by Jaya Devi
Contrary to popular understanding, the Kāma-sūtra is not a manual exclusively for sensual enjoyment between lovers – a topic covering only twenty percent of the book. The remaining eighty percent of the Kāma-sūtra is a guide for a charming and delightful life. It discusses the nature of love, family life, how to maintain good relationships. It also describes the various sensual pleasures of humanity, such as the performance of arts, attending festivals and cultural events.
Kāma means ‘desire’ in Indian literature. Even though kāma often signifies sensual passion between lovers, it more broadly refers to any desire, wish, longing, aesthetic enjoyment, affection or love, with or without physical intimacy.
Historic background of Kāma-sūtra
Kāma, sensual enjoyment, is an important part of life. It is similar to earning wealth and following certain principles to lead a virtuous life. This ‘down-to-earth’ truth has existed in India since the beginning of creation when Prajāpati, the Creator, pronounced one hundred thousand chapters on tri-varga, a treatise on the three goals of life, dharma, artha, and kāma, meaning virtuous living, earning wealth, and enjoying the senses, respectively. The aim of tri-varga is to ensure the happiness of people in society.
This treatise on tri-varga was immense. In order to simplify its meaning, Manu, the original law-maker of mankind, selected the dharma-part to compile the Dharma-Śāstra which describes the duties of various classes of people. Br̥haspati, the guru of the devas, collected the artha-part to compile Artha-Śāstra, the science of earning wealth, including polity and economy. Nandi, the sacred Bull and doorkeeper of Śiva, extracted the kāma-part to compose the Kāma–Śāstra in one thousand chapters.
In the eighth century BC, Śvetaketu, a teacher of philosophy, compressed these thousand chapters into five hundred chapters. Later, a great scholar named Babhru along with his followers, known as the lineage of Babhravya, summarized the vast work of Śvetaketu into 150 chapters and divided it into seven parts, which are:
1. General Observations and Lifestyle
2. Different Types of Sensual Enjoyment
3. Selection of a Life Partner
5. Extra Marital Relationships
7. Ways to Increase Physical Attraction and Sensual Pleasure
Vātsyāyana, Author of Kāma-sūtra
Between the third and first centuries BC, several other authors wrote treatises based on different parts of this work of Babhravya. Unfortunately, it rendered the text fragmented and scattered.
When Vātsyāyana, a brāhmaṇa and great scholar who lived in the city of Pataliputra in the fourth century BC, saw how the various works belonging to Kāma–Śāstra had become difficult to access, he collected and summarized them into his Kāma-sūtra.
This is what Vātsyāyana writes about himself at the end of his Kāma–sūtra: “After studying the works of Babhravya and other ancient authors and contemplating on the meaning of the rules given by them, this treatise was composed according to the precepts of dharma for the benefit of the people by myself, Vātsyāyana, situated in samādhi, while leading the life of a brahmacārī (religious, celibate student) at Benares.
One should not view this work merely as an instrument for satisfying one’s desires. A person who realizes the true principles of this science, who preserves his dharma (virtuous living), artha (acquisition of wealth), and kāma (sensual enjoyment), and who respects the traditions of the people, will surely obtain mastery over his senses. In other words, an intelligent and wise person following dharma, artha, and kāma without becoming the slave of his passions, will be successful in everything he may do.”
Accordingly, Vātsyāyana began his treatise with an explanation of dharma, artha, and kāma and ends it with his assurance that a wise person who follows the rules and principles described in the Kāma-sūtra can regulate his sensual desires.
It is within this kind of freedom from desires that sensual enjoyment can become an expression of love—such love being the purpose of creation.
Tradition of Kāma–sūtra:
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