The Kama Sutra is the earliest Hindu love-manual. It is written in a complex form of Sanskrit, the sacred, philosophical, and literary language of various Indian religions. In Sanskrit, the Kama Sutra literally means "a treatise on pleasure." The Kama Sutra was written by the Indian sage Vatsyayana sometime between the second and fourth centuries (about 1600-1800 years ago). His work was based on earlier Kama Shastras, or "Rules of Love," going back to at least the seventh century BC, or about 2,700 years ago. Despite the sexual nature of the work, Vatsyayana claimed to be a celibate monk. For him, the compilation of the sexual knowledge of ages served as a form of meditation and contemplation of the deity.1
After his death, Vatsyayana became known as the chief guide to Hindu eroticism. He inspired many other Indian authors to create their own "love manuals" that covered and expanded on many of the topics from the original Kama Sutra. The Kama Sutra was made available to English-speaking audiences by British explorer, translator, soldier, and diplomat Sir Richard Burton, who published the most widely-known translation in 1883. He provided the introduction and footnotes, but the bulk of the translation was completed by Indian archeologist Bhagvanlal Indraji, civil servant Foster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, and student Shivaram Pashuram Bhide.2
In contemporary Western cultures, the Kama Sutra is often referred to as the "bible of sex positions." The Kama Sutra, however, was not primarily meant as an instructional guide for better sex positions. Ten chapters describing 64 sexual acts and postures are broken into sections, such as types of embraces, biting and marking with teeth, and superior intercourse and oral sex. The remaining 26 chapters serve as a compendium of the social norms and love-customs of patriarchal seventh century Northern India.2 The Kama Sutra is valuable today for its psychological insights into the interactions and scenarios of love, and for the structured approach to the many diverse situations Vatsyayana describes. He categorizes the physical characteristics of males and females, describing which qualities would allow two people to be the most compatible lovers. He even provides detailed instructions for participating in extramarital relations, both with other men's wives and with courtesans.1
The Kama Sutra is divided into seven parts: general remarks (especially regarding society and social concepts), sexual union, wife acquisition, wife's duties and privileges, relations with other men's wives, courtesans, and attraction. The last section is essentially an appendix to the main work, detailing the formulation and use of substances common in Ayurvedic (indigenous Indian) medicine. It emphasizes aphrodisiacs, or plant-based substances meant to increase sexual desire, and Apadravyas, or objects put around the penis meant to supplement its length or thickness.2
The Kama Sutra was written for the wealthy male city-dweller. It was never intended to be a lover's guide for the masses, nor a "Tantric love-manual," as it has sometimes been described. However, because Tantra is an all-encompassing sensual science that emphasizes whole body-engagement and health, lovemaking positions and a full-body immersion into sex are relevant to the spiritual practice. About three hundred years after the Kama Sutra became popular, some of the lovemaking positions described in it were reinterpreted to encompass Tantric philosophies.1
Generally, Tantrikas (people who practice Tantra) recommend the use of only a few different love-postures during spiritual sex sessions. There are five principle positions deemed "normally appropriate" for these sessions. These principle Tantric lovemaking positions for heterosexual couples are:
· Man on his back, woman on top
· Woman on her back, man on top
· Woman and man on their sides, facing each other
· Woman with her back to the man
· Seated positions, normally face-to-face
Ideally these positions would provide the most complete and spiritual connection between two people during a love-making session.3
The Kama Sutra is the earliest surviving sexual "how-to." It succeeded in setting the stage for many works promoting sexual techniques, postures, potions, charms and superstitions over the centuries. Although Vatsyayana created one of the first systematic depictions of the sociological aspects of human sexuality in world literature, he intended it to provide readers with much more than that. At the close of the Kama Sutra, he writes, "This work is not to be used merely as an instrument for satisfying our desires. A person acquainted with the true principles of this science, who preserves his Dharma [virtue or religious merit], his Artha [worldly wealth] and his Kama [pleasure or sensual gratification], and who has regard to the customs of the people, is sure to obtain the mastery over his senses."2
3 LaCroix, Nitya. (1997). The Art of Tantric Sex. New York: DK Publishing.
Last Updated November 11, 2014.