The Kama Sutra

Foreigners often regard Indian culture as “spiritual,” but many of its cultural practices, such as meditation and yoga, concern the body rather than the soul. This is true also of the wisdom contained in the Kama Sutra which is known as a sex manual, but which above all is a manual on how to lead a complete, long and satisfying life. It discusses sex to be sure but also the nature of love and the requirements of family life.

The author of the Kama Sutra, Vatsyayana, was a philosopher who lived in the second or third century BCE, but next to nothing is known about him. It is when you are young, he tells us, that you should seek bodily pleasures but as the years pass you should concentrate on spiritual matters in order to escape the cycle of rebirths. Sexuality can be given a religious interpretation too. A man and a woman in a close embrace symbolizes moksha, “liberation,” the final release from the dualities which characterize human life. If nothing else, this interpretation provides an excuse for reading the book.

The teaching conveyed by the Kama Sutra is depicted in the thousands of statues that decorate the temples in Khajuraho, in Madhya Pradesh in central India. The statues show men and women in various sexual positions but also scenes from everyday life – women putting on makeup, musicians making music and farmers going about their daily chores. Sexuality, the collection of statues tells us, is a regular part of human life.

Today the production and distribution of pornography is a punishable crime in India. Bollywood, the Indian film industry, excels in evocative dance numbers, but has traditionally refrained from taking the clothes off actors and actresses. [Read more:Curries, Bollywood and the Beatles in India”] Prostitution as such is legal in the country, but brothels and pimping are not. India is estimated to have over half a million prostitutes. Trafficking of young girls is an often-reported problem, in particular among members of vulnerable minority groups.

External links:

History of the World in a Hundred Objects: “Shiva and Parvati”

In Our Time: “The Kama Sutra”

Librivox: “Kama Sutra”