Considered the “bible of sex” or the “book of love,” the Kama Sutra (also known as Kama Shastra) is one of three ancient texts written in the Sanskrit language that describe the permissible goals in life. It is devoted to the pursuit of kama. Kama is the Hindu God of love (also meaning desire) and Sutra means narrative or guide.
Historians believe that the Kama Sutra was written somewhere between 400 BC and 200 BC. According to tradition, the companion of Shiva, Nandi, who overheard the God making love to his wife Parvati was inspired to write the Kama Sutra. In reality, the Kama Sutra is the work (compiled from earlier writings) of Hindu philosopher, Vatsyayana, who is believed to have lived in the 3rd century. His interest in human sexual behavior as a medium of attaining spirituality became the inspiration for his treatise- the Kama Sutra.
The Kama Sutra is widely known as a semi-pornographic work of erotica, however this is not the sole topic of its content. The acts of love and sexual congress are divided in eight different methods, each of which may be performed in one of eight different positions. Therefore, there are 64 different acts of love depicted within the Kama Sutra. Aside from sex, topics of heterosexuality and homosexuality are also addressed, as well as female satisfaction. These sections within the Kama Sutra are to help strengthen the bond between both partners.
Although, most people turn to the Kama Sutra for the various sex positions depicted, it also features sections on how to provide pleasure to your partner, how to attract a spouse, how to be a good spouse, and other self help topics. There is also a chapter on courtesans – how to make money, how to behave, and how to be a good mistress.
According to Indian philosophy, the Kama Sutra maintains the four main principles of life (known as purusharthas in Hindi). These four principles are:
Dharma – virtuous living
Artha – material prosperity
Kama: aesthetic and erotic pleasure
Moksha – liberation
“Dharma is better than Artha, and Artha is better than Kama. But Artha should always be first practised by the king for the livelihood of men is to be obtained from it only. Again, Kama being the occupation of public women, they should prefer it to the other two, and these are exceptions to the general rule.”—Kama Sutra
Of the first three philosophies, virtue is the highest goal, a secure life the second, and pleasure the least important. When motives conflict, the higher ideal is followed. Thus, when making money, virtue must not be compromised, but earning a living should take precedence over pleasure. Furthermore, the Kama Sutra teaches its disciples that a person should learn how to make a living and that youth is the time for pleasure and as years pass, one should concentrate on living virtuously and hope to escape the cycle of rebirth.
In 1883, the Kama Sutra was translated to English by renowned orientalist and author Sir Richard Francis Burton and that is the version widely circulated today. In the introduction to her own translation, Wendy Doniger, professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, writes that Burton “managed to get a rough approximation of the text published in English in 1883, nasty bits and all.” The philologist and Sanskritist Professor Chlodwig Werba, of the Institute of Indology at the University of Vienna, regards the 1883 translation as being second only in accuracy to the academic German-Latin text published by Richard Schmidt in 1897.
Although many consider the Kama Sutra to simply be a manual of various sexual positions, at its core, it remains a book of living, about finding a partner, and maintaining power in marriage. It can also be considered a guide toward sexual fantasy and satisfaction.