verses that form a manual.
Where Does the Kama Sutra Come From?
The Kama Sutra was a book written between 400 – 200 BCE. The Indian philosopher and sage who wrote it, Vātsyāyana Mallanaga, compiled sexual teachings and wisdom as a form of meditation.
He claimed to be a celibate monk and did not record these teachings from personal experience. Rather, he condensed the lessons from the Kamashastra (the Rules of Love), which was composed hundreds of years earlier.
Exploring the Kama Sutra book
The Kamasutra was written in an abstract and obscure form of Sanskrit. Parts of it remain quite elusive and unrelatable in our modern era, even when translated to English.
Citing the work of various authors and sutras of much older texts, Vātsyāyana compiled what we know today as the Kama Sutra. It was written in a rather complex and abstract form of Sanskrit. It has 1,250 verses that are split into 36 chapters and further organized into seven different parts.
The Kama Sutra book is divided into seven parts
1. Dattaka — general principles
The first part is an introduction and background of the 4 aims of Hindu life, the Kama in particular. It prefaces the entire book with snippets of wisdom and philosophy on topics such as how to acquire knowledge and how to live honorably.
2. Suvarnanabha — amorous advances and sexual union
The second part dives right into the primeval pornographic ideas many westerners associate with the Kamasutra. It details 64 different types of sexual acts, such as embracing, kissing, moaning, slapping, sexual positions, and various other forms of erotica.
3. Ghotakamukha — acquiring a wife
The third section deals with living life as a bachelor and methods of courting a woman for marriage. These methods aren’t quite fitting for modern times and are mostly based on astrological compatibility and the benefits of marriage for the families involved (caste systems).
4. Gonardiya — duties and privileges of the wife
This section discusses the duties of the wife: cooking, cleaning, and catering to the husband. While these one-sided gender roles may have made sense 3,000 years ago, they are not so appropriate for present-day relationships.
5. Gonikaputra — other men’s wives
The fifth part describes the roles of males and females in a relationship regarding non-sexual intimacy. It includes understanding emotional sentiments and discussing ways to deepen emotional bonds.
6. Charayana — courtesans
The focus of this section is the man’s use of courtesans, or prostitutes, to build confidence before pursuing a wife. It also gives advice on mending past relationships with friends and lovers, attaining wealth, and finding a committed partner.
7. Kuchumara — occult practices
The Kama Sutra finishes with a section on sexual myths, legends, and practices to keep things exciting. This includes personal grooming, the use of perfumes and oils, home remedies for sexual dysfunction, and more.
Here is an excerpt from the Kamasutra regarding the varieties of moaning during sex:
“The whimper, the groan, the babble, the wail, the sigh, the shriek, the sob, and words with meaning, such as ‘Mother!’ ‘Stop!’ ‘Let go!’ or ‘Enough!’ Cries like those of doves, cuckoos, green pigeons, parrots, bees, moorhens, geese, ducks, and quails are important options for use in moaning.”
… Not quite your 21st-century sonic landscape.
Luckily, there has since been an updated version of the Kamasutra. The 15th century provided us with the Ananga-Ranga, a much more concise and comprehensible text about human sexual pleasure, which, for many centuries, actually superseded the Kama Sutra.
Altogether, the Kamasutra can be viewed as a guide to virtuous living, exploring the nature and philosophy of love, constructs of family life, and the various aspects of pleasure and desire.