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My aim is to attempt to prove that the Kamasutra is far from being a work of erotic fantasy. It is both an ideal and a religious text but not in my opinion erotic. It is also an example of the many frameworks and cultural habits of ancient India. Probably written by a Brahmin, it was designed as an instruction of the legitimate boundaries of pleasure. Kamasutra simply means pleasure (karma) scripture (sutra). The Kamasutra, as I will attempt to prove, is another display of a cultural adoration of division and classification so as to accommodate the cosmic order called Rita; a concept of every thing being designed and ordered.
It seems to be more about control than eroticism; it must be controlled because of its ties to power and purity. Power of the man in Indian society plan a large role before western influence in the 19th century. Moreover, depending on ones class, power and authority must be respected.
Purity is a major theme of ancient India, especially for the Brahman, as the Brahman have studied the work of the Vedas of Dharma they enforce the laws surrounding purity.
For example, Brahman were meant to be strict vegetarians. Moreover, the food could only be cooked by another Brahmin as they are the only class pure enough to perform such an act. As women were culturally seen as “creatures of lust” there simply had to be laws and frameworks on how to intercourse and interact with woman. Moreover, there are so many bodily fluids involved in intercourse that it was considered extremely impure like a form of pollution.
Dharma has often split into several sections comprised of these types; Asramadharma, Varnadharma, Varnasramadharma, Gunadharma, Naimittakadharma and Sadharanadharma. The common feature in all these types is that one must help themselves in addition to what they are in terms of their class. Nothing is presupposed and this is why a Brahman might take it upon himself to write a sutra for regulating pleasure.
One can see that it is a religious text within the context of varnasramadharma which is a list of four things to aim for; these are Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa. For Artha the Arthasastra was written on wealth so it is only fitting that there should be literature on Kama.
The Kamasutra talks of a Nagaraka; this is an idealised “man of the town” whose life is meticulously designed. His ideal life, house and even his daily routine is described in order to portray a perfectly balanced (like Dharma and Rita) and beautiful environment. He is an unrealistic ideal; it even goes as far as to say he should be treated as divinity. This comes after the list of 64 arts, in accordance with a tradition of lists, to which females were expected to master as a way of pleasing men. These would include singing, dancing and many more of the arts. These constant lists and the Kamasutra it’s self could partly be seen as an attempt to fill all possible spaces in life so that Dharma is fully respected; we see this too in the temples which were covered in every space with forms. The Kamasutra is also depicted in the temples as it is a model for Gods and Goddesses also. One example of the Kamasutra as an expression of art would be seen in the Kujeraho temple.
The Kamasutra then goes on to lay down rules of relationships. In accordance with the laws of Dharma it states that the ideal marriage would be to a virgin of one’s own class simply as a means to producing sons. It is interesting that we can see the tradition of females holding less weight of importance in ancient India from a feminist point of view. In the treatise of Dharma it actually states the couple must have sex during a period of eight days at the end of each menstruation, this is another example of all spontaneity being stolen from the lovers. By looking at the Arthasastra it is clear that in practice a marriage might be annulled even though sacred law rules out divorce as an option completely. Polygamy, however, is accepted and Vatsyanna, who wrote the most famous version of the Kamasutra between the 1st and 4th centuries CE, makes reasons for taking on another wife in a list typical to Indian culture which even goes so far as to instruct elder wives on how they should treat the newer wives. It is here that we then see a suspension in their morality by suggesting it is not permissible to have sex with someone of a higher class, here we see the theme of impurity again, and any woman of experience. However, it is acceptable to intercourse with lower classes, prostitutes and widows. In accordance with a long history of lists it describes who one cannot have sex with; a framework very similar to that of the way Dharma classifies with whom each class is allowed to interact with.
We can see their agoraphobia again here when they go as far as to make hierarchical lists based on genital size, passion and time to achieving orgasm. Like within the class system, the seasons and varnasramadharma the categories are split in to four titled as one of eight different animals. This list is called the Kama Kalpa which is based on their influence in the animal kingdom and makes similarities in looks e.g. the Lotus would be a thin lady, the rest of the lists goes as follows; Lotus, Art, Conch and Elephant for the women and Hare, Buck, Bull and Stallion for the men. The imagination runs wild when one tries to explain their train of thought when choosing those animals.
All techniques of love making are listed laboriously from kissing to biting, scratching and pressing.
Vatsyayana also delivers recipes for sexual ailments as well as aphrodisiacs.
The Kamasutra is a laborious read which reveals something very unerotic; a large part of the text is lengthily lists concern policies on marriage which none could make sound erotic. More importantly, although it talks of things which people could be excited about in the heat of the moment; it takes away all the spontaneity of love making and enforces control as comfort for the Brahman who are concerned with upsetting the balance and cosmic order. From a literary point of view the theme of fours being used in many of the lists ties in with the lists of fours in the seasons, the class system, the Varnasramadharma and even the sexual classifications. It is because of the strong influence of an objective to maintain Rita that the Kamasutra is no more than a book of lists. In fear of upsetting the cosmic order there is no humour or obscenity. Erotic fantasy this is not. The Kamasutra is useful to the scholar as evidence of the themes in ancient India.
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