The exact origins of the Kama Sutra are quite vague, but it was written between the 1st and 4th centuries AD by a man called Vatsyayana, who lived in the North Indian city of Benares – now called Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India.
It was first translated into English by the 19th Century British explorer Sir Richard F. Burton in 1876. Born in 1821, the adventurer, who spoke 25 languages, came across the Kama Sutra in Bombay in 1842 and became fascinated with Indian erotica. Following a visit to a prostitute, Burton, who had three Indian mistresses said:
“We British never knew of this kind of love-making. Had we known, we would not have ruined the lives of so many British virgins.”
In 1883 Burton risked prosecution and imprisonment under the Obscene Publications Act after publishing 250 copies of the Kama Sutra privately in Britain. The book did not become legal in Britain until 1963.
It was written in the ancient Sanskrit language. In Sanskrit, Kama means desire and Sutra means rules. In the context of the book “desire” includes singing, reading, poetry and dancing as well as sex.
The Kama Sutra contains a total of 64 sexual positions. Vatsyayana believed there were eight ways of making love, multiplied by eight positions within each of these. In the book, they are known as the 64 Atrs.
Only about 20 per cent of the book is devoted to sexual positions. The remainder gives guidance on how to be a good citizen and insights into men and women in relationships, a bit like Men Are From Mars & Women Are From Venus.
The Kama Sutra describes making love as “divine union”. Vatsyayana believed that sex itself was not wrong, but doing it badly was sinful.
Lovers who suffer from medical complaints such as back pain and arthritis are warned not to attempt some of the Kama Sutra’s positions. Vatsyayana states: “They predispose for rheumatic pains and sciatica.”
After Burton published the Kama Sutra the prudish British Raj banned the book in India. At the same time they also stopped temple prostitutes and child marriages.
The Kama Sutra may have originated in India, but in 1996 the authorities there clamped down on the film “Kama Sutra – A Tale Of Love” and demanded that 14 explicit scenes were cut before it was fit to be shown to Indian audiences.
Code breakers also find the Kama Sutra fascinating as it contains instructions for making messages unreadable – one of the earliest books to do this. The Kama Sutra included encryption as an art a woman should study, presumably to help her make secret meetings with her lovers.
Kama is the Hindu god of love. The word also refers to the pursuit of love or pleasure, one of the four aims of life in Hindu traditions. Kama is always depicted as a handsome youth, shooting arrows of love that produce love. His wife is Rati.
According to the book a man becomes irresistible to women if he ties the bone of a peacock or hyena which has been covered in gold to his right hand.
It recommends both biting and scratching as ways of improving love-making, but insists on high standards of cleanliness. It states:
“The qualities of good nails are that they should be bright, well set, clean, entire, convex, soft, and glossy in appearance. The defects of teeth on the other hand are that they are blunt, protruding from the gums, rough, soft, large, or loosely set.”
The Kama Sutra also gives tips on the best ways to arrange a house. It suggests that people will be happiest if they have a pot for spitting in, a lute hanging from an elephant’s tooth, a soft bed and pots of flowers
A chapter is devoted to methods of seducing and getting away with sleeping with other men’s wives. But at the end Vatsyayana does admit that men shouldn’t make love to married women.
The book contains an early recipe for Viagra. It suggests that sparrows eggs boiled in milk and then mixed with clarified butter and honey will do wonders for a man’s love life.
There are 10 methods of kissing in the Kama Sutra (including) – the nominal kiss, the probing kiss, the touching kiss, the straight kiss, the bent kiss, the turned kiss, the pressed kiss and the greatly pressed kiss – and four ways to administer the kiss. That gives a total of 40 different ways to kiss a lover.
In April 1998 former president Bill Clinton was handed a copy of the Kama Sutra as he did a walk-about with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Cretien after the Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile.
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